Formerly known by the rather unattractive name of Pulau Blakang Mati ("The Island After Death" in Malay) and the centrepiece of Britain's spectacularly unsuccessful "Fortress Singapore" strategy in World War II, Sentosa has been rebranded and remade into one big tourist attraction, popular among Singaporeans as a quick island getaway. The new jewel in the crown is Resorts World Sentosa, an enormous complex comprising of Universal Studios theme park, S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore's first casino, shopping malls and hotels.
The small southern islets of Kusu Island, St. John's Island, the Sisters Islands, and Pulau Hantu are a little to the southeast of Sentosa. Various plans to develop them have not come to much and they remain off the beaten track, but by no means undiscovered. The first two can be reached by public ferry, and the rest by chartered boat.
Basic admission to the island will set you back at least $1 per person which is included in the transportation fares from the mainland to Sentosa. Hotel guests can get an admission waiver. There is an ever-changing palette of combination tickets that may work out marginally cheaper if you plan to visit multiple attractions. The island itself is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although many of the attractions are not.
The best way in is to take the North-East Line or Circle Line of the MRT to HarbourFront and then make your way to Level 3 of Vivocity, where you'll find the Sentosa Express monorail to the island. The train operates every 5-8 minutes from 07:00-23:45 daily, and a flat fare of $4.00 applies (island admission included, EZ-Link accepted).
The cheapest way though, is to walk across the bridge via the Sentosa Broadwalk ($1, EZ-Link accepted), and it isn't even much of a walk since there are travellators with plenty of shade. The next cheapest is to take a SMRT bus, RWS 8, from VivoCity/HarbourFront MRT for $2 and there are some shuttle buses from hotels in the Orchard and Marina Bay districts.
By taxi or private car, you'll need to pay $2 to $7 per vehicle to enter depending on the time of entry, and a $3 taxi surcharge also applies on the way out. Alternatively, the Cable Car between Sentosa, HarbourFront and Mt. Faber is a little more scenic and the return ticket costs $26/15.
Sentosa's ferry terminal has been demolished to make way for the casino, but there are still limited ferry services from downtown Singapore's Marina South Pier to Kusu and St John's Island.
- Southern Islands Ferry, Marina South Pier (Bus 402 from Marina Bay MRT station), ☎ . M-F 10:00 and 14:00, Sa 09:00, 12:00 and 15:00, Su/hols 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, and 17:00. This gives you a few hours on Kusu, depending on which service is taken, which is plenty for seeing the sights. $15/$12 adults/children, no Sentosa entry fee needed.
All transportation around Sentosa (except taxis) is free.
Three coloured shuttle bus services — Yellow Line, Red Line and Blue Line — connect Beach Station to various points on the island. Buses run every 10-30 minutes from 07:00-23:00 on weekdays and until 00:30 on F-Sa. There's also a pink double-decker open-top bus.
Beach trams supplemented by minivans shuttle people along the beaches every 15-20 minutes. One service connects Beach Station to Siloso Beach, another connects Beach Station to Palawan and Tanjong Beaches.
The Sentosa Express has three different stops (Waterfront, Imbiah, and Beach), providing services between Resorts World Sentosa, the Imbiah attractions and the beaches.
See and Do
Long a bit of a joke, Singaporean wags used to quip that "Sentosa" stood for "So Expensive and Nothing to See Actually". Well, it's still expensive, but there are now more than enough attractions to spend a day or two taking it all in, especially in the family-oriented Resorts World Sentosa. In fact the crowd during the weekends and school holidays can be quite daunting, and it's never easy waiting in long sweaty queues under the mid-day sun but Universal Studios Singapore is a standout experience for theme park lovers and for those who haven't been to Orlando. For all attractions below, a "child" is defined as being between three and twelve.
Resorts World Sentosa
Resorts World Sentosa can be reached via the Waterfront station of the monorail or via the dedicated RWS buses from Harbourfront and other points in Singapore (see Get in). If you plan on visiting more than one park, check out the Multi-Park Passes. The most comprehensive, which includes Universal Studios Singapore, S.E.A. Aquarium, Maritime Experiential Museum and Adventure Cove Waterpark, costs $188/136 for a two day visit and is curiously more expensive than the individual tickets combined, but allows for switching between attractions as you like.
