Occupying a large area of ocean east of Berau, the Derawan Archipelago consists of 31 named islands, of which the most significant to travellers are Derawan, Maratua, Sangalaki, Kakaban, Nabucco and Nunukan. This archipelago is unique in Kalimantan. It offers the chance to explore some classic tropical isles, including a huge atoll, and enjoy some of the best scuba diving there is. It’s also very hard to get around (although it can be done), so it pays to think through your itinerary very carefully and give yourself plenty of time. Seas are rough in January and February, limiting diving.
The closest and best known of the islands, Derawan is also overbuilt and increasingly dirty. With a sandy main street lined with budget restaurants and hotels, it has long been a backpacker magnet, and this is part of its attraction. There are fascinating, amiable people wandering the streets, many of whom have been travelling for months or even years, providing many opportunities to swap stories over a few beers. Another attraction is the excellent new Derawan Dive Lodge (not to be confused with Derawan Dive Resort, which has seen better days). However, tourism has definitely taken hold and the local reef is degraded; if you’re looking for more idyllic surroundings, consider Maratua. Beware of stingrays when walking at low tide.