This post explores everything you need to know before visiting the Big Perhentian island, from the best beaches to snorkeling, where to stay, and how to get to there.
The Perhentian Islands are formed by two main islands, Big Perhentian island (aka Pulau Perhentian Besar) and Small Perhentian Island (Pulau Perhentian Kecil). While the Small Perhentian island is known for the “backpacker party scene,” the Big Perhentian Island is renowned for being much more laid back.
Naturally, we chose Big Perhentian Island to relax for a few days! After so much time backpacking, this backpacker party scene is no longer appealing. Exploring the island, we discovered that the Big Perhentian island has some of the best beaches in Malaysia, and it’s possible to hike the island in one of the most secluded trails we have ever done.
How to visit the Big Perhentian Island
Where are the Perhentian Islands?
The Perhentian Islands are approximately 19 km off the coast of northeastern Malaysia. The archipelago is also a marine reserve, which means that fishing, collecting coral, and littering are strictly prohibited. To enter you have to pay 30 RM per person before you board the boats.
How to go to the Perhentian Islands?
The only way to get there is to get a boat from Kuala Besut, which takes about one hour. An open return ticket costs 70 RM; however if you only want to buy one way it will cost 40 RM. This doesn’t include the 30Rm you must pay to enter the Marine reserve.
How is the boat trip to the Perhentian Islands?
Although they call it a ferry, don’t expect a big ferry, it’s only a small fast boat. You should expect a very bumpy ride if you get lucky. If you are unlucky, you can have one of the worst boat trips ever! We like bumpy boat trips, though this one was a nightmare!
Afterward, we could only think we wanted to stay on the island forever and it wasn’t only because of how beautiful it is… We just didn’t want to endure another trip like that!
Also, a waterproof backpack is an excellent idea for this trip! We were completely soaked when we arrived.
In the Perhentian Islands choosing where to stay is crucial, because you are not only choosing the hotel but also the beach you are staying in! We knew we wanted the Big Perhentian island, but we couldn’t make up our minds about the beach. Eventually, we went to Samudra Beach Chalet in Teluk Dalam.
At a very reasonable price per night for a double room with a fan and bathroom ensuite, Samudra Beach Chalet was OK if you consider the garden and cool beach restaurant.
Our problem was the beach; it was nothing as we imagined. It’s completely full of restaurants, resorts, and diving/snorkeling lesson spots. The sand was average at best, the water wasn’t at all clear, but the worst of it all: It was completely full of boats, always coming and going!Booking.com
There was no way anyone could relax, sunbathe, swim, or even snorkel there… And that’s why after hiking through the island (more on that later), we decided to change to Mama’s guesthouse.
The facilities and pricing are similar to Samudra, but here you are close to some of the best beaches on the island (particularly PIR beach). If you want to stay in a fancier place, The Perhentian Islands Resort is the place to stay. It has the best beach and the best facilities on the islands.
Alternatively, you have Tuna Bay Island Resort, which has better reviews, but the location isn’t as good.
Perhentian Islands tips
Obviously, the Perhentian islands are more expensive than your average hostel/hotel on the mainland, and please note that: 1) sometimes WI-FI doesn’t work (particularly if it rains), 2) there aren’t ATMs in the islands!
Some hotels and restaurants accept credit cards (usually with extra fees), but for your own good, bring extra cash with you!
Hiking on the Big Perhentian Island
After doing (and really enjoying) the trails of Penang National Park, we wanted to do more jungle trekking!
In retrospect, we believe we have made the perfect trail on the island, but it was a lucky guess. This is a circular, 4 or 5 hours trek through dense rainforest, fantastic beaches, snorkeling spots, and a few resorts!
We start (and finish) the hike in Teluk Dalam. Finding where the trail from the beach to the jungle starts is tricky, as it’s inside the Arwana Eco Resort.
The first part goes deep into the island and the native jungle. You will probably have to walk over and through water streams and mud. After 1.5 – 2 km, you will arrive at Perhentian Island Resort. This is probably the most expensive resort on the island, but fortunately, you don’t have to pay for its unbelievable beach! Enjoy the beach, rest, do some snorkel, or whatever you like to do. 🙂
Next, we head west to Coral Bay Resort and then south through the beach until Mama’s chalets. From these beaches/resorts, you can see how close you are to the small Perhentian. If you want you can easily rent a taxi boat to go there.
After reaching the end of Mama’s chalets resort, you continue south, now into the jungle again. It may appear that there isn’t a trail, but if you look closely, you’ll find one. Tip: if you have doubts regarding this part of the trail, follow the big water pipe.
After 500 meters (it will feel like it’s much more), you will reach a new series of resorts, and continue to go south through them. In this portion of the trail, you will go partially through the beach, through the resorts, and some concrete trails. Enjoy! These are some excellent beaches with awesome views.
Close to Abdul Chalet’s, you will have to, once again and for the last time, go deep into the jungle. This portion of the trail is quite difficult to do, and the path wasn’t at all clearly marked. Maybe we were tired already; maybe it was the steep parts of the hike or even the many slippery rocks… It could also have been the freaking monitor lizards that kept appearing out of nowhere… We were glad when we finished and exited the jungle into Teluk Dalam beach again! 🙂
This is quite a hike! Not because it’s very long or tough but because you feel like an explorer each time you enter the jungle, and you feel extremely satisfied every time you reach the sea. The jungle is extremely dense and almost untouched, the trails are very little used and sometimes even hard to follow, and the beaches… well, check below which are the best fit for you 🙂
Use Maps.me to guide yourself in the jungle.