- Casino, Crockfords Tower B1M. 24 hours daily. Singapore's first casino is tucked away underground underneath the Crockfords Tower hotel. There are 500 gaming tables offering 19 different games, but the emphasis is on Asian favourites like baccarat, roulette, tai sai and pai gow, with poker a distinct minority. A dress code applies: no slippers, no singlets, and no shorts. Overseas guests free entry, Singaporean/Permanent Residents $100 Casino Levy.
- Universal Studios Singapore, ☎ . Daily 10:00-19:00, F-Sa 19:00-22:00 (Hollywood After Hours). The first Universal Studios theme park in Southeast Asia. It can take a whole day to try out all the rides. There are seven zones: Hollywood, New York, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Madagascar. The star of the park is Battlestar Galactica, the world's tallest "dueling" rollercoaster, with two tracks battling it out simultaneously: "Cylon" suspends you in the air, with plenty of loops and inversions, while "Human" is seated and reaches speeds of up to 90 km/h. (Battlestar Galactica is currently closed and will be replaced by another ride by the end of 2014.) Inclement weather can put a damper on plans, although some rides do remain open. One-day pass $74/54, two-day pass $118/88, all rides included.
- S.E.A. Aquarium, ☎ . 10:00-19:00 daily. The largest oceanarium in the world. Home to majestic manta rays, enormous goliath grouper, Napoleon wrasse, and other gentle giants of the sea. The corridors can get a little cramped, especially when everybody else has the exact same idea to avoid the outside heat. $29/$20 adults/children, includes access to Maritime Experiential Museum. $10 for access to priority queues.
- Maritime Experiential Museum, ☎ . 10:00-19:00 daily. See replicas of Asian sailing vessels from the docks at the Historic Ship Harbour, and learn more about Asia’s maritime and cultural heritage through the museum’s education programmes. Shared ticket with S.E.A. Aquarium.
- Adventure Cove Waterpark, ☎ . 10:00-18:00 daily. Has Southeast Asia’s first hydro-magnetic coaster and a gigantic wave pool. Grab a tube and journey down Adventure River, passing through 14 themed zones including a tropical jungle garden and a sea creature grotto. Snorkel over a colourful coral reef with 20,000 friendly fish or wade amongst dozens of rays. Lockers cost $10 for small ones and $20 for large ones, so try not to bring too many things. $29/$20 adults/children.
- Incanto, Festive Grand, ☎ . M/Th-Fr 20:00, Sa-Su 16:00 & 20:00. Illusionist Joe Labero carries out death-defying illusions and is supported by the astonishing acrobatic sequences of the Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe. $48-$148.
At the beach
Among Singaporeans, a popular reason to go to Sentosa is to hit the beaches: Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong from west to east respectively. All three are artificial, but does it really matter? Unfortunately the water is rather murky due to the never-ending parade of ships across the Straits. Siloso has a nice beach promenade full of clubs and restaurants, some rather noisy, while Palawan claims to be the southernmost point of continental Asia (if you count the bridge connecting Sentosa, and ignore any competing Malaysian claims). Tanjong, the quietest of the three, is the place for beach volleyball.
- Underwater World, near Siloso Beach (all buses). 10:00-19:00. Features a walk-through aquarium with lots of sharks and fishes and many smaller tanks. Now largely superseded by the nearby S.E.A. Aquarium, but still pretty nice with the fewer crowds. $25.90/17.60 adult/child, includes admission to Dolphin Lagoon.
- Dolphin Lagoon, Siloso Point. Has cute pink dolphins doing all the usual tricks (jumping through hoops, balancing balls). Shared ticket with Underwater World.
