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Pulau Pandanan is a remote island located in the Celebes Sea, off the eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia.  It is known for its pristine natural beauty, featuring white sandy beaches and clear turquoise waters. 

 Pulau Pandanan is relatively undeveloped and primitive, providing a tranquil experience for visitors. 

The island is entirely surrounded by a coral reef. Along the western and eastern sides of the island, this majestic reef is covered with hard corals and populated by an interesting amount of fish with the occasional sight of green turtles.

Coral reef at Pulau Pandanan
The Pandanan Island vibrant coral reef (Western reef, snorkeling area 1 on the map).

How to get to the Pulau Pandanan snorkeling spot

Pandanan Island is located in the Celebes Sea, just a 40 minute boat ride from Semporna, Borneo.

There are two main ways to access this spot:

  • Join a snorkeling tour organized by the nearby resorts of Mataking, Pom Pom and Mabul. You can also book with tour operators located in Semporna harbor. Snorkeling tours usually combine snorkeling in Pandanan and neighboring Timba Timba. Tour operators can’t usually confirm in advance on which side of the island the snorkeling will take place.
  • If you stay at Arcadia Beach Resort, Pulau Pandanan’s only resort. With this option, the reef will be free for you to explore from the shore, particularly the Western snorkeling area (zone 1 on the map below).
Pulau Pandanan & Arcadia Resort snorkeling map
Pulau Pandanan & Arcadia Beach Resort snorkeling map.

Water entrance for snorkeling Pulau Pandanan

If you are on a snorkeling tour, you will enter the water from the boat. Follow the instructions of your guide, who will make decisions based on currents and conditions.

If you stay at Arcadia Beach Resort, you will enter the water from shore. Check the sea conditions with the resort’s dive club.

Pulau Pandanan snorkeling exploration tips

No matter which area you snorkel (the two most popular snorkeling areas at Pulau Pandanan are marked on the map above), this spot is densely covered by hard corals  such as clubbed finger, starlet, finger, and staghorn corals.

Coral reef at Pulau Pandanan
The Eastern reef (snorkeling area 2 on the map).

Pulau Pandanan has a good variety of fish present which includes angelfish, threadfin butterflyfish, brown chromis, sergeants, and black triggerfish. Green turtles are occasionally spotted, although less frequently than in neighboring Sipadan Island.

Green sea turtle in Pulau Pandanan
Encounter with a green sea turtle on the reef drop-off (area 1).

The corals are denser towards the shore and become more scattered on the open ocean until being replaced by a sandy seabed. Use the current to drift alongside the shore, always keeping it on your left.

You will want to stick to the area that has an average deepness of 3 to 10 ft, this is where the fish are more abundant and the colorful corals make for good photo opportunities.

Oriental sweetlips.
An Oriental sweetlips in the Eastern snorkeling area (zone 2).

Visibility and current conditions are dependent on the weather at the time you are there. Know that there is little protection from the island, so the water can get rough at times.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

The Arcadia Beach Resort‘s has rooms and a dining hall.


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Maximum depth10ft/3m over the reef, 30ft/10m on the drop-off
  • Water entranceFrom a boat or from the shore
  • Potential DangersCurrent
  • Visitor numbersLow
  • Access costsSnorkeling tour or stay at Arcadia Beach Resort

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.