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Last updated on March 8, 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is no accommodation on the island. Most tours include lunch, check when you book.
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.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
Steep drop off with corals, turtles and reef fish
Reef wall with corals, fish and sea turtles
Reef drop off with fish and turtles
Vibrant coral reef with an abundance of fish
Vibrant reef drop off loaded with fish
Small island fringed by a shallow coral reef