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Snorkelling tours in Kota Kinabalu with Borneo Dream

Top tips for snorkelling in Sabah 

Want to experience the spectacular and diverse world under the water, but diving is not your thing? Then snorkelling may just be the perfect activity for you. With instructors who know the beaches and reefs in the Sabah region like the backs of their hands, Borneo Dream is the place to make your snorkelling desires a reality. Discover our range of tours in this blog, while we offer up some key tips to make a perfect snorkelling trip in Sabah.

Choosing your location

Your snorkelling location is probably the biggest influence on the kind of experience you will have. The best location for you will depend on the background and water confidence of your group, and what kinds of wildlife you ideally want to see.

Tunku Abdul Marine Park

This is a super popular diving and snorkelling location. It includes five islands and occupies just under 5,000 hectares. Because of the scale of the marine park, there’s a snorkelling tour location to suit any ability or schedule. Whether you depart from the beach or from further out at sea, you’ll take in a huge variety of sealife and reef backdrops. Excursions here are flexible and accessible, not to mention breathtaking!

The Islands

  • Gaya – The largest of the islands in the marine park, you can be based at the stunning 5* Gaya island resort. For keen divers, snorkelers and beach goers, this is a perfect location that combines access to the ocean with ultimate relaxation.
  • Sapi – situated just off Gaya, this little island is about 20 minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu. In low tide you can even walk over to Gaya. When you’re not snorkelling (if you choose an unguided tour, for example) there are beautiful beaches and the Coral Flyer zipline!
  • Manukan – the second largest and most developed within the park, there’s loads on this island in addition to great snorkelling beaches.
  • Mamutik – With shallow water and generally gentle currents, this island has developed a reputation for being good for novice divers or snorkel parties.
  • Sulug – the most unspoilt and remote island within the park, Sulug is known for its long sand spit and extensive coral reef.

Lankayan Island

On the east coast of Sabah, Lankayan Island is a lovely snorkelling destination. Excursions can take place straight from the white sand beach. Plus, as there is just one resort on the island, it will feel less busy than beach-based snorkelling in other areas. Snorkelers who are partial to a bit of luxury should head here!


Permits for diving here tend to be allocated to divers rather than snorkelers. It’s the only oceanic island in Malaysia, so it’s extremely popular. For good reason, with turtles and shipwrecks to explore as well as the plethora of tropical sea life in the stunning reefs. The best way to access this island is with a resort package.

Is Coast or Boat Best?

How do you decide whether to snorkel from the coastline or from a boat? This will come down to confidence and whether you like to avoid the crowds! For many parties who we work with, a chartered boat trip is the best way to get the best snorkelling experience. You can organise your itinerary to suit your group, and get to access quieter and more remote reefs.

Should you choose Guided or Independent?

Since at Borneo Dream, we offer both guided and unguided snorkel tours, it’s helpful to look at why you may prefer one to the other.


If you want to make sure that you get the best sights and absolutely maximise your experience, go for a guided tour. For family groups especially, having the added expertise of a PADI-qualified snorkel guide can offer that extra confidence and feeling of safety.


Perhaps this isn’t your first trip to Sabah. You might know and have a preference for the spots that you like to snorkel. Alternatively, you may just prefer the flexibility and independence of choosing when you want to head into the water. Unguided tours offer that much more flexibility and mean that you can avoid busy times on the beach within the timescales of the tour. Also, remember that there is a marked buoy line in which unguided snorkel excursions should remain.

When is the best time to go?

You may have noted the Malaysian monsoon season running from April to October in the southwest, and October to February in the northeast. However, the great thing about snorkelling in Sabah is that it’s a year-round activity as the area is below the typhoon belt. Unless the weather is severely affecting visibility, excursions will go ahead. The best times are April to June.

Managing your Mask

You’re snorkelling because you want to see all the wonderful wildlife in the reef, right? So let’s not let your mask mist up! Of course, our rental kit is of a good standard and looked after well – which is half of the work done! On your excursion, keep your mask out of the sun as if it is left to heat up too much, this will cause fogging when you enter the water. If you end up with water in your mask, lift your head out of the water and lift the bottom of your mask to drain.

Taking Photos

Snorkelling will offer up some of the most spectacular photo opportunities that you’ll ever experience! So our advice is to rent or invest in an underwater camera. It’s important to remember while you’re photographing in the ocean not to touch the reefs and wildlife. Treat your surroundings gently and you’ll come away with some timeless memories.

At Borneo Dream, we love to share the sights and experiences of our surrounding reefs. We’ll share our knowledge and passion to make sure that your snorkelling excursion in Sabah is absolutely perfect!

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