School of jacks in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
School of jacks in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

Sipadan underwater in pictures

# Borneo #Malaysia

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Sipadan. Three mythical syllables for divers in Asia! Sharks, turtles, swirls of barracudas and jacks...

Fish swirls

July 2013. This is my 3rd trip to Sipadan. To be pronounced "if no donkey"... 😁

This small island located off Borneo, in East Malaysia, is one of the most famous diving spots in Southeast Asia. Cousteau was the first to explore it in his time. Today, it is a protected site, which attracts divers from all over the world. I place it in my personal top 3 of the best dive sites in the Indo-Pacific area, with Raja Ampat and Komodo.

As for the neighboring islands of Mabul and Kapalai, the dives have nothing to do with the big show offered by Sipadan, but they remain very interesting for the muck-dive and the small fauna. What mix photo macro and wide angle with happiness ...

I already talked a little about this new trip and my impressions underwater in the previous posts :

→ A video, a shark, a minute
→ Diving in the blue of Borneo

New compared to my previous dives there in 2006 and 2009: this time I have my Canon Eos 7D with me. A beautiful toy acquired in 2010, with the waterproof case that goes well to take it underwater ...

I knew I was going to have fun with it... 😉

Among the highly appreciated divers, this spectacular school of jacks. (Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Among the highly appreciated divers, this spectacular school of jacks. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
The school of fish is incredibly dense. (Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
The school of fish is incredibly dense. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Sometimes the jacks start spinning, forming a ball of silvery scales. (Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Sometimes, the jacks start spinning, forming a ball of silver scales. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
The school of jacks is just below the surface, shallow. (Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
The school of jacks is just below the surface, shallow. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Great show! (Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Great show! (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

I had a lot of fun, as far as pictures are concerned, with this impressive swirl of trevally. The school is easy to observe, as it usually stays in the same place, in a shallow area, near the reef.

It's a sight I never tire of. Seeing this mass of silver scales split in two, regroup, stretch, reform, curl up into a ball and start again is absolutely fascinating. I was able to photograph and film this large school of jacks on each of my trips to Sipadan in this month of July 2013. And it gave me the impression of being even bigger than the previous years... 😲

Barracudas of Sipadan

We also regularly meet a school of barracudas, which plays hide-and-seek in the blue or near the reef. The encounter is more random, however. Sometimes, we do not find them at the site they are supposed to be, Barracuda Point... But sometimes they appear unexpectedly, during another dive. A small preview in the video below:

I had the chance to meet it three times, during my dives this summer. But there, the school seemed to me less spectacular, less big and less dense than the past years...

Would it have diminished, or is it just part of the bench, or was I more impressionable back then? It's hard to say.

An exceptional dive spot

Anyway, in Sipadan, the dives are always exceptional. Really. We take a lot of eyes. It is impossible to get into the water without seeing dozens of sharks and turtles!

It's so huge, it's become a joke, and some divers pretend to be jaded at the end of the day. 😂 "Yeah, well, more sharks, it's completely overrated. We've already seen that yesterday, right? And the day before yesterday too. And all these turtles, there are really everywhere... It's a bit boring, we don't even pay attention to them anymore..." 

I am amazed, endlessly, with my heart beating at each new immersion. Such an abundance of turtles and sharks, concentrated in the same place, it's magic!

Turtle in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Sharks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Shark and jacks. Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.

Solitary Barracuda. Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.

Batfish. Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.

Shark. Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia. July 2013.

Shark in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Thanks to one of my diving companions, Vicente Garcia, for the picture above, where I can be seen in action, filming a white tip reef shark (or coral shark)! (And the video that goes with it is here.)

This third trip to Sipadan has delighted me. I would be ready to go back a fourth time... (And it will surely happen.) I am very pleasantly surprised to see that despite its popularity, the site has not deteriorated over the years. I really feel that the bottoms are as spectacular as when I first went in 2006.

See also → All my articles on Sipadan

This incredible underwater wealth is due to the particular geological situation of the island, as well as to the measures taken to preserve the site, by limiting the number of divers and visitors to 120 per day... A quota which seems to bear its fruits.

I tell you this in the next post, read here → Divers under supervision in Sipadan

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

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  1. Good evening,

    I'd like to do a round-the-world trip soon and would like to know the name of this diving spot, in which city exactly.

    beautiful pictures, we would almost envy.


    1. @Alex: What's the name of this diving spot? Well, its name is not only in the title, but repeated throughout the few lines of text between the images... 😆

      Sipadan is a small island off the Malaysian coast of Borneo. The nearest port from which to dive Sipadan is Semporna. It is easily reached via Tawau airport.

      If you Google these names, you should already find quite a bit of information to help you locate the place. But I'll give some geographical and practical information about Sipadan in a future post.

  2. Just a quick hello Corinne, to once again salute the quality of your travel reports (wow, the tofs!), it's always a real pleasure to read a new article from Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs.
    I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the information you provided on Raja Ampat, where I spent a month last summer. You and your readers should know that it's now easy to stay there for "reasonable" prices; on the other hand, the dives are still expensive and hard to negotiate (but so beautiful!!!) if you compare them with other Indo spots...

    With bizzzzz

    1. @Pit: Hi Pit, always a pleasure to find a little note from you here. I just went to see your gallery on the Baliem festival, in your Papua 2013 series. Superb images, as always...
      Thank you for your feedback on Raja Ampat and I'm delighted to have been able to contribute a little to the preparation of this trip. I dream of going back...

