Going on a Semporna trip and want to know all the fun things to do in Semporna? We have you covered! Below, you will find our guide to exactly what to do in Semporna to plan your ultimate trip.
If there’s one thing that attracts visitors to Semporna, it’s the islands – and it’s really no wonder why. Semporna’s islands are simply stunning. Whether you visit the Tun Sakaran Marine Park or one of the resort islands like Mabul Island, you’re in for a treat.
Divers are particularly spoiled in Semporna. After all, it’s one of the best regarded diving spots in the world thanks to its brightly coloured reefs and extensive marine biodiversity. I absolutely loved snorkelling here.
In addition to the islands, there are a number of other fun things to do in Semporna like exploring Bukit Tengkorak and simply soaking up the slower pace of Semporna town.
Semporna itself can get a bad rap. I can only assume this is because it doesn’t compare to how stunning the islands are. But I found Semporna to be a lively town that I loved hanging out in for a few days, especially after a week on islands and the jungle. It was nice to be around people and options again!
Below, you will find our things to do Semporna list with everything you need to know about the best places to visit in Semporna, where to go in Semporna surrounds, as well as the best places to stay for your ultimate holiday in Semporna!!
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Top 13 Fun Things To Do In Semporna 
Semporna and the surrounding coastline have been the subject of foreign Government warnings thanks to kidnappings and other events that happened here years ago by extremists in nearby Philippines. The Malaysian government has worked hard at tackling these issues and the Malaysian military has a strong presence here. Many of the islands have a military presence, there is a curfew at night on sea traffic, and local communities feel safe.
If you make it Semporna, you’ll be rewarded with all the best things to do in Semporna listed below! Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe.
Dive The Waters Of Sipadan National Park
Diving is easily one of the best things to do in Semporna, and among the top diving spots is Sipadan National Park on Sipadan Island.
Sipadan is the island you’ll hear about most frequently in Semporna, and for good reason. This is among the best dive spots in the world with a countless variety of marine life including sharks, turtles, huge schools of fish complimented by vibrant, colourful reefs.
The island is located 45 minutes from Semporna jetty by speedboat. A permit is required to both snorkel and dive by this secluded island, and only a limited number of permits are issued in order to preserve and protect it. If you are lucky enough to get a permit, you can only visit the island on a day tour.
The fee at time of writing is RM350 for the scuba fee and a RM100 conservation fee. If you’re interested in visiting, it’s wise to apply for a permit as early as possible.
Getting one is tough and usually only issued if you do a multi-day tour (with one day visiting Sipadan). On the upside, this way you’ll get to make the most of visiting this area with multiple days to enjoy the region.
Go Birdwatching In Bohey Dulang Island
Another thing to do in Semporna is to visit Bohey Dulang Island, the second largest in Tun Sakaran Marine Park and a haven for birds. Previously a bird sanctuary, it’s now part of the marine park and is home to birds like the pied hornbills, owls, doves and more.
This palm lined island is the remnants of a giant volcano. It takes just 35 minutes to reach by speedboat from the Semporna Jetty. Visit by tour or hire a private speedboat to explore the island at your leisure.
You can only take a day trip here (there’s no accommodation) where both trekking and bird watching are top of the list. It’s worth hiking to the highest point of the island. At 353 metres, it takes about 45 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with some awesome views over the ocean.
The southern side also has an extensive coral reef for diving, and the island has its own nomadic population, as well as a multitude of plant species.
See Giant Clams In Tun Sakaran Marine Park
Tun Sakaran Marine Park is one of the largest marine parks in Malaysia, with eight islands including the aforementioned Bohey Dulang.
A visit to the marine park is one of the top things to do in Semporna, and there are plenty of providers offering tours. There is a conservation fee to enter the park. However, it’s cheap at RM20 per adult (non-Malaysian rate). Tours to the marine park often include the fee.
In addition to jungle trekking and the 20+ phenomenal diving sites, you can also see giant clams! The Giant Clams and Marine Invertebrate Hatchery is located on Bohey Dulang Island. This research facility overlooks the sea and helps to conserve and breed giant red clams in collaboration with a research facility in the UK. You can check out the exhibition hall and hatchery where seven clams species can be seen.
Hike Uphill Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill)
A lesser known but no less interesting spot in Semporna is Bukit Tengkorak, or Skull Hill. This is an archeological site which was once a Neolithic pottery making site.
Located 8km from the centre of Semporna, or a 10 minute drive, things to do here include visiting the museum and hiking to the top of the hill. The museum is small and most of the artefacts are in other museums, but there is some information here as well as skeletons and fragments of pottery. It’s free to enter.
After the museum, you can climb the 610 wooden steps to the top of Bukit Tengkorak where great views are to be had. There are shelters on the way as well as information boards on the area’s geographical features. Whilst it’s just 152 metres above sea level, on a clear day you can see Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also known as the Sleeping Old Man due to its unique shape from here!
You can either visit here alone or take a tour which will take you further through the forested hill and surrounding grasslands where you can see volcanic rock and often find pottery fragments scattered about.
