The word Semporna means perfect in Malay, and there is no other word that can describe these islands more accurately. Situated on the south-eastern coast of the state of Sabah in Malaysia, these islands are nothing short of what one could describe as paradise on earth. Be it for the solo traveller in you or the diver in you, with pristine waters, great weather and clear skies, Semporna is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to enjoy a relaxed getaway. Known to have some of the most beautiful dive spots in the world, the Semporna Archipelago – which is just a short boat ride away is home to a number of dive centres. So, if you are a diver, you are sure to find one of the best deals which will not just cover your entire diving experience but also give you a glimpse of what the islands have to offer.
Pom Pom Island
Bohey Dulang Island
But when one speaks of Semporna, you are not just talking of the rich marine biodiversity around the island but also the Islands of Semporna. Also known as the Coral Triangle, this area covering the eight islands is home to more than 75% of the coral species, more than half of the world’s reefs, 3000 species of reef fish and seven species of marine turtles, hence making it an absolute must-visit places for anyone interested in exploring the underwater world.
Located in the Celebes Sea close to Sabah, at a distance of 45 minutes by boat from the Semporna town, this island is known to be one of the most beautiful islands on the planet. It has mainly received its name due to abundance of Pom Pom trees and is also home to some of the most beautiful diving spots. While the main attraction of the island is diving, non-divers can choose to admire the spectacular scenery and relax under the warm sunrays. While the Pom Pom Islands is very famous with newly married couples, it also attracts people who are looking to cover beach-related activities such as kayaking, beach volleyball or even a bike ride along the entire coast of the island. While the island is accessible through the year it is highly recommended that one plans their visit anytime during May to August as this is the resting time for turtles and hence it’s an experience to just sit back, relax and watch baby sea turtles get out from their shells. Another very important feature of the Pom Pom Islands is the way the houses have been built. They are all built in a traditional pattern giving the entire island a very cosy look and a definite disconnect from the rest of the world. Another admirable feature of the island is its extremely environmentally friendly approaches to operate the entire island. From turtle hatcheries to protect turtle eggs to cutting down the import of water and actively recycling the water used on the island, the local people of this island are always aiming to find new ways to keep the island in sync with nature.
It is no doubt that the waters of the Sabah are breathtaking and another pearl to this wonder is the Bohey Dulang Islands. For anyone interested in mountains and the sea alike, this place is an absolute no-miss. The island came into existence by the remnants of an ancient volcano and in separated from the biggest island of this area by a shallow channel. What is exceptional about this island is the view that one gets on climbing the mountain. From clear turquoise blue waters for as far your eyes see to the crater forming Bohey Dulang itself is now flooded with seawater, creating an out of the world 25-metre deep lagoon that is lined with a long stretch of coral reef and hence a must-visit for anyone who has the slightest interest in marine biodiversity. While visiting this piece of heaven on earth, you could either choose to sit back and relax and recharge your battery or you could choose from the variety of activities that the island has to offer. From snorkelling to diving, from take long hikes that will introduce you to a whole new world of flora and fauna with a backdrop of breath-taking views of sparkling blue waters and lush greenery to birdwatching, which the island is also famous for. If you are a nature-lover and bird-lover in particular, this activity must not be missed as you are sure to spot partridges, hornbills, owls and black-naped fruit doves.
Located around 30 kilometres from Semporna and can be covered in less than an hour, the Pandanan Islands are strategically located in the territorial waters where Philippines meet Malaysia. Even though the island is relatively smaller and can be seen from the nearby Pom Pom Islands, the beauty of the islands is unmatched. The main attraction of the islands is the surge of green turtles that the island is home too. While visiting the Pandanan Island be sure to catch the phenomena of all these turtles on the beach during the islands high tide occurrences. But not just turtles, the Pandanan is homes to a vast variety of marine life, and if you are near the steep slopes, you are sure to catch eagle rays and dolphin, marlin fish and sailfish. If you are looking to observe the rarer lot of the maritime ecosystem, be sure to drop by the shallow reef at the southern end of the island. The local people of the island actively work towards conserving the marine life and hence there are new and traditional methods employed to ensure minimum wastage of any natural resource. While the island is only accessible by water, Pandanan is further secluded as it is only accessible by speedboats. But in this regard, you will be spoilt for options as there are tons of service providers that one can avail at the Semporna jetty.
Known for its coral reefs and known locally as the battleship islands, this triangle-shaped island is said to among the loveliest islands in the Celebes Sea. Depending on the nature of the tide, it would take a minimum of thirty minutes for one to travel by boat to these islands from Semporna. Known to be a great picnic spot, the island is bordered by coconut palms and has just the ride mood to relax and explore while totally enjoying the seclusion and vastness of the Sea. The main attraction of the Sibuan island is the fact that it is located atop a coral reef and was additionally formed by the remnants of a nearby coral reef. For the geological buff in you, another attraction of the island is the presence of limestones across the island. While there are no resorts of places to stay on the islands (as a visit organised here are mainly for day trips), the clear waters and silver sand make it a great spot for anyone who is interested in Scuba Diving and Snorkelling. With a great combination of shallow plateaus and steep slopes, the island forms a great bed for diving courses, both intermediate as well as advanced. Therefore, while visiting the Sibuan island, it is always recommended that one carries tons of sun screen, water and snacks to help you power through the day. For anyone interested in experiencing the Sea Gypsies (a set of nomadic locals that live on small settlements on the sea) this is the perfect spot. While they are very welcoming, they work towards protecting the sea and hence be sure to properly discard your waste to prevent upsetting them!
