Semporna is located on the south eastern coast of Sabah in Borneo. This small town brings in many tourists, but it’s not the town most visitors want to see – it’s the surrounding islands and underwater environment.
Semporna is world renowned for its beautiful islands and, above all, it’s fantastic diving and snorkelling sites. It’s one of the most biodiverse centres of marine life with schools of fish, turtles, sharks and stunning coral reefs all on display.
There are many islands off the coast of Semporna including world famous Sipadan Island, the islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park and many others. The best way to see them is with a Semporna island hopping tour. It’s such an amazing experience.
We’ve written this guide to help you plan your Semporna island hopping Sabah trip. Below, you will find full information on the islands, tours, accommodation and more.
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What Are The Semporna Islands?
The Semporna Islands are the islands around Semporna in the Semporna Archipelago. There are many islands here, including the eight islands that make up the Semporna island park or Tun Sakaran Marine Park.
You can get an idea where they are located in the Semporna island map further below. Each island offers its own beauty and diving spots.
Some of the most popular islands to visit are…
Sipadan Island is the best known island Semporna offers for two reasons. Sipadan Island is regarded as one of the top diving spots around the world. It was also famously the site of a terrorist incident in 2000 involving a hostage situation.
Sipidan was closed to tourists for a long time but has since opened up again with protection.
You’ll need a permit to visit Sipidan. Only a limited number of these are issued each day, and usually you’ll need to buy a four day package of the area with a travel agency to secure one. If you’re lucky enough to get one, you’re in for a treat.
Sipidan has over 12 diving spots with stunning marine biodiversity on display at spots like Barracuda Point, where you’ll swim with schools of barracuda. The island also has a wall just under 10 metres from the shore which drops off deeply into the water making for some very exciting dives.
Sipadan is also a top island for wildlife. It is the best island in Semporna for its wide array of migratory birds, and highly regarded for its turtles and the hawksbill.
Sibuan Island is one of the eight islands that make up the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. With sandy white beaches, coconut palms, diving spots and an array of birds, its often regarded as one of the most beautiful in Semporna.
Sibuan is popular with divers for its coral reefs and colourful fish like the mandarin and frog fish, but also for its rare bird species. It’s also home to a local nomadic population of around 2000 people, known as the sea gypsies.
There are no resorts of facilities on Sibuan, which makes it a true island escape.
When Sipidan Island closed to tourists in 2000, Mabul Island took its place. As such, it’s among the most visited islands in Semporna. There are multiple Semporna island hotel options here, and two small villages home to around 2,000 people. For a small island, in parts it can seem heavily populated.
Mabul can be easily explored and offers a beach surrounding the island with a variety of scuba and snorkelling sites. It’s well regarded for its variety of marine life including the blue ring octopus.
Mabul Island accommodation ranges from backpacker hostels to pricey 5 star options. Many people opt to stay here for several days.
Note, there’s an entry fee for Mabul Island. This is usually included in the island hopping tour (if you tour here).
Mataking Island is to the northeast of Semporna and one of the furthest away from Semporna. It is a small, private but stunning island and offers great snorkelling and diving spots.
This island offers visitors pristine beaches as well as the opportunity for jungle trekking on the connected Mataking Kecil Island. It’s easy to spot wildlife like lizards and birds.
Snorkelling and scuba diving are both on the to-do list here, with angel fish, ribbon eels, clownfish and even sharks among the most seen. There are multiple dive sites like the Garden of Eden – aptly named!
The water is so clear that we were able to easily watched colourful fish from inside the boat, although, of course, getting in the water yourself is even more amazing.
Of course, no visit to Mataking Island is complete without a visit to the underwater post box where you can send a waterproof postcard with mail picked up twice a week.
There is also a popular resort, Mataking Reef Resort, with excellent facilities which makes it a top honeymoon destination.
Timba-Timba Island is more sandbar than island, but this is what makes it such a beautiful spot to visit. It has a stunning 1 kilometre beach with waves lapping on both sides.
Timba-Timba is super popular with day trippers. It used to have some facilities like chairs, toilets and instagrammable swings and some other items. However, these are no longer available.
It does have a beautiful beach and dive spots with eels, frogfish and barracudas all often seen. This was my favourite place to snorkel when I visited many of these islands. It’s amazing.
There are also great coral reefs and sea turtles – the island is also a turtle hatchery.
Pom-Pom Island offers the quintessential white sand beach and incredible underwater scenery. It is often visited as part of a day tour, but you can also stay on this island. This Semporna island resort has some of the best facilities among resorts in Semporna.
There is an expansive coral reef which surrounds the island. It also offers a large number of fish species and is a nesting spot for turtles.
I enjoyed snorkelling here, although I did find it better at Mataking and Timba-Timba. Unless you are staying on the island, you can’t visit this island (but you can enjoy the waters surrounding it).
