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Sipadan Island is among the ten best diving spots in the world and its waters are protected by a national park as well by a limited daily visitor allowance. Hanging Gardens is a section of the reef surrounding Sipadan which hangs on an almost 90 degrees drop towards an abyss 600 meters deep. If you want to see turtles, this is the place to go.

How to get to the Hanging Gardens snorkeling spot?

Hanging Gardens’ snorkeling location is on the western edge of the coral reef surrounding Sipadan Island. The island is uninhabited and the only way to visit it is to book a tour from the nearby diving resorts of the islands of Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking, Kulapuan, Pom Pom, Timba Timba and Pandanan, as well as via the diving centers in Semporna.

The Malaysian government limits access to Sipadan Island to a limited number of daily snorkelers and divers. Overnight stay on the island is strictly forbidden and, if you want to visit this area more than once, you will have to obtain a permit each day. Considering the limited number of daily passes that are allowed, demand is always high and you will need to book well in advance.

Green sea turtle in Sipadan's Hanging Gardens
Huge green sea turtles visit the reef.

Please mind that several resorts reserve their allowance for scuba divers only, hence you are advised to check ahead with your accommodation if they can apply on your behalf as a snorkeler as well as the availability for the days you intend to visit. Staying in the nearby islands and resorts will not guarantee you a spot to visit Sipadan during peak season so it is best to travel on the shoulder seasons.

Your diving center or resort will take you to Sipadan Island with their boat, upon arrival you will register with your passport at the conservation center before heading back to your boat and starting the snorkeling sessions. Lunch is usually included and served in a sheltered open building near the conservation center where basic toilet facilities are available.

Hanging Gardens snorkeling map, Sipadan

Water entrance for snorkeling in the Hanging Gardens

Be mindful that the ocean can get quite rough on the boat transfer to the island as well around the drop-off where you will snorkel making this place level marked as “intermediate” as conditions can vary a lot. Your boat captain and guide will choose the best spots to visit based on the sea conditions and usually take where you are more sheltered from the winds.

Water entrance is from boat ladders.

The Hanging Gardens snorkeling exploration tips

The Hanging Garden is considered one of the most interesting snorkeling locations in Sipadan as it presents a great photo opportunity of a beautiful reef rich with fish and corals hanging on an immense drop with perfect contrasts between the hanging corals and the blue ocean behind.

Reef drop off at Sipadan Island
The reef drop off is very steep, almost vertical in places.

You will snorkel along the reef drop off which remain between 5 to 12 ft/1.5 to 4 meters below you while, on the other side, an infinite deep makes shivering thinking about the potential encounters. Reef sharks are frequent to spot but turtles are almost sure encounters: it is likely you will spot several of them when you’ll snorkel the location.

Hanging Garden's coral reef
The reef at the Hanging Gardens is healthy and colorful.

Schools of fish call the edge of the reef home alongside hard and soft corals. It is easy to get caught by the beauty that is shown to you underwater but remind to keep an ear and an eye for the nearby boats dropping snorkelers and divers alike.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

There is no accommodation on the island, but most tours include lunch, check when you book.

 

  • Level required Intermediate
  • Protected areaSipadan Island Park
  • Maximum depth12 ft/4m
  • Water entranceFrom a boat
  • Potential DangersCurrent, rough waves
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsSipadan permit fee and boat tour
  • Public toilets & showersSipadan Island has basic toilet facilities

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.