Known as the magic island, due to its disappearance during high tide, one may be under the assumption of living directly on water and not on an island when the island is visited. Kapalai is said to have been the prettiest of the islands in this belt but due to land erosion, what is left now is a narrow sand bar situated in the Ligitan Reef that only comes to life during low tide. The chalets are all built on high wooden silts and hence one can always observe the marine life right below your feet. From stingrays to lionfish, from turtles to different variety of schools of fish, this place truly makes you feel like you are one with nature. The main attraction of Kapalai Island is scuba diving and snorkelling. There are tons of services in this regard and if you are looking to rest, rejuvenate and get a good sunbath worthy vacation then your go-to place has to be Kapalai. While there is only one resort at Kapalai Island, you can rest assured that this is all that you are looking for. It is highly recommended that your visit be planned between the months of April and September as the islands are cooler and the waters more welcoming during these months.
Voted as one of the top five dive sites in the world, the island of Sipadan had also been described as an untouched piece of art. Known to attract the most diverse marine life form the blackness of the open sea, this island can only be described in one word- mind-blowing. While the island is not as large in size and can be covered within 25minutes on foot, yet the crystal clear waters is home to some of the most amazing species of marine life. Another very unique feature of the island is that it is composed of living corals which grow atop an undersea volcano which rises 700 meters from the seabed. While visiting the Sipadan Island, you will not just be blown by the diving culture that offers daily trips to diving spots such as Barracuda Point, Turtle Cave, West Ridge, Hanging Gardens, Lobster Lair, Staghorn Crest and Coral Gardens, one can catch a wide variety of sharks, green turtles, schools of jackfish and barracudas and if you are lucky then you may even come across a shiver of scalloped hammerhead sharks. But this is not just it, you are also met with some of the widest variety of birds. From tropical birds that include sea eagles, sunbirds, starlings and wood pigeons, you are also going to stumble across exotic birds such as coconut crabs that scurry the island freely. While here be sure to consider getting your diving certificate as there is no better place to tick that off your bucket list than the Sipadan Islands itself.
Located at just about 35 minutes of a jetty ride away from Semporna, Mabul Islands is known to be one of the best muck diving sites across the world, your first take on the island is going to be the amazement of how close the corals are to the shore. While the other islands of Semporna are isolated and one may find the much-needed space, Mabul has over 2000 residents, and yet the island has managed to maintain its peace, quiet and natural aspects. From corals that are available to you at your foot to the milky way galaxy that is known to light up Mabul’s sky at night and provides a scenic backdrop that is visible from most parts of the island, this island is nothing short of heaven on earth. Located in Sabah, Mabul Island is the first Malaysian state to witness the golden rays of the sun every morning at about 5.45 am, and hence when here, this is an absolute must no miss phenomenon. What adds to the experience is that since the entire island is extremely conscious of its pollution control, the milky way and the sunrises are way clearer and more visible. Other fun activities that one might consider would be sea kayaking and the coral dives that are to die for. Explore Mabul in a Molokini transparent kayak to reach pristine stretches of sandy beaches, waterfront picnic areas and secret hideouts unreachable by foot. If you happen to find yourself on the Mabul Island in the months of April, be sure to attend their annual Regatta Lepa Festival, which takes place at Semporna. The entire festival is colourful to its soul and depicts the customs and traditions of the locals and is spread over three to four days with people pouring in from across the world to witness the festival. Some of the must witness activities of this festival include tug-of-war, small dugout boat race, and the duck catching competition.
Known to be one of the most romantic islands across the globe, the Mataking Island is sometimes said to be more romantic than even Italy, Mataking is a 2-in-1 island and covers two islands namely Bigger Mataking Besar and the small Mataking Kecil, that have access to each other on days of low tide. While the only resort on this island is on the Mataking Besar, the island still is home to various activities that are both couple-friendly as well as a dream come true for any water baby. The one aspect that is exciting about the Mataking Island experience is while the diving experience in itself is out of the world, one can additionally choose to post letter to your loved ones from the ‘Underwater Post Office” that is the first of its kind in Malaysia. The post office is a converted 40-foot wooden cargo ship that is said to have sunk in 2006 and thus making it a reef. But if you are not much into diving, snorkelling, canoeing or kayaking there is nothing to be worried about, you can choose to lay back on the beach, play some beach volleyball, go on the night treks to watch fireflies, the rare coconut crab and turtles too. The islands consist of both expensive as well as affordable accommodations, so one can accordingly choose their experience based on the budget they are travelling with.
It is clear from the above that if you are looking for a laid back vacation to recharge your batteries or if you are one of the diving buffs or even someone with a keen eye for marine lifeforms, the islands of Semporna cannot and should not be missed at all costs. From the beautiful tropical weathers, white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, these islands have it too to give you an out of the world experience. While one may believe these islands are similar, don’t be fooled by that assumption as each island has its own characteristics and features. From the difference in the ecology itself to the sea gypsies to even the water, each island is an experience by itself. Where not all islands provide for accommodations, most of these islands can be covered through day trips, and these can be easily arranged by various travel agents and other locals. To experience an adventure of a lifetime, be sure to visit these islands with trip.com.