Best Scuba Diving in Borneo
1. Eel Garden
If macro life is your thing, diving the island of Mabul—off the southeast coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo—will feel like hitting the jackpot. Watch hundreds of garden eels shimmy from the sand, and look for mantis shrimp, ribbon eels and flamboyant cuttlefish.
2. Seaventures Dive Rig
Off the north coast of Mabul, a converted oil-rig-turned-dive-resort makes for a different place to bed down, with 360-degree Celebes Sea views. Stays on the rig come with unlimited diving below, where you can swim through its crisscrossing structures while scouting for pygmy seahorses or giant grouper.
3. Hike Mount Kinabalu
Avid trekkers should tack on extra decompression days in Sabah to attempt summiting Malaysia’s tallest peak—13,435 feet—which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is sacred to the locals. (Count on at least two days and one night.)
4. Barracuda Point
Off the east coast of Sabah, the island of Sipadan is a truly world-class dive destination worth every cent of the permit price. Often called the world’s best dive—process that!—Barracuda Point is off the island’s northern tip and attracts pelagic predators à la barracuda and jack in schools so thick they block out the sun.
5. Hanging Gardens
Underwater photographers love this site on the west side of Sipadan for its plunging reef, covered with fans and barrel sponges, and boundless colorful denizens such as anemonefish, sweetlips, damselfish and chromis. Turtles and sharks often cruise by too.
6. Cruise the Kinabatangan
Spot threatened proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and crocodiles during a river cruise along Malaysia’s second-longest river, home to some of the country’s best wildlife viewing.
7. The Jetty
With just one resort, the sandbar island of Kapalai is surrounded by shallow reefs that are home to mega macro life along the lines of blue-ringed octopuses, ghost pipefish and mimic octopuses. To spot elusive—and drop-dead gorgeous—mandarinfish performing their nightly mating rituals, fin over to the coral rubble alongside the Kapalai jetty at dusk.
8. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Between 60 and 80 orangutans are being rehabilitated at any given time in this facility near the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sabah. See them running free in the reserve as you walk along boardwalks, or visit the on-site nursery to goo and gah over orphaned babies.
9. Navigator Lane
Two words: schooling hammerheads. Seeing them in water that reliably pushes the 100-foot visibility mark is reason enough to head to this site off Layang Layang, a deep-sea atoll west of Sabah.
10. Feast at the Kota Kinabalu Market
Time waylaid in Sabah’s capital can be spent sampling the endless street-food options that include steamy bowls of laksa soup, Sang Nyuk Mian—special Sabah-style pork noodles—and all manner of Indian, Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian fusion.
Divers Guide to Borneo
AVERAGE WATER TEMP From 80 to 86 degrees F WHAT TO WEAR 3 mm AVERAGE VIZ From 50 to 100-plus feet WHEN TO GO Year-round, but April to December brings the best visibility MORE INFO seaventuresdive.com; swvresort.com
TERRY WARD got certified in Florida’s springs for a college course, and has since dived everywhere from Halmahera, Indonesia, to Norway’s icy Svalbard archipelago.