There’s something special about Bawah Reserve, a collective of six small pristine Islands in Indonesia situated a short ferry and seaplane from Singapore. Private eco-luxury island resorts are nothing new, but everything from the expansive activity menu that encourages exploration, to the impressive conservation initiatives, has put this all-inclusive resort firmly on the map for world wellness travellers. Our founder Dervla Louli checked in to explore the multiple marked hikes, open-water swimming and sailing routes, kayaking, yoga, Pilates, healthy customisable cuisine, snorkelling, diving and more. The health benefits of being outdoors in nature have now been scientifically proven to enhance overall wellbeing, and at Bawah, it’s never been more fun to put your Robinson Crusoe hat on and explore the great outdoors in this TV-free zone where the WiFi is weak.
Bawah Reserve consists of six of the 250 islands located in the Indonesian Anambas archipelago between Malaysia and Borneo. All guests must come via Singapore, and a host collects guest from either the airport or hotel to escort you via car, ferry and a Twin Otter 300 seaplane straight to the steps of Bawah.
VIP fast track the entire journey, plus the one-hour time zone change on arrival means that you land just in time for lunch with your strict 15kg luggage allowance in tow. It might seem a lot lighter than you’re used to carrying but thanks to the kaftan, hat, flip flops, snorkel and dive gear, sun care amenities, water bottle and complimentary daily laundry service – there’s really not much you need to pack. Storage for extra luggage can be arranged at Bawah’s office in Batam where you board and disembark the seaplane. This area of Indonesia is unspoiled, extremely private and very remote.
There are six islands in total at the all-inclusive Bawah Reserve where everything is included except for seaplane transfers, alcohol and diving. Bawah Island, the main island where the accommodation is located, covers 300 acres of white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and tropical forest. A picturesque jetty that splits in two is the Insta-star of the resort where all of the seaplane and boat guests deplane and embark from.
Designed to feel at one with the environment, much of the accommodation is almost hidden from site and privacy is a key quality for all residences. Two restaurants, two chill-out lounge bars, a yoga pavilion, boutique, jungle gym, spa, tennis court, 35 tented-safari and overwater suites, a library, four marked hiking trails, multiple snorkeling, diving, sailing, and kayaking routes, a dozen daily scheduled activity options and a rotating evening activity menu, means that despite being in the middle of nowhere it’s impossible ever to feel bored.
The beauty of Bawah is that you can have an incredibly active adventurous holiday exploring the land and sea or simply take time to rest under your canopy in your bedroom and enjoy leisurely massages. Cooking classes, star gazing, sunset cruises, sunrise kayaking, island picnics and the spa explorer package are a few standout activity options. The photogenic wooden stand-up paddleboards and clear kayaks are reason enough to venture out on the water for that perfect holiday snapshot.
As would be expected in the middle of the ocean, the WiFi is weak here: so weak that it can occasionally be nonexistent for a few hours, making it the ideal place to digitally detox and really unplug. There’s also a doctor on site who was very helpful when I wasn’t feeling well for a short time during my visit and who showed up within minutes of me calling him.
The ‘above, below and beyond’ philosophy that Bawah Reserve and the Bawah Anambas Foundation adheres to puts sustainability and eco-consciousness at the forefront of everything that happens on the island. Built over five years without heavy machinery, the coral reef and natural habitat are largely unspoiled making the deserted island vibes all that more authentic. A permaculture tour of the grounds illustrates the organic farm-to-table and recycling efforts taking place behind the scenes while even mosquito control is done naturally. All of the water on site is served in glass bottles, straws are fashioned from bamboo, and every effort is made not to disrupt the marine life and island ecosystem.
Bawah is made up of 35 residences with one and two bedroom options and developments are happening on another island in the reserve for larger private villas. Room types include water bungalows with either sunrise or sunset views, beach suites with direct access to the beach and garden suites.
Overwater bungalows number one and 32 are the most secluