Top 6 Places to Scuba Dive in Sabah, Borneo

Mabul, Sipadan, Layang-Layang… the rich water of Sabah, in Borneo, are some of the best diving spots in the world. From whale sharks and hammerheads to macro life and muck diving, Sabah has it all for you to enjoy. Herein, we will explore some of the best spots to explore.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park islands are a great starting point for your diving expeditions. They are just a 20-minutes speedboat journey from Kota Kinabalu. The five islands are surrounded by coral reefs, and the islands are situated in shallow tropical waters. Importantly, the geography of the islands yields gentle currents, which are a good place for divers, especially novice ones, to explore marine life.

Among the rare marine flora and fauna that Tunku Abdul Rahman Park offers include mandarin fish and harlequin ghost pipefish. In some occasions, you might get the chance to dive with Hawksbill turtles. You might also get an opportunity to dive with the whale sharks as they come to feed on planktons during the colder months – November to February.


Located in the heart of the famous Ino-Pacific basin, Sipadan Island is a must-visit diving spot. There are over 3,000 species of coral and fish that surround the island. This has earned the island the reputation for being the best diving spot in Sabah, and in some regard, the best diving spot in the world. Aside from the spectacular variety of species, the island is also home to “turtle tomb” – an underwater system of caves filled with sea turtle skeletons.

That said, it is essential to note that you are not allowed to stay at the island. You can only stay at the nearby Mabul Island or Semporna Island. Moreover, only 120 diver permits are issued per day, to conserve the environment. As such, you need to make arrangements well in advance.

Layang-Layang Island Resort

The Layang-Layang atoll, located 186 miles off the coast of Sabah, is renowned as the best-preserved dive sites in Malaysia and the entire world. The atoll walls drop 2,000 meters into the ocean. It is undoubtedly a pelagic paradise filled with gray sharks, Hammerheads, silvertip, leopard sharks, and some threshers.

With all its beauty, it is important to note that Layang-Layang is a disputed territory. There a small Malaysian naval base, obviously off-the-limits to tourists, that ensures the water remains unpolluted and safe.

To reach the atoll, you need to catch a flight from Kota Kinabalu. Moreover, for the actual dive, you need to make arrangements with the Layang-Layang Island Resort, which is the only accommodation found on the island. Diving takes place between March and October.

Mabul Island

With spectacular muck diving and its proximity to Sipadan, Mabul has become one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. However, unlike Sipadan, divers do not need to attain diving permits. There is also plenty of accommodation option available.

Mabul has some of the richest dives sites in the world. It is considered as the best place to undertake underwater macro photography. Perched on the continental shelf, the diving sites on reef average 25 to 30 meters deep. It is abundant with macro life and cephalopods such as squids, octopi, and cuttlefish are aplenty.

To get to Mabul Island, use Semporna, just on the southern end of Sabah as your gateway.

Labuan Island

Labuan Island is located about 71 miles off Kota Kinabalu. It is a popular stopover for tourists travelling to Brunei, Sarawak, and Sabah. As for divers, the shipwrecks around the island make for spectacular diving grounds.

The diving spots are prefect for both experienced and novice wreck divers. There are four significant wrecks, all of them situated between 30 and 35 meters. The Dutch SS De Klerk and the USS Salute were World War II ship. The other two were civilian wrecks. This island is the centre for ship wreck diving in Malaysia.

To get to Labuan Island, you can use a ferry from Bander Seri Begawan, in Brunei or from Kota Kinabalu.

And if you want to explore all that Borneo has to offer above ground, we’d recommend using Borneo Dream to book a Mount Kinabalu tour package!