The journey to Derawan

The most comfortable way to cover
big distances in Indonesia
Lisa had to prepare and attend a conference in Bali (Asian Finance Association Conference, hosted by the university she works at). The budget of the conference being too tight to invite me, I ventured out to see another beautiful part of Indonesia. As a destination I chose Derawan. If you've never heard the name, never mind. No tourists and only a few travelers make it there. Even most Indonesians just had question marks in their eyes when I mentioned my destination.

Derawan is the most accessible island of the Sangalaki archipelago, just off the coast of East Kalimantan (Borneo). Getting to Derawan is not the easiest thing. And getting around the islands that are part of the Sangalaki archipelago is at least as tricky. Living in the same country as Derawan belongs to, it still took me a train, two planes, a car (shared taxi) and a speedboat to get there. An almost 24 hours journey.

Speedboat terminal in Tanjung Batu
There are basically two ways to get to Derawan. Both involve their fair share of flexibility and patience. If you're already in Indonesia, you can take a flight to Balikpapan, capital of East Kalimantan. To save some money, you could also take a Pelni ferry out of Surabaya (Java) or Makassar (Sulawesi) to get to Balikpapan. But Pelni ferries are often overcrowded and it will take you at least two days. Also, they only go every two weeks or so. From Balikpapan, you can either fly to Berau or take a bus that takes somewhere between 15 and 20 hours on mostly non-existent roads.

I chose the easy way and took a flight from Yogyakarta via Balikpapan to Berau for 1.7 million IDR (about 110 EUR). As I arrived at night, I slept in Berau and got up early in the morning to find a transport to Tanjung Batu. At the supposed bus terminal there was simply nothing, but an Ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver took me to the leaving point of the shared taxis (Kijang). After an hour waiting, some other passengers turned up and we left. A smooth three hour drive brought us for 100'000 IDR (6.5 EUR) to Tanjung Batu. As everyone in the car (a family of three and me) wanted to continue to Derawan, the driver organized us a speedboat. Lucky for me, because usually you have to charter one for about 250'000 IDR (16 EUR). But this way, I got the 30 minutes ride for 70'000 IDR (4.5 EUR).

A great but rather expensive way to discover and dive
remote locations in Indonesia: Liveaboards
The other way of getting to Derawan would be your choice if you're coming from Malaysian Borneo. From Kota Kinabalu in Sabah you can take a bus or a short flight to Tawau, on the border to Indonesia. From Tawau you'll have to continue with the cross-border ferry. It's wise to keep a flexible schedule around that ferry as it gets often delayed or cancelled. Once you're in Tarakan (Indonesia), you'll have to find people to share your speedboat with and a captain that is willing to take you to Derawan. You'll have to negotiate a bit to get the price to a reasonable 2.5 million IDR (160 EUR) for up to twelve people). Mind you, this is not a rip off. Fuel prices are high, costs for speedboat maintenance as well. Additionally, this part of Indonesia is not really prepared for individual travellers. More than 95% of tourists I met are Indonesians who usually travel in large groups (often with family members) on pre-arranged packages.

As you can see, reaching a destination off the beaten track is not impossible. It just takes two things that travelling teaches you anyway: flexibility and patience.


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