Turtle Island, about an hour’s boat ride from Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia, offers something extraordinary if you’re looking for a wildlife encounter like no other.
Where is it?
Turtle Island is actually Selingaan Island. It’s one of three islands where turtles regularly visit to lay their eggs. It’s about an hour’s boat ride (warning: very fast and bumpy – my kids were okay with it though my 8 year definitely wasn’t loving life) from Sandakan, located in the Sabah region of Malaysia. You can fly to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu, which is an international airport, or from Kuala Lumpur, as it’s only a domestic airport.
How to get there
You can’t travel to Selingaan Island independently and can only visit as part of a tour. Most tours offer a one-night package, including pick up from the airport or hotel in town, boat transfer to the island, accommodation, lunch and dinner on the first day and breakfast the next morning.
How to book
You can book directly with Crystal Quest Sdn. Bhd, who manages the island, but you may also book with another tour operator. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a response when contacting them directly, so we booked with Nasalis Lavartus Tours, with whom we also booked our Kinabatangan River jungle tour. It’s a costly tour considering the accommodation is pretty basic, and it’s only one night. Still, given the costs of maintaining the island and the experience you get there, it was definitely worth it for us. We paid just over USD 1000 for two adults and three kids.
What to expect
After arriving at the island, you’re checked into your chalet (for us, we needed two as they’re usually only double or triple rooms) and then served lunch. There were mixed reviews online about the quality of the food, but we enjoyed it. There was plenty of variety, particularly for vegetarians, with rice, vegetable curries, meat curry, noodles, soup and fruit. It was buffet style, so you could eat as much as you like, and there was juice available and tea/coffee.
After lunch, it’s free time to explore the island, where you can rent snorkels and swim, look at the hatchery and just walk around the island, which is super tiny. There is a dedicated area of the beach they have sectioned off to swim and snorkel, which is manned by a lifeguard.
Walking around the island, the kids loved spotting the MASSIVE iguanas, and we spent the afternoon building sandcastles at the beach. The water was a bit choppy and not great for small kids, and there were lots of small rocks. Another family with us had slightly older kids who spent hours snorkelling in the sea, spotting all types of sea life.
Because we were lucky enough to have only around 15 other people with us on our tour, it felt like we had the island to ourselves. As a result, we experienced a beautiful sunset on a stretch of the beach and felt like we were on a deserted island.
Seeing the turtles
After dinner, it’s time to wait for the rangers to let you know when the turtles have arrived to lay their eggs. The island is visited by green turtles and hawksbill turtles who lay their eggs on the beach. While you wait, there are lots of games available in the dining area, which helps as the rangers advised that it could be anywhere between 7pm and midnight before the turtles turned up.
Thankfully for our kids (and us!), we got the call around 8.30pm and headed down to the beach. A giant green turtle was busy laying eggs in the sand. The turtle laid 86 eggs in one go, which were collected by the ranger to be placed in the hatchery to keep them safe from predators. We watched the collection and the placement, learning how the rangers categorise, monitor and count the volume of eggs over time.
Finally, we got to help place some baby turtles back into the ocean. This was the kid’s favourite part! The rangers had collected the babies into a basket and gently turned it over with another ranger standing in the ocean with a torch to help attract them towards the sea. We were told that if the turtles started going the wrong way, we could help them gently go in the right direction, so all the kids were delighted when the turtles closest to us began heading back up the beach instead of towards the water! Their little hands were super gentle, helping to turn the turtles in the right direction and find their new home.
If you’re looking for luxury, this tour isn’t for you. But, if you’re looking for an unforgettable wildlife experience where your kids will experience something truly unique, Turtle Island is a must if you’re visiting the Sabah region of Malaysia.
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