How to Visit Southern Islands of Singapore: St. John’s, Kusu, Lazarus, Seringat and Sisters’ Islands

How to Visit Southern Islands of Singapore: St. John’s, Kusu, Lazarus, Seringat and Sisters’ Islands

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If you are looking to literally get away from Singapore, like… out of Singapore, but you can’t afford to go overseas (because, ehm, border closure), and you think Pulau Ubin and Sentosa are too mainstream, here’s an idea.

You should absolutely visit the Southern Islands of Singapore.

I’ve visited the southern islands a couple of times and I just really love them. I think they’re truly hidden gems. The only challenge to visiting these islands is probably the logistics, such as how to get there and what exactly you can do there.

Therefore, in this post, I’m going to share detailed information and tips about these islands. Here are what I will cover:

Important:
Please bring your own food and drinks because you can’t buy any on the islands, no matter how much money you have!

Actually, what are the Southern Islands of Singapore?

The Southern Islands of Singapore are the offshore islands located off the south coast of Singapore.

I’m not able to find the official definition or boundaries of the Southern Islands, but I found a common consensus that the Southern Islands consists of these 8 main islands:
▪ Sentosa Island
▪ Saint John’s Island
▪ Lazarus Island
▪ Seringat Island
▪ Kusu Island
▪ Sisters’ Islands (Big Sister’s and Small Sister’s)
▪ Tekukor Island

However, when locals say “Southern Islands,” they are usually referring to only St. John’s and Kusu islands. This is probably because the public ferries that bring visitors to the southern islands only have 2 drop-offs, namely St. John’s and Kusu.

I have already written a very detailed guide about things to do in Sentosa Island so I’m not going to write about it here.

There is no public transportation to Tekukor Island at the time of writing. Visitors have to charter a private boat to reach this islands. I have never visited Tekukor so I can’t write about it yet. When I do visit it, I’ll definitely write a separate post about it.

Meanwhile, the Small Sister’s Island is not open for public. It is used for research and conservation, so I won’t be including this island in this post.

This article will focus on 5 islands: St. John’s, Lazarus, Seringat, Kusu and the Big Sister’s islands.

Technically, it is possible to visit all these 5 islands in a day (scroll down to my Ambitious Itinerary to read the details about how to do it). But, personally, I wouldn’t recommend that you visit all of them in a day because: a) you’ll need an excellent stamina, b) you’ll always be in a rush and you can’t slow down to enjoy the islands that you visit.

If you’re a first-timer, I suggest that you visit only St. John’s Island and Kusu Island (scroll down to read my Easy Itinerary). If you’re a more ambitious first-timer, add Sister’s Island to the Easy Itinerary.

How to get to Southern Islands of Singapore?

1. By public ferry

To get to St. John’s island, Kusu island and Sister’s island, you can take a public ferry from Marina South Pier.

Meanwhile, to get to Lazarus island and Seringat island, you can just walk from St. John’s island. Yes, these 3 islands are connected by a causeway.

Marina South Pier Singapore
Marina South Pier

There are two ferry companies that provide public transportation to the Southern Islands: Island Cruise and Marina South Ferries. I will explain the difference between these two companies in the next section.

A round-trip ticket costs $15 per person (at the time of writing). The ferry will stop at St. John’s island first, then continue to Kusu island. Most people will get off at St. John’s first, spend some time there, then take the next ferry to Kusu. You don’t need to pay again to go from St. John’s to Kusu, because it’s already included in your ticket.

During my first trip to Kusu, I was really clueless about how this ferry thing works. I thought that I must choose either St John’s or Kusu, so I chose Kusu. When the ferry arrived at St. John’s, I just stayed on the ferry because I thought I wasn’t allowed to go to St. John’s. Ugh!

Please don’t make the same mistake as me! You can visit both destinations without additional fee.

How to get to Marina South Pier? Easy, just take the MRT to Marina South Pier Station, then follow the direction sign to Marina South Pier. Please do not follow the sign to Cruise Center, because Cruise Center is another building meant for cruise passengers.

2. By private boat

Other than taking a public ferry, you can also charter a private ferry or boat if you prefer to travel on your own schedule, or if you want to visit islands that are not covered by these ferry companies. The price varies depending on the type of boat that you rent.

