In terms of ease of access and affordability, the best islands for snorkelling at in Sabah are located within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. The Marine Park which is located in front of Kota Kinabalu is home to five islands – Sapi, Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan and Sulug – and each of them is fringed by coral reefs. The three islands with beaches open to the public offer snorkeling from the beach in a cordoned-off area, although the best snorkeling in the Marine Park is to be had from a boat along with coral reef sites away from the busy beaches.
For that perfect island getaway experience, you should check out Lankayan Island located in the Sulu Sea accessible via Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah. Lankayan offers world-class snorkeling right from the shore and with just one Resort located on the island, you will feel like you have the white sandy beach and fringing coral reefs almost to yourself. The shallow waters are typically beautifully clear offering easy sightings of turtles, rays, and a range of tropical fish life from the beach.
The dream for non-divers visiting Sabah is to go snorkeling at world-famous Sipadan. However this it not that easy to do as only a selection of Resorts / Operators will allocate Sipadan permits to snorkelers (most allocate them to diving guests only). One Resort who takes snorkelers to Sipadan is Mataking Reef Island Resort (subject to permit allocation).
Malaysia is split across two landmasses, Penisular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak), and the best season for snorkeling differs across these locations.
Peninsular Malaysia has an annual monsoon season (from April to October in the southwest, and October to February in the northeast) so you’d avoid these times if snorkeling is on your ‘to-do list’ for your holiday.
Sabah, Northern Borneo is known as the ‘Land Below the Wind’ a phrase used by seafarers in the past to describe all the lands located below the typhoon belt, so free from climatic disturbances and typhoons. This makes Sabah a 365 days a year location for holidays with snorkeling offered all year round, albeit the months at the start of the Dry Season (April – June) usually offer the calmest, driest weather perfect for snorkeling.
The quick answer is “yes”. Sabah has a tropical climate and as part of this, we will typically have some tropical rain later in the day on most days. This rain is warm, often a welcome relief and for most activities does not stop play. Specifically for our snorkeling activities from Kota Kinabalu:-
- It is still safe to snorkel when it’s raining.
- You won’t get cold if it rains as the sea temperature, for most of the year, is a toasty 28C – 30C. We also provide all our snorkeling customers with 3mm tropical wet suits for thermal protection.
- The tropical marine life will still be there to see as you enjoy your snorkeling activity.
Whilst Sabah’s tropical climate means there’s a good chance it will rain at some point during your holiday, it’s this climate that also supports the rainforest, and it’s inhabitants, found here. Most days in Sabah, especially during the Dry Season, start off with blue sky, sunshine and a calm breeze with a chance of rain typically later in the day, evening or night time. As long as you come on holiday prepared for a hot, humid and sometimes wet tropical climate you will have a great time!
Most watersports trips depart from Jesselton Point Jetty (https://g.page/JesseltonPoint) in central Kota Kinabalu. If you are staying at a city centre hotel or guest house you will often find it far quicker to walk to Jesselton Point. If you are staying at hotels or resorts such as Shangri-La Rasa Ria or Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa then I would certainly grab a taxi.