Situated in the Sulawesi Sea, this small archipelago is Kalimantan`s vacation hub and a popular diving location with well-developed tourism. For sitting at the heart of the Coral Triangle, that contains some of the richest marine ecosystems on Earth, scuba divers and water sports enthusiasts will surely find here a great satisfaction.

Besides, the islands teem with exotic fauna and flora, such as iguanas, parrots, and reptiles. The most visited islands are Derawan, Kakaban, Sangalaki, Maratura, Panjang and Samama where you will find stunning resorts and dive centres.

The pristine Derawan Islands are blessed with idyllic atolls and radiant coral reefs


  • Pulau Derawan – the island is a good jump-off point with many diving resorts that provide scuba diving and snorkelling tours, there are several shipwrecks along the beaches
  • Pulau Sengalaki, Panjang, Samama – dolphins, dugongs, whales, sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, pygmy seahorses, barracuda and splendid coral reefs, pearl diving
  • Pulau Maratua – well-known for its gorgeous caves that often have a connection to the sea, underground channels
  • Pulau Kakaban – famous for stingless jellyfish pond diving and the giant coconut crabs (one of the very few places on earth where you can float with large jellies without being hurt

Pulau Kakaban, stingless jellyfish diving

TO GET THERE from Balikpapan or from Tarakan (there is also a speedboat from Tarakan (3-4 hrs). to Berau or take a bus/minivan from Balikpapan/Samarinda to Berau (10-12 hrs) where  you can catch a long-boat from Tanjung Redep to the Derawan Island (3 hrs) or a speedboat (30 min)

There are several shipwrecks around Pulau Derawan


If travelling overland, stop by at the splendid Labuan Cermin Lake in the village of Labuan Kelambu (Biduk Biduk) before hopping on the boat to the Derawan Islands. The crystal-clear lake is a mix of both saltwater and freshwater which results in surreal hues of jade and blue (access from Tanjung Redep).

The Labuan Cermin Lake in Biduk Biduk


Situated right at the border with Sabah, Nunukan is the main transit point to the Malaysian town of Tawau. It is a developed island with good road infrastructure and holiday resorts.

Diving and snorkelling are the major tourist activities. There are beautiful sandy beaches to have a stroll along, including Lampang, Firdaus, Sadadap or Mentarang Beaches and if you head out to the countryside, you will find numerous jungle walks and waterfalls, e.g. the Binusan Waterfall.

Pulau Nunukan features long powdery-soft stretches

TRAVEL TIP Hire a scooter to explore the island in a day. Nunukan is a good stop-over spot for those heading to the Malaysian Sabah.


1. Pelni Ships depart regularly from Java, Sulawesi, Bali and other towns in Kalimantan at the Tunon Taka Port (typically very long, multiple day journeys used by the residents). There are daily ships to Tawau/Malaysian Sabah as well. from Balikpapan/Samarinda to the Nanukan domestic airport.

The nearby islets offer excellent diving and snorkelling, Pulau Nunukan


It is just a small spread of low hills off the coast of Tanjung Selor, yet Tarakan Island floats above extensive oil reserves. Only a stone`s throw from Pulau Nunukan and the open border with Malaysia the island is the main transit hub for those who prefer ferry rather than an airplane to get to Malaysia.

The island is defined by swampy coastline and mangroves, and it is mostly known for the Battle of Tarakan in 1945, between Japan and Indonesia.

Tarakan is definitely one of the least trodden paths of the entire Borneo with barely any tourism infrastructure. However, it is not impossible to travel here. In fact, it offers an unforgettable authentic Bornean adventure.

The Iraw Tengkayu fishermen festival is held each December


  • City Tour – search around the town of Tarakan to find the Baitul Izzah Islamic Center, Round House Museum, Monument 99 Park and the army bunkers from WWII
  • Natural Attractions – Mangrove Conservation Area (nice boardwalk, colourful bird life and long-nosed monkeys), Karungan Waterfall, Crocodile Farm, Orchid Garden
  • Best Beaches – Amal and Tanah Kuning
  • Iraw Tengkayu Festival – fishermen festival to celebrate the fish abundance every December (music and dance performances, markets and food stalls, various competitions and fireworks)
  • Sesayap Boat Tour – the tour to Malinau can either be booked in Balikpapan (5-7 days) or travel independently and try to tackle the language barrier on your own. The Sesayap River Tour typically offers jungle trekking, freshwater dolphin, proboscis monkeys, waterfalls, jungle camping and isolated Dayak villages

Sesayap River Tour takes the visitors from the Tarakan coast to the jungle of Malinau

TRAVEL TIP If travelling on your own make sure you learn some basic Indonesian phrases as here no one speaks English!

TO GET THERE from Balikpapan or take a speedboat from the Derawan Islands (3-4 hrs)

2.if travelling to Sabah/Malaysia you will need to get to the Mulundung Harbour to catch an Indomaya Express to Tawau (3 hrs) or fly directly to Tawau

Proboscis monkeys can be spotted in the Mangrove Conservation Area Tarakan


The Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) is generally recommended to visit between June and October, during the dry season. Especially, wildlife spotting and eco-tourism are dependent on good weather. In fact, many reserves and protected areas are only accessible outside of the rainy season.

Pulau Derewan, drying fish in the harbour


Fly to Balikpapan (flights from Java/Bali)

For all domestic flights check out the Indonesian flight companies Wings Air, Susi Air, Kartika Airlines, Lion Air, Silk Air, Sriwijaya Air and Garuda Indonesia.

For all international flights go to or

Pulau Sengalaki, diving with giant turtles

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Eva Bodova

Friday 31 August 2018

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