The East Malaysian state of Sabah is well-known for its jungle-clad terrestrial wonders of nature, but it also enjoys just as much acclaim for its incredible underwater world.
Talk about ‘enchantment under the sea’! Located in the north of Borneo is Sabah, one of Malaysia’s finest adventure and nature destinations. With so many islands to choose from, it’s no surprise that Sabah offers some of the country’s most sought-after dive spots, too.
In fact, with warm, tropical temperatures year-round and clear, turquoise waters, the beautiful seas around Sabah boast some of the best diving spots in the world. Magnificent coral reefs fringe the shoreline in a seemingly unending line and within it lie an underwater world with some of the most delicate corals in various pastel shades. Further out in the deep blue depths are some of the larger species such as groupers, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and barracudas, to name just a few.
Sabah offers a number of great diving destinations such as Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking, Mantanani, Lankayan, and Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (consisting of five islands, more on these later).
The district of Semporna, located along the East Coast of Sabah, offers especially amazing diving experiences! Sipadan, one of the top-rated dive spots in the world, serves up incredible diving scenes such as schools of greenback turtles and hawksbill turtles nesting and mating, and schools of barracuda circling in tornado-like formations.
Additionally, pelagic (or open-ocean) species such as manta rays, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks can be seen here. Not only are there fascinating coral structures but marine caves, as well, and Sipadan is reported to have the largest variety of soft corals in the world. The sheer walls of Sipadan all around easily earns the site a rating as “one of the top five in the world” for wall diving.
While its famous neighbour Sipadan is home to large pelagic species, Mabul is the place to find the smaller macro-species. Diving is the main activity on this island and can be done all year-round. Mabul offers high- to medium-range resort facilities to visitors.
Diving in Kapalai can be considered ideal for beginners, yet still diverse and exciting enough to satisfy more experienced divers. Kapalai is also another place for muck diving. Uncommon marine creatures such as cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopuses, sea moths, and mating mandarin fish are seen on a regular basis. Meanwhile, giant frogfish, ribbon eels, harlequin ghost pipefish, and crab-eye gobies are often spotted at many of the dive sites. The sole resort occupying the island is the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort. Protruding above the water, it is elegantly built in a traditional water village style.
Mataking, not far from Sipadan, is an island with majestic treasures for divers and holidaymakers, and is especially great for honeymooners. With a beautiful combination of both macro-species and large pelagic species, this island offers a sensational underwater exploration experience. The Reef Dive Resort is the only resort operating in Mataking.
There is also the Tun Sakaran Marine Park with its mysterious and legendary Bohey Dulang, a trademark of the Semporna seas. A hike up Bohey Dulang is a must, rewarding you with stunning views upon reaching the top, perfect for an Instagrammable moment!
Those planning to dive just near to Kota Kinabalu will find Tunku Abdul Rahman Park an ideal choice. Named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, the park comprises 49 sq km of mostly ocean, coral reefs, and five islands, which are Pulau Gaya, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, Pulau Sapi, and Pulau Sulug. The marine park is under the administration of the Sabah Parks authority, and it takes only 10 to 25 minutes by speedboat from the jetty in Kota Kinabalu to reach these islands.
Coral beds and marine flora are abundant here and various dive spots can be found along all the designated dive sites in the park. Other activities offered include hiking, snorkelling, swimming, picnicking, seawalking, camping, and water sports. Two resorts can be found in the marine park: Gayana Resort in Gaya Island and the eponymous Manukan Island Resort.
Further out from Kota Kinabalu – 45 to 60 minutes away by boat – is the Mantanani Island group, located northwest of Kota Belud. The main island of the three, Mantanani Besar, is inhabited by a fishing community and visitors can stay at one of the available resorts or lodges on this island. A number of shipwrecks have been discovered which still hold plenty of secrets, and overall, the island offers more than 10 dive sites ready to be explored. For macro photographers, the muck diving is amazing here!
Lankayan, a tiny jewel-shaped island located in the Sulu Sea, just off the northeast coast of Sabah, is one of Sabah’s top diving spots. The island is one of the best spots for whale shark sightings between the months of March and May. During the day, you can witness black-tip sharks swimming about by the beach. At night, hawksbill and green turtles may be spotted coming to shore.
Among the 14 dive sites here is the Lankayan Wreck, the remains of an ocean-going boat that was once used in illegal fishing here. This wreck now hosts many different species of fish from small glassfish, harlequin ghost pipefish, painted frogfish to giant groupers and marbled stingrays. This island has only one dive resort called the Lankayan Island Dive Resort, and is just a 1.5-hour boat ride from the Sandakan jetty.
To learn more about diving and travelling in Sabah, visit www.sabahtourism.com.
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