  3. Hello Corinne,
    We've been following your blog for almost as long as it's existed, with great pleasure and emotion, especially when it's about places where we too have dived: Komodo, the Philippines, Bali and now Sipadan at Billabong Scuba, where we dived with Rinto, your buddy here.
    And for the fun of it: yesterday in Sipadan at Barracuda Point, on the same dive, we got into the water in the middle of a school of jacks. We're familiar with the one at Tulamben on the Liberty, but this one is much denser, then sharks, turtles, turtles, sharks, sometimes 3 together, the super beautiful school of barracudas of course over our heads, so we couldn't resist going to see them up close..... and the icing on the cake, but we think you know this from Rinto, who posted one of our photos on facebook, a whale shark.....!!!!!
    Even if we've already seen a lot, the 1st in Similan, then in the Philippines in Donsol, Leyte and southern Cebu, it's always the 1st time.....!!!!
    As with manta rays we never tire of it.
    On the 3rd and final dive, we unanimously decided to dive again on the same site. All the players were there, even the imposing mass of the whale shark flew over us.
    You can imagine the joy of our group and the disbelief of the other divemasters and divers when we arrived at Billabong......
    As soon as a connection is available, we'll be posting photos and maybe even films on our blog.
    That said, tomorrow we go back ....
    Thanks again for the quality of your images, the pleasure of reading you and your advice. If we're at Billabong it's thanks to you, the place isn't as select as others, but we like the big family and friendly atmosphere.
    Alain & Yolande the migratory Bretons in winter of Morbihan

    1. @ Alain & Yolande: it's a pleasure to read you and I'm delighted to see that we like to bubble in the same places... 🙂 I went to see your photos and videos, how lucky to have met this whale shark!!!! Rinto taunted me on Facebook with your images, yes!!!! : Mrgreen:

      I'm delighted that my Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs are inspiring your travels, in any case. I look forward to meeting you again, here or underwater perhaps one day?

    2. Hello Alain and Yolande,

      Like you, after preparing a little trip to Raja Ampat last year, thanks in part to the pretty little blog of petites bulles d'ailleurs,

      I'm back here to prepare a trip to Sipadan for this summer.

      I wanted to ask you a question about Billabong resort:

      Did you manage to dive several days in a row in Sipadan?
      Given the limited number of divers on the island every day, what kind of package does the Billabong offer?

      Thank you in advance for your reply,


      (also a Breton migrant.... 😉 )

  4. Superb photos as usual, especially for aquatic photos. If you like diving and traveling, I recommend Jean Christophe Grangé's book: La ligne noire (The Black Line). It's a detective story combining travel and diving. A must-read!

    Thanks again for these articles, I'm not lucky enough to be able to dive on my travels, I make do with snorkelling 🙁

  5. @ Yohann: Alain and Yolande didn't get back to you, but you should be able to contact them via their website:

    For my part, yes, during the week I spent at Billabong, I dived several days in a row at Sipadan. I asked in advance by email how many days they could guarantee me in Sipadan: I had 3 planned in advance, out of the week spent there, the other days the dives were planned in Mabul Kapalai. The day in Sipadan was at one rate, the day in Mabul/Kapalai at another, so they added up the amounts to make the overall bill.

    As luck would have it, there was a cancellation on the day I was to have dived at Mabul/Kapalai... So they offered me the chance to go instead of the customer who had cancelled. So I had an extra day in Sipadan! That's 4 in all over the week, every other day... Not bad! : Mrgreen:

  6. Hello,
    I'm taking the liberty of contacting you because I'm really wondering about a trip to Mabul/sipadan.
    In fact, my girlfriend and my eight-year-old son would like to try scuba diving, and as we're going to Malaysia, it's the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately we're not wealthy and I'd like some advice on finding accommodation and an interesting club that welcomes children and beginners at an affordable price. Many thanks for your answers.

    Regis Lux

    1. @Lux: Most divers to Sipadan stay on the nearby island of Mabul, where there is a wide range of accommodation and dive centers, from the simplest to the most luxurious. All centers welcome beginners. That said, I'm not sure that the cheapest accommodation or the island is very suitable for an 8-year-old. It all depends on whether he's used to traveling, eating everything, adapting...

      The cheapest lodgings and resorts are the "longhouses" on stilts: comfort is generally basic, but the atmosphere is quite pleasant. The best-known are Billabong Scuba and Uncle Chang.

      In the not too expensive but more comfortable (it's become a big resort on the beach) category, there's Scuba Junkie. In the same price range, there's the converted diving center Seaventures.

      In the slightly more expensive, even more comfortable, with excellent service, there is Borneo Divers.

      Then we find the resorts more chic and more expensive ...

      They all have websites. With a Google search on their names, you should already be able to find a lot of information. Send e-mails to ask for rates etc.

      Good preparations!

  7. Hello, I wanted to thank you for your site which is very valuable and rich in information on countries, dives and photos! Congratulations:)

  8. Hello... I haven't tired of browsing your blog for a long time now... Sipadan tempts me....I just have a doubt because early November doesn't seem to be the best time... Make us dream again!!! Come on, let's go, in the meantime I'm going back to Bali.