- Fish Reflexology, Underwater World (Near ticket booth), ☎ . Daily 10:00-19:00. For a spa treatment with a difference, pop in to have fish nibble dead skin off your feet. You have a choice between "gentle" Turkish fish and "aggressive" African ones: neither will cause damage, but the African ones are pretty ticklish! The treatment concludes with foot reflexology or head and shoulder massage, performed more traditionally by humans. $35 for 40 min.
- Songs of the Sea (Beach Station). Daily at 19:40 and 20:40. Multimedia extravaganza with live cast, pyrotechnics, water jets and lasers. Very popular, so book ahead, especially on weekends. Premium $15, standard $12.
- Wave House Sentosa, Beach Station, ☎ . 10:30–22:30. Artificial waves to go along with the artificial beaches, there's the Double Flowrider (easy) and the Flowbarrel (hard). Or just come and watch surfers bust up the waves, with a nearby beach bar and the occasional party event. Need to register at least 30 minutes before a session. $35-50 for one hour, $60-90 for two, sessions run on the half hour.
For some action
For the best value for money, try the Southern Ridges Walk on Mt Faber, which is totally free and you might see some wildlife too.
- Flying Trapeze (Beach Station). M-F 14:30-18:30, Sa-Su 14:30-19:30. Learn how to swing like Tarzan on the trapeze. Closed during wet weather. $10/swing, $20/3 swings.
- iFly Singapore, 43 Siloso Beach Walk, ☎ . A giant wind tunnel five storeys high that gives visitors a chance to try out indoor skydiving and is even big enough to accommodate eight-way formation flying. $69-89 for two skydives.
- MegaZip Adventure Park, Imbiah Lookout, ☎ . 11:00-19:00. Zip wires, aerial obstacle courses, simulated parachute landings and trampolines, all for the adrenaline pump. $38/zip, $38/obstacles, $18/jump.
- Sentosa Luge & Skyride, Beach Station, ☎ . 10:00-21:30. Up the hill in a ski lift and down again in a steerable bobsled. Kid safe. Good attraction for younger kids as the incline of the track hinders going very fast. Not very exciting for those over 15. If you are inclined to go, resist temptation to purchase multiple trips until trying it the first time. The Dragon Trail is closed on rainy days. $13 single ride, plus $1 for child riding with adult.
- Southern Ridges Walk, Mt Faber. On the mainland, it's a 9 km long walk starting from Mt. Faber that passes over treetops and through housing estates. Offers an easy getaway from shopping centres and tourist attractions. The Henderson Waves are the first major stop on the trail. Free.
Elsewhere in Sentosa
The prisoner of Sentosa
Most people feel they can see Sentosa in a day — how about being confined to the island for over twenty three years? This was the fate of Chia Thye Poh, a member of the opposition Barisan Sosialis, who was arrested in 1966 under the Internal Security Act. He was asked to sign a document renouncing violence and ties with the Communist Party of Malaya, but Chia, a man of principle, refused as he had no such ties and had never advocated violence. Never charged or brought to trial, he was held in prison for 23 years, becoming the world's second-longest-serving political prisoner after Nelson Mandela, and was "released" only in 1989 to house arrest on Sentosa. He was allowed to move back to the mainland in 1992 and had all restrictions lifted in 1998.
- Fort Siloso, near Underwater World (All buses, then transfer to tram). 10:00-18:00. Formerly the largest British naval base in Fortress Singapore, its guns staring balefully out towards the sea in preparation for enemy attack. The Japanese rode bikes down the peninsula instead; after your visit here, be sure to visit the Battle Box at Fort Canning Hill to find out what happened next. Now turned into a museum, you can follow a tour through the area (complete with lots of wax figures) to find out what the life of a recruit was like. Nearly doubled in size in 2004. $8/5 adult/child.
- Images of Singapore, near Cable Car Station (Green, blue bus). 09:00-19:00. A sugar-coated, kid-friendly retelling of the official Singapore story, where people of many races have come together to live in harmony. Renovated in 2006 and now uses the latest technology, but there is not all that much substance under the glitz. $10/7 adult/child.
