How to Spend 48 Hours in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Pristine beaches in the Perhentian Islands
Pristine beaches in the Perhentian Islands | © evgenii mitroshin / Shutterstock
Sam Bedford

Few islands offer such serenity as Perhentian Kecil and Besar in northeast Malaysia. Culture Trip explores how you can spend 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands to experience their isolated beaches, tropical fish and go swimming with turtles.

Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands attract few visitors compared to Langkawi. Both Kecil and Besar (Small and Big) Perhentian provide a dose of paradise with their dazzling white sand and clear waters. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands for beaches, jungle trails and sunset cocktails.

Day One: Tropical beaches and marine life

Day one of your 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands involves experiencing the best of Perhentian Kecil. Apart from exploring the beaches and snorkelling, the island offers little else other than relaxing. There are two ways to get around – either walk or use the water taxis. Most travellers use a combination of both. We recommend booking accommodation at Long Beach where you’ll find hostels, guesthouses and resorts to suit your budget.

Morning: The best of Perhentian Kecil’s beaches

Start early and get down to the beach along Kecil’s northern shore. Thick jungle and gentle waves frame the soft sand on both Long Beach and Coral Bay. Stroll, sunbathe or go for a quick jog. Pack the camera and take some photos of Malaysia’s best example of paradise. A jungle trail connects Long Beach and Coral Bay. Pro Tip: Macaques live in the foliage and wouldn’t think twice about snatching your bags. Leave nothing unattended, not even for a minute!

Follow the trails to get views like this

Afternoon: Explore the world beneath the waves

The Perhentian Islands have a reputation for five-star diving and snorkelling. Crystal clear water and an explosion of marine life creates the ideal conditions to get beneath the waves. If you’re PADI-certified, book a tour from one of the beachside dive schools and explore deeper waters. Snorkellers can see the coral reefs in Long Beach before making their way to Turtle Bay or D’Lagoon. Most hostels and guesthouses hire out equipment. Pro Tip: Don’t underestimate the strength of the tropical sun. Snorkel in a t-shirt and use waterproof sunscreen.

Clear water, excellent visibility and thousands of tropical fish make it a snorkelling and diving oasis

Evening: Sunset on the beach

If you have the energy, follow some of the jungle trails to vantage points and viewing platforms. Speak to the staff at your accommodation for suggestions. Or head back to Coral Bay for the sunset. As an alternative, negotiate a price with the water taxis to take you out into the South China Sea. Witnessing nature’s spectacular show from the gentle water truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Night: Hit Kecil’s beachside bars

The Perhentian Islands doesn’t have an active nightlife and it can be challenging (and expensive) to get a drink. Our favourite bars line Kecil’s Long Beach. Most have similar prices with sociable atmospheres catering towards backpackers and diving students. But be prepared for the high prices of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Pro tip: If you’re on a tight budget and want a tipple, it might be cheaper to bring your own. Alcohol tends to be cheaper in other parts of Malaysia.

Perhentian Kecil’s Long Beach

Day Two: Perhentian Besar, turtles and sunset cocktails

The second part of our 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands itinerary involves exploring Kecil’s sister. Perhentian Besar, or Big Perhentian in English, attracts local families and honeymooners. Spend the morning searching for and swimming with turtles before taking advantage of Besar’s empty beaches.

Morning: Sunrise and turtle spotting

If you’re an early riser, witnessing the sunrise (around 7am) over Long Beach is a magical experience. After breakfast, negotiate a price with a water taxi for a trip to Turtle Sanctuary Beach on Besar’s northern coastline. Green and Hawksbill turtles nest in the sand and snorkellers often see adults swimming on the surface. Bring equipment and expect to spend a few hours in relative isolation.

Baby turtles next on Turtle Sanctuary Beach

Afternoon and Evening: Socialising and Besar’s southern beaches

For a light lunch, head to Belinda Café. Either walk along the beach for 20 minutes or flag down a water taxi. The coffee shop near the beach serves a mixture of Asian-style food, roti and cakes. After a morning of exploring the island, it’s time to put your feet up and soak up the views. Grab an iced-coffee, order a snack and enjoy. If you’re feeling sociable, strike a conversation with Belinda’s friendly staff. After relaxing, check out some of Perhentian Besar’s other beaches along the southern coast.

Any empty beach on Perhentian Besar

Night: Sunset cocktails at a classy resort

What can be a better way to end your 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands than enjoying sunset cocktails? We recommend Ombak Café inside the Ombak Resort on Perhentian Kecil’s western coast. Take a water taxi from Besar directly to the resort. The stylish café/restaurant provides an outdoor terrace overlooking the sea. While the drinks might be on the pricey side, it’s worth the extra cost for the experience. Order a cocktail and dinner and reflect on your action-packed 48 hours in the Perhentian Islands.

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