In Semporna scuba diving is the #1 pastime. There are dozens of nearby islands to dive and snorkel and hike. Sure, Sipadan Island is one of the most famous, however it is also the most expensive. That’s okay! If you want to get under the sea around Semporna without having to empty your wallet, consider these nearby islands instead:
But first a quick gift for all the Pinners out there 😉
Pulau Mabul is the most popular island off the coast of Semporna — even more than Sipadan! (Because Sipadan is restricted, there are additional fees to dive there.) A variety of different resorts and dive companies can be found here on Mabul, both above the water and on solid ground. Many divers prefer to use Mabul as their base, rather than staying in Semporna and having to take a long boat ride to their dive destinations every morning.
There are more than a dozen different dive sites around Mabul Island that are home to a vast variety of species of fish and other marine life. There are also several ships and even a small motorcycle-truck that were purposely sunk here a few years back — my dive master was working for another dive resort when they did it. Already they are turning into an lively artificial reef. Massive schools of fish and giant sea turtles can be found hanging around all day.
Pulau Kapalai is spectacular! For starters, it is not even much of an island anymore. 200 years ago it was but erosion has washed the island away. All that remains is a small sand bar and underwater reef. There is however a single gorgeous luxury resort here that is arguably the swankiest resort in all of Sabah.
The owner who built Kapalai Resort also built a series of wooden houses underwater to form an artificial reef and attract more marine life. Guess it? It worked! Diving here is amazing! Plus the best part is that you do not have to be a part of the resort to dive here — just come on over by boat and jump on in 🙂
The aerial photos were taken from the northeast and the map below has north pointed directly overheard, so please note the difference in perspective. The long line of consecutive dive spots on the top-right of the map is where the resort is located.
The island with the long sandy bridge! Mataking Island is most known not for its diving but for the huge sand bar that connects the northern tip of the island with the main southern portion. It is a stunningly beautiful sight to see! (Bad day to forget my drone.) 🙁
Located nearly an hour boat ride from Semporna, Pulau Mataking is one of the furthest islands out that is still great for scuba diving. This island is also home to one resort, however just as with Kapalai Island, you don’t have to be staying at the resort to come out here and go diving or even snorkeling.
Mataking is also home to Malaysia‘s first and only underwater post office. More than a decade ago an old ship was purposely sunk in front of the resort to create and artificial reef. Attached to the front of that shipwreck is post box. Seal your postcards in a waterproof bag and drop them in here. (Mail is collected twice per week.)
There are also several other nearby islands with great dive spots:
The islands and beaches make for great lounging in between dives. However Timba Timba Island is private property and not open to the public. Long and skinny with giant sand bars at the northern and southern ends witha few trees in the middle, there is not much here. Just one family lives here. Luckily we were diving with a friend of the owner of the island so we docked and spent an hour hanging out and taking photos:
More Semporna Scuba Diving Options:
Tun Sakaran Marine Park
Mataking Island, Pulau Bohayan, Bohey Dulang, Pom Pom Island and others are all part of the massive Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also known as Semporna Islands Park (not to be confused with Sipadan Island Park).
In Tun Sakaran Marine Park you can not only scuba dive and snorkel in dozens of different locations but you can also hike up the top of Bohey Dulang for an unforgettable view 😀