- Sentosa Merlion (Imbiah Station). 10:00-20:00. A stretched-out 37 m version of the statue by the Singapore River, which is lit up at night - note, the Merlion highly disappointingly no longer shoots lasers (if in fact it ever did) from its eyes. Admission enables you to take the elevator up into its mouth and gaze out over the nearby Port of Singapore, as well as experience some seriously cheesy exhibits downstairs. $8/5 adult/child.
- Sentosa Golf Club, 27 Bukit Manis Rd, ☎ . The only golf club in Singapore open to the public, it features two famously challenging 18-hole courses and hosts the yearly Barclays Singapore Open. When sipping your gin and tonic in the clubhouse, raise a toast to Chia Thye Poh (see box), who was for years held under house arrest in a one-room guardhouse in the club grounds. M-Th $120, F-Su $220.
- Spa Botanica, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (Near The Sentosa Resort), ☎ . Singapore first self-proclaimed "tropical garden spa". Shared facilities are limited to a swimming pool and a mud bath, but a wide range of treatments are available. $100-300.
- Tiger Sky Tower (Near cable car, blue/green bus). 09:00-21:00 daily. Asia's tallest observation tower. It takes you up to a height of 131 m above sea level and offers a 360-degree view of Sentosa, Singapore and the Southern islands. On clear days the outlines of Malaysia and Indonesia can be seen. $10/7 adult/child.
There are a few sights of minor interest on Kusu Island. The name means "Turtle Island" and there are indeed lots of the reptiles scampering about, but don't expect an unspoiled tropical paradise: the island was thoroughly reworked with land reclamation in 1975 and looks exactly like the rest of Sentosa.
- Da Bogong (Tua Pekong) Temple (Kusu Island). An unassuming little Taoist temple dedicated to the Merchant God. This is the focal point of the yearly Kusu Festival (Oct-Nov), when pilgrims come to the island to pray for prosperity.
- Keramat Kusu, Kusu Island. An unusual Muslim shrine (not a mosque) atop a small hill, dedicated to the saint Syed Abdul Rahman and his family, who lived here in the 19th century. The shrine is painted bright yellow and is visited in particular by childless couples.
Kusu and St. John also offer some beaches, which are quieter but otherwise not much different from those on Sentosa itself. St. John is also a popular spot for fishing.
Every corner of Sentosa is inundated with gift shops filled with all the plush Merlion toys you will ever need (and then some).
- VivoCity, HarbourFront MRT. This giant complex on the mainland just next to the Sentosa bridge is Singapore's largest shopping mall, featuring anchor tenants like The Gap, two giant food courts and creative landscaping. There is a huge hypermarket featuring Singapore's largest organic supermarket. The Sentosa Express monorail station is integrated into the mall - the ticketing station can be found on the 3rd floor beside the thematic food court, and the Singapore Cruise Centre is connected to VivoCity via a bridge to the HarbourFront Centre, where there are also other shops as well.
- Sweet Enchantment, VivoCity #01-159. Singapore's first all-natural handcrafted rock candy shop where you can watch artisan candy chefs create lovely rock candies or lollipops inscribed with words to mark your passage in this lovely island country, i.e., "I Heart SG".
As you might expect from a giant amusement park, food on Sentosa is (by Singaporean standards) rather pricey and mediocre. Things have, however, gotten slightly better in recent years with local chains allowed to open up outlets. Since the opening of the casinos, good (though still pricey) fine dining options are available at Resorts World Sentosa. For cheaper food options, grab a bite at either VivoCity or HarbourFront Centre.
- Seah Im Food Centre, Seah Im Rd (Across from Vivocity). Popular with locals, has a range of Indian Muslim food stalls and a variety of local cuisine. The building is rather old, but the food is quite good. $5.
- Food Republic VivoCity, 1 HarbourFront Walk, #03-01. Themed like a collection of 1960s hawkers, only with air-conditioning (and hygiene). Slightly expensive for a food court, but the selection is good and it's usually packed. $5-6.
- Koufu (Palawan Beach). 09:00-21:00. One of the few food courts on Sentosa with the local food found in any run of the mill food court. Prices are ridiculous as compared to mainland prices. Food is all right, but there are tastier options around. $4-6.
