Borneo island guide

Mainland Borneo is famous for its dense rainforest & megadiverse ecosystem, but fewer travellers are familiar with the idyllic tropical islands scattered around it.

Many of these sit in what’s known as 'Turtle Corridor', an extensive and internationally protected stretch of water between the Philippines and Malaysia. It’s a critical habitat for sea turtles and a profusion of other marine life which, coupled with fantastically clear waters, makes for excellent diving. The turtles can also be spotted on land, when they come ashore to lay eggs.

The islanders take great care to protect the creatures that make them so special, & many of the islands run turtle conservation projects. While this means you may sometimes be unable to access certain beaches in the evening, you may well get the chance to watch a turtle egg-laying or hatching, under a ranger’s supervision - infinitely more magical than looking for them by yourself in the dark & accidentally trampling on a nest.

With tropical beaches to relax on and professional dive-masters on hand to help you explore the world-class waters, one of Borneo’s islands may well be that paradise you dream of whenever your attention wanders.

Our Destination Specialists have travelled extensively in Borneo and across Asia, researching the best hotels, sights and activities - read more in our Borneo travel guides. You can also visit our ‘weather and when to go’ pages for the best time to visit Borneo based on weather and climate, or get in touch with one of our Borneo specialists to discuss your travel plans.

travel aware logoPlease note...

...that the UK's Foreign Commonwealth Office is currently advising against all but essential travel to all islands off the coast of eastern Sabah from Kudat to Tawau, including (but not limited to) Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Litigan, Sipadan and Mataking. 

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Discover Borneo's Islands

Mabul Water Bungalows


Diving, snorkelling, beach, R & R

Mabul, about a mile off Borneo’s North-Eastern coast just below Semporna, is barely a mile long and home to 2,000 villagers, most of whom live by fishing the richly stocked seas nearby. It’s not just handy for fishermen, either; the coral reef which extends East and South of Mabul offers some of the richest diving you’ll find in the world today.

Your stay on Mabul would give you access to expert dive-masters with daily boat trips nearby and across to Sipadan, where you’ll find green and hawksbill turtles, white-tip and grey reef sharks, scalloped hammerheads, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish - just a few of the large pelagics that congregate there in vast numbers. Mabul itself is especially great for muck & macro, with an abundance of small exotics like frogfish, hairy squat lobsters, bobtail squids, pipefish, pygmy seahorses... the list goes on and on.

Dive round Mabul and pop back for a shower and a stretch in between, or make a day trip to Sipadan; whichever you choose, you can do the other one tomorrow. This ecosystem is guaranteed to shoot straight into your all time top five dives - dare we say to number one?

We favour two of Mabul’s resort options. The Mabul Sipadan Water Bungalows is a lovely little cluster of 15 stilted chalets, linked to the beach by a wooden walkway, while the Smart Diver Resort is nestled in a coconut grove looking out towards Sipadan. They’re both very much geared towards divers, though also certain to please any non-diver with a love of tropical beaches, the ocean, sea turtles and perhaps a little pampering in MSWB’s Ka’andaman spa...

Mataking Island

Mataking Island

Diving, snorkelling, beach, R & R

Forty minutes off Sabah’s East Coast, Mataking is remarkable - an exquisite, stylish resort, dive centre and spa, peacefully coexisting with a turtle conservation project, not to mention its pristine jungle interior. You can walk around the island in about an hour and, when the tide permits, out across a bar of tropical sand to the little wooded islet known as Kecil, which sits just off Mataking’s coast. Guests are kept off the sand overnight, as with the other islands, to protect the turtles.

The Balinese style villas, chalets and rooms are beautifully decorated, allowing plenty of natural light inside. You can watch the sea from the chalet bathrooms, while villas have their own outdoor jacuzzi, overlooking the forest. The restaurant serves a tasty menu that combines the best of international cuisine, from Thai fish to English lamb. There are also a couple of comfortable bars, for when you can’t resist sipping on a cocktail as you watch the tropical sunset and feel unavoidably pleased with yourself for choosing this resort.

There are many thoughtful touches here, like the watchtower you can climb to get a panoramic view of your amazing surroundings. The resort’s selection of activities are lovely, with guided jungle walks, coconut bowling, batik painting, cookery lessons and sea kayaking amongst the many things on offer. It’s even possible to get married here, and a good number of honeymoons are spent here too; you can even arrange an underwater ceremony, should you wish!

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