Here are ways you can hire private boat:

  • Visit Marina South Pier and book directly from the counters.
  • If you don’t like the hassle of going to the pier, you can book a private yacht online.
  • If your group is 3 person or less and you’d like to mingle with new people, I recommend that you book this join-in group (food is included!)
Sentosa Cove - view from ferry going to southern islands singapore
One of the many views you’ll get on your way to Southern Islands (PS: this is Sentosa Cove, the residential area of the riches)

3. Join NParks’ guided tour

NParks organises monthly guided walks to St. John’s island. This tour is free, but it’s quite hard to get a slot. This tour only goes to St. John’s island.

Since this is a guided tour, you need to follow their schedule and you can’t wander around on your own. It is a great opportunity to learn about biodiversity and heritage of the island. To read about this tour, click here and scroll down to “Event” section.

Island Cruise vs Marina South Ferries: Which one is better?

At the moment, there are two companies that provide public ferries with fixed schedule: Island Cruise and Marina South Ferries. You may wonder, which one should you choose and what are the difference between these two?

Let me start with their similarities. Both Island Cruise and Marina South Ferries have stops at St. John’s island, followed by Kusu island.

Interestingly, both have the similar (though not identical) departure schedule. Here are their schedules, as captured from their official website

island cruise ferry schedule
Island Cruise Schedule (Source)
marina south ferries schedule
Marina South Ferries Schedule (Source)

The main difference between them is this: Marina South Ferries provide additional ferries to bring customers to Sister’s island on weekends/public holidays, and Island Cruise doesn’t.

Island Cruise
Island Cruise
Marina South Ferries - Public Ferry
Marina South Ferries – Public Ferry
Marina South Ferries - small boat that goes to Sisters Island
Marina South Ferries – small boat that goes to Sisters’ Island

The second difference, which is not that significant, is that Marina South Ferries has an outdoor upper deck which is good for people who are prone to motion sickness. However, when it rains, the upper deck is pretty useless.

So, if you intend to visit Sister’s island on weekends or public holidays, you should choose Marina South Ferries. Otherwise, if you’re planning to visit St. John’s / Kusu on weekdays, or if you’re not planning to visit Sister’s island, then you can choose either Island Cruise or Marina South Ferries.

Recommended Itineraries

To be honest, planning an itinerary gave me a headache because: a) I don’t know how much time to allocate to each island, b) the ferry schedule on weekends/public holidays are really headache-inducing.

But don’t worry, I had successfully executed an itinerary that allows me to visit 5 islands in a day with public ferry, and it is my pleasure to share with you the details. In addition, I’ll also include recommended itinerary for 4 islands and 2 islands in a day.

Ambitious itinerary: visit 5 islands in a day

I’m that typical Asian woman who wants to get the most bang for her bucks, so it’s only natural that I want to visit as many places as possible in a day. In order to achieve this mission of visiting 5 islands in a day, I booked my ticket from Marina South Ferries because they have boats that go to Sisters’ island. Island Cruise doesn’t go to Sisters’ Island.

Before the trip, I had created a draft itinerary which is something like this: Marina South Pier – St. John’s – Sisters’ – St. John’s – Kusu – St. John’s – Marina South Pier. I consulted with MSF weather my plan was feasible, they said yes but they had a better suggestion. So I follow their advice to the T and all went well. Here’s the itinerary that I used.

AMBITIOUS ITINERARY: 5 ISLANDS IN A DAY
8.15am: arrive at Marina South Pier
8.25am: collect the ticket from ferry company and buy food & drinks
8.50am: enter the boarding gate
9am: ferry departs from Marina South Pier (MSP) to St. John’s Island (SJI)
9.30am: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
10am: board the ferry to Sister’s island
10.30am: ferry arrives at Sister’s island, get off the ferry
10.30am – 10.50am: explore Sister’s island
11am: board the ferry to Kusu island
11.30am: ferry arrives at Kusu island, get off the ferry
11.30 – 12.50: explore Kusu island
1pm: board the ferry to SJI
1.30pm: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
1.30pm – 3.50pm: explore St. John’s island, walk to Lazarus island and Seringat island
4pm: board ferry back to Marina South pier

That’s it! 5 islands in 7 hours is totally possible. BUT… it’s quite rush. It felt like a huge chunk of your time is spent on waiting for your boat. Furthermore, you need to make some trade-offs, such as forgoing swimming or laying down on the beach.

