Kapalai is a fantastic destination to visit. Though it is called an island it is actually a big sandbar situated on the Ligitan Reef with a very exclusive resort with beautiful villas built on stilts. Kapalai used to be a real island with vegetation, but over the last few hundred years it was reduced to sea level due to erosion. There are no beaches, though you can walk over the sandbar during low tide and sun bath at the circular man-made beach. Kapalai is all about snorkeling and diving, non-divers might have a better time at Mataking Island with its nice beaches. Directly around the resort there are fantastic snorkeling opportunities and also some very nice dive sites. The best time to visit Kapalai is between April and September.
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Diving at Kapalai Island
People that visit Kapalai Island usually come there to relax, to snorkel and to dive. There are numerous nice dive sites directly around Kapalai. Another great thing is the unlimited house reef dives the resort offers to its guests. Diving facilities are great at the resort. Experienced dive masters take divers to the nearby sites. Most scuba dive enthusiasts visit the area to have a chance to dive at Sipadan Island; only about 15 minutes by boat from Kapalai. If you like muck diving you are best off at Mabul Island, the macro paradise of the world. There is a monsoon season between November and February, though visibility is still good.
Accommodation at Kapalai Island
There is only one resort at Kapalai Island called the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort. It is a beautiful and exclusive resort with 30 chalets with private balconies built on stilts along the reefs. Rooms have a fan only as the resort goes through great lengths to minimize the negative impact on the fragile environment. Positive are fresh water (which is recycled afterwards and not released into the ocean), WIFI internet (free in lobby area, RM20 per day in chalet) and there are no mosquitoes which means you can leave the doors to the balcony open during the day/nights for extra coolness (balconies facing the north have the best views and most privacy). Prices are quite high but include 3 daily boat dives (including dive(s) at Sipadan), unlimited house reef dives, airport and boat transfers and all meals (items that you do have to pay for have fairly reasonable prices).
How to get to Kapalai Island
To get to Kapalai Island you first need to take a flight to the coastal city of Tawau. There are daily flights operated by Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur (and Kota Kinabalu) to Tawau. From Tawau Airport you can either get a taxi (around RM100+) or a bus/minivan to the village of Semporna, a 1,5 hour trip through endless palm oil plantations. At Semporna harbor boats to the neighboring tropical islands depart. The speedboat ride to Kapalai takes about 30 minutes. If you make reservations at the Sipadan-Kapalai Resort, then your package includes an airport meet & greet plus the trip from Tawau Airport to Kapalai (via Semporna, including the boat ride).
Map of Kapalai Island
Below you can see the exact location of Kapalai Island on the interactive map (in the middle).