In the 1880s, Sentosa was a hub of British military activity, with hilltop forts built to protect the harbor from sea invasion from all sides. Today it has become a weekend getaway spot and Singapore's answer to Disneyland. It's also home to one of Singapore's two massive "integrated resorts," Resorts World Sentosa.
If you're spending the day, there are restaurants in abundance and a couple of affordable food courts. For a unique dining option, consider Sky Dining, aboard the Jewel Cable Car, where you can spend a couple hours eating a three- or four-course Western meal (set menus S$168 or S$248 for two; children's set menu S$24). It's especially popular on Valentine's Day or for birthdays and wedding proposals. Meals are pretty tasty, provided by the Jewel Box restaurant. For more information, call tel. 65/6377-9688, or visit www.mountfaber.com.sg.
For overnights, the Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, the Sentosa Resort & Spa, and the Hard Rock Hotel Singapore at Resorts World Sentosa are popular options. For all general Sentosa inquiries, call tel. 1800/736-8672 or see www.sentosa.com.sg.
Getting There -- Island admission is S$2 each for adults and children, payable at the causeway upon entry or factored into the cost of transport to the island.
The most entertaining way to get there is to take the cable car. From the Cable Car Towers (tel. 65/6270-8855), they make the trip daily from 8:30am to 10pm at a cost of S$26 round-trip adults and S$15 children. The one-way ticket is only S$1 less for children and S$2 less for adults. The view is okay (but too far from the city to see the skyline) and the ride is especially fun for kids. The cable cars also extend up Mt. Faber on the Singapore side. If you choose to take a cable car up to the top, you can take it back down again. Otherwise, if you choose to alight at this stop, you can take a taxi back to civilization.
The Sentosa Express light-rail train operates between VivoCity shopping mall at the HarbourFront MRT station and Sentosa, with stops at the beach, major attractions, and Resorts World Sentosa. Pick up the train to Sentosa at VivoCity, third level, where you can purchase tickets for S$3, which includes all-day rides plus Sentosa admission. The train operates daily from 7am until midnight.
The orange Sentosa bus operates from the HarbourFront Interchange (near HarbourFront MRT) daily from 7am to 10pm, with extended hours until midnight on Friday, Saturday, and the eve of public holidays; it costs S$2 per person, payable at the Harbourfront ticketing counter. Stops include Resorts World Sentosa and Beach Station.
The Sentosa Rider bus plies routes along Orchard Road, Marina Bay, and through Chinatown daily from 9am to 10:30pm. The cost is S$8 per person, and if you go this route, you can also choose a number of packages for Sentosa attractions -- tickets and packages are available from hotel tour desks. The SIA Hop-On-Hop-Off bus also stops on Sentosa.
A city taxi also can take you there; just pay the entrance fee after you cross the causeway, and the driver can drop you anywhere you'd like to go within the island. Alternately, you can walk across the boardwalk on foot from the causeway entrance at VivoCity shopping mall.
Getting Around -- Once on Sentosa, a free bus system with three color-coded routes snakes around the island from 7am to 11pm from Sunday to Thursday and 12:30pm on Friday and Saturday. There's a free map that's available everywhere, which is necessary to navigate all that's here.
Seeing the Sights -- The most notable attractions that you get free with your Sentosa admission are the Animal and Bird Encounters, a range of displays featuring reptiles, macaques, parrots, and birds of prey that runs from noon to 5:30pm at the amphitheater at Palawan Beach; the Nature Trail that starts from the bottom of the Merlion statue and the Dragon Trail Nature Walk, a 1.5km (1-mile) stroll through secondary rainforest to see dragon sculptures and local flora and fauna; and the beaches.
Sentosa has three beaches, but be advised, the water here is murky with some floating litter due to heavy shipping traffic in surrounding waters. At Siloso Beach, deck chairs, beach umbrellas, and a variety of watersports equipment like pedal boats, aqua bikes, fun bugs, canoes, surfboards, and banana boats are available for hire at nominal charges. This is where the beautiful young things hang out and play beach volleyball, and where nighttime beach parties are often held. Bicycles are also available for hire. Shower and changing facilities, food kiosks, and snack bars are at rest stations. Palawan Beach is recommended for families, as it has a longer stretch of beach, a fountain playground, a cheap local food hawker center, and showering/locker facilities just behind. Tanjong Beach is the quietest and most remote of the three, with few facilities.
