From Kota Kinabalu, you can easily access plenty of unique dive sites
Crystal-clear waters and rich marine biodiversity are just some of the reasons that make Sabah the diving hotspot it is. Many of its most incredible dive sites are within easy reach from the capital, Kota Kinabalu. Whether you’re exploring the underwater wrecks at Pulau Tiga (the location for the first series of Survivor) or exploring the sites around the tiny atoll of Layang Layang, diving in Sabah is a must-try bucket list experience.
1. Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Only a 20-minute speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu’s Jesselton Ferry Terminal, this marine park is spread across 4,929 hectares. Composed of five islands – Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik – it’s a popular draw for day-trippers looking to snorkel or dive. The best thing about diving here is the temperate climate all year round, which means clear, gentle waters throughout. Some of the marine life to look out for include the hawksbill turtles, whale sharks and the aptly named harlequin ghost pipefish (known for its elusiveness).
2. Layang Layang
To get to this tiny atoll off the coast of Sabah, you’ll need to catch a one-hour flight from Kota Kinabalu (MASwings charters seasonal flights here) – but the trip is well worth it. The dive sites here have walls that drop to over 2,000m, which attract schools of pelagic fish such as hammerheads, grey reef sharks and even thresher sharks. Diving is available from March to October but there is only one accommodation option on the island – Layang Layang Island Resort – so all underwater activities must be arranged through them. Do note that the island is closed from September to February due to the monsoon.
3. Labuan Island
While this little island is perhaps better known for its duty-free shopping, many divers in the know also travel here to explore its underwater wrecks. It’s home to four major ones, including a US Navy mine sweeper that sunk in 1945 and a Dutch cargo and passenger steamer that sunk in 1944. Swimming through these historical vessels is like travelling back in time. There is a daily ferry service from Kota Kinabalu that takes you to Labuan in just over three hours.
4. Pulau Tiga
Best known as the location of the first Survivor reality TV show, this cluster of three islands remains relatively secluded, with only one accommodation – Pulau Tiga Resort. These islands were formed by the eruption of several mud volcanoes and you can still experience volcanic mud baths tucked within the rainforest. Diving here is suitable for beginners as the reefs around the islands are relatively shallow with an average of 20m visibility. Look out for marine creatures such as bamboo sharks, banded sea snakes and the multi-hued nudibranchs. To get here, take a 40-minute ferry ride from Kuala Penyu (roughly a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu) to Pulau Tiga.
As one of the richest marine habitats in the world, Sipadan frequently makes the list of best places to dive, alongside destinations such as the Galapagos Islands. To get here, fly to Tawau from Kota Kinabalu, and head to the port town of Semporna, approximately 2 hours from the airport. From there, a boat will take you to Sipadan within the hour.
Gazetted as a marine park in 2004, the island is home to thousands of species of marine creatures, from silver jack fishes and bigeye trevallies to mantas and eagle rays. The aptly named Barracuda Point is where divers descend deep along a sheer wall, letting the current take them to mingle among gigantic schools of barracuda, swirling in tornado-like formations.