See, you only have 20 mins in Sister’s island, which is enough for sightseeing only and not swimming or snorkeling.

Then, you have 1 hour 20 mins in Kusu. 30 mins for a quick lunch, 30 mins for exploring the island and 20 mins for getting smitten by turtles, and there isn’t enough time to swim.

In St. John’s, you’ll need about 1 hour to visit Marine Laboratory, walk to the beach and back to the pier. Then, you need 30 mins to walk to Seringat island, 30 mins to walk around Seringat, 20 mins to explore Lazarus beach, and 30 mins to walk back to the pier. Again, not enough time to swim.

If swimming and relaxing are your main priorities, I recommend that you don’t visit 5 islands in a day. Instead, visit 4 or 2 islands as elaborated in the next sections.

Also, do note that this ambitious itinerary to visit 5 islands in a day is only feasible on a weekend or public holiday. Because the additional ferries that go to Sisters’ island only operate on weekend / public holiday.

Slightly ambitious itinerary: visit 4 islands in a day

If visiting 5 islands and getting on ferry 5 times a day sounds too much for you and you want a slower pace trip, then you can consider this itinerary.

In this itinerary, forget Sister’s island. You’ll be only dropping off at St. John’s, then walk to Lazarus and Seringat, then take the boat to Kusu and finally head back to Singapore mainland. So, you’ll only get on the boat 3 times in total.

To visit 4 islands in a day, you can take either Marina South Ferries or Island Cruise. Below are 2 itineraries, one for each ferry company. These itineraries are based on ferry schedules on weekend or public holidays.

Both the above itineraries allow you some time to take a dip or sunbathe on the beach, so do bring your swimsuit and perhaps a book.

4 ISLANDS IN A DAY via Marina South Ferries
9am: ferry departs from Marina South Pier (MSP) to St. John’s Island (SJI)
9.30am: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
9.30am – 1.20pm: explore SJI, walk to Lazarus island and Seringat island, have lunch (3 hours 50 mins)
1.30pm: board the ferry to Kusu island
2pm: ferry arrives at Kusu island, get off the ferry
2pm – 5.20pm: explore Kusu island (3 hours 20 mins)
5.30pm: board the ferry back to MSP (ferry will pass through SJI on the way to MSP)
6.30pm: arrives at MSP

4 ISLANDS IN A DAY via Island Cruise
9am: ferry departs from Marina South Pier (MSP) to St. John’s Island (SJI)
9.30am: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
9.30am – 1.40pm: explore SJI, walk to Lazarus island and Seringat island, have lunch (4 hours 10 mins)
1.50pm: board the ferry to Kusu island
2.20pm: ferry arrives at Kusu island, get off the ferry
2.20pm – 6.05pm: explore Kusu island (3 hours 45 mins)
6.15pm: board the ferry back to MSP
6.45pm: arrives back at MSP

Easy itinerary: visit 2 islands in a day

The Easy Itinerary is perfect for first-timers, parents with young kids/elderly, and people who just want to spend quality time sitting down and talking to their loved ones.

For this itinerary, I recommend that you visit only St. John’s island and Kusu island. Forget walking to Lazarus and Seringat or hopping on another boat to Sister’s island.

Below are 2 itineraries, one for each ferry company. These itineraries are based on ferry schedules on weekend or public holidays.

For this Easy Itinerary, I feel that Island Cruise has a better ferry schedule because from Kusu, you can immediately go back to MSP without having to go to SJI first. And you get to spend more time on both islands.

2 ISLANDS IN A DAY via Marina South Ferries
9am: ferry departs from Marina South Pier (MSP) to St. John’s Island (SJI)
9.30am: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
9.30am – 11.20pm: spend time at SJI (1 hour 50 mins)
11.30am: board the ferry to Kusu island
12pm: ferry arrives at Kusu island, get off the ferry
12pm – 3.20pm: explore Kusu island (3 hours 20 mins)
3.30pm: board the ferry back to MSP (ferry will pass through SJI on the way to MSP)
4.30pm: arrives at MSP

2 ISLANDS IN A DAY via Island Cruise
9am: ferry departs from Marina South Pier (MSP) to St. John’s Island (SJI)
9.30am: ferry arrives at SJI, get off the ferry
9.30am – 11.40am: spend time at SJI (2 hours 10 mins)
11.50am: board the ferry to Kusu island
12.20pm: ferry arrives at Kusu island, get off the ferry
12.20pm – 4.05pm: explore Kusu island and have lunch (3 hours 45 mins)
4.15pm: board the ferry back to MSP
4.45pm: arrives back at MSP

What to Bring to Southern Islands

This section is extremely important because failure to bring certain things will ruin your trip.

