There’s A Place To Visit in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

This week’s post comes from Natalia who along with her boyfriend Jonathan blogs over at Always Trekking. I first met Natalia in university where we were both studying German. Fast forward a few years later and we both found ourselves in Korea with plans to travel throughout SE Asia. Today she’s going to share about a little known island off of Borneo that has some incredible diving!

During our tour of Borneo, Jonathan and I went to the little island village of Derawan in Indonesia. We heard great things about it, that it was remote, clean and had great diving. It took about 2 days to get there from our previous destination of Sipadan in Malaysia. Sipadan is another good destination for diving in Borneo, while you’re there you stay on an island called Mabul.

There’s A Place To Visit in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia: Scuba diving in Indonesia

A lot of our travels revolve around good dive sites and Derawan really stood out while we were researching before the trip. It seemed like a really out of the way destination and we heard really nice things from other people and Lonely Planet.

What happens in Derawan…

We hopped from one diving destination to the next so we were really not expecting to be amazed. Also, we were just arriving from another dive island known as Mabul, which is the jump off point for some of the best diving in the world and that’s it. The diving there was great but the island was the dirtiest, most congested and disgusting place I’ve been to. Derawan is completely the opposite; it is incredibly beautiful and so quaint. In comparison to Sipadan, Derawan has half the dive shops and locals genuinely care about keeping the place nice.

Accommodations in East Kalimantan Indonesia

As soon as you get to Derawan your life takes a different turn, especially since it is such a whirlwind to get there. If you go by land, you take a car to Tawau, cross over on a ferry to Tarakan, take another ferry to the mainland, then a car to a drop off point and then 1 hour speedboat ride to Derawan.

Also, before I got there diving only once a day seemed unthinkable, I need my days to be packed! But we ended up diving for a bit and then snorkeling (maybe) or sitting on the jetty and watching turtles come up to breathe. It was an incredibly relaxing and beautiful place; I wish I stayed there for a week.

Jonathan in Indonesia

What to do in Derawan

The island is a just a jump off destination to great diving. Although the island is nice and relaxing, there isn’t much to do on it. Unless you like to watch lightning storms from a jetty and do nothing during the day there’s no reason for you to go to Derawan. You can walk around the island in about 10 minutes. The snorkeling is pretty spectacular and the right price, free.

So what exactly can you do in Derawan?

1.     Macro diving

If you don’t venture far from the island there’s some really good macro life under water. Our dive master was very patient and took time showing us the smallest of the creatures. This is a great place for some macro photography.

Macro shot of sea life in Indonesia

2.     Diving with Mantas

Take a 2 hour speedboat ride and you can either snorkel or dive with Manta rays. They come around to that particular point because the current is good and it sends lots of plankton their way. The current can be quite strong, so you will end up just planting yourself at the bottom and watching the mantas feast.

Giant manta ray in Indonesia

3.     Visit Jellyfish Lake

There is an island near Manta Point that has a lake in the middle, it is a salt water lake filled with 4 kinds of jelly fish. They all have lost their stings so you can snorkel and bump heads with them. There are so many of them, it really does feel like jellyfish heaven.

Scuba diving in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

4.     Snorkeling around the island

Put on your mask and fins and get in the water! There is a coral reef party just 5 meters away from your door and below your bed. You will see so many turtles that you will get bored of them. If underwater beauty is not what you’re after you can at least practice your skin diving.

5.     Watch a lightning storm

If you stay here for a few days you will probably see a lightning storm. Just sitting on a jetty and listening to the rain hit the tin roof is pure pleasure on its own. Jonathan stayed out for a couple of hours just taking lightning pictures.

Tropical lighting storm in Indonesia

6.     Meet and drink with other divers

Not too many people visit the island at the same time so it becomes a close knit community of divers. All visitors become part of a small family. By the time you leave all the divers will come out to wave goodbye to you. Going out for dinner and talking to people from all around the world is an excellent way to spend your post diving evening.

Natalia in East Kalimantan Indonesia

Why is Derawan special?

The most amazing thing about the island is the quality of the dive sites compared to the sophistication of the dive shops. Our dive boat was a speedboat and though it was quite a rocky 2 hour adventure to get to the dive sites, it was so fun. At one point all my nausea went away when I saw a dolphin race our speedboat.

The beach in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Don’t put off going here if you get a chance. This is the place to visit now; it will not stay this way much longer. One of the islands nearby is getting an airport soon.

Derawan is like Koh Tao in 1999, which Jonathan was lucky enough to visit. At the time they only had electricity during the day and just a handful of dive shops. At the moment, the island is out of the way enough that it isn’t congested with tourists, dive shops and garbage. Already divers that has visited it a few years say that the island is taking a turn for the worse. Go there! Now!

You can also follow Natalia and Jonathan’s adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

Have you been to Indonesia?