Snorkeling in Sabah


By Lara Dunston

BORNEO may be renowned for its primates and birds but it’s also celebrated for its underwater wildlife.

Sabah, Malaysia’s second largest state on Borneo, is home to some of Asia’s best diving and snorkeling. Blessed with favourable currents, the waters offer great visibility to explore the vibrant coral reefs and abundant colourful marine life.

While diving wrecks and reefs is popular, snorkeling is less taxing, with fine sandy beaches to lie on in between dips and when the tide is low. If you’re not a confident or experienced snorkeler, diving operators offer beginner courses.

Snorkeling in Sabah. Pic: irwandy, FlickrCC.

Snorkeling in Sabah. Pic: irwandy, FlickrCC.

Sabah’s most famous site is Pulau Sipadan (Sipadan Island), home to thousands of species of fish and hundreds of coral species. In order to preserve this pristine site there are no operators on the island, they’re based in Samporna, so book a package well in advance, as only 120 visitors are allowed per day.

Many travellers like snorkeling in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a short speedboat ride away from Kota Kinabalu. There are five islands in the group, Pulau Sapi and Pulau Manukan the most popular. Manukan has good snorkeling on the south of the island – as well as the best beach – but it can get crowded, while Mamutik has a good reef to explore.

To escape the crowds try Pulau Mantanani, accessed from Kota Belud, an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu. This little island paradise has good snorkeling with diverse marine life, great visibility, and nice beaches to relax on. If you’re after snacks or drinks stroll into the colourful village to buy something, as the operators lease the stretch of sand visitors snorkel from and locals benefit little from tourist trade.

Another great snorkeling spot is tiny Pulau Lankayan, on Sabah’s northeast coast. Part of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) it’s a top diving spot with fine reefs and beautiful beaches. The tiny resort is delightful – the kind of place you bring little other than a book, swimmers, sunglasses, and an empty calendar.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website

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About the author…

Lara Dunston
Australian-born, Dubai-based travel writer Lara Dunston and her photographer husband Terence Carter have been living out of their suitcases since 2006, bouncing around the planet on assignment for publications from National Geographic Traveller in the USA to The Independent in the UK. The couple also have a popular travel blog Grantourismo, where they blog about slow and sustainable travel, local travel, and experiential travel.