Although Sentosa is the best-known of Singapore's Southern Islands, there are other islands to south of the main one that are worth exploring, and a cruise around them is one of the more interesting ways to spend a day in Singapore if you’d like to get out of the city.
Other than Sentosa, the main Southern Islands are Kusu Island, St John’s Island, the twin Sisters’ Islands, Pulau Tekukor, Lazarus Island and Pulau Seringat (for the curious, pulau is the Malay word for island). Singapore Island Cruise provides ferry transport to Kusu and St John’s Islands, but there are other private companies and chartered cruises that will take you around a few of the islands and even stop for a barbeque or picnic.
Kusu Island (Tortoise or Turtle Island)'s enchanting legend tells the story of two shipwrecked sailors, one Malay and one Chinese, floundering at sea. A tortoise takes pity on them and changes itself into an island to save their lives.
Due to the mystical nature of the island’s origin, it houses places of worship. People make the pilgrimage to three Malay shrines (or kramats) to pray for prosperity and health, and couples who wish to conceive children make a special visit to these shrines as well. Similarly, a deity in the Chinese temple on the island, Guan Yin, is believed to grant sons to the faithful. In addition to soaking up history and legend, don’t miss Kusu Island’s quiet beaches where you can while an afternoon away with a picnic basket and a great book.
Somewhat less poetic in its history, St John’s Island was home to a cholera and beri-beri quarantine facility in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whether on a day or overnight visit, don't miss checking out the island's reefs with their startling variety of hard and soft corals. Nature lovers will enjoy the trekking routes and the chance to spot dolphins in the blue waters off the island.
For waters much clearer than in most other places in Singapore, head to Lazarus Island, a group of inlets characterised by clean beaches and practically no development (note that there aren’t even restrooms here!). After arriving by private boat charter or by crossing St John’s Island via the connecting bridge, you'll discover tranquil beaches facing the open sea.
With some of Singapore’s richest reefs, head to a pair of islands with a somewhat foreboding name – Pulau Hantu (hantu is the Malay word for ghost). The two islets are supposedly the spirits of battling warriors killed by an angry Jinn, a sea-spirit who was upset by their fighting. Hantu is a great place to check out lesser seen marine creatures, including seahorses and giant clams. It is also possible to camp here with a permit.
The best way to enjoy Singapore’s Southern Islands, whether you’re staying overnight or day tripping, is to be prepared. Must-haves include insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, sunblock, and lots of water. Remember that the Southern Islands are some of the last unspoilt places in Singapore, and that inconsiderate littering is not only an eyesore but also harmful to marine life. Try to leave the islands as pristine as you can, so others can enjoy them too.