Adam - Susan (@PergiDulu)
27 Sep 2019 - 5 min read
with Adam & Susan (@PergiDulu)
Derawan Islands may not be as popular as the Thousand Islands, which is located more closely to the Indonesian capital. We, too, had first heard about the Derawan Islands, East Kalimantan, about 7 years ago; and according to the locals, tourism in the region only began to grow 10 years ago. After asking some people who have traveled to the region, we concluded that most would opt to travel with open trip services, perhaps to avoid any hassle and to save more on their budget.
For the sake of exploring other alternatives, we decided to head to Derawan Islands without a tour group and without having local contacts at hand. Besides pre-booked flights and accommodations, all activities and transportation were arranged on-the-go.
So, did traveling independently to Derawan Islands turn out to be a challenge? Apparently not. On the contrary, everything appeared to be easy and straightforward. We need only to ask around and everything can be arranged. Through this article, we would like to share the information we gather from our trip and show that visiting Derawan on your own is not as difficult as you think.
Of the islands that make up this archipelago, there are four that have become the most popular among visitors and are must-visit spots for island-hopping (renting a speedboat for this activity costs Rp2.500.000/day). Two of these islands can be your base to get around Derawan Islands.
This is the island most often used as travelers’ base to get around Derawan Islands. There are plenty of options when it comes to accommodations and places to eat that meet various budgets. You can find souvenir shops and rentals for snorkeling here as well.
Things to do:
Location: 1 hour from Derawan Island with a speedboat.
There are no local residential areas on Sangalaki Island, only an exclusive resort and a Nature Tourism Park that focuses on the preservation of marine life, most notably on the habitat of green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles.
Things to do:
Location: 2 hours from Derawan Island with a speedboat.
Much like Sangalaki Island, Kakaban Island is also uninhabited. Its main attraction is the brackish water lake that is surrounded by a thick forest at the center of the island. In this lake, you will find plenty of stingless jellyfish.
Things to do:
Location: 2.5 hours from Derawan Island with a speedboat.
Maratua Island is quite a complete package. There are local villages on the island, exclusive resorts, an airport, and numerous tourist spots to visit.
Things to do:
Derawan Islands is also home to a dish that is unique both in its name and its presentation. Known as tehe-tehe, the dish is round like an orange but hard as a shell, akin to a sea urchin with its thorns scraped off, revealing a smooth surface. This shell is filled with glutinous rice and steamed until cooked.
Tehe-tehe does not use any additional ingredients and spices, and therefore does not have a distinctive flavor. It is, however, quite savory as the rice is cooked with juicy fat inside the shell.
Typically served during special occasions like a party or a traditional celebration, the dish isn’t exactly easy to find. We were quite lucky to be able to taste tehe-tehe with the help of the resort staff who caught a few sea urchins for us during low tide and subsequently cooked it for us.
Although access to Derawan has improved, reaching the destination still took quite a long travel time due to a few transportation changes throughout our journey.
There are two options for you to choose from. First: fly to Tarakan, continue with public transportation to Tengkayu Tarakan Port, then hop on a speedboat to reach Derawan Island.
We went for the second option, which is to fly to Berau, continue on a car ride to Tanjung Batu Port (around 2.5 to 3 hours), and then on with a speedboat trip to Derawan Island (around 30 to 45 minutes).
For our trip back to Berau, we found an option to take a speedboat directly from Maratua to Tanjung Redeb Port (Berau). The journey took 2.5 to 3 hours before we continued by car for 20 minutes to Kalimarau Airport.
If you’re wondering which option is more convenient, this really depends on your preference. Going by land takes quite a while and the road conditions may be a bit rough. Going by boat is a faster option but is also highly depends on the weather conditions.
Here’s an approximation of how much we spent on transportation:
Of the four most visited islands in the Derawan Islands, most would opt to stay in either Derawan or Maratua. Derawan is home to a variety of stays, from beachside resorts with rooms perched right above the water to homestay lodgings. Meanwhile, most accommodations on Maratua are resorts with rooms connected by boardwalks that jut out to the sea.
This resort is located next to a public beach and has many room options, whether ones that are directly above water or by the beach.
Jl. Pulau Derawan, Derawan
The resort has many room types, from ones that accommodate two people to family rooms for larger groups. Rooms with views of the sea are also available.
Jl. Bayur, Payung-Payung, Maratua