Top Things to Do in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Magneficeint view of Perhentian Island, Terengganu
Magneficeint view of Perhentian Island, Terengganu | ©Izuddin Helmi / Shutterstock
Sam Bedford

Perhentian Besar (Big) and Kecil (Small) off Malaysia’s northeast coast offer world-class diving, tropical beaches and water sports. Discover our favourite things to do in the Perhentian Islands from the best stretches of sand and where to go snorkelling to jungle treks, sea turtles and beachside bars.

Explore both Big and Small Perhentian Islands

If you’re travelling to the Perhentian Islands, take the opportunity to explore both Besar and Kecil. The larger Perhentian Besar caters more towards locals and families. Kecil tends to attract budget-conscious backpackers. Water taxis ferry passengers across the small gap between the islands in less than 10 minutes. While this doesn’t meet the definition of island-hopping, it’s one of the most popular things to do in the Perhentians to experience the best of both worlds.

Hit the beaches

The Perhentian Islands have some of Malaysia’s best stretches of coastline. Check out Perhentian Kecil’s Adam and Eve Beach and Coral Bay. Our favourites on Perhentian Besar include both PIR and West Beach. The soft sand borders the dense jungle creating idyllic spots to sunbathe or relax in the shade. Pro tip: Don’t leave your belongings unattended – the macaques will snatch anything if they get the chance.

Pristine beaches in the Perhentian Islands

Learn how to dive

The Perhentian Islands are a hotspot for aspiring divers. Schools offer courses from the internationally recognised PADI Open Water and refreshers to Master courses. And as a bonus, the admission fees tend to be slightly lower compared to other dive schools in both Malaysia and Asia. Expect attentive staff with the expertise and experience using state of the art equipment. If you want to learn how to dive, check out these dive schools in The Perhentian Islands.

Some of Malaysia’s cheapest scuba diving courses

Explore beneath the waves

One of the best things to do in the Perhentian Islands for certified divers is to explore the world under the sea. The region lives up to its reputation for some of Malaysia’s most biodiverse areas of marine life. Divers (and snorkellers) will encounter hundreds of multi-coloured fish with visibility up to 20 metres (65.6 feet). The luckier ones might catch a glimpse of the sharks and sea turtles, too. Kecil Island offers more opportunities to go diving compared to its larger neighbour.

An explosion of life

Snorkel in some of Malaysia’s clearest waters

Clear waters combined with coral reefs create the perfect environment for snorkelling. Every type of experience is available from joining tours that travel several kilometres into the South China Sea to snorkelling in Long Beach’s shallow waters. We strongly recommend spending the day snorkelling as one of the top things to do in the Perhentian Islands for non-divers. This gives you the chance to witness and appreciate the spectacular underwater world without getting scuba-certified. Pro tip: If you’re travelling on a budget, buy a mask and goggles in Kuala Lumpur rather than renting equipment on the islands.

Have an incredible snorkelling experience

Get sweaty in the jungle

Both Besar and Kecil islands offer a small dose of the jungle experience. A network of trails penetrate the dense foliage leading to beaches, vantage points and waterfalls. For a lighter trek on Kecil, follow the one-kilometre (0.6-mile) trail from Long Beach to Coral Bay. Or hike along the path from Long Beach to a viewing platform at Wind Mills for a panoramic of the islands. Bring water and anticipate the hot and steamy environment filled with sounds, insects and monkeys. Hiking rates as one of the best things to do in the Perhentian Islands to get a taste of the jungle.

Jungle trails lead to vantage points

Get wet on the sea kayaks

For a more proactive day of sightseeing, rent a sea kayak. Rentals usually cost less than RM100 ($25 USD) and allow the adventurous to get out onto the gentle waters. Either join a tour for a slightly higher price or rent equipment and explore both islands independently. Sea kayaking offers the chance to visit hidden coves and beaches that are inaccessible by foot. If you’re fit enough, it’s possible to kayak around the 14-kilometre (8.7-mile) circumference of Kecil which takes between three to five hours. Viewing the islands from the sea offers an entirely different perspective of the Perhentians.

Why not explore the islands from inside a kayak?

Hit the beachside bars

While The Perhentian Islands lack an active nightlife and party scene, it does have a few beachside bars along Kecil’s Long Beach. When the sun begins to set, the bars fill up with both backpackers and diving students creating a friendly and sociable environment. Pro tip: Different bars have different opening hours, prices and themes. Stroll along Long Beach in the afternoon and find which place suits your interests.

Enjoy a drink on the beach

See the nesting turtles

The Perhentian Turtle Sanctuary Beach on Besar is among the best places in Malaysia to see both hawksbill and green turtles. Conservation efforts including the Perhentian Turtle Project collect and incubate their eggs. Snorkelling off the coast of this beach might reveal one or two turtles swimming in their natural habitat, too. Just make sure to keep away from them.

Baby turtles in the Perhentian Islands

Relax, recuperate and unwind

And finally, one of our absolute favourite things to do in the Perhentian Islands is to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Consistently voted among the most beautiful places to visit in Malaysia, the islands offer a tropical getaway. If you’re backpacking or travelling around the country, this is the ideal place to take a break.

Remember to charge the camera!

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