Derawan Islands, the Gem of Borneo

People might crave for sea vitamins once in a while. After my last trip to Belitung, I had never been to any other beach or sea. It made me say “yes” right away, when my cousins asked me to join an open trip to Derawan Islands at the end of 2016. People said, the more you go to the eastern part of Indonesia, the more beautiful beaches you could find. Derawan Islands is located at Berau, the province of East Kalimantan. Celebes Sea or Sulawesi sea spread across the area, and yes, it is indeed beautiful. The uniqueness of this Derawan trip is that you got to visit each islands which offers different views, different charms, and different activities that you can do there. Eager to know more what’s in the Maldives of Indonesia? It’s gonna be a long post, but stay tune!



People called Derawan as the Maldives of Indonesia because of its infamous water villas. Well, it’s actually not only villas, but also simple inns and hotels built a bit away of the shore, just above clear and pretty blue color sea in the neighborhood. We came all the way from Jakarta to Juwata International Airport in Tarakan, East Kalimantan. You actually can choose the flight route between Jakarta – Tarakan, or Jakarta – Berau, a small city in East Kalimantan on its Kalimarau Airport or Berau Airport. You have more options on the first route though. And, if you’d like to consider and see the different between both routes, here are some things to consider:

  • Jakarta – Tarakan
    • Flight duration: around 2.5 hours
    • Trip duration to the harbor: around 30 mins
    • Boat-trip duration from Tarakan to Derawan: around 2.5 – 3 hours (depending on the weather condition)
  • Jakarta – Berau
    • Flight duration: around 4 hours
    • Trip duration to the harbor: 2-3 hours
    • Boat-trip duration from Berau to Derawan: around 1.5 hour (depending on the weather condition)

I think the first route is a better choice, although we spent more hours on the boat. Therefore, many people tend to choose this route.

It was 24th of December, Christmas Eve! We were so excited to catch up our first flight at 5am in the morning (of course, we need to be at the airport at around 3.30am) and arrived in Tarakan at around 9am. Tarakan has one-hour earlier time difference to Jakarta. Our tour-guide picked up us at the airport and brought us for a simple breakfast (or brunch to be exact) in a small restaurant in Tarakan. I don’t think they have a very specialized kind of foods, only some tofu-veggies dish (I forgot the name) and chicken steamed rice (kinda similar with the Chinese food one). Then, we went to a harbor, or maybe it’s more into ports, near the market where we caught the boats who will take us to Derawan Islands.

The boat is a speed-boat with capacity for 19 people. It’s not too-small or too-big, with an open space in the back, meaning the 2 or 4 seats at the back is not covered by roof to cover us from the sun and winds. Feeling excited, I, who initially sat at the middle under the roof, started to feel sea-sickness. The boat went very fast, but I just couldn’t bear whenever the boat jiggled-up because of the waves. So, I decided to move to the back where the sun and crazy winds hit me directly – but I felt much much better sitting there.

After 2.5 hours on the boat (Thank God, we got a nice wheather), we finally arrived at Derawan Island that would be our home for the next 4 days. We got a simple water-inn just near the port, in which each room can be filled with 2 people. Nothing fancy there, but it was just enough. We got nice bed for two, small television, air-conditioner (I think this is the most important thing since the weather was just too hot there. Luckily, it was not humid), and hot-water shower at the bathroom. We also got a nice balcony at the back where we can see sea directly below our feet. If you’re lucky, you can see a group of turtles swimming around under you because the water is very clear.

Our rooms
The water inns

Time was 2 pm already when we arrived. We took a rest a bit, then our guide brought us to a small restaurant in the neighborhood to have our lunch. They provided a simple, yet delicious lunch. After that, we took a rest again (believe me, 2.5 hours boat trip is freaking tiring!) and clean up ourselves before we went out again to go to the sunset spot in Derawan. We walked for around 1km to go there. What we learned there was that everyone live in a very simple neighborhood with simple facilities. One example, they still need to share the electricity – meaning, they need to take turn to get the electricity turned off every day and a very bad mobile network. We, of course, could not escape from that. Every once in a while, at any day, we’ve got the electricity in our rooms turned off and we also got difficulties accessing the internet from our mobile phones. But again, how bad could it be when you had nice beach and sea just around you?

