Southern Islands: A Different Singapore
Singapore islands beyond just Sentosa
· 4 min read
Singapore is a bustling city-state known for its modern infrastructure, bustling streets, and sky-high buildings. However, beyond the concrete jungle lies a hidden gem – the Southern Islands. This group of eight islands, located off the southern coast of Singapore, are a stark contrast to the busy cityscape and offer a unique experience for visitors seeking a serene getaway.
Sentosa is probably the most famous of the lot, and is the only one that is directly connected to the main island of Sentosa by road. There remaining seven islands — namely St John's Island, Lazarus Island, Kusu Island, Pulau Seringat, Pulau Tekukor, Pulau Hantu, and the Sisters' Islands — provide a completely different experience from Sentosa and the main island of Singapore. If you are traveling to Singapore and searching for something different, you should definitely consider a day trip to explore these islands!
St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island, Kusu Island
The St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island, and Kusu Island are the three islands that are probably the most well-known after Sentosa, and can be visited together as part of a day-trip. These islands are accessible via public ferry from Singapore, and are often visited together in a day trip. It is recommended to start your trip first to Kusu Island before heading to St. John’s and Lazarus Island. St. John’s Island has a lodge that you could spend the night, and five units of ‘tiny houses’ will be made available at Lazarus Island from the middle of 2023; overnight stay at Kusu island is not permitted.
Kusu Island, meaning 'Tortoise Island' in Hokkien, is known for its legendary story of a giant turtle that turned into an island to save two shipwrecked sailors. The main landmarks on the island are a Taoist temple that houses deity Tua Pek Kong and Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), and three Malay keramats built to commemorate a 19th-century pious man, Syed Abdul Rahman, and his mother and sister. Every year during the ninth month of the Lunar calendar, devotees also pay a pilgrimage to the shrines in hope of good health and peace. The shrines are also said to have strong links to fertility, making it popular among couples that are praying for a child.
To stay true to its name, Kusu Island also has a Tortoise Sanctuary which houses hundreds of tortoises.
😄 What to do: Visit the temple and keramat, Read about the history and legends of Kusu Island, Visit the Tortoise Sanctuary
⏰ Recommended time spent: 1 hour
St. John’s Island
St John's Island, the largest of the islands, was formerly a quarantine station for immigrants from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Today, it is a tranquil place and an escape away from the hustle of mainland Singapore. In fact, St. John’s Island is the course location for a 10-day residential Vipassana Meditation course in Singapore. St. John’s Island is also home to Singapore’s only offshore marine station, so consider checking out the marine lab to find out more about the marine life there if you’re interested! The lab is a walk away from the ferry terminal, so you might want to consider renting a bike to help you get around.
😄 What to do: Visit the marine lab, explore St. John’s Island
⏰ Recommended time spent: 1.5 hours
Lazarus Island does not have its own ferry terminal, but is connected to St John's Island via a causeway. It is a 15-20 minute walk away from St. John’s Island, but there is also the option of renting a bicycle. It boasts a long stretch of pristine beach, and is possibly the best beach in Singapore. Its calm and tranquil waters also make it a popular spot for a relaxing swim. Of the three islands, you’re most likely to spend the most time at Lazarus Island.
😄 What to do: Picnic and relax by the beach, take a dip in the sea, cycle around the island
⏰ Recommended time spent: 2 hours
Bonus: Pulau Seringat
Pulau Seringat is located near Lazarus Island, and is connected to both Lazarus Island and St. John’s Island by a causeway. It also has a small beach with great views, but there is generally less that you can do there. Consider dropping by the island only if time permits!
⏰ Recommended time spent: 1 hour
How to Visit
Public ferries are available for a visit to St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island, and Kusu Island.
You will depart mainland Singapore from Marina South Pier, and the ferry will drop by both St. John’s Island and Kusu Island. There are two main operators that provide this service — Island Cruise, and Marina South Ferries. The prices are fairly similar, so you might want to check the departure times to see which service fits your itinerary better!
If you are only going to be visiting Lazarus Island, Marina South Ferries also offers direct-to-Lazarus options from either Marina South Pier or Sentosa Jetty (and ending at Pulau Seringat jetty).
Development to make the Southern islands more accessible and convenient for visitors are in the works, so if you want to catch the Southern islands in its current form, be sure to plan a visit there soon! Here are some tips to take note of when visiting the islands:
Bonus: Pulau Hantu, Sisters’ Island, Pulau Tekukor
Wait, what if I wanted to visit the other islands?
Singapore is definitely not known for diving due to the low visibility of the waters, but if you were looking for somewhere to dive (or scuba dive) in Singapore, Pulau Hantu is probably your best bet. While visibility might not be great, Pulau Hantu has a rich marine life and is known for its various species of nudibranchs and slugs. There are no public ferries to Pulau Hantu, and the only way you could get there is if you chartered a boat or to join a tour.
Sisters’ Island, Pulau Tekukor
Sisters’ Island is made up of two islands - Big Sister’s Island and Little Sister’s Island. Together with the western reefs of Pulau Tekukor and St. Johns’ island, they are now designated the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park.
The marine park is currently closed for enhancements until end March 2024.