Experience A Traditional Spa And Massage
Malaysia is one of our favourite places to get a massage – it’s cheap and reliable. Take advantage of this in Semporna with a traditional massage at Le’One Spa. This is one of the top rated spas in Semporna, and their traditional 30 minute massages are super affordable.
You can choose from a dry Thai, oil Balinese or Semporna pressure point massage and enjoy it overlooking the sea in a traditional balinese nest swing.
Tea and snacks are available and the atmosphere is second to none. Ultimate relaxation!
Learn About Marine Life Protection At The Tropical Research And Conservation Centre
The Tropical Research And Conservation Centre, or TRACC, is located on Pom Pom Island and hosts volunteers who aid in restoring the reef.
This is one of the best ways to give back as a paying volunteer as it aids in supporting the growth of the reef and restoring the local shark population which has seen a decrease of over 90% in recent years. You can also take part in other conservation tasks and participate in multiple daily scuba dives.
Volunteers stay on the island for at least 1 to 2 weeks with all meals and full training included. Accommodation is basic with cold showers and tent accommodation, but most volunteers truly value the experience. Many volunteers opt to stay longer, sometimes for months at a time. They spend their days diving, volunteering and connecting with other volunteers.
It’s not super cheap, but it is rewarding.
Address: 4 Turtle Beach, Pom Pom Island, 91300 Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Admire The Sunset In 2win Hill Park
Located 10 kilometres west of the town centre, 2win Hill Park is the best spot to watch the sunset in Semporna. The hilltop vantage point offers stunning, panoramic views. There are also walking trails, picnic spots and abundant greenery.
To get here, you’ll need to take a taxi and there’s a RM15 fee to enter.
Address: Jln Bukit Sakong, 91308 Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Walk The White Sands Of Pom Pom Island
Pom Pom Island is one of the most beautiful among the islands of Semporna, particularly when it comes to its white sand beaches and underwater scenery. This is a top spot for underwater photography.
Most people who visit Pom Pom island are staying at the resort. To experience all the attractions, you need to stay there. There is one resort on Pom Pom Island offering villas and a variety of recreational activities including beach football, volleyball and kayaking. This is a top honeymoon spot, and the resort can easily organise your scuba diving trip and other recreational activities like a beach massage.
But you can also visit Pom Pom Island during the day and snorkel or dive in its beautiful waters. The boat ride from Semporna to Pom Pom Island takes about 45 minutes, or you can get there quicker from one of the other islands. I visited here on this day tour.
The stop we made here had some nice snorkelling, although I did prefer Mataking and Timba-Timba islands for snorkelling. There were some bigger fish though.
Take The Plunge At Mataking Island
Mataking Island is actually made up of two islands connected by a sandbar. Walking between them feels like you’re walking on water. Like Pom Pom Island, this is another top honeymoon destination, and most people visit to stay at the resort. However, Mataking Island can also be visited as part of a scuba diving or snorkelling tour.
There are plenty of beautiful diving spots dotted around Mataking Island. Take the plunge and visit the underwater post office – a must see and one of only five in the world!
I very much enjoyed visiting here. On a day tour, you can’t wander the whole island or the sandbar in between them. But there is a picnic area and the snorkelling is fantastic.
Next time, I plan to stay here so we can snorkel in such a beautiful environment right off the beach.
Visit The Crazy Beautiful Beach At Timba-Timba Island
Timba-Timba Island must be the most instagrammable island in Malaysia which is another way of saying that it’s crazy beautiful!
The one kilometre beach is perfect. There is not much else here which gives it that I’ve-escaped-to-a-total-paradise vibe. There are ten great spots to dive around the island as well as a lot of great snorkelling straight from the beach.
There are no resorts and restaurants here. I had read before visiting that there was shelter, chairs and toilets as well as props to take cool Instagram photos. However, I found nothing here at all anymore that was accessible to the public.
Thankfully, there’s still a lot to enjoy at this pretty spot. This was my favourite snorkelling area as well. The underwater life is amazing.
Swim The Crystal Clear Waters Of Kapalai Island
Kapalai Island is actually a big sandbar located a 40 minute boat ride from Semporna. It offers underwater scenery quite different from Sipadan and other islands. Here, you can see the flamboyant cuttlefish, eels and the extremely venomous blue ring octopus to name a few.
Most people who visit Kapalai Island stay at the resort, which can help to organise diving tours around this secluded island.
Explore Mabul Island
Popular for being a top diving spot thanks to its colourful reefs and abundant marine life, Mabul Island sits just off the coast of Semporna. Accessible by fast boat, it takes 45 minutes to reach Mabul Island from Semporna Jetty.
Mabul Island is tiny. There are no cars on the island and it can easily be explored on foot. There are some beaches and diving spots, and scuba diving is really the only thing to do on Mabul Island (other than relax). It’s easy to hop on a fishing boat and explore.
There are also many hotels and resorts on the island, most of which can help you organise your diving trip and have their own equipment available for hire.
For a tiny island, it can feel crowded in parts. There are two villages and there’s quite a stark difference between these and the resorts.
Go Island Hopping
In case you haven’t guessed yet by all the island mentions, the absolute top thing to do in Semporna is to go island hopping! You are definitely crazy if you come to Semporna and don’t have this on your list.
