The Ultimate Guide to Singapore’s Offshore Islands

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The Ultimate Guide to Singapore’s Offshore Islands

Itching for a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Here are eight islands you can visit other than Sentosa!

As the world undergoes a global lockdown, many of us are experiencing a serious case of holiday deprivation. According to Expedia’s 2019 Vacation Deprivation Study, 67% of the Singaporeans surveyed felt deprived of a vacation; this is up from 63% in 2018 and 57% in 2017.

Luckily, Singapore is home to 64 islands, of which a handful offers a temporary paradise getaway without the need for a passport. Here are eight islands you can visit other than Sentosa!

1. Saint John’s Island

St John's Island | Image credits: The Straits Times

A mere 6.5km from mainland Singapore is St John’s island, the largest of the Southern Islands.

The historical significance of St John’s Island has made it all the more a must-visit island. On 28 January 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles anchored off St John’s Island and spent a night before heading to the mainland the next day to meet Temenggong Abdul Rahman, the Malay chief of Singapore.

From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, the island served as a quarantine station for cholera and beri-beri infected immigrants as well as pilgrims returning from Mecca.

St Johns’ island later converted into a detention centre for political prisoners and ringleaders of secret societies; you can still spot the barbed-wire fences! It also temporarily served as a drug rehabilitation centre before being converted into a holiday island in 1975.

From swimming lagoons and pristine beaches to football fields and bungalows, the island was a popular weekend spot for families during the 1980s and 1990s.

Things to Do

Getting There

Singapore Island Cruise provides ferry to St John’s Island and Kusu Island. Book here

2. Lazarus Island

Lazarus Island | Image credits: Klook

Known for having one of Singapore’s last unspoilt beach, Lazarus Island offers a quiet yet beautiful hideout for those looking to get away from the urban chaos. 

The island was used as a confinement centre in the 19th century but was later abandoned after the escape of a prisoner. The confinement shed were later burnt down in a fire in 1902. 

The island was deployed as a radar base in the 1960s before being taken over by Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) in the 1970s. Both Lazarus Island and St John’s Island were earmarked for the development of a beach resort but the plans fail to see through

Things to Do

  • Walk along the natural sandy beach and enjoy one of Singapore’s most pristine beach.
  • Go on a beach cleanup! Rubbish can regularly be found on the island beach due to tidal waves. 
  • Fly a kite! Lazarus Island has a relatively wide and open beach. Combined with the offshore winds, getting a kite up to the sky is almost a certainty!
  • Fish at one of the many spots located along the coast of Lazarus Island
  • Hike over to Pulau Seringat, an undeveloped island linked to Lazarus Island that offers a mini-adventure for explorers.

Getting There

Take the Singapore Island Cruise to St John’s Island and cross the 150m paved causeway to Lazarus Island. Alternatively, you may hire a private boat to access Lazarus island directly.

3. Pulau Hantu

Pulau Hantu | Image credits: budak @Flickr

Pulau Hantu (Ghost Island in Malay) is a pair of islets south-west of mainland Singapore. Its sheltered beaches and pristine lagoon has made it a popular spot for snorkeling and fishing activities.

Malay folklore describes that Pulau Hantu was the location where ancient Malay warriors once dueled to their death. The two islets – Pulau Hantu Kecil (Small Ghost Island) and Pulau Hantu Besar (Big Ghost Island) – was supposedly the remnants of two great warriors; it is said that their spirits continues to haunt the island.

Things to Do

  • Go on a diving trip and explore the rich coral reefs and diverse marine life in Pulau Hantu
  • Walk across the shallow lagoon between the two islets during low tide!

Getting There

There are no regular ferries to the island. Arrange for a private charter from West Coast Pier or join a diving trip to Pulau Hantu.

4. Kusu Island

Kusu Island | Image credits:

Kusu Island is an island located just 5 minutes away from Lazarus Island.

Kusu, which means tortoise or turtle in Hokkien, originates from a legend where a magical tortoise turned into a island to save two shipwrecked sailors from rough seas.

In the early 18th century, the island was used as a reference point for ships entering Singapore. It also briefly served as a burial site for immigrants who died while serving quarantine on St John’s Island.

Today, the island is famous for its sacred sites. Located at the top of the Kusu hill three Malay Keramat (shrine). Devotees will climb 152 steps leading up to the Keramat for wealth, good health and marriage.

A Chinese temple at the bottom of the hill is home to the Chinese deities of God of Prosperity (Tua Pek Kong in Hokkien) as well as the Goddess of Mercy, or Guan Yin.

During the annual Kusu Pilgrimage which last from September to November, an estimated 100,000 pilgrims will visit the island to pay their respect. An open-air hawker centre located right beside the Chinese temple will open during the three month festive period.

