Located just of the east Java south coast about 70km’s due south of Malang, Sempu Island is one of Indonesia’s finest hidden gems. An uninhabited protected nature reserve with over 855 acres of forest, crystal clear water, lagoons and white sand beaches this enchanting little island is a must for nature lovers.
The jewel in Sempu’s crown is the stunning Segara Anakan lagoon nestled deep inside the islands forest. Fringed with white sandy beaches overlooking crystal clear water and the limestone cliffs separating the lagoon from the belting Indian Ocean beyond, this 4 hectare lagoon is tropical paradise personified. Think Leonardo DeCapri’s movie “The Beach.” With clean ocean water constantly feeding into the lagoon through a series of caves both above and below the water, the lagoon stays fresh and clear all year round.
Sempu has plenty of other charms, all of which can be easily explored inside a few days given that the island is only 3.9km long and 3.6km wide. Highlights include Panjang Beach (Long Sand Beach), Waru-Waur Beach, the freshwater Telaga Lele lake (Catfish Lake), Pasir Kembar Beach (Twin Sands Beach) and Fresh Water Beach named for the freshwater spring spilling from the rocks adjacent to the beach. Whilst you’re exploring, keep an eye out for some of the islands permanent inhabitants; Javanese monkeys, Black Monkeys, macaques, wild boar, deer and a wide range of reptiles and birds.
The access point to Sempu is the village of Sendang Biru which can be reached from Malang by private car or ojek (2-3hrs). Unfortunately, there’s no public transport so if you’re travelling on a tight budget, try to get a group together an split the costs (350.000-450.000Rp). On arrival in Sendang Biru, head to the beach where you’ll need to register with the local forestry service office and obtain a permit. You can also arrange a guide here if you feel you need one then grab one of the boats waiting on the beach for the 15 minute transfer to Sempu Island. Boats usually cost around 100,000Rp for up to 10 people. Don’t forget to arrange a pick-up time or get the boatman’s mobile number for the return journey.
Camping is the only accommodation option on the island but there’s no better way to experience Sempu than laying under the glistening stars and falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping the shore. From the boat landing point at Teluk Semut, it’s a 2.5km trek (moderately difficult on account of having to carry all your gear) to Segara Anakan lagoon, the most popular place to pitch a tent. It is however by no means the only one. In fact, if it’s seclusion you’re chasing you are better off heading to one of the beaches along the south-west coast of the island. They’re all beautiful and offer lots of opportunity for swimming, snorkelling or simply relaxing. Obviously, you’ll need to come fully prepared with a tent, sleeping gear, stove, food, plenty of water (there’s no drinking water on the island) and whatever else you might need.
Sempu Island is best visited during the dry season from April to November as the trails can become muddy and difficult to walk on and camping in the rain can be downright unpleasant. Weekends can get busy so time your visit during the week if you can, and be sure to get to the Sendang Biru Beach permit office before the 5pm closing time. Finally, there are no rubbish facilities on the island so bring bags and take out whatever you brought in.
If you’re not equipped with your own camping gear, book an all-inclusive tour package with one of the local agents in Malang. They’ll provide all your camping gear, food, transport and a guide.