Most attractions on Sentosa charge separate entrance fees. They include the Songs of the Sea laser fountain show (S$10 per person for 3 and over; daily 7:40 and 8:40pm); Skyline Luge Sentosa (S$12 per ride; daily 10am-7:30pm, extended to 9:30pm on weekends); MegaZip Adventure Park, a ride on a 450m (1,476-ft.) zip cable (S$29 per ride, S$24 for the aerial obstacle course, and S$12 for the ParaJump ride, or S$59 for all three; Mon-Fri 2-7pm, Sat-Sun 11am-7pm); Wave House Sentosa, with artificial waves for body-boarding and surfing (S$30-S$40 per hour weekdays and S$35-S$45 weekends; Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-2am); Sentosa 4D Magix motion cinema (adults S$18, children S$11; daily 10am-9pm); and the TigerSky Tower (adults S$12, children S$8; daily 9am-9pm).
The Surrounding Islands
Sixty smaller islands surround Singapore, some of which are open for full- or half-day trips. The ferry rides are cool and breezy, and they provide interesting up-close views of some of the larger ships docked in the harbor. The islands themselves are small and, for the most part, don't have a lot going on. The locals basically see them as little escapes from the everyday grind -- peaceful respites for the family.
Kusu & St. John's Islands -- Kusu Island and St. John's Island are both located to the south of Singapore proper, about a 15- to 20-minute ferry ride to Kusu, 25 to 30 minutes to St. John's.
Its name meaning "Tortoise Island" in Chinese, many popular legends exist about how Kusu Island came to be. The most popular ones involve shipwrecked people, either fishermen or monks, who were rescued when a tortoise turned himself into an island. Kusu Island was originally two small islands and a reef, but in 1975, reclaimed land turned it into a (very) small getaway island. There are two places of worship: a Chinese temple and a Malay shrine. The Chinese temple becomes a zoo during "Kusu Season" in October, when thousands of Chinese devotees flock here to pray for health, prosperity, and luck. There are two swimming lagoons (the one to the north has a pretty view of Singapore Island), picnic tables, toilets, and public telephones.
Historically speaking, St. John's Island is an unlikely place for a day trip. As far back as 1874, this place was a quarantine for Chinese immigrants sick with cholera; in the 1950s, it became a deportation holding center for Chinese Mafia thugs; and later it was a rehab center for opium addicts. Today you'll find a mosque, holiday camps, three lagoons, bungalows, a cafeteria, a huge playing field, and basketball. It's much larger than Kusu Island, but not large enough to fill a whole day of sightseeing. Toilets and public phones are available.
Ferries leave at regular intervals from the Marina South Pier (tel. 65/1800-736-8672); take the MRT to Marina Bay, then bus no. 402 to the pier. The boat makes a circular route, landing on both islands. Adult tickets cost S$15, and tickets for children under 12 are S$12. Tip: Pack a lunch and bring drinks, sunblock, and mosquito repellent.
Pulau Ubin -- My favorite island getaway has to be Ubin. Located off the northeast tip of Singapore, Pulau Ubin remains the only place in Singapore where you can find life as it used to be before urban development. Lazy kampong villages pop up alongside trails perfect for a little more rugged bicycling. It's truly a great day trip for those who like to explore nature and rural scenery. Rumors have it that during the occupation, the Japanese brought soldiers here to be tortured, and so some believe the place is haunted.
At the eastern tip of the island is the Chek Jawa marine reserve with a visitor center and a kilometer-long (1/2-mile) boardwalk that loops over the seashore and the mangrove. Halfway around there's a 20m-high (66-ft.) viewing tower that overlooks the tree canopy, so look out for bulbul birds, owls, and bats. Come at low tide to get the best view of the crabs, starfish, anemones, and sponges that cling to survival on the beach. Chek Jawa is about 40 minutes walk from the jetty, so rent a bicycle or a van to get there.
To get to Ubin, take bus no. 2 to Changi Village (or just take a cab -- the bus ride is long). Walk past the food court down to the water and find the ferry. There's no ticket booth, so you should just approach the captain and buy your ticket from him -- it'll cost you about S$2. The boats leave regularly, but only when they've got enough passengers to justify a trip, with the last one returning from the island as late as 11pm (make sure you double-check with the ferryman so you don't get stranded!). If you want to avoid a long wait for a boat, peak hours are from 7am to 7pm.
Once you're there, bicycle-rental places along the jetty can provide you with bikes and island maps at reasonable prices. The new 45-hectare (111-acre) Ketam Mountain Bike Park has trails with three levels of difficulty -- one that meets international competition standards. A few coffee shops cook up rudimentary meals, and you'll also find public toilets and coin phones in the more populated areas.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.