Perhentian Islands are beautiful tropical islands in the South China Sea on the east coast of Malaysia. It is a perfect getaway with spectacular pristine beaches, crystal-clear water, rich marine life, and a great variety of things to do. Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar are the two main islands. Perhentian Kecis is sometimes called the small Perhentian while Perhentian Besar is often referred to as the big Perhentian.
The islands are a great option for budget travelers and those who prefer less-developed islands without big resorts, roads, and cars.
We’ve visited Perhentian Islands twice and both times had a great time. We especially enjoyed swimming and snorkeling in the warm water and kayaking around the island.
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Which Perhentian island is better?
The islands are about 19 km off the Malaysian coast. In the Malay language “Perhentian” means “stopping point”. There are two main Perhentian islands; Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Kecil means small in Malay) and Pulau Perhentian Besar (Besar means big). The islands are not far apart. You can commute between them using water taxis. Many people prefer Kecil as there are more budget places to stay and eat on the island.
Perhentian Besar is less developed (I can’t say that Kecil is very developed either) and crowded but more expensive with many resorts and Western food restaurants. If you’re a backpacker or a budget traveler I’d recommend staying on Perhentian Kecil, the smaller island. If you’re on a honeymoon or seeking a romantic getaway go to Perhentian Besar, the greater Perhentian island. You can do a day trip from one to another island to see which one you like the most.
We had a great time on Perhentian Kecil island and could easily go there again.
If you’re looking for another great island in Southeast Asia I can suggest Nusa Penida. It’s a picturesque island near Bali with many amazing things to do.
How to get from Kuala Lumpur to Perhentian Islands?
Kuala Lumpur is km/ mi east of the Perhentian Islands. In order to get from the Malaysian capital to the islands you have to;
First, take a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut. Kuala Besut is a small town on the east coast of Malaysia, km from Kuala Lumpur. There are buses to Kuala Besut from other Malaysian cities not only the capital.
Second, take a boat from Kuala Besut Yetty to one of the Perhentian islands. Decide beforehand what island and beach you want to go to so that the boat can drop you off right there. You can book a boat from the jetty to the islands online. There are many (up to 10) daily departures. The trip takes 40 minutes. The price is MYR 35/US$7 per person.
Are Perhentian Islands expensive?
The Perhentian Islands are not expensive. Overall prices are comparable to mainland Malaysia with a slight adjustment considering that everything has to be brought there by boats from the mainland. Kecil Island is known as a backpackers’ island with plenty of budget-friendly accommodation and food options. Besar Island is considered to be more expensive but it’s still not a crazy expensive place even there you’ll be able to find local homestays and food places.
Here are the average prices for services on Perhentian Kecil.
- Accommodation – camping is US$5+ per person; a double room with a fan in a local homestay is US$20+, and a nice double room with AC is US$50+. Of course, you can find a more expensive room in a resort.
- Transport – getting to the island is between US$40 and 50 depending on the distance and chosen transport.
- Activities – diving is US$25 per dive; snorkeling is US$15 pp for a boat trip; kayak rental is US$8 for 4 hours.
- Food – you can get a meal at a local place for US$3-4. Western food will cost you more – US$5-6 per person per meal.
Best Beaches on the Perhentian Islands
There are two main beaches on the small island of Perhentian Kecil: Long Beach and Coral Bay Beach. The first one is bigger, more touristy and busy with many bars open till late and parties at night. Coral Bay Beach is smaller, with a couple of local food places, two or three restaurants, and several dive shops. Coral Bay is very quiet at night-time, nothing going on there after 10 pm. The two beaches are just a 15-minute walk apart. On both beaches, you can find accommodation and food for different budgets.
We stayed on Coral Bay Beach because we didn’t want to have an all-night party every day. Despite its small size, you can find everything you need at Coral Bay Beach; accommodation, food, shops, diving centers, boat tours, etc. Snorkeling in crystal clear water at Coral Bay was pretty good too.
Keke Beach and Turtle Beach are the two best and most beautiful beaches on Perhentian Besar Island.
Where to stay on Perhentian Islands?
Both islands have plenty of places to stay for different budgets. Perhentian Kecil has more low-end accommodation options than Besar. If you’re on a tight budget I’d recommend staying on Kecil Island. You can do a day trip to Besar Island if you really want to see it.
