Diving in Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai (Borneo)

Dive Information: dive operators, liveaboards, dive safety, dive conditions
: look at underwater photos taken in Borneo
Print version of this page (mostly dive sites)

Overview Ligitan Group (Mabul, Sipadan, Kapalai)

I have been to Borneo several times and diving in Mabul-Sipadan is always a special treat. I find the combination of deep dives with lots of pelagics and turtles (Sipadan) and shallow dives with interesting critters (Mabul and Kapalai) excellent. Also, night dives here are always full of surprises. Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai belong to the Ligitan group. As you can see on the following map, there are several more reefs in the vicinity. Two of them, Mataking (and Pandanan island next to it) in the southeast and Roach reef in the west also have a resort with a dive center. Sipadan is lying in deep water just off the edge, so there are huge schools of mackerels, barracudas and other pelagics as well as sharks and turtles. Mabul and Kapalai are in shallower water, but these are superb areas for muck diving, looking for the unusual and hidden critters.

Map of Ligitan Group with Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Roach reef and Mataking dive areas.

Map of Ligitan Group with the dive areas Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Roach reef and Mataking dive areas - print version of this map

There are several excellent dive guides in Mabul. For 6 days I scuba dived only in Mabul and Kapalay. My fellow divers didn't understand this, but I really like small animals and for me Sipadan pales after a while for me: sharks (many), turtles (loads), barracudas (hundreds), and mackerels (plenty). With the small stuff you get surprises every dive, things you haven't seen or observed or even found before. On one night dive the divemaster found a boxer crab - also a first for him - so he was all excited. I also did some real muck-diving just outside the Smart jetty, where not even other dedicated photographers had ventured before! The staff was laughing, when I carried my tank out, with some seagrass still hanging from it. I even found a stonefish, hiding only a few meter from the shore.

I stayed at the Smart Resort on Mabul, which is a typical dive resort, everybody dives (don't go there as a non-diver!) but there are more places to stay, for example on Sipadan. See my fact sheet about Borneo with detailed information about dive operators, liveaboard operators, dive safety, dive conditions, climate, hotels and how to get to Borneo (including Brunei and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part) on a separate page ready to print.


Sipadan is a small island, covered with rain forest. It is the peak of a steep underwater mountain which lies quite isolated, seperated from the continental shelf by deep water (probably over 1000m deep). Most of the dives are on steep walls with ledges at various depths with a larger shelf at around 30m. There is a famous cave (turtle cavern) which has stalagmites and stalactites growing inside and which is the tomb of turtles which haven't found their way back out.

Map of dive sites in Sipadan (Sabah, Borneo)

Map of Sipadan island and dive sites - print version of this map

Sipadan jetty / drop-off: Steep wall with overhangs. If you stay at Sipadan you can jump right off the jetty and there is one of the nicest dive sites right there. You always encounter large schools of fish like mackerels or barracudas or groups of batfish. On one dive here we were lucky to see a large leopard shark.

Turtle cavern: Some meter to the right of the jetty is also the entrance to a large cave. Without a certificate in cave diving (most dive operators offer cave diving courses) you can't go inside. I have seen photos, and there are skeletons of turtles inside the cave, that haven't found their way out anymore and died there. If you make a nightdive, be cautious not to dive down to the level of the cave (18m), you might enter it by mistake like a dive buddy of mine did. She said it was the scariest dive ever, because she didn't realize she was inside the cave until she already was well in the back of it. Luckily she didn't panic and managed to get out again!

Sipadan South Point: Steep wall, ledge and then drop-off. My divebuddies from Switzerland liked this site a lot, because two of them had seen a group of hammerhead sharks there at about 55m depth. I went down as well, but actually you have to swim out first to the ledge and then go down, otherwise you don't have enough bottom time. Anyway, I didn't see any hammerheads!