Best Beaches Big Perhentian Island
This is one hell of a beach! Although It’s right in front of the Perhentian Island Resort and very close to a few others, it doesn’t feel too crowded because it’s quite long and with more than enough white, clean sand. The water is wonderfully clear turquoise and without boats close to the swimmers.
This is also one of those beaches in the Perhentian where you can just swim into a snorkel spot with a coral reef full of fishes, rays and sometimes even turtles and (not dangerous) sharks. In our opinion, this is as good as a developed beach can be and our favorite in the Perhentian archipelago.
On the west coast of Perhentian Besar and looking right into Kecil Perhentian lays this stretch of beach. It is said that close to Mama’s chalets, it was once a beautiful beach, but nowadays, it’s better for sundowners and enjoying the waterfront restaurants and the views to the very close sister island. There is little to no sand on the beach anymore and the water, although clear, is full of boats coming and going.
Tuna bay Beach
Also on the west side, but a little further south, Tuna Bay Beach goes from Coconut Chalet in the north to Abdul’s in the south. It’s one of the most developed parts of the island, and it’s also part of the route of the trail we talked about above. This is a good beach, it’s scenic and picture-worthy, although we didn’t really try it, only crossed it and enjoyed the view.
Keke Beach (sometimes KK beach)
If you continue going south, you reach KK Beach on the southern tip end of Tuna Bay. Keke beach is a good place for resting under the sun with the occasional dip into the ocean. It’s very little developed, so it’s great to escape and enjoy solitude. The beach that runs off to the east is deserted and a highlight of this part of the island.
Supposedly you can swim to shark point from here, but it does look quite far away, and we don’t really recommend it. If you are doing the hike we recommended above, this beach starts right where you turned the last time into the jungle. Therefore if you want to check it out, you should continue by the beach and then return. It’s just a few meters, and it’s worth resting before the last hike!
Teluk Dalam beach
This beach is in the southern part of the island, and it was the first we visited. As said above, we were really disappointed by this beach. We had really high expectations about the Perhentian islands, and the first impression wasn’t that good.
This isn’t a beach to soak in the sun or to swim close to the sand. It’s used by many divers and snorkel shops, so its full of boats. It’s also quite dirty with all the resorts and restaurants in it. Despite this, it looks very good from some angles (check the pic below 🙂 ). On the upside, it’s very close to shark point – a perfect snorkel and diving place.
This is the only beach that is outside the trail we suggest, and for a reason: there are no tracks to it. The only way to reach turtle beach is by taxi boat. To put it simply, turtle beach is probably the best beach we have ever been to (this was written before going to San Blas).
The water is borderline perfect in any way you look at it, the sand is white, clean and as thin as powder. There are very few people because it has no resorts or trails leading into it. It’s also famous for being an excellent snorkel site. Incredibly we didn’t see any turtles, however, we did see stingrays, cuttlefish, “nemos” and much other tropical fish.
Another great thing about turtle beach is the feeling of arriving at a paradisiac, secluded beach by boat. Moreover, we got a lucky bonus, it had rained earlier in the day and when we arrived there was a significant number of… NO ONE ON THE BEACH.
Snorkeling in the Big Perhentian Island
As stated above, the Perhentian islands are a marine reserve, which means that in addition to the nice fee and the prohibition of litter and fish, we get more than a few great snorkels and diving spots. Although some of the reefs are in pretty bad shape (tuna bay beach, for e.g.) others are still good (Turtle beach).
We aren’t experts in snorkeling and have never dived, but the big Perhentian island is a great place to start. You can snorkel right from the beach. We did it at turtle beach and PIR beach and can safely say that these are the best places we have ever tried snorkeling. Both in terms of visibility and fish variety. Moreover, it left us with the bug of snorkeling more and more! We will surely do it again in the future.
In Besar Perhentian (and surely in Kecil Perhentian too), you can easily rent snorkel gear and fins in any resort. Tip: It’s pretty cheap, usually at 10 RM each. However, Mama’s Chalet was even cheaper at 5 RM!
We didn’t do any diving or snorkeling tours, but as far as we could understand, they are pretty similar and available in every resort. Even between Kecil & Besar islands, the tours are alike because they all take you to the same diving spots.
Finally, we should mention that there are a lot of diving schools on the islands and we have heard that it is a good place to get your diver license. However, we haven’t tried it and can’t really recommend any.
Perhentian Islands Travel guide – Final thoughts
The Big Perhentian island is a paradise to beach, jungle, and snorkeling lovers! Besar and Kecil are a bit different in terms of vibe and reputation, as we explained earlier, but they both offer fundamentally the same. Moreover, the islands are incredibly close to each other and just 15 minutes (and 15-25 RM per person) by taxi boat! So, if you are tired of one (or think you didn’t choose wisely), you can just go to the other!
If you are planning a trip to Malaysia, we strongly recommend you go to the big Perhentian island and spend at least 3 days hiking, swimming, snorkeling and simply recharging your batteries!Booking.com