Derawan is the place to just be. It took us two full days of travel to reach Derawan, but it turned out to be my favourite spot in Borneo. Derawan was what I have been looking for in my search for a beautiful piece of Southeast Asian paradise. After the disappointment that was Sipadan, discovering Derawan made me believe that there are still places out there that have not been ruined by development and masses of tourists. My only regret about Derawan is that we didn’t stay longer.
Staying at Losmen Danakan we were able to arrange diving around the island for only 25 dollars. The water is so shallow and rich with life that after one dive we opted for snorkeling. If you like warm, clear blue water, grumpy turtles and silly clownfish then snorkeling off the Jetty will be your cup of tea. In fact, I will go on record and say that snorkeling off Derawan is better than diving. You can stay in the water longer and playing around with masses of fish while unintentionally scaring turtles coming up for air is tremendous fun.
One of the highlights of not only the time spent in Derawan, but a highlight of my life, was scuba diving with Manta Rays. They are such divine creatures and watching them feed on delicious plankton was just spectacular. I don’t even care that I burned my knee on fire coral while camping behind a rock and watching them from below. We struggled so much to fight against the current and the mantas moved so gracefully at such speed. I could have stayed down for hours just watching Manta Rays, but the diving tank has its limits.
The most unusual experience from my time at Derawan was swimming in jelly fish lake. The lake used to be part of the ocean but the island slowly closed it off. The four types of jelly fish lost their sting and now they just clumsily bump around in the lake. When I asked another diver to describe the experience, she eloquently put it as, “it felt like heaven”.
The nightlife in Derawan is definitely happening. You have the choice of going to bed early while listening to the sounds of rain on the tin roof and the waves crashing underneath your room or you can hide under a roof and snap photos of lightning.
Getting to Derawan is a journey in itself. We crossed from Malaysia on a ferry from Tawau to Tarakan. Then jumped on another ferry from Tarakan to Tanjung Selor. After that, grab a car to Berau, where you can get another car to get you to the pier at Tanjung Batu. At the pier, grab a speedboat. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. If the locals see a foreign face, they will know exactly where to take you.
Also note that you will need to apply for an Indonesian Visa at the consulate in Tawau. If you drop off your passport in the morning you can pick it up in the afternoon.
Update January 2014 – While planning for a new trip to Sulawesi I was reading Lonely Planet. It said that Derawan has been getting progressively dirty and overcrowded. That makes me very sad. Another good spot ruined by overexposure.