Sipadan Barracuda point: Wall, then flat valley on about 20m. The dive site has suffered some though, and there are a lot of broken corals because it is the dive site everybody wants to go. Large schools of barracuda consisting of several hundreds animals nearly always hover there, forming huge spirals, which become vortices and form high walls. If you don't make any abrupt movements and keep level in the water you might end up in the middle of a circular wall of huge adult barracudas. An exhilarating feeling! Currents can be strong here at times with down currents possible.


Mabul offers some of the finest muck diving in the area. Nearly on every dive there are surprises, a rare or strange looking species of fish or invertebrate, hidden crabs, nudibranchs or cuttlefishes. I recommend you take a magnifying glass along, because many animals are very small and not easily found.

Map of dive sites in Mabul (Sabah, Borneo)

Map of Mabul island and dive sites - print version of this map

Mabul, Crocodile Avenue: Flat sandy area from 5m to 20m. Remains of some palmtrees. Some divers hate this dive site, I love it. It is a sandy area, so there are empty stretches of sand with oases of life. Our diveguide found some seahorses there every time. The absolute record were 8 seahorses found by Ben. Then there are sand eels, double-ended pipefish, crocodilefish, special tube anemones, ghostpipefish (Harlekin- and  Seagrass-), cowfish etc. I even saw some turtles, humpback parrotfish, barracudas, mackerels and a small eagle ray there. Night dives are also very good here. We found lots of sepias, cuttlefish and special nudibranchs (for example the Spanish Dancer, Asteronotus c.) and lots of crabs. One of the highlights was a small boxer crab, that Alex found on some rubble.

Mabul, Seaventure Platform: Flat sandy area on about 17m. Some coral blocks, pillars of concrete, piles of metal rods. This is a old oil platform that has been converted into a hotel owned by Seaventures Dive Resort. It stands on huge pillars. You dive underneath in 17m of water (Deco after more than 60min dive!). An amazing dive site! There are several piles of metal rods, look close, and there are always several frogfish (yellow to red, black and gray) sitting on them. Inside the largest pile there is a huge moray eel. His head must have a diameter of about 15cm! I couldn't make out the tail, but it must be several meter long. Then we also found: ghostpipefish (Harlekin and seagrass), waspfish, nudibranchs (Halgerda, Cromodoris etc.), stonefish, flying gurnard and close to the pillars always lots of batfish and flutefish.

Mabul, Lobster Wall: Wall, some small caverns. Lot's of hydroids. The place is not that nice to look at, but it is again a place for many nudibranchs, anemones, shrimps and in a small cave I even found a babycowfish. Great nightdives.


Kapalai is similar to Mabul, but there is no actual island, only a large sandbank. The most well known dive site here is Manadrin valley, but several of the other dives sites are well worth a visit.

Map of Kapalai (Borneo) and its dive sites

Map of Kapalay island and dive sites - print version of this map

Kapalai, Mandarin Valley: Slope to about 20m. Hard corals, then sand. Small underwater mound. This dive site has its name from a dragonet that can be found there and that has a beautiful color like the clothes of the Chinese mandarins. It lives during the day under the spines of sea urchins. Also very interesting were the that I found there. Go out to the small underwater mound - there were several leaffish there last time. Leaffish can shed their skin and in such a way adjust to the surrounding reef. I saw one, where some yellow ascidians were growing on his skin right over the eye. There is also a mushroom coral (Heliofungia a.) on the sand with some white anemone pipefish (Siokunichthys n.) living inside. Check it out.

Kapalai, Ray Channel: This is a sandy channel with the reef on one side. The special fish, you find here and nowhere else in Mabul is the dragonfish (Pegasus). This small animal lives in pairs on sand and feeds on invertebrates. Actually, I have spent half an hour at just one coral block here. There are some leaffish here, a spiny devilfish lives close by, and there is a small baby-anglerfish here. I observed, how it changed from gray to red in only 4 days.

Diving and environment

These destinations are quite known and there are always a lot of divers (and photographers). Before you start to dive at the Smart Resort, you sign a paper that you will be careful about not damaging the coral reef (no gloves, buoyancy control, no supporting on the corals while photographing, careful with the fins, no touching of animals, follow the divemaster).

