Most travellers come to Semporna and Sipadan Island for diving and snorkelling, and while there is no accommodation on Sipadan, nearby Mabul Island is a short boat ride away. Due to security reasons – there has been some terrorist activity in the area – many travellers prefer to base themselves in Semporna town.
Semporna is also the gateway to Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Pom Pom and Mataking Islands, which are less accessible from Mabul. Wherever you decide to stay, check on the current security risks ahead of your trip.
Semporna is divided into the old town area near the bus station and, five minutes' away, the new township near the seafront. Accommodation in the old town is cheaper, but more basic, and by the sea there are many more choices. Here along with comfort, several offer views, even from a dorm bed. The number of new hotels and construction sites is phenomenal, with many aiming for the lucrative Chinese market; you’ll notice much of the signage in Mandarin. Accommodation is in high demand, and it’s wise to book ahead of time if you can.
Dominating the seafront at Semporna, multi-storey Pacific Inn’s modern-style rooms are second to none in town. Opened in June 2016, it was spic and span when we visited in August. Snazzy air-con rooms enjoy bright and airy interiors. Contemporary decor leans toward glitz, but keeps it restrained with a palette of pale grey and silver. Ash wood panels are complemented with silver patterned... Read our full review of Pacific Inn.
Mermaid Inn’s excellent common area’s make the pricey dorm beds and private rooms with share facilities not such a bad deal. This waterfront hostel has a prime corner positing above a row of restaurants. Only the dorm and one private room have windows to take advantage of the views, although the furnished balcony and lounge onlooking the sea has the goods. Neat, clean and shiny, it's... Read our full review of Mermaid Inn.
Clean and contemporary seafront Ocean Inn harbours cosy rooms with fresh cool and calm interiors. Room styling differs from zen-like simplicity to something a little flashier yet still serene. Avoid the rooms with interior windows and go for a sea view if you can. Facilities include air-con, TVs, safe, and tea-making equipment—it’s only instant coffee though. Furnishings count open... Read our full review of Ocean Inn.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the pricier private rooms in Semporna, and you find dorms a bit lacking in privacy, the pod-style dorm at 2016-opened Wanderer’s Inn may be the right choice. With an excellent location, right in the thick of the market and port area, the 28-bed male and female dorms and a 12-bed mixed dorm may seem like a large number to squeeze into a room, but the pods... Read our full review of Wanderer’s Inn.
Best Bunk Beds certainly has tickets on itself with a name like that, but it does a good job of attempting to live up to the promise. Spread over three floors of a sea-facing shophouse, it offers separate male and female dorms and a spacious common area on independent levels. The spotless air-con rooms are bright and cheery, painted with a rainbow of pretty pastels. Floor to (almost) ceiling... Read our full review of Best Bunk Beds.
Scuba Junkie Dive Lodge is the first port of call for many divers on packages with the popular dive company, and offers the cheapest dorm in town—if you dive or snorkel with Scuba Junkie. If you don't, dorms and rooms offer significantly less value as they are priced at 100 percent more. Conveniently located opposite the dive shop on a top level of a row of shophouses, the bright blue... Read our full review of Scuba Junkie Dive Lodge .
With a few extra creature comforts, Sipadan Inn 2 offers a better deal than a private room in most hostels around town, and if you cough up a bit more cash, you’ll get a decent sea view to boot. This is the second in the Sipadan Inn empire, which includes the more upmarket Sipadan Hotel and (obviously) Sipadan Inn 1. The cheaper rooms here are the same price as its younger brother’s, but... Read our full review of Sipadan Inn 2.
Mabul’s proximity to Sipadan has resulted in this tiny island being crammed full of dive resorts, cheek by jowl with local Malay and Bajau stilt villages. Mabul itself is well known for muck diving, but unfortunately is no paradise, and has a huge rubbish problem (not the kind of muck diving we enjoy). Swanky resorts tend to be on the northern side of the island where there’s a patch of sandy beach, and simple homestays clustered within the village. Almost all accommodation includes meals, and several are inclusive of diving and snorkelling. Packages are charged on a per person rate, and often divers and non-divers are charged at different rates.
It’s no wonder Mabul Beach Resort is a divers’ favourite: there’s comfortable rooms for every budget, relaxing hangout spaces, a good bar with a fun atmosphere, a pretty white sand beach and they’re environmentally conscious to boot. Wooden chalets and dorms surround a sandy tropical garden leading off the north facing beach. Eight-bed fan-cooled dorms sport solid dark wooden bunks,... Read our full review of Mabul Beach Resort (by Scuba Junkie).
Big John is certainly an affable chap and seems passionate about diving and giving back to his local community, and that seems to rub off on other staff too at Big John Scuba. Built on a platform over the sea, Big John offers a range of rooms, all with air-con and fresh hot water—for one hour per day. The standard rooms lead off a corridor and offer neat but cramped, clean interiors with... Read our full review of Big John Scuba.
Billabong Scuba wins for having the most picturesque guesthouse on Mabul: charming blue-grey individual stilted chalets are perched above the turquoise reef, connected via wooden boardwalks and bridges. Rooms are simple, but the bright-coloured interiors, wooden floors and (firm) comfortable beds move the fairly spartan rooms up a notch. Basic rooms with fans and share bathrooms sit toward... Read our full review of Billabong Scuba.
Borneo Divers Resort are a highly regarded dive operator and one of the few resorts on Mabul Island with a swimming pool. A handful of duplex wooden chalets line the paths heading back from the beach, punctuated with flowering tropical plants and birdsong. The rooms, although pleasant, feel like prefab workers huts that have been given a makeover, and we felt rather overpriced for the offer,... Read our full review of Borneo Divers Resort.
If the folding stuff is no object and two Jacuzzis (because one is not enough) in your own private stilted water villa looking out to sea sounds better than sitting at a desk, Mabul Water Bungalow Resort might be calling your name. Perhaps the name rings a bell? That may be because the resort is notorious as the sight of a well-publicised kidnapping and murder in 2014. Notwithstanding, this... Read our full review of Mabul Water Bungalow Resort .
Cheap (relatively) and cheerful Seahorse Sipadan offers a range of basic fan-cooled rooms, from lino-floored bunk-bed dorms to family rooms, set in a stilt longhouse above the water. Rooms are spartan, but clean and beds are comfortable. Don’t expect much from the bathrooms—cold brackish water showers and peeling paint feature in most. One we saw used a plastic water bottle as shower... Read our full review of Seahorse Sipadan Scuba.
Orange, yellow, blue, green, take your pick from the rainbow of cute colourful sea-facing bungalows at Sipadan Dive Centre Mabul. Or if ringgit in your pocket is more of a priority than a view, a longhouse dorm back from the beach. Sitting at the northernmost point of Mabul, this small resort has a bit more than the basics covered—not only do you get white sand beneath your toes, but air-con... Read our full review of Sipadan Dive Centre Mabul.
The spacious ocean-facing deck and double-storey viewing platform at Spheredivers Lodge offer tremendous sea gazing opportunities, and more than compensate for the rather bare-bones rooms in this friendly village homestay. Set in a wooden longhouse on stilts above the water, Spheredivers Lodge offers modestly furnished dorms and private rooms, some with ensuite. Narrow beds sport clean,... Read our full review of Spheredivers Lodge.
Summer Friends Homestay is the one of the most affordable sleeps you’ll find on Mabul, and if you’re happy to eat in the local warungs, one of the few that offer an option of accommodation only—though a full board package is available if you wish. Not only is it a bargain, but this basic homestay is super friendly and clean, and has a terrific rooftop sundeck with views over the sea and... Read our full review of Summer Friends Homestay .