The ‘colorful’ neighborhood, with white sands!
Waiting for the sunset by the sea.

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Sea and sunset. The best combination the earth could offer. ๐Ÿ™‚

We were back to our inn after it got dark, had a dinner, and just went to bed after a tiring travel day. We were excited though for the ‘real journey’ that we would have tomorrow. ๐Ÿ™‚


Maratua Island

Our first destination on the island hopping agenda on the 2nd day is Maratua Island. We went there by the same boat we rode yesterday from Derawan Island for around 1 hour. This island is famous of its ‘luxury’ water villa. I think this is the most expensive water villa among other places in Derawan Islands. It was early in the morning and we were not so lucky because the sky was really dark at that time. It didn’t take long time until the rain drenched heavily on the island. Didn’t want to be drowned in our sadness, we decided to have fun with, of course, taking pictures!



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The water villa
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Look at how dark the sky is!

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Goa Haji Mangku

After the rain finally stopped, we continued our trip to the nearby island in Maratua area. The attraction there is famously called as Goa Haji Mangku or Haji Mangku Cave. Here, we were challenged to jump off around 5-6 meters cliff above the cave to 15 meters-deep sea water. I was thrilled to try although I was scared. However, since everyone did that, so did I. We had our lunch box there.

PS: I didn’t have any pictures of this place since we left all of our phones/cameras on the boat. You may google it. :p

Kakaban Island

Our 3rd stop of the day is Kakaban Island. It was located around 30 minutes away from Goa Haji Mangku. We walked for 300 meters from the beach to the inside part of the island. A long wooden bridge was built nicely for the visitors to be able to walk comfortably, although it was very slippery due to the rain in the morning. Behind those thick trees which covers the real jewel of the island from the beach, is a gigantic sea-water lake which is the habitat of millions of stingless jellyfishes. I heard there are only 2 places where you can swim around with stingless jellyfishes in the world, and one of them is here, at Kakaban Island. What a treasure it is!

The idea of swimming with jellyfishes alone is scary for me, as I’ve ever been stung by jellyfish once. However, once I pushed myself to just do it and swam around the lake, I found this as a very amazing experience! It was one of my favorite spot during my Derawan trip. There were just countless jellyfishes swimming around the lake, from the mini one to the gigantic one. The further you swam, the deeper the lake, and the bigger the jellyfishes you found. One of the biggest one that I found has around 30cm wide diameters. I think there are two types of jellyfishes there, the brown one and the transparent one. Indeed, an amazing experience!

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Done with jellyfishes, we went back to the shore and snorkeled around the area. What I found amazing snorkeling in Kakaban Island was that onceย  you swam to a bit in the middle, you can find the borderline between the shallow water to the deep water. You can significantly notice the color difference between the two. In the shallow water, you can see beautiful corals and fishes, while once it goes deeper, you can see dark and infinite horizon in a dark blue color underwater.


Sangalaki Island

We visited this island to take a rest and see turtles! Not much to see in this island, but a great place if you want to take a rest after a full day of adventure in a laid-back seat just next to a nice beach.

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On our way back to Derawan, we’ve got another amazing experience by witnessing the real dolphins and manta rays up-close just in the middle of the ocean. Only experienced divers are allowed to dive in this manta-point area. This really makes me wanna learn diving hahaha! The pictures below are the personal archive of our tour-guide who is very expert in diving.



The Ocean Sunrise!

What is a holiday without catching the sunrise? We woke up very early that day and at 5.30am we were already on the boat. It was dark until you see the light. I’ve got a goosebumps, looking at the majestic ocean sunrise up close! This is living nowwww!


The pic is blurry because its taken from a moving boat.

Swimming with Whale Sharks!

Wait… what?! This is one of the kind of my YOLO experience. I was thrilled when our guide told us that we would try to find whale sharks there. We would need to go early in the morning and if we are lucky, we could find those giants in less than an hour. If not, then we need to keep sailing till we could find them. Usually, it took two or three hours to find them. It is also a good thing that we came there on December, because in certain months, those whale sharks will go away from the area. We need to set our expectation rights though, because sometimes they appear, sometimes they don’t.