- Low-end | Perhentian AB Guest House |
- Mid-range | Perhentian Chomel Chalet |
- High-end | Bubu Resort |
On this island, the accommodation options are quite a bit fancier. If you want to stay in a beautiful place and be close to the restaurants and bars Tuna Bay Island Resort is a perfect option for you. The chalets are located right at the beach in Tuna Bay, a nice place for swimming and snorkeling. The rooms are spacious, comfortable, and clean. All chalets have AC, hot showers, towels, balcony.
- Low-end | Seagrass Place Perhentian Island |
- Mid-range | Flora Bay 2 |
- High-end | Tuna Bay Island Resort |
Top things to do on Perhentian Islands
Diving is one of the most popular water activities on the Perhentian Islands. There are several dive centers on the islands. We dived with Anti Gravity Divers dive shop and had a great time. The visibility was good, the water was very warm, 30C, healthy coral reef with many interesting things to see. For more info about diving on Perhentian with prices and many photos. It’s not the best diving in Malaysia but it’s still good, affordable, and beautiful.
Prices for dives are around US$23 for one fun dive including gear rental. The more you dive the cheaper it gets. On the days we dived with Anti Gravity we were allowed to use fins and wet suits for snorkeling for free. The dive shop is situated at Coral Beach.
On Perhentian Besar Shark Point is a popular place for diving. There you have a good chance of seeing black-tip sharks.
Doing a dive course
Perhentian Kecil is a great place to learn scuba diving; warm water, good visibility, beautiful coral reefs, no strong currents, and nothing really dangerous in the water. There are a couple of dive schools on the island. Some offer accommodation and dive course packages. The average price of the Open Water Diver Course is around MYR 1280/US$275 and of the Advanced Open Water Diver is MYR 1180/US$250. Some dive shops (e.g. Ombak Divers and Panorama Diver) offer free accommodation for those who do a dive course with them for the period of the course.
Snorkeling is one of the best things to do on the Perhentian Islands. Both islands Kecil and Besar have some great snorkeling spots. If you don’t scuba dive snorkeling is a great way to see the beautiful coral reef and abundant marine life of the islands. You can snorkel from the beach or do a boat snorkeling trip with stops at the best spots. The tour price includes masks and fins. You can rent a mask and fins on the beach for MYR5/US$1,2 for the day. Snorkeling was very good just wear a rash vest or put on a lot of sunscreens. Don’t swim out too far from the shore or buoys, boat traffic can be quite hectic during the peak season.
What can you see snorkeling there? We mostly snorkeled around Coral Bay, Romantic Beach, and Rainforest Beach on Perhentian Kecil Island. We saw quite a lot; three black-tip sharks, two big and one small, many bump-head parrot fish, a turtle, four dotted stingrays, one snake, many needlefish, a couple of big barracudas, big shoals of parrot fish, yellow boxfish, titan triggerfish, many clownfish, sea cucumbers, huge shoals of small silver fish. Perhentian Islands are one of our favorite islands in Southeast Asia for snorkeling.
Kayaking is the best way to enjoy the islands and explore their hidden corners. You can rent a kayak at the beach and paddle around stopping at different beaches for swimming and snorkeling. Some small beaches and bays can be accessed only from the water. To rent a kaya for a half-day (4 hours) costs around MYR40/US$8, and a full day – MYR70/US$15. We rented our kayaks at Maya Guesthouse. We rented a kayak for four hours and paddled from Coral Bay Beach to Long Beach and back with a couple of stops in between for snorkeling. 4 hours was just enough to do it. If you’re strong enough you can paddle around the island in 4 hours but without stopping. If you rent a kayak for the day you can easily go around Perhentian Kecil Island. Kayaking on Perhentian Besar, the big island, is a great experience too.
Chilling on the beach
Both islands have some incredible white sandy beaches with turquoise water that are perfect for relaxing, tanning, and swimming. Long Beach and Coral Bay Beach are the most beautiful beaches on Kecil Island. They are great for spending an hour or two in a beach chair sipping a cocktail, playing a beach ball, and swimming in warm clear water. If you want more of a party vibe beach with bars and fire shows at nighttime then go to Long Beach. It’s a perfect place to come for a drink and live music. If you’re seeking tranquility then Coral Beach is a better option for you.
Keke Beach and Turtle Beach are the best beaches on Perhentian Besar Island. Both beaches boast white sands, clear calm water, are not too crowded, and don’t have much boat traffic. Turtle Beach can be accessed only by boat. It’s a beautiful quiet beach with massive boulders where if you’re lucky you can see sea turtles. The coral reefs and calm turquoise waters of Keke Beach are great for snorkeling. You can get to Keke Beach by walking or by boat.