Kapalai Island can be visited as part of an island hopping tour. Then, you can spend time snorkelling and diving around its crystal clear water. Greenback turtles are a common sight here, as well as flamboyant cuttlefish, crocodile fish, octopuses, mantis shrimp and frogfish to name a few.
There’s also a resort at Kapalai Island, the stunning Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort with great facilities and beautiful water chalets.
Bohey Dulang Island
Bohey Dulang is another island that is part of the Semporna islands park (Tun Sakaran Marine Park).
Bohey Dulang is unique among the islands because, in addition to diving spots, it’s also popular for hiking. Its highest point of 353 metres offers panoramic views over the water and surrounding islands with the hike taking around 45 minutes.
The island is also popular for bird watching. It was once a bird sanctuary.
The Giant Clam and Marine Invertebrate Hatchery is also located on the island. This clam breeding facility and research centre has an exhibition hall and hatchery.
Map Of Most Popular Semporna Islands
Why Visit Semporna Islands?
There are many reasons why you should visit the Semporna Sabah islands!
Semporna is a paradise for diving. Both its coral reefs and abundant marine life have been noted as among the most impressive in the world. If diving isn’t for you, snorkelling is also an option, and there are fabulous snorkelling spots around Mabul Island.
Semporna’s islands are also the perfect place to simply get away and relax. There are many resorts here, and even a water chalet can be very affordable compared to other spots around the world.
How To Go Semporna Island Hopping
When it comes to how to go island hopping in Semporna, you have a couple of options.
The first option is to book an island hopping tour through your resort. Many resorts on the islands include island hopping and diving tours as part of a package stay. You will need to ensure this is included when you book.
You can also book a day tour. This is our preferred choice. It gives you more options on where to go so you can see what interests you.
There are some awesome Semporna day tours available. Below are our top recommendations.
Best Semporna Island Hopping Tours
Here’s a comparison of the best island hopping Semporna options…
|Tour||Islands Visited||Best For||Book Here|
|Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Island Day Tour||Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom/Pandanan Islands||Budget option with snorkelling experiences||Click|
|Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Island Discover Scuba Diving||Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Islands||Suitable for beginner and first time divers||Click|
|Semporna Island Snorkeling Experience||Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan and Sibuan Islands OR Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom Pom/Pandanan Islands||Enjoy a snorkel and hike in the same day||Click|
|Mabul and Kapalai Island Snorkeling Tour||Mabul and Kapalai Islands||The best snorkelling experience around Kapalai Island||Click|
|Leisure Diving Experience in Semporna Island||Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom Pom Islands OR Mabul and Kapalai Islands||The best tour for experienced divers||Click|
The first Semporna island hopping day tour is ideal for visitors looking for a range of experiences like walking on the beautiful island beaches, seeing reefs and marine life by snorkelling and enjoying a leisurely day spent on the water.
This tour takes you to three of the islands including Timba-Timba, Pom Pom and Mataking Island. It includes admission to all islands as well as snorkelling equipment, lunch and a glass bottom boat ride.
Commencing at 9am, this tour begins at the Semporna Ocean Tourism Centre where you’ll meet your tour guide and head to your first island. You’ll be taken to dive sites perfectly suited for snorkelling. The tour concludes at 4:30pm where you’ll return to Semporna jetty.
Insurance is also included in this tour which is great. This is one of the best value island hopping tours in Semporna.
I very much enjoyed this tour as there is good variety both above ground and in the water. I loved the snokelling at Mataking Island and Timba-Timba in particular, and I highly recommend this tour.
If you keep scrolling down, you’ll find a video I made of this tour so you’ll know exactly what to expect.
If you’re looking for a beginner scuba diving tour, this is one the top options to choose from. Beginners and first time scuba divers who choose this tour will receive full instruction from a PADI certified diving instructor.
This tour visits the three islands of Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Island, and includes insurance, lunch and all entry fees. Gear and equipment is all included.
The tour commences at 8:30am at the Dive Centre in Semporna with the departure set at 9am. Your first stop is Timba-Timba Island, where you can walk along the beach and take your first scuba dive. You’ll then head to Mataking Island for lunch and more scuba diving, before visiting Pom-Pom island for a snorkelling experience and returning to Semporna jetty at 4:30pm.
This is an excellent and immersive scuba diving experience and is excellent value for a scuba diving tour.
It’s actually the same tour as the one above with the exception that you dive at two of the sites. You can see a full video walk-through of this tour in the video below.
If you want to explore the islands just as much as the water, this is the tour for you. This is a great tour for experiencing both the stunning underwater scenery, gorgeous beaches and the view from the peak of Bohey Dulang.
There are two options for your island hopping experience. You can visit either Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan and Sibuan Island for a day of snorkelling and hiking, OR Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom Pom/Pandanan Island for a complete beach and snorkelling day. Opt for the tour to Bohey Dulang and you’ll hike to the highest point where you can enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and islands.
This day tour starts at 8am and finishes around 3:20pm. Itincludes all snorkelling gear, a full safety briefing and a packed lunch.
