Few years back, I remember my first time travelling to Sabah, and it significantly marks my eleventh states to visit in Malaysia (which I completed in March 2019 by visiting Sarawak). It was a remarkable journey from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu via bus.
One thing for sure, Kota Kinabalu is a 'seafood' heaven and one thing that I totally regret is not visiting any of the amazingly beautiful island of Sabah. To be exact; there are a few that are slightly 15 minutes journey by boat from KK. There's Manukan Island, Sapi Island, Mamutik Island and Gaya Island.
Not only that, the East and Western shores of Sabah have a stunning array of beautiful islands and therefore frequently sought by divers because the seas are full of coral reefs and marine life.
A 45-minute trip from Semporna by speedboat, Kapalai Island was among one of the beautiful islands mentioned. Although it's called an island, it's actually a big sandbar on the Ligitan Reef with a very exclusive resort with beautiful villas built on stilts.
Did you know ? Kapalai Island is Semporna Top 1 in Instagram-Worthy Locations
Kapalai Island is probably the best diving spot in the world as it is what you imagine an ideal island would be like, clear blue waters, deep blue sky and picturesque chalets. A visit to this island will be your one and only memorable experience which you can never forget.
Here are some basic info as a travel guide to Kapalai Island, Sabah.
Best Time To Go
Kapalai is a year round diving destination. So, if you are looking for the best conditions to dive, it's from April to October. From January to March, weather can be unsettled but nothing too bad.
Do note that there is just one resort on the Island, book your stay well in advance
Going to Kapalai is not an easy task, but everything is well arranged to get you there.
You firstly need to fly from Kuala Lumpur (3 hours flight) or Kota Kinabalu (55 min flight) to Tawau airport. The best companies to fly there are Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines.
From Tawau airport, you have to take a taxi around RM100 +/- or a mini van for about 2 hours to reach the port of Semporna.
From Semporna harbour, you take the fast boat from the resort to reach Kapalai Island in about 45 min.
Important : The latest boat to Kapalai leaves at 3:30 pm so take an early flight
Kapalai is actually really small and the only way to get around is by boat or with a sea kayak. There is no beach as such, just a sandbank.
Attractions and Activities
Since it is a small island (read:sandbank) most of the activities are related to the water, such as snorkelling, diving and sea kayaking.
Snorkeling & scuba diving
Together with Mabul, Kapalai Island is known as a gateway to Sipadan, just ±20 minutes away. It is also an excellent muck diving destination.
Ocean kayaking is available at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.
Other things to do include sun tanning, heading to the spa or relaxing by the large sandbank or your own private balcony. Trips to Sipadan, Mabul and other islands may also be easily organized.
Best Diving Spot
Since most people come for diving; we add an extra guide to the best diving spot available near Kapalai.
Most scuba dive enthusiasts visit the area to have a chance to dive at Sipadan Island - one of the best spot in the world for scuba diving and home of the big fishes!; only about 15 minutes by boat from Kapalai or you can go Mabul Island, the macro paradise of the world which is just 5 min away by speed boat.
The most famous dive sites around Kapalai are:
Spotted Ray Channel
For those who are yet to venture into diving sports but would love to; there are PADI Dive Instructors that offer a variety of PADI courses here at Kapalai, including:
1. Discover Scuba Diving
2. Open Water
3. Advanced Open Water
4. Introduction to Night Diving
Accommodation at Kapalai Island
There is only one resort at Kapalai Island called the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort. Kapalai Dive Resort is a luxury water village with 59 wooden chalets offering twin and triple sharing accommodation are attached with a cleverly thought-out balcony which offers the total sought out privacy and built on high wooden stilts in the middle of the ocean - an airy, comfortable, sunny water village with no land in sight!
The Resort offers great food, surprisingly roomy and elegant twin-sharing wooden chalets with huge private balconies and attached bathrooms, and a couple of miles of walkways for those who like to take their morning jog while looking at thousands of fish just a few inches beneath their feet.
Other than divers, the resort also popular among couples or newly-weds for their honeymoon.
The standard check in-time is 14:00hrs and check out time is 12:00hrs
The only 'shopping' activity can be done here is at the souvenir shop in the resort itself. Also note that there are no Banks or ATM facilities, but the resort accepts major credit cards.
It is wise to stock-up your need in Tawau town or at the Semporna harbour area, before getting to Kapalai
Again, since it is not a big island like Langkawi, Redang or other islands in Malaysia, there is no alternative eateries available.