Quite surely, most of you have never heard of this beautiful place, but the Derawan Islands in Indonesia have taken my heart by storm. Not as famous as other destinations in Indonesia, they still have a lot to offer. They are located just off the east coast of Borneo (also named Kalimantan by the locals) and comprise dozens of islands. I visited four which are also the most popular among them: Derawan, Maratua, Kakaban and Sangalaki. Each has its own way of stealing your heart and making you never want to leave again. Here is how:

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

Derawan Island: The Busy One

Derawan is the main island and quite a lively one, with many locals living in homes on stilts over the turquoise sea water. In a way it feels pretty crowded, especially in comparison to the other islands, but the bustling atmosphere is what makes it so special. More people also bring more pollution and the waters here are not as clear as elsewhere. However, while you won’t find the best spots for snorkelling and diving, you will without a doubt discover the best spots to encounter the local culture.

Wander around the island and learn to pay close attention to the hidden beauty of your surroundings: the colourful houses, laundry hanging out to dry, shops with local curiosities or kids playing in the streets. The island is not very big, so exploring on foot is definitely possible, but there are also bikes for hire. A must-do is to visit a local fisherman when he rests in his boat or prepares to head seawards – they love to talk and tell the greatest stories about the sea and the island.

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

One thing not to miss is the golden sunset, when the sea and sky are glooming and sparkling in all shades of gold. Watch it from the shore, the pier or if you’re lucky from your ocean view terrace.

Derawan is a great place to base yourself as many fishing boats and speed boats to the other islands leave from here. There is a wide range of accommodation available, from budget to luxurious. I’d recommend to go for a homestay of which there are several on the island, and choose between renting a small bungalow by the beach or staying in a local’s house.

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

Maratua Island: The Quiet One

If you seek tranquility and privacy then Maratua is an ideal choice, even though it is the biggest of the Derawan Islands. There is an exclusive resort, the Maratua Paradise Resort, located in a big lagoon and surrounded by crystal-clear shallow water and white sandy beaches. Needless to say, snorkelling and diving is on top of the list of things to do when setting foot on this gorgeous island. Here you can also expect to see the sea turtles and if you’re lucky you get a chance to swim with them!

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

Kakaban Island: The Home of the Jellyfish

Kakaban is known as one of the best spots for snorkelling and diving in the Derawan Islands and even all of Indonesia. It is the home of the stingless jellyfish, so no worries about swimming in their waters. The island’s lake is busy with four different species of the harmless jellyfish, of which some you can only find in one other place in the world (on Palau Island, Micronesia). One in particular is quite interesting, but very hard to spot – locals call it “the invisible one”. It is not allowed to use sunscreen or sunblock to protect your skin when snorkelling in this lake, as the chemicals would poison the jellyfish. You are advised to wear a t-shirt or rash guard instead.

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

Out of the lake, into the sea: snorkelling near the jetty area of the island is just as exciting. There are mesmerizing corals, fish in all shapes and colours and many other beautiful sea creatures.

Getting here is quite easy: speed boats leaving from Derawan take about one hour to reach Kakaban and cost roughly $80 for four passengers.

Sangalaki Island: The home of Manta Rays and Sea Turtles

While Kakaban Island is best known as the home of stingless jellyfish, Sangalaki is famous for its manta rays and sea turtles. The island can be reached from Derawan by boat (2 hours on a fishing boat, a lot faster with a speed boat). The Green Turtle Conservation centre managed by WWF and the local government is the biggest of its kind in Asia. Visitors can watch turtles laying their eggs and see baby turtles getting ready to be released back into the sea.

The best dive spots on the island are Manta Parade, Sherwood Forest and Coral Gardens – with a bit of luck you can dive with turtles and manta rays here!

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

Admittedly, getting here is quite a trek (make your way to Berau by plane, onwards overland to Tanjung Batu or Tanjung Redeb and from there reach the islands by boat) but the pristine waters, amazing snorkelling and diving spots and one-of-a-kind wildlife encounters make it worth the effort. Definitely put this down for your Indonesia itinerary!

Hidden Paradise The Derawan Islands, Indonesia

*This is a guest post with photos by Nazura Gulfira who writes on her own blog here (unfortunately not in English).