Swim and snorkel in shallow water, walk the island beaches and sandbars and enjoy a hike to the highest point of Bohey Dulang Island. These are the highlights of this tour.
Mabul and Kapalai Island are two of the best known islands for diving and snorkeling in Semporna, and this tour will take you to both of them. This snorkeling activity is suitable for first timers where you’ll visit three dive spots around Mabul and Kapalai Islands, and have ample time for relaxation.
The tour commences at 8am and finishes at 3:20pm. It meets at Semporna Seafront Resort Township pre-departure. This is a snorkeling tour with no diving, but you still get briefed by a diving instructor to make the most of the experience. You’ll then take the 45 minute boat ride to Mabul Island for snorkeling and exploring, where you can expect to see colourful fish, coral reefs and turtles.
A buffet lunch is served before heading to Kapalai Island for more amazing snorkeling. This is an affordable tour that includes snorkeling equipment but note it doesn’t include the entry fee to Mabul Island or insurance.
If you’re an experienced diver looking to make the most of the diving experiences available in Semporna, this is the tour for you.
This tour offers two options to choose from – Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom Pom Islands or the ever popular Mabul and Kapalai Islands. It starts at 7:45am for an 8am departure, and returns to Semporna at around 3:20pm. The tour includes your admission fee to Tun Sakaran Marine Park as well as Mabul island, and three dives are offered as well as a packed lunch.
This tour is not for first timers and a diving license is required to participate. Instructors are also PADI certified so don’t worry if you haven’t dived for a while.
This tour is among the best options for a true diving experience in Semporna.
Semporna Island Hopping Day Trip Video
Below, you can watch my video walk-through of my Semporna island hopping day trip to Mataking, Timba-Timba and Pom Pom Islands.
You can do this tour too! Click here to see the latest prices.
Best Semporna Island Resort Options
|Resort||Island||Best For||Book Here|
|Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort||Kapalai Island||Proximity to other islands including Mabul and Sipadan||Click|
|Mabul Paradise Lodge||Mabul Island||Convenience with some amenities like a shop on Mabul Island||Click|
|Pavalintang Resort||Located off Bum Bum Island||Seclusion and relaxation in a new resort||Click|
If snorkelling is on your radar then the Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort is a great place to stay. Both Sipadan and Mabul Island are just a few minutes away by speedboat.
These water chalets are built above a reef on the shallow waters surrounding a sandbank. As such, divers are rewarded with a colourful array of marine life. The surrounding area is beautiful, and the resort has built boardwalks to get around and make the most of the surrounding scenery.
There are over 50 chalets here sitting above the shallow water where you can see fish swimming below. Some chalets are modern with air-conditioning, a sitting area and a balcony overlooking the water. Others are older and in need of repair. Private and secluded, these chalets are also built to be airy and comfortable.
The resort offers guests an open-air buffet style restaurant, a games room, equipment for water activities available for hire and a souvenir store.
This is a top option for relaxation, with snorkelling around the resort and room for other water activities.
Located just off Mabul Island with direct access via a boardwalk, Borneo Divers Mabul Resort is a great option for travellers looking to enjoy the islands.
This hotel is popular for diving packages booked in combination with accommodation. Room types here include executive beach chalets and luxury villas, either with a king or twin beds. Beach chalets include air-conditioning, a flat screen TV and tea/coffee facilities. Luxury villas offer a private balcony. Both room types are comfortable and contemporary.
There’s also a nice restaurant here, as well as 24 hour security and a kids pool and trampoline if you’re visiting as a family.
Additionally, the resort offers a buffet breakfast, table tennis and other activities on-site, as well as a spa and an outdoor pool.
Pavalintang Resort is a lovely accommodation option sitting off the coast of Bum Bum Island. This resort is certainly further from Semporna but as such, it offers its own unique scenery and dive sites. There is a fixed boat scheduled from Semporna Jetty.
Relatively new, this resort offers clean and comfortable accommodation in their deluxe sea view chalets. These chalets sit on the water and include a private bathroom with toiletries, double bed and balcony overlooking the water. The location is quite secluded compared to other offerings in Semporna.
Airport transfers as well as dive tours can all be organised by the hotels concierge, and daily housekeeping is offered. There’s also a shared lounge, sun terrace and restaurant.
I hope this article has been helpful and that you feel confident about island hopping in Semporna and ready for your tour!
My recent island hopping adventure in Semporna was absolutely fabulous, and it has become one of my favourite spots in Malaysia. It’s just so beautiful from every angle.
It’s an incredible spot, and whether you go for diving, snorkelling or just to relax, it’s sure to be worth it.
Want to learn more about things to do around Semporna? Read our guide to things to do in Semporna here and all the best hotels in Semporna here. Want to know how to get here? Read our guide to getting to Semporna from Tawau here. You can also find all our guides to amazing experiences in Sabah here.
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Have any questions? Join our Malaysia Travel Planning Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!