International travel may not open up soon so if you’re itching for some new adventures, why not turn your sights to your own backyard? Here are our top offshore island picks you can visit for a quick getaway.
Did you know that Singapore’s main island is surrounded by around 64 offshore islands? Aside from the world-famous Sentosa Island, there are other islands you may not have explored yet. With the help of Simon Chin, a professional licensed tourist guide, we pick seven of these islands and give you the lowdown on each.
Go there for: Birdwatching, hiking, cycling
Coney Island is a 133-hectare island located at the northeastern part of Singapore, about 20 minutes away from Punggol Settlement by foot. The island has a rich history — in the 1930s and 40s, it was called Haw Par Island under ownership of the founders of Tiger Balm and was even a leisure resort in the 1950s. Today, the majority of the island is part of the 81-hectare Coney Island Park. Simon suggests immersing yourself in the island’s undisturbed flora and fauna and rustic charm either by hiking or cycling through the various paths. Venture deep enough and you might even find relics from the island’s colourful past like the Haw Par Beach Villa.
On top of being Instagram-worthy, the island is also home to around 80 bird species and is a favourite pit stop for migratory birds. There are various bird hides in the park for birdwatching enthusiasts to take shelter in while waiting to catch a glimpse of them!
Go there for: Beaches, rich history
Legend has it that a magical tortoise transformed itself into an island to save two shipwrecked sailors—one Malay and one Chinese, thus the name kusu which means “tortoise or turtle island” in Hokkien. “Kusu is great for people who appreciate nature and tranquility – as well as legends and superstition.” Owing to its history, the main attractions on the island are the three Malay shrines and the Chinese temple that are popular among devotees.
This 8.5-hectare southern island is a 20-minute ferry ride from Marina South Pier and has various lagoons and pristine beaches that are popular for day-trippers looking for some fun in the sun away from the crowded beaches in the mainland. But take note that there are no food and beverage outlets on the island and overnight stays or camps are not permitted.
Lazarus Island & St John’s Island
Go there for: Tranquil setting, beaches, sea activities, fishing
Just beside Kusu Island are these two islands connected by a paved bridge. In the late 19th century, Lazarus Island was used as a prison confinement while St John’s Island was a quarantine station for cholera cases. All that has changed and both islands are now popular getaway spots famous for their relaxing and peaceful settings. Both boast clean, white and sandy beaches with clear waters perfect for scuba diving and snorkelling. Can’t get enough? St John’s Island has accommodation if you plan to stay the night.
The best way to explore these islands and get closer to nature is by following the footpaths. Simon shares a hidden gem on Lazarus Island: “The path will eventually lead you to a dead end but walk a few metres further and you’ll be greeted by a nice hidden lake with clear blue waters and a picturesque view of the mainland.”
Go there for: Birdwatching, marine life, educational insight
For the uninitiated, Pulau Semakau may sound like just another offshore island. So what makes this island special? Well, it’s where you’ll find Singapore’s first and only landfill. While a landfill may not sound like your typical destination, you’ll be surprised that the island is incredibly scenic and has a thriving and diverse wildlife. It’s also known to be one of the best places for birdwatching in Singapore. “If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to catch rare birds and rare marine life when it’s low tide,” shares Simon.
Visiting Pulau Semakau is slightly harder than the other islands as you’ll need a permit from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and you can only go there through one of two tours available: the landfill tour by the NEA or the intertidal walk led by nature societies. You’ll also need to charter a 12-seater boat which costs $400 for a return trip from either West Coast Pier, Marina South Pier and Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal, so it might be best to go in a group.
*Due to COVID-19, the island is currently not accepting visitors. Check this page for the latest updates.
Go there for: Off-road cycling, camping, hiking, fishing nature and exploration
Pulau Ubin is a 1,020-hectare island located in the northeast of Singapore. It’s a 15-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal and is one of Singapore’s most popular islands attracting both tourists and locals. It’s accessible, has a lot of activities, and its kampong (traditional village) and tranquil vibes offer a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. “Ubin also has a number of shrines and temples but the German Girl Shrine is particularly interesting because of how it came to be so look out for it when you’re there!”
On the island, you’ll be able to visit fish farms, coconut rubber plantations, and historical sites including one of Singapore’s few remaining kampongs. If you’re looking for adventure, you can take a leisurely hike, rent a bike and go on one of Ubin’s challenging off-road cycling routes, or join a mangrove kayaking tour.
Go there for: Snorkeling, hiking
Here’s another island with a rich history. According to legend, the islands appeared at the spot where two sisters drowned after attempting to save each other and escape from forced marriage with a pirate. Located south of Singapore and west of St John’s Island, it’s accessible by private charter boat from West Coast Pier or Marina South Pier.
On the island, you can visit Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, Singapore’s first marine park which spans about 40 hectares around the islands, where you can find a wide variety of habitats including coral reefs, sandy shores and seagrass areas. You’ll also find Singapore’s first turtle hatchery there. “Sisters’ Islands are best known for water activities like snorkelling thanks to its diverse marine life. Also keep a look out for the monkeys as they can get quite aggressive.”
Before you go on your Singapore offshore island adventure…
Whether you decide to wander off on your own, with a few friends, or join a local tour, remember to practice social responsibility, keep your masks on at all times and bring spare ones. Be respectful of nature, leave the islands as they are and do not litter.
Simon also recommends packing right for your adventure. Most of these offshore islands are outdoor destinations that are close to nature so expect lots of sun, possible rain, and mosquitoes. Dress in comfortable clothes with appropriate footwear, bring a large water bottle, snacks, high-factor sunscreen, mosquito repellent, umbrella, swimming gear, binoculars and your camera!
Simon Chin has been a guide since 2018 and conducts tours with Let’s Go Tours Singapore, Monster Day Tours, and Jane’s Singapore Tours. He has always had passion for tourism and finds it very rewarding to be able to share Singapore’s stories, adventures and secrets through his tours.