Kapalai Island

Kapalai island – The mere name conjures the image of crystal clear waters and a floating paradise like no other. A 45-minute trip from Semporna by speedboat, Kapalai island is one of the many beautiful diving havens in this part of the world. However, Kapalai is truly unique because it is not quite an ‘island'.

The 40 chalets are built on high wooden stilts in the middle of the ocean. Visitors can enjoy the sights of marine life in action as they stroll along the boardwalk, a sturdy construction that connects the various sections of the floating resort. The resort has 40 chalets, equipped with basic amenities, including tea and coffee making facilities.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Lankayan Island

Lankayan, a tiny jewel-shaped island located on the northeastern coast of Sabah, is part of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) and is surrounded blue-green waters and coral reefs. It is also one of Sabah's top diving spots.

The availability of jungle interior and interesting diving attracts both divers and non-divers alike to Lankayan.

14 dive sites including the Lankayan Wreck, all only minutes away from the island, offer magnificent displays of marine life ranging from giant groupers to tiny ribbon eels. Enormous whale sharks are regularly sighted between March and May, and the island is also a nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles. You can watch as the baby turtles are released back into the sea.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Layang-Layang Island

Layang-Layang, known as "Swallows Reef" is an atoll situated in the South China Sea 300km north-west of Kota Kinabalu. The island is man-made and was constructed for the Malaysian Navy and later developed for the only dive resort, Layang-Layang Island Resort.

The island location offers absolute isolation, luckily there is an airstrip with regular flights from Kota Kinabalu, which is the only mode of transport for guests visiting Layang-Layang. The extreme location of Layang-Layang, the pristine reefs, excellent visibility, steep walls down to 2000km and regular sightings of pelagic has given Layang-Layang a much deserved reputation of being one of the top ten dive locations in the world.

With resident schools of barracuda and big-eye trevally and frequently seen green and hawksbill are plentiful and healthy with sea fans stretching to more than three meters across that filter plankton from the passing currents.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Mabul Island

Mention Mabul Island and visions of swaying coconut trees and idyllic water villages come to mind. And that's just above the water. Located only about 15 minutes by speedboat from the famous Sipadan Island, Mabul has gained its own recognition as one of the best muck-diving (a term used to describe limited visibility dives at shallow sites with usually sandy bottoms) sites in the world.

Mabul is a small oval shaped island fringed by sandy beaches and perched on the northwest corner of a larger 200-hectare reef. The reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to 25–30m deep.

Mabul is also renowned for its amazing array of macrolife, making it an underwater photographer's dream location to capture some of the rarest ecological species on film. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, spike-fin gobies, frogfish and moray eels are just some of the spectacular critters you will encounter beneath the waters of Mabul.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Mantanani Island

The demure island of Mantanani lies off the beaten tracks of other mainstream tourism destinations. The journey to the island begins with a two-hour drive to Kampung Kuala Abai jetty in Kota Belud, followed by another hour of riding on a speedboat.

The fun literally starts with the hour-long boat ride. Depending on the sea condition, the experience may even resemble that of white water rafting in Padas River—minus all the paddling. Don't hesitate to ask your tour guide for seasick pills if you cannot handle the rough ride.

The term ‘diver's paradise' may sound trite, but Mantanani Island is exactly that and more. As you plunge into the Mantanani underwater world, you'll be simply mesmerized by neon coloured fish in intoxicating swirls, adorable clownfish playing hide and seek amidst the sea anemones, vivid coloured finger corals waving about, and vast garden of living coral reefs.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Mataking Island

With its sparkling white sand, mesmerizing blue waters and top-class resort, Mataking Island is the ideal getaway for both the avid diver and non-diver. Divers can gear up and explore the Eel Garden, Coral Garden, Nudibranch Garden, Turtle Playground, Lobsters Lair and Hump Head Point.

Non-diving activities include a luxurious pampering experience at Jamu Spa, batik painting, kayaking, canoeing and jungle-trekking to name a few. A must-do during your time in Mataking is to take a leisurely walk to Pulau Mataking Kecil (literally meaning Small Mataking island) which is a 20-minute walk from the main island. The best time to take this walk is in the morning when the tides are low, allowing you to walk on a sandy stretch that leads directly to the smaller island. With the sea surrounding you on both sides, you will feel almost as if you are walking on water!

Source: Sabah Tourism

Sipadan Island

The internationally famous island of Sipadan lies five degrees north of the equator in the Sulawesi Sea (Celebes Sea). Lying 35km south of Semporna, on Sabah's mainland, like many tropical islands it is thickly forested and surrounded by sandy beaches. Sipadan is an oceanic island and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, which rises 600m from the seabed.

The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. More than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is well known for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles which gather there to mate and nest and it is not unusual for a diver to see more than 20 turtles on each dive. Another unique feature to divers visiting Sipadan is the turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain many skeletal remains of turtles that became disoriented and then drowned.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Tiga Island

Make your way to the district of Kuala Penyu and hop on a boat to Pulau Tiga! The island's claim to fame is none other than being the first ever ‘secret' location for the hit reality series, ‘Survivor'. Hence, many refer to Pulau Tiga as Survivor Island. Located just 10km off shore on the West Coast of Sabah, you can enjoy a day trip to the island but many recommend spending at least a night or two.

The island has two resorts, Pulau Tiga Resort and Borneo Survivor Resort (see contact details). There's plenty to see and do here: spend the sunny days swimming or snorkeling in its surrounding clear waters or go kayaking. Divers can explore its underwater treasures (diving courses are available).

Pulau Tiga is also famous for its therapeutic natural volcanic mud. Looking for some wildlife? Say hello the island's famous residents: snakes! Facilities on the island include a restaurant and camping site.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Tanjong Aru Beach

Located at the end of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and about 6 kilometres from KK City, this place is closest to the hearts of the locals, and just one visit to the beach will tell you why. Taking its name from the casuarinas or aru trees that fringe the fine sands, this is where one might get a ringside seat to the greatest sunset on earth every evening when the crimson sun dips slowly into the horizon, leaving the vast skies a brilliant red.

Foodstalls serving local food and drinks are open till late at night. Enjoy coconut and sugarcane juice, chicken or beef satay and steamed peanuts and corn, or indulge in a full-course dinner at the seafood restaurant located there.

The Tanjung Aru beach is also home to Shangri-la's Tanjung Aru Resort, the Kinabalu Golf Club and the Kinabalu Yacht Club.

Source: Sabah Tourism

Turtle Island Park

The Turtle Island Park (gazetted 1977) lies 40km north of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea and consists of Selingan, Bakungan Kecil and Gulisan islands. The park is a safe haven for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles and gives you the rare opportunity to watch turtle landings. Selingan, the largest of the islands, houses the park's headquarters, a turtle hatchery, tourist accommodation and basic facilities. The other two islands are more for conservation activities.

As turtle landings usually occur after dusk, an overnight stay would be the best plan to see the turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs, but shining a light on them or using camera flashes should be avoided as either can be stressful on the creatures.

Turtles lay their eggs throughout the year, but the best time to head there is between July and October when the sea is calmer. Observe the collection of eggs, tagging of mother turtles and releasing of baby turtles into the sea.

Source: Sabah Tourism