Singapore isn’t the first place that comes to mind if you’re craving a beach getaway – but perhaps it should. The city-state not only has 62 of its own offshore islands, but also boasts easy access to pristine archipelagos in the neighbouring waters of Indonesia and Malaysia. There are dozens of private island escapes and family-friendly resorts to choose from, so we’ve narrowed down a few of our favourites to suit your travel plans – be it a family reunion, a romantic getaway or simply a digital detox after a busy business trip.
Cempedak Private Island
Best for Honeymooners
An adults-only retreat in Indonesia, Cempedek is a sight for sore eyes – and newlyweds in search of privacy. Constructed from bamboo and a local grass called alang alang, its crescent-shaped restaurants and villas rise above the surf, backgrounded by dense rainforest. There are just 20 villas on the 17-hectare island – each with its own plunge pool and outdoor deck (previous page), and each offering easy access to the beach. And with in-room massages, yoga mats and room service, you’ll barely need to leave your villa.
But if you do want to get out and about, look forward to biking, trekking, rock climbing, tennis and delicious food. Adding to the Crusoe-luxe experience, the island is home to adorable otters, endangered pangolins, soaring kingfishers, turtles, monkeys and more. Ask to go on a free guided walk to spot the animals and learn more about the island’s ecology.
The private picnics. To spoil your new spouse, ask the Cempedak team to arrange a private lunch on a nearby deserted island.
2.5 hours from Singapore: 1 hour to Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal; 1-hour drive across Bintan; 30-minute speed boat to Cemepdek.
Telunas Beach Resort
Best for Families
If you’re travelling with kids, then the Telunas Beach Resort is a no-brainer. Travellers of all ages will fall for the sandy beaches, rustic overwater bungalows (which can accommodate two to 12 people) and a comprehensive menu of activities, including a jungle waterfall hike or a raft-building workshop, a drumming class, fishing, kayaking, snorkelling, paddleboarding and more. Little ones can choose from a children’s menu and other hands-on activities, like lunch in a Malay village or ‘pizza on the beach’, where they’ll get to add their toppings then bake it in an earthen stove. Best part: there’s no Wi-Fi, which means you can unplug completely and spend quality time with your loved ones… or force truculent teenagers to ditch the phones and pick up a book instead.
Kids can test their mettle on the resort’s elevated ropes course, which weaves between trees in the jungle.
2.5-3 hours from Singapore: 1-hour Batam Fast Ferry to Sekupang Port in Batam; 1.5-hour traditional wooden longboat to Telunas.
Best for Big Groups
If your dream is to have an entire island all to yourself, look no further than Pulau Pangkil, off the eastern coast of Indonesia’s Bintan Island. Ideal for parties, weddings, family reunions or even team-building outings, the private island can accommodate 10 to 20 adults comfortably across its 10 ‘Driftwood Palaces’, which were made with salvaged wood found on the island’s coast. The 20-plus staff here arrange three meals a day, offer snacks on demand and prepare atmospheric bonfires every night. As for the activities, spend your time kayaking, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding or simply zoning out in one of the island’s many hammocks.
Take a day trip to Pulau Mapur. A favourite among sun-seekers and divers alike, this nearby island is home to amazing coral kingdoms and empty beaches.
2.5-3 hours from Singapore: 1-hour ferry to Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal; 1.5-hour drive across Bintan; 15-minute boat ride to Pangkil.
Best for Foodies
The farthest-flung of the bunch, Bawah Reserve is about 300 kilometres northeast of Singapore and can only be accessed via seaplane. Opened in 2017, the all-inclusive luxury resort stretches across three lagoons, six islands and 13 beaches. Foodies are in for a treat: there are four F&B outlets, each with sculptural bamboo architecture, rustic-chic furnishings and whimsical decor. Guests can enjoy multi-course menus served with views of the lagoon at the elegant Tree Tops restaurant, grab a casual bite and a few drinks at Grouper Bar, dig into barbecued seafood on the beach at the Boat House or linger over tapas and ‘garden-to-glass’ cocktails at Jules Verne. The culinary chops are reason alone to visit Bawah Island, though the overwater villas and complimentary spa treatments don’t hurt, either.
Try an Indonesian cooking class, book a private picnic on a beach or enjoy a romantic dinner under the stars at the Lookout.
4.5 hours from Singapore: 1-hour ferry to Batam; transfer to Batam airport followed by 80-minute seaplane to Bawah Island.
Best for Eco-Warriors
Opened in 2012 within Malaysia’s protected Johor Marine Park, Batu Batu (meaning ‘rocks’ in Malay) has become synonymous with sustainable tourism. Built by local carpenters with wood and other materials transported in by boat, the eco-luxe resort features 22 villas and eight white sand beaches. The seaside restaurant offers dishes made with ingredients like the island’s home-grown coconut and lemongrass, as well as fresh produce from the resort’s organic farm on Bintan. A long list of nature-oriented activities, from snorkelling to kayaking, scuba diving, boat trips, beach games and island treks are also available.
But what sets Batu Batu apart is its dedicated conservation efforts. In 2015, the resort established Turtle Watch – a hatchery devoted to the endangered Green and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles – and expanded its scope with the Tengah Island Conservation project in 2018. This biodiversity initiative employs a team of scientists to work on coral reef conservation, marine debris management, underwater video stations, beach monitoring, community outreach and more.
Take a guided tour of the Tunku Abdul Jalil Conservation Centre and the turtle hatchery, join a beach cleanup or attend a science talk.
3 hours from Singapore: 2.5-hour drive to Mersing, Malaysia; 20-minute speedboat to Batu Batu.
Need to Know
When to go
Located just 1 degree from the equator, Singapore and the surrounding islands are hot and steamy all year round. But for the driest weather, visit from February to April.
Bintan Resorts Ferries operates a fast ferry between Singapore and Bintan, which is the launching point for many Indonesian retreats. There’s a shuttle straight from the airport.
Visa requirements vary for Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia – check ahead.
Remember to check the time difference when you enter Indonesia and reset that watch.