And… we were extremely lucky when suddenly our boat stops in the middle of the ocean. Our guide screamed out of excitement, “They’re here! They’re here!” Everyone jumped off immediately to the back of the boat until our boat was shaking. I couldn’t hide my excitement as well when I saw one big whale shark swimming gently at the back of our boat, not taking so long until another one, the huge one, swam across the boat. Everyone was excited. However, when our guide jumped off the boat and told us to jump one by one, I was terrified. Those whole huge whale sharks… am I going to swim along with them? But, looking at what everyone else are doing, I muttered my courage. Once in a lifetime, I said. So, I jumped off. I was super cautious and felt anxious, looking around, afraid if suddenly there is whale shark appeared from the back. Our guide was really kind though. He was full of guard and guide us one by one to approach the giants and even took pictures of us. There were around 5 of them with the biggest one is as huge as our boat. The rule is, you cannot touch them. I heard, they will be hurt by our touch. Therefore, please be kind and just respect their existence. What an amazing experience!

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Danau Labuan Cermin

We continued our trip to Labuan Kelambu village, Biduk-biduk district, Berau, which is located 3 hours boat-ride from Derawan. Another long trip, another long sea-sickness I know! But… it is all worth it when we arrived there.

From Labuan Kelambu, we moved to a smaller boat (looks like canoe, but bigger) and rode for about 5 minutes to Danau Labuan Cermin or Labuan Cermin Lake. Just like its name which means ‘mirror’, the lake offers a super clear fresh water on the surface. It is also called as ‘Danau Dua Rasa’ or ‘Two Flavors Lake’ because it contains fresh water on top and the sea water on the 2 meters below. Spent the whole day earlier getting wet in a sea water, it was such a refreshment to be able to swim around the fresh water. The amazing view underwater here is also indescribably!

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Manimbora Island a.k.a Spongebob Island

On our way back to Derawan Island, we dropped by a small island with white sands and a lot of coconut trees. From distance, this island indeed looks like Spongebob Island. Rough waves and bad weather didn’t stop us to stop by this island and took a lot of great photos!

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The whole three days here was a blast. It was gone in a blink of an eye. We couldn’t believe that it was our last day already. We woke up a bit late than usual, packed our stuffs and got ready to leave the island at 9am. I wasn’t all that excited due to the fact that I was about to experience another long trip on the boat. I wish there was a shortcut from here to the city. Ain’t I problematic? I love sea and beach that much, but I hate riding on the boat.

Anyway, I’m the kind of person who got easily excited too. And I did when our guide told us that we’re going to stop by our last destination of the day.

Pasir Timbul Sanggalau

It is Pasir Timbul Sanggalau, or Gusung Sanggalau which is located right behind Derawan Island. It is actually a small sandy island which only appears when the tide was low. Therefore, we need to go there in the morning. There is nothing there except a beautiful white and clean sands with endless emerald sea. As far as you can see, it was a perfection to close our trip in 2016. It also filled our hearts with gratitude that we’ve been through such an amazing journey with God’s countless beautiful creatures.

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Many people asked me how was the Derawan Trip when I posted most of the photos to my Instagram. So, here I give you a bit information about it.

I joined an open trip from Dolan Karo Konco which cooperated with local tour, Derawan Happy Fun. Almost all of our expenses are covered already with the tour fee, except for the flights. We got a very nice guide (@idrisroman) with a nice boat too. Although it is located quite far from Jakarta, it doesn’t cost you that much though. The estimated budget for a 4 day 3 nights trip per person are:

  • Returns Flight from Jakarta: IDR 1.600.000 / USD 120 (I used Lion Air)
  • 4 Day 3 Nights Tour: IDR 2.500.000 / USD 187 (covering almost everything! Meals, transportation, snorkeling equipment, etc.)
  • There is almost no additional expenses at all.
  • Total: 4.100.000 / USD 310

What a sweet ending of my 2016. Looking back to this trip, I learned that something is more enjoyable when you can overcome your fears by just doing it! Yes, just do it! ๐Ÿ™‚ Ready to plan your own Derawan trip? You won’t regret it!

PS: All photos are personal archive, unless otherwise stated.

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"Perhaps, then, this was what travelling was, an exploration of the deserts of my mind rather than of those surrounding me?" - Claude Levi-Strauss

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