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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. On the west side of the reef surrounding the island, Coral Gardens is an area densely covered by corals partially touched by bleaching but still in overall exceptional good condition. Green turtles are very frequent at this location, as well as large schools of fish.

Sipadan Island from the Coral Gardens
View of Sipadan Island from the Coral Gardens.

How to get to the Coral Gardens snorkeling spot?

The Coral Gardens snorkeling location is found on the northeastern 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 the 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 at Sipadan Coral Gardens
Green sea turtles are a common sighting in Sipadan Coral Gardens.

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.

Sipadan Island Coral Gardens snorkeling map

Water entrance for snorkeling the Coral 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.

Sipadan Coral Gardens snorkeling tips

You will snorkel surrounded by dense corals with a constant depth of 6 to 20 ft/2 to 6 meters. This spot is far away from the drop-off compared to others in the area and only occasionally this gets closer but that area is less interesting. We recommend sticking to the less deep area and letting the current drift you with a very low effort.

School of Moorish Idols in the Coral Gardens
A school of Moorish Idols in the Coral Gardens.

You will find yourself surrounded by schools of sergeant majors and Moorish Idols. Green sea turtles call this place home and you will spot many within minutes with no effort.

The sea bed is densely covered by hard and soft corals, less interesting in terms of shapes compared to the nearby spot of Hanging Gardens as the sea bed here is almost flat or presents very gentle slopes but the quality of the snorkeling remains extremely high.

Damselfish in soft coral
A damselfish shelters in massive soft corals.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

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


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Protected areaSipadan Island Park
  • Maximum depth20ft/6m
  • Water entranceFrom a boat
  • Potential DangersCurrents, 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.