Here are the essential items you need to bring to Southern islands:

  • FOOD – you need to bring your own food because you CAN’T buy food on the islands. You can, however, buy food at Marina South Pier before boarding the ferry. There is a small food stall that sells economic rice, but please don’t expect restaurant quality food.
  • DRINKS – similarly, you need to bring your own drink because you CAN’T buy drinks on the islands, not even from vending machine! There are several stalls at Marina South Pier that sell drinks and snacks with reasonable price, so I recommend you buy drinks from them to save you the hassle of bring your drinks all the way from your home to MSP (unless you drive). Please bring at least 1.5L per person (3L if you intend to visit 5 islands in a day); I made the mistake of bringing only 600ml water and ended up having to cut my trip short!
  • Sunscreen – there are not much shelter on the islands, except the occasional tree shades.
  • Mosquito repellent – don’t let mosquitoes ruin your trip! And yes, I had to apply both sunscreen and mosquitoes repellent on my skin and it felt weird, but don’t skip them because both are really important.
  • Umbrella – to protect you from the sun or rain
  • Swimsuit, extra clothes, shower stuffs, towels – if you’re planning to swim (PS: there are shower facilities on SJI, Kusu, Sister’s island)
  • Snorkel gears – if you’re planning to snorkel
  • Beach towels – if you’re planning to sunbathe
  • Powerbank – if you’re going to use your gadgets a lot
  • A bag – to keep your things. Avoid using plastic bags because they attract monkeys (yes, there are monkeys on these islands)

Things you do NOT need to bring:

  • Passport
  • Camping gears – camping is prohibited

What to Wear to Southern Islands

The walkways are well constructed on these islands, so it’s okay to wear any footwear. But remember, you need to jump in and out of ferry, so flat shoes/slippers are definitely better than heels.

As for clothing, there are no restrictions to what you can/can’t wear, so it’s really up to you.

Things to do in Southern Islands

Before you visit the Southern islands, I think it’s really important to plan your trip, down to the details of what you’ll do and see, in order not to waste your time thinking about what to do when you’re already on the islands (well, unless your main purpose of going there is to do nothing, which is perfectly fine).

1. Sisters’ Island

Sisters Island Singapore - seen from ferry
The 2 Sisters’ Island Singapore as seen from ferry

As mentioned previously, the Small Sister’s island is not open for public, so the things mentioned here are only meant for the Big Sister’s island (Pulau Subar Laut).

These are the things to do in Big Sister’s Island:

  1. Snorkeling
  2. Swmming
  3. Picnic lunch
  4. Intertidal walk (only possible during low tide)
  5. Diving (must be done with dive approved operators)

Read my detailed guide about things to do in Sisters’ Islands.

2. Kusu Island

Kusu Island Singapore - Tua Pek Kong
A Chinese Temple in Kusu Island

These are the things to do in Kusu Island:

  1. Da Bo Gong Temple
  2. Wishing Well
  3. Kusu Kramats
  4. Tortoise Sanctuary
  5. Swimming
  6. Picnic
  7. See Singapore skyline
  8. Take part in the Kusu Island’s Annual Pilgrimage

Read my detailed guide about things to do in Kusu Island.

3. St. John’s Island

St John Island Singapore - seen from ferry
St John’s Island as seen from ferry

These are the things to do in St. John’s Island:

  1. St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory
  2. St John’s Island Beach
  3. Picnic
  4. Intertidal walk (only possible during low tide)
  5. Overnight Stay
  6. NParks Guided Walking Tour
  7. Walk to Lazarus Island and Seringat Island
  8. Lazarus Beach

Read my detailed guide about things to do in St. John’s Island.

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