Sentosa: Singapore’s Island Resort

To escape the city, locals and tourists alike head to this manmade resort area for beach fun, dining and Singapore family attractions.

What Singapore lacks in natural seaside allure, it makes up for in manmade fun on Sentosa, a small island south of the city-state. Locals and tourists alike flock here for quality beach time, namely because there are fewer tankers off the coast, the water’s a little cleaner and there is soft sand imported from Indonesia and elsewhere.

Now tagged as a “leisure and recreation resort” by the tourism folks, Sentosa boasts a five-star resorts—including the new luxury Capella Singapore, which opened in March—and spa plus other luxury accommodations, two golf courses, annual all-night dance music festival ZoukOut and a host of attractions for families. And as of early 2010, Resorts World will open an “integrated resort” featuring more hotels, a casino and a Universal Studios theme park sure to draw a new wave of travelers from around the region.

Sentosa Beaches

If this all sounds like a tourist nightmare to you, start slowly at Tanjong Beach. Of the island’s three beaches, it comes closest to the meaning of “Sentosa,” the Malay word for peace and tranquility. Tucked away on the eastern end of the island, Tanjong is the most secluded spot for settling down with a book, towel and picnic lunch.

Families should head to Palawan Beach, just west of Tanjong. On weekends, friendly pirate Captain Palawan trolls the shoreline looking for buried treasure, and is willing to enlist young scalawags to help while regaling them with tales of the high seas.

Siloso Beach is the busiest and most popular part of Sentosa, especially since it’s located next to Underwater World (see below). During the day, beachgoers play volleyball and soccer, explore Fort Siloso and its 17th-century cannons, and even swing on a trapeze a la Club Med. (Coincidentally, nearby alfresco restaurant Trapizza boasts some of the best thin-crust pizza in Singapore.) Adventure seekers can ride a luge down from nearby Imbiah Lookout on a toboggan/go-kart hybrid, or stay overnight at the Rasa Sentosa Resort and use its climbing wall.

Animal Attractions

Near the family-friendly Palawan beach is Dolphin Lagoon. Visitors can watch daily dolphin-training sessions for the cost of admission to the oceanarium—S$22.90 adults, S$14.60 children (roughly $16 and $10, respectively); for a bit more (well, a lot more: S$150 per person, about US$100), you can swim with the dolphins.

Dolphins too tame for your tastes? Try diving with the sharks at Underwater World. Non-certified divers can swim in a tank with leopard sharks, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, and eagle rays; meanwhile, certified divers get to cavort with Gracie the dugong. Dugongs, or sea cows, are slow-moving marine mammals much like manatees, but possibly cuter. (Sadly, dugongs are also endangered, so be gentle.)

If you prefer not to get wet, ride the travellator through a 270-foot glass tunnel as more than 250 species of marine life swim around you.

Cocktail Time

Our favorite Siloso spot is a beachside bed at Café del Mar—prime real estate for sipping cocktails as the sun sets; when it gets dark, they turn up the techno music and continue to serve drinks along the water and at the swim-up pool bar. But when the foam parties start, pay your bill and head to Bora Bora Beach Bar on Palawan. It’s the less “scene-y” alternative to Café del Mar, with better food and great mojitos.   

Sentosa Dining

Sentosa also delivers upscale dining options, such as il Lido at Sentosa Golf Club—Singapore’s “Best Italian Restaurant” (Singapore Business Review, 2009) serving the “best meal with a view” (Time Out Singapore, July 2008). Enjoy Sunday champagne brunch on the terrace while taking in a panoramic view of the South China Sea.

For Asian cuisine, pick from traditional Thai restaurant Thanying or deceptively named Japanese restaurant Si Bon, two of the best places on the island, and both at Amara Sanctuary Resort. The former offsets bland décor with rich coconut curries laced with chili; the latter barely seats 13 indoors and only 10 more outdoors, making dining on the dégustation-only menu of deep-fried kabobs an exclusive event.

If rich, deep-fried food doesn’t appeal, check out The Garden at Sentosa Resort & Spa. The dishes all fall under the “conscious dining” motto—they’re butter-free, incredibly fresh and sourced from organic or bio-dynamic farms. To complete the feel-good afternoon, try a hot-stone massage next door at Spa Botanica.

Final Picks

Worried that you won’t have time to explore all that Sentosa has to offer? Then make sure you do at least two things: check out the surprisingly entertaining water-and-light show Songs of the Sea, and ride the Sentosa Express from the “mainland” of Singapore to the island. The S$3 (US$2) monorail ride, starting at VivoCity mall at the HarbourFront MRT stop, offers an up-close look at Resorts World under construction and the ultimate in Singapore kitsch—a 121-foot tall Merlion. The half-fish, half-lion statue is Singapore’s trademarked mascot; it’s known to spout water and make even the most cynical tourist laugh. 

Destinations: Singapore

Themes: Amusement Parks, Beach Vacations

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Parks and Playgrounds, Sightseeing, Swimming