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Adam - Susan (@PergiDulu)

27 Sep 2019 - 5 min read

A Tropical Escape to the Stunning Derawan Islands

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.

Four Gems of Derawan Islands

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:

Biking around the island. Bike rental prices are Rp20.000/hour and Rp50.000/day.
Relax on its white-sand beach.
Enjoy views of the sunset and snap pictures along the pier.
Visit Gusung Pasir Sanggalau (around 20 minutes away on a speedboat) during low tide.
Snorkeling. The equipment is available for rent at Rp75.000/day.
At night, you can observe sea turtles lay eggs on the shore.

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:

Observe sea turtles as they lay eggs, see the eggs hatch, and take part in releasing hatchlings to the sea.
Swim with manta rays that are often spotted around Sangalaki Island.

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:

Swim with stingless jellyfish.
Swim and snorkel around the pier.

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:

Formerly known as the Haji Mangku Cave, Halo Tabung Cave potential as a tourist attraction has grown in recent years thanks to improved access to the cave. The easiest access is to go by land to get to an entrance point, from which visitors will then follow a boardwalk path for two minutes. The cave can also be reached by sea, but only during high tide, which allows the boat to approach the entrance. Tickets are Rp20.000/person.
Swim and enjoy the blue waters around Maratua Paradise Resort.
Swim with the turtles at Turtle Traffic diving spot.
Snorkel around the pier at Green Nirvana Resort.
Local Culinary Experience

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.

Transportation

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:

Car transport from Tanjung Redeb to Tanjung Batu Rp600.000 – Rp700.000/car.
Speedboat from Tanjung Batu to Derawan Island Rp100.000/person.
Speedboat from Maratua to Tanjung Redeb Rp3.000.000 (capacity of 16 people)
Car transportation from Tanjung Redeb to Kalimarau Airport Rp150.000/car.
Speedboat for island-hopping Rp 2.500.000/day
Where to Stay?

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.

Derawan Dive Resort

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.

Derawan Dive Resort
8.3

Jl. Pulau Derawan, Derawan

Starts from Rp660.000/night
Green Nirvana Resort

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.

Green Nirvana Maratua Resort
8.9

Jl. Bayur, Payung-Payung, Maratua

Starts from Rp1.650.000/night
Itinerary 4 Days 3 Nights

+2

Friendly Faces in Derawan Islands
"I used to be a fisherman. But when tourism started to grow rapidly here around 2008, I sold the fishing boat then bought a speedboat to guide tourists around Derawan.”
- Hendrik, a speedboat captain in Tanjung Batu
“Whale sharks are often seen around the Talisayan area as they wait for small fishes that escaped from the fishermen net. When there are no fish, a whale shark won’t come up.”
- Udin, a tourist guide and the owner of a snorkeling gear rental shop in Derawan
“We are here to assist with the seat turtle breeding process. When they lay eggs too close to the beach, we would move their eggs to make sure they are not buried in salt water.“
- Rian, the Manager of Sangalaki Island Nature Tourism Park
“Actually, life used to be more like a one big family, but now there are many disputes over inherited lands that are being sold. However, to be honest, the living standard on the island has increased thanks to tourism.”
- Hempi, a motorist in Green Nirvana Resort, Maratua Island
“Halo Tabung Cave used to be a playing ground for the local kids. On weekends and during holidays we would jump from the rocks into the water.”
- Dana, a staff of Green Nirvana Resort, Maratua Island