Observing sea turtles
Both Perhentian Islands have Turtle Beaches. The one on Perhentian Besar is a good spot for observing sea turtles. The Perhentian Turtle Project has been running since 2015 in the Perhentian Island Marine Park. The project is aimed to protect and increase the population of sea turtles in the region and to educate people. You can join the Turtle Project if you want to spend more time observing turtles. Even if you don’t get to see turtles there the beach is still well-worth visiting. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches on the Perhentian Islands. It’s known for spectacular sunsets.
Doing a jungle trek
Both islands Kecil and Besar have several forest trails through the jungle that connect beaches, resorts, and villages. We did some hikes on Kecil Island including the Windmill Hiking trail, Banana Plantation Viewpoint, and the hike from Alunan Beach Resort to Long Beach. The combination of the lush jungle, white sand beaches, and turquoise water of the islands makes hiking a unique experience.
Enjoying a sundowner drink at the beach
Perhentian Islands are not the most party islands in Southeast Asia but there are quite a few places to go out and have a drink. Long Beach is the place to go for a sundowner drink on Perhentian Kecil. There you can find many beach bars, music, cocktail, fire shows, and even open-air cinema. The main bars there are Chillout Cafe and Panorama Cafe. Both places are next to each other. To see a night fire show go to Beach Bar. The show usually starts around 10.30 pm.
Perhentian Besar has less of a party vibe. There are a couple of BBQ places at the main pier but if you’re seeking music, party, and fire shows Kecil Island is a much better option.
Going on a boat trip to Redang Island
If you’ve explored both islands or just feel like going on an island adventure you can do a day trip to Redang Island. This tropical island is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the region. Redang Island is known for its calm turquoise water, spectacular sandy beaches, and abundant marine life. Redang is a popular place for diving and snorkeling. Other things to do in Redang include kayaking, jungle trekking, swimming, and relaxing on the beach. A boat journey from Perhentian Island to Redang is around 1h30min. one way. It’s quite a popular island with locals who love coming there on weekends or holidays.
Which is better Perhentian Islands or Langkawi?
I’ve been to both places Perhentian and Langkawi. It’s difficult to compare them because the islands are completely different. Langkawi is a lot bigger than the Perhentian Islands. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like an island more like you are somewhere by the coast on mainland Malaysia. Langkawi has an airport, roads, buses, taxis, shopping malls, etc. Pretty much everything any big popular touristy beach place has. It’s easy to get there you can just fly or take a big ferry from Penang.
Perhentian Islands don’t have any of that. There are no roads, no cars, no airport, no supermarkets, no big resorts. Being there you have the island feeling that you often get on small tropical islands. To get there is quite an adventure as well. A fast ride on a small speed boat might get you a bit wet.
If you’re on a family holiday with young children or if you like having modern facilities and comfort I’d suggest Langkawi. The island has more things to do as well. There are more tours, more places to visit, and more activities besides water sports and beaches. If you enjoy untouched nature and don’t mind having limited facilities then one of the Perhentian Islands is a perfect choice for you.
Tips for visiting Perhentian Islands
Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent you’ll definitely need both. You can buy them on the islands but it’s more expensive.
There is a water dispenser on Coral Bay Beach, at Amelia restaurant where you can refill your bottles. It’s cheaper and more eco-friendly than buying drinking water every day. Some dive shops (Antigravity) and restaurants do refills as well so just bring empty bottles with you. LifeStraw bottle or just a filter is a great option for buying water in plastic bottles and staying healthy when traveling.
Bring enough cash with you there is no ATM on the islands and many places accept only cash.
If you arrive on the weekend it can be difficult to find accommodation it’s better to book something in advance at least for the day you arrive on the island.
When is the best time to visit Perhentian Islands?
The dry season between April and October is the best time to visit the islands. When it’s dry and warm. The peak season for the Perhentian Islands is July and August. If you decide to visit the islands during that period it’s better to book accommodation and transport in advance. If you want to escape crowds it’s better to visit the islands in April, May, and October. When the weather is still lovely but there are fewer people and lower prices compared to the high season.
The monsoon season is between November and March. During that period many people leave the island and most restaurants and accommodation places are closed. There are very few boats going to Perhentian during that time it might be difficult to get there.
The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.