It’s easy to visit Semporna and do a day trip around 2-3 islands. This generally includes diving and snorkelling and spectacular scenery no matter where you go. It’s the easiest way to do some of the amazing things to do listed above.
Some great options are:
- Mabul and Kapalai Island Snorkeling Tour
- Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Island Day Tour
- Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan, and Sibuan Island Hopping Tour
I particularly enjoyed my Timba-Timba, Mataking and Pom Pom Island snorkelling day tour. There is such great snorkelling among these choices as well as the opportunity to visit some of the islands. I loved it.
You can watch my video walk-through of taking this tour below. It’ll give you a great overview of the islands around Semporna and what you can expect to experience.
Semporna Attraction Map
Best Place To Stay In Semporna
When it comes to Semporna accommodation, most options are located in either the old part of town or the new part of town by the sea. They are located just 5 minutes drive from each other. The old town has more basic options whereas you’ll find newer hotels in the new side of town.
Many travellers opt to stay in Semporna as opposed to the islands as it’s generally regarded as safer and more secure. It’s also much more affordable, but not as fancy or picturesque.
As such, hotels in Sepmorna can be in high demand and it’s wise to book ahead. Below are a few different options to consider including a budget, mid-range and more expensive option.
What better way to stay in Semporna than in a water chalet! Sea Star Resort Semporna has eight stunning water chalets located just off the coast of Semporna, with the resort offering a complimentary shuttle boat service from the jetty.
This resort is small but very comfortable and relaxing with lovely water chalets that sleep up to 5 guests (there is an additional charge for more than 2 guests). WiFi is included, as well as private bathrooms with hairdryers, a kettle with tea and coffee, air-conditioning as well as a sitting area, safe and daily housekeeping.
This resort serves a complimentary daily breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner in their restaurant/cafe. There’s also a sun terrace on-site to enjoy the beautiful sea views.
This is a great resort for diving and island hopping tours which can all be organised with the resort.
MID-RANGE – Semporna Seaview Hotel Review
Semporna Seaview is located close to the jetty and sea, and offers clean but small rooms in a super convenient location.
This is a new hotel where everything is still fresh. Rooms are in shipping containers and include air-conditioning, tea and coffee making facilities and free bottled water, as well as WiFi, an in-room TV and modern private bathrooms. You can choose from balcony, standard twin and deluxe options. Note there is no fridge or safe in rooms.
Parking is available on-site, and there is a nice lobby where you can relax. It’s also a great spot for sampling local restaurants and eateries.
The only downside of this cool hotel is that it can be noisy if any events are on nearby.
BUDGET – Jono’s Place Semporna Review
Jono’s Place Semporna is a fabulous budget guesthouse with nice wooden furniture and friendly staff. This is a fantastic budget option with free WiFi throughout, a convenient central location and a car park on-site.
You can choose from studio, double and triple rooms. Some offer shared bathrooms whilst others have a private bathroom. Rooms are basic but include a kettle, towels and shelves.
The best part is how accommodating this guesthouse is for guests. A simple breakfast is included for guests, and snacks are available at any time including instant noodles, bread, eggs etc. There’s also a TV area, a washing machine available for use, a fully equipped communal kitchen and plenty of great restaurants around.
How To Get To Semporna
It’s easy to get to Semporna by plane, bus or car. If you have your own car, great! You are good to go.
You can take a flight from KL, Kota Kinabalu, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan or Tarkan to Tawau International Airport. From the airport, you can take minivans, buses, taxis or rental cars to reach Semporna.
Another option is taking a bus from Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kota Kinabalu or Sepilok to Semporna town centre.
You can read our full guide to how to get to Semporna from Sandakan here.
If you need to take a bus, click here for the latest timetables and bus prices.
To see all the latest flights and prices, click here.
Semporna With Kids
Whilst Semporna has much to offer visitors, it’s probably better for a couples getaway or an adventurous island hopping trip than a family retreat.
The best things to do in Semporna are visiting the islands, going diving and relaxing – not that much for kids! Whilst this may be okay for older kids, it’s harder with young kids especially if they can’t swim yet.
Some resorts do have kids’ play equipment and are more family orientated, and there are some shallow spots where kids can go snorkelling, so it depends what suits your family.
If you want to do island hopping in Malaysia with kids, somewhere like Langkawi may be a better option.
For all that it offers, Semporna is a rare gem. A trip here not only offers some of the best diving and underwater scenery in the world, but it’s also affordable, clean and easy to get around.
It’s truly a wonderful spot. I very much enjoyed my time here. In fact, it made me wonder why the Maldives get so much press for their stunning islands, when these islands are just as beautiful but offer so much more. The underwater life is just amazing with such crystal clear water.
Whilst Semporna is considered safe these days by most people, if you are considering a trip to Semporna, we recommend reading any local government advice before going to ensure you’re making an educated decision and ready to enjoy Semporna’s treasures!
Know exactly how to get to Semporna from Tawau here or Sandakan here. You can also check out this full guide to Semporna island hopping here, all the best hotels in Semporna here or read our full travel guide to 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!