You Might Spot Sea Turtle Hatchlings During a Stay at This Luxurious Private Island in Indonesia

Feel the energy of the ocean on an environmentally minded — and fully rentable — island at Bawah Reserve.

A saltwater pool at Elang at Bawah Reserve
The infinity-edge saltwater pool at Elang Private Residence, a new exclusive-use island at Indonesia's famed Bawah Reserve. Photo:

Courtesy of Elang at Bawah Reserve

"All right, ladies, let’s get some juiciness into those hips!”

The enthusiastic voice of Philippa, our instructor, startled me; I hadn’t been paying much attention to the class. And who could blame me? It was one of the most stunning places I’d ever tried to do yoga — a breezy open-air pavilion on a rocky outcrop where I could take in 360-degree views of an azure South China Sea, even from my reluctant downward dog.

Azure was just one of the countless shades of blue I noticed at Elang Private Residence, the new private-island offshoot of the famed Bawah Reserve in Indonesia’s Anambas Islands. Set on a previously uninhabited islet right next to the main eco-resort, which is accessed from Singapore via a ferry ride and a hop on Bawah’s seaplane, Elang comprises six spacious cliffside lodges designed by Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang. Each has sweeping views of the ocean and tropical forest, and is decorated with tasteful, tactile, locally sourced accents: soaring bamboo beams, live-edge teak and resak wood furniture, hammered-copper sinks and showers, rough-hewn island stone — even aromatic cinnamon-bark writing pencils that I was tempted to stir my tea with. Some lodges, like the one I stayed in, have Instagram-ready bathtubs on the veranda and driftwood staircases that wend invitingly toward the sea below.

Pair of photos from a resort in Indonesia, including a dining table and a cocktail bar
From left: A dining area at Elang; sunset cocktails at Bawah’s Jules Verne Bar.

Courtesy of Elang at Bawah Reserve

Elang is available exclusively by buyout for adults-only groups of up to 19 people, who have full access to Bawah’s facilities just a five-minute boat ride away. But they may not ever need to leave their paradise-within-a-paradise. Aside from the yoga pavilion, the island has its own spa, a saltwater infinity pool, a lawn tennis and croquet court, and butler service. Elang has two restaurants: the Beach House and the rather sexy Club House, a two-story bamboo-clad building with “James Bond lair vibes,” as one staff member aptly put it.

Guests can also enjoy picnics on the private beach, learn to fire up local dishes on traditional clay stoves, and sample creative tasting menus — at a zero-waste dinner I discovered all the flavors that could be coaxed out of meat and vegetable trimmings. My favorite activity was the Spa Explorer program, which takes guests to a scenic spot on one of Bawah’s six islands (chosen according to the day’s winds) for a massage accompanied by hypnotic angklung music.

The main draw, though, is that Bawah is located within a marine conservation area, which means the crystal-clear, bathwater-warm waters teem with incandescent coral, blacktip reef sharks, parrot fishes the size of small coffee tables, and all manner of other sea life. This oceanic pageantry owes much to the resort’s dedicated conservation unit. Led by marine biologist John Nolan, the team of five splits its time between rebuilding the reef (more than 2,000 coral fragments have been added over the past two years) and hauling detritus like discarded netting from Bawah’s waters. They cleared 1,230 pounds in 2022 alone.

Aerial view of a resort in Indonesia
Other accommodations at Bawah Reserve, which covers six islands, include 10 overwater bungalows.

Courtesy of Elang at Bawah Reserve

The resort is in the process of getting B-Corp certified and has recently invested in several eco-friendly measures, including a permaculture garden and a floating solar array the size of a football field that can provide up to 70 percent of the property’s energy needs. All waste is composted or transported to the nearby city of Batam for recycling, while sewage and gray water are thoroughly filtered, then used to flush toilets and water gardens.

The stars of Bawah’s marine conservation work might be the resident sloe-eyed green and hawksbill turtles, which nest there from February to October. Lucky guests can sometimes witness the hatchlings flip-flop their way to the sea — always a poignant experience, as these sea turtles typically have a one-in-a-thousand chance of reaching adulthood. Nolan’s team boosts their prospects by cloistering eggs in a hatchery, safe from poachers and other predators. “Every grown sea turtle is an absolute miracle,” he told me.

Many of these turtles will return to the same beach to nest, drawn by a mysterious magnetic pull. The same can be said too, I imagine, for many of the guests.

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Paradise With a Purpose."

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