- Malaysian Food Street, Resorts World Sentosa. M-Tu/Th 11:00-22:00, F-Sa 09:00-23:00, Su 09:00-22:00. Notable for its retro 1970s depiction of Malaysia, with food hawkers selling Penang laksa and KL hokkien mee. Fits in with the theme park facade, but any good foodie would rather head across the causeway for the real thing. $6.
- 7-Eleven (Below Monorail Stations). 24 hours daily. The only store in Sentosa that sells drinks below 3 dollars. Good for a snack. Similar to mainland prices.
- Thanying, 1 Larkhill Rd (Amara Sanctuary Resort), ☎ . Daily 11:30-15:30, 18:30-22:30. A branch of the well-known Thai restaurant at Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar. Best known for their duck curry with pineapple and longan. $30.
- Trapizza (Siloso Beach, north end), ☎ . Daily 11:00-21:30. Offers the improbable combination of pizzas, pastas, and a trapeze school. $20.
- Barnacles Restaurant & Bar, 101 Siloso Rd (on beach in front of Rasa Sentosa Resort), ☎ . Daily 18:30-23:00, Su lunch 12:00-15:00. Mildly over-the-top beachside restaurant complete with rippling waves projected onto the ceiling. Competent if not cheap Mediterranean and Chinese seafood dishes and grills. Terrace and outdoor seating. Free parking and they'll even reimburse your Sentosa entrance fee. $70.
- The Cliff, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (The Sentosa Resort), ☎ . In sight of jungle, beach and sea, repeatedly voted the most romantic restaurant in Singapore and popular with bosses out for a naughty night with their secretaries. Book a table on the lower deck for the best views. $100.
- Jewel Box, Mt. Faber. On a hill opposite Sentosa, accessible via the cable car, the Jewel Box is an assemblage of three fancy, pricy and generally unspectacular restaurants (Empress Jade, Sapphire and Black Opal), but the rooftop Moonstone Bar is a good place to just go for a drink and watch the lights twinkle.
- Kunio Tokuoka, Crockfords Tower Level 2 (Resorts World Sentosa), ☎ . The very first overseas venture by chef Kunio Tokuoka, who is a leading culinary maestro in Kyoto and grandson to the founder of the famous Kitcho. On level 2 of Crockfords Tower with easy accessibility from FestiveWalk, Kunio Tokuoka offers Japanese haute cuisine.
- Il Lido, 27 Bukit Manis Rd (Sentosa Golf Club), ☎ . Daily 13:30-14:30, 18:30-23:00. Modern, stylish Italian restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, featuring views of the Straits. Bar-lounge with live DJ attached. Some dishes are excellent (try the spaghetti with sea urchin or the sea bass with porcini), but for the very high price the quality is rather uneven. $200.
The beaches can offer some pretty wild parties on Friday and Saturday nights, especially if one of the on-again, off-again foam parties pops up. The New Year's Eve party in particular is legendary, as is ZoukOut, a massive yearly outdoor party organized by Zouk, featuring a roster of international and local DJs. Beaches, beer, bikinis, and booming bass. What more do you need?
- Bora Bora Beach Bar (Palawan Beach, yellow/red bus), ☎ . Daily 10:30-19:00 or later. Laid-back beach bar playing jazzy tunes. Free entry, beer $8, cocktails $12.50+.
- Cafe del Mar (Siloso Beach, beach tram), ☎ . A franchise of the famous Ibiza club, offering a pool by the beach and chill-out music. The restaurant is pleasant but slightly overpriced and the outdoor seating is very nicely set up, although the volume is often cranked up way too high. Reserve in advance if you want one of the little pavilions. Free entry, beer $8, cocktails $12-.
There are a few nightspots of note on the mainland side of Sentosa Bridge.
- Privé, 2 Keppel Bay Vista (Down Keppel Bay Dr, just before The Caribbean condo), ☎ . Daily 12:00-01:00. Built on a private island connected to the mainland by a bridge, arriving here is half the fun. There's an expensive steak restaurant indoors and an equally expensive Japanese eatery upstairs, but the crowd-puller is the slick, breezy outdoor bar with DJ playing chillout tunes. Free entry, drinks $12+.