Things to Do

  • Climb up the Kusu hill and visit the Muslim Kramat.
  • Visit the Chinese temple and bless yourself by throwing a coin at the bell in the lake.
  • Enjoy an afternoon picnic at the beaches

Getting There

Singapore Island Cruise provides ferry to St John’s Island and Kusu Island. Book here

5. Pulau Satumu

Pulau Satumu | Image credits:

Also known as “One-Tree Island”, Pulau Satumu is an small island located 23km southwest of Singapore. 

As Singapore’s southernmost island, it marked the western entrance to the Singapore Straits; the Raffles Lighthouse was erected in 1854 to guide vessels entering the straits. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Singapore, the first being the Horsburg Lighthouse in Pedra Branca which was built in 1851. During the 1970s, land around Pulau Satumu was reclaimed to build additional facilities for personnel stationed on the island.

The island is open to the public during special visits such as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) Learning Journeys tour, or under special request.

Things to Do

  • Learn about the history of Raffles Lighthouse and the tiny island on the learning tour

Getting There

The island is closed to the public most of the year except during the MPA Learning Journeys tour.

6. Pulau Semakau

Pulau Semakau | Image credits: National Environment Agency

Also known as the Semakau Landfill, Pulau Semakau is Singapore’s first and only offshore landfill site.

Pulau Semakau was home to a Malay fishing village on the western tip and a small Chinese village on the southern end during the 1900s. Back then, the village has a school, a community centre, a football field, a police post as well as a small burial ground. Former Senior Minister of State Mr Sidek Saniff had previously taught in the school in 1958.

In 1987, the Singapore government acquired both Pulau Semakau and the nearby island of Pulau Sakeng. A land reclamation process merged both islands and a petrochemical complex was to be built.

However, in 1989, land constraints in mainland Singapore prompted the conversion of Pulau Semakau into an offshore landfill; the landfills at Lim Chu Kang and Lorong Halus were estimated to reach full capacity by the late 1990s.

Operational in 1999, Semakau landfill is the world’s first man-made offshore landfill made out of space from the sea. The landfill is enclosed by a 7km-long rock bund made up with marine clay and impermeable membrane. At current rate, the landfill is estimated to last till 2035.

In spite of its notoriety with the landfill, Pulau Semakau  is home to a diverse ecosystem of plants and marine life that thrive on the island

Things to Do

  • Enjoy a guided tour of the Semakau landfill.
  • Walk along the mangrove and spot the thriving marine life that call Pulau Semakau home.
  • Spot the neighbouring fish farm by Barramundi Asia; it is one of the largest fish farm in Singapore with an estimated yield of 6,000 tonnes!

Getting There

The island is closed to the public. A request to NEA is required to visit the landfill as well as the waste-to-energy plant. Submit your request here

7. Sisters’ Islands

Sisters' Islands | Image credits: NParks

The Sisters Islands is a popular snorkeling spot and is home to Singapore’s first marine park.

The legend tells of two sisters who drown during an escape from their captors and was turned into the two islets. The Big Sister Island (Pulau Subar Laut) faces the open sea while the Small Sister Island (Pulau Subar Darat) faces the mainland.

Today, various conservation and research efforts relating to Singapore’s marine biodiversity are conducted off the coast of Sister’s island. Till date, more than 500 species of marine life have been logged in the surrounding waters.

A Sister Island Marine Park Public Gallery is set up at St. John’s Island to educate the public about the marine biodiversity in Singapore waters.

Things to Do

  • Go on a diving adventure with Singapore’s first Dive Trail at the Big Sister’s Island. You are required to hire NParks’ approved dive operators listed here.
  • Go on a swim at the two lagoons on Big Sister’s Island.
  • Go on a intertidal walk during the low tide and check out the marine biodiversity on the island!

Getting There

Singapore Island Cruise provides private charter service from Marina South Pier to the Sisters’ Islands. Book here

8. Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin | Image credits: u/Kinderboeno @Reddit

Also known as Granite Stone Island, Pulua Ubin is the second most popular offshore island after Sentosa. It is also home to one of Singapore’s last two kampungs; the other being Kampong Lorong Buangkok.

Granite on the island were once mined to support the local construction industry. In particular, stone from the island were used to built the Istana, the Pedra Branca lighthouse as well as the Singapore-Johor Causeway.

A major highlight on the island is the Chek Jawa Wetlands. The wetland rose to prominence during the early 2000s when it was discovered by coincidence during a nature outing. Proposals to conduct land reclamation works on the area was shelved and conservation efforts began.

Things to Do

  • Go on a biking adventure on Ubin’s mountain biking trails
  • Explore Chek Jawa Wetlands via the Coastal Loop or the Mangrove Loop
  • See over 30 species of fruit trees at the Ubin Fruit Orchard
  • Hike up Puaka Hill for a Insta-worthy shot of Ubin Quarry

Getting There

Bumboats rides are available from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin Jetty.

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