Derawan Island, Borneo, Indonesia

Getting to Derawan Island is not for the faint of heart. We took 2 planes, had a 3 hour jaw clenching ride in the rain through the Jungle and then had a 1/2 hour boat ride out to the island. We were originally going to Borneo for Camp Leakey to see Orangutans, then I read a travel article in BBC Travel article about this little island that had, “powder-fine beaches, lush interiors and mysterious lagoons with stingless jellyfish. Explore this hidden paradise before the inevitable rush of tourists.”  I was hooked and decided that I had to go and see it for myself.   Describing this island as rustic is an understatement, there is one main street and it is all sand.  There are no cars, only a handful of motor scooters.

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At first I was a little concerned about what I had gotten us into, but the island quicky has a way of growing on you.  Of course, watching sea turtles lay eggs on the beach and helping to releasing baby sea turtles helped.  There is no internet here and limited phone service, so you are really off the grid unless you have a local sim card.  We stayed in a homestay over the water and right off the beach. At $25 a night for the 4 of us, it is a bargain.  A single room for my dad was $17. The accomodations are sparse, but I was happy to have a western flush toilet after traveling around Indonesia.  There was a small restaraunt at the homestay and there  were others a short walk away. We had lots of rice, noodles and chicken. There are not many places where you can feed a family of 5 for $14.   This Island also ruined my long held hypothesis that you can get chicken nuggets, Coke and Kit Kat Bars nearly everywhere on earth.   I couldn’t find any candy bars on the island.

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The water is crystal clear and a sea turtle was swimming around in front of the rooms when we arrived. Just sitting on the dock looking into the water, we saw puffer fish, turkey fish, small stingrays and trumpet fish. You can snorkel right from the dock and I was able to snorkle with 3 different sea turtles.   The homestay also ties up banana leaves, which the turtles seem to enjoy, in front of the rooms so you can sit on the little patio in front of each room and watch them.  One of the things I really enjoyed about this place was the friendliness of the other travelers all over the island, probably because there were so few of us on the island. We would let each other know when the turtles were out or if there were any other interesting fish to come and see.  We would sit on our patios and talk about that days dives or snorkel trips and other travel adventures.


The highlight was the nightly turtle walks. WWF funds locals to chart the turtles who come on land and lay their eggs, then they dig up the nest, count them and move the eggs to different buried hiding place until they hatch. After you watch the turtles, then comes the fun part of releasing the babies. There were at least 50 little turtles to release on both nights that we did this. There is no fee for this, only a donation to the guide if you choose. The island is so small you just need to ask at the place you stay about seeing the turtles and they will get word out to one of the volunteers.

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Logistics: This is the hard part.  We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Surabaya where we had to spend the night because of the flight schedules. Most of the flights have a stopover in Balikpapan on the way to Berau. It is possible to fly directly from Jakarta or Singapore to Balikpapan and then catch a flight to Berau.  There was suppose to be a new airport opening up in Berau in April 2012 but we were there in June 2012 and it was not close to being open.  With the new airport it should make it a little easier to get to Berau.  I used Batavia Airlines and was happy with them.

Where we stayed: Derawan Homestay. It is one of the few places that had a website. There is a number on the website that you can text to arrange a reservation.

Other helpful articles: www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20120329-derawan-island-and-the-sangalaki-archipelago