I wholeheartedly support this policy but wish, that the divemasters would be more assertive about the guests following it.

We heard, that in Layang Layang (West coast of Borneo) they won't let you dive for a day, if you touch the animals etc. I would like this to happen in Mabul and Sipadan, also. I find the reef is not in such good shape anymore, by far too many divers!! In some places damage is obvious.

Overview of Borneo scuba diving

Map of the northern part of Borneo (Sabah, Sarawak, East-Kalimantan)

Map of the northern part of Borneo with dive areas

Click on map / names to get to a description of dive areas. Westcoast of Sabah and Sarawak - Lankayan area - Sipadan-Mabul (on this page) - Sangalaki-Derawan - print version of this map

You can find detailed information about dive operators, liveaboard operators, dive safety, dive conditions, climate, hotels and how to get to Borneo / Kalimantan on a separate page ready to print.

More information about diving in Southeast Asia

Description of dive sites

Asia: Burma / Thailand
Indonesia: Bali (east, north, south) / Nusa Tenggara (Lombok, Komodo, Flores, Alor) / Sulawesi (Bunaken, Manado, Bangka, Tukangbesi islands, Makassar and Selayar, Lembeh strait, Siau and Sangihe islands, Palu, Togian and Banggai islands / Gorontalo) / Kalimantan / Moluccas (Ambon, Banda, Halmahera)
Malaysia: East coast (Perhentians, Redang) / Overview Borneo / Sabah and Sarawak / Lankayan / Mabul and Sipadan
Philippines: Visayas (Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Siquijor) / Sangat and Palawan (Tubbataha Reef)

Special topics

Wallacea - Dive safety in South East Asia - judge the currents
Coral reefs - The ocean - Major endangered reef regions (biodiversity hotspots) - Conservation of our marine ecosystems

Bali - Bohol - Borneo - Burma and Thailand - Cebu - Lembeh - Leyte - Malaysia (east coast) - Manado and Siau islands - Leyte - Negros - Nusa Tenggara (Komodo, Flores) - Sangat - Sulawesi (Central- and South-Sulawesi) - Tubbataha
Fact sheets

Bali - Borneo and Kalimantan - Burma and Thailand - Malaysia (east coast) - Manado, Lembeh and Siau islands - Nusa Tenggara (Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Alor) - Moluccas (Ambon, Banda, Halmahera) - Palawan (Sangat, Tubbataha) - Sulawesi - Sulawesi central - Visayas (Bohol, Cebu, Negros, Siquijor)

Print version reports
Print version maps

Alor - Ambon - Apo - Bali - Bohol - Borneo - Burma - Gorontalo - Kalimantan - Komodo - Lankayan - Lembeh - Leyte - Lombok - Malaysia (east coast) - Manado - Palawan (Tubbataha) - Sangat - Siau - Sipadan-Mabul - Siquijor - Sulawesi south - Togians
Map of Wallace Line and Indonesian Throughflow - Indonesia climate (rainy season, dry season)

The Daymaniyat Islands (Oman)


Dive sites around the Daymaniyat Islands, Kharabah, Fahal in Oman (maps, descriptions) - print version


The Galapagos islands (Ecuador)


Galapagos islands: center Galapagos, north Galapagos, southeast Galapagos, west Galapagos
Fact sheet of the Galapagos Archipelago
Galapagos photos
Map of dive areas in the Galapagos islands (also in color)
Marine animals of the Galápagos / Endemic fishes in the Galapagos


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Indonesien allgemein - Bali - Bali Nord - Bali Ost - Bali Süd - Bunaken - Bangka - Manado- Lembeh


Bali - Bunaken, Manado, Lembeh, Siau

Druckversion Karten

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Indonesien allgemein - Bali Nord - Bali Ost - Bali Süd - Bunaken - Bangka - Manado - Lembeh

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