- St. James Power Station, 3 Sentosa Gateway (opp Vivocity), ☎ . Former power station now hosting no fewer than 9 clubs and bars with different themes, including Powerhouse for dance pop, Dragonfly for Mandarin/Cantonese live music, Movida for Latin rhythms and Bellini Room for jazz. Popular with Singaporeans and somewhat more downmarket than the options at Clarke Quay. Opening hours and prices vary per club, but most are open Wednesday to Sunday and charge $10-20 for entry (including one drink).
The cheapest place to stay is actually off the mainland on the Southern Islands. Camping is possible on St. John's Island, the Sisters Islands and Pulau Hantu, but free camping permits from the Sentosa Development Corporation (tel. +65 6275 0388) are required. Sentosa is not a particularly convenient base for sightseeing elsewhere in Singapore, and most of the accommodation targets visitors looking for a simple beach holiday. However, the Sentosa Express monorail has improved access to the mainland, so some excellent deals can be found if you scout around.
- Costa Sands Resort Sentosa, 30 Imbiah Walk (Near Siloso Beach, red/blue bus), ☎ . Offers simple "kampung" huts (maximum 3 people) for $50/36 peak/off-peak and new air-con chalets (maximum 2 people) for $125/98; there are additional discounts for trade union NTUC members. In addition to the nearby beach, guests can use a swimming pool.
- Treasure Resort (Formerly Sijori Resort) (Imbiah Station), ☎ . The prewar colonial building may interest architecture buffs, but beach lovers will be disappointed to find that it's plunked down in the middle of the island far from the coastline and the interior is badly in need of a renovation. At least there's a pool. $180.
Sentosa features a sprinkling of resort hotels catering to those who want a beach holiday within striking distance of the city.
- Amara Sanctuary, 1 Larkhill Rd (Near Palawan Beach), ☎ , fax: +65 6223 1293, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Surrounded by 3.5 hectares of tropical rainforest, this hotel features 120 rooms in a converted British army barracks as well as 10 standalone garden villas. Three pools, in-house spa, easy walk to the beach. Disabled-friendly. $500.
- Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, ☎ . Luxury resort designed by Foster+Partners, built around two colonial-era bungalows. Main building and private villas, spa and restaurant. $500.
- Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Rd, ☎ . Run by Shangri-La Hotels, with 459 rooms this is by far the largest hotel in Sentosa, offering a rather generic package holiday experience. The main selling point is that this is the only full-fledged beachside resort in Singapore. $235.
- The Sentosa Resort & Spa, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (yellow bus), ☎ . Formerly Beaufort Sentosa, this hilltop resort-style hotel on the quieter eastern side of the island is well known for its Spa Botanica and fancy restaurants. Recently renovated and looking better than ever, with a deep Olympic-sized pool. 300 m to Tanjong Beach. $420.
- Siloso Beach Resort, 51 Imbiah Walk (Beach Tram), ☎ . Opened in 2006, this resort looks like a minimalistic city hotel, all black paint and green glass, accidentally built on a tropical island. Despite the name, the resort is not on the beach, but across the road from it. $260.
There are a number of hotels at the Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort. All share the same reservation number, +65 6577 8899, and can also be booked online at Resorts World Sentosa .
- Crockfords Tower, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS bus, Waterfront Station). All-suite hotel exclusively for casino high rollers. Even if you aren't staying here, take a peek at the lobby and its several million dollars' worth of Chihuly glass. Invitation only.
- Hard Rock Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS bus, Waterfront Station), ☎ . Corporate rock for wannabe rock stars. The lagoon-style pool with real sand is nice though, and the Rang Mahal Pavilion is among the better options. From $225.
- Hotel Michael, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ . Designed by and named after architect Michael Graves, but mostly in shades of lime. From $250.
- Festive Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ . Family-oriented hotel where most rooms feature a special loft bed for the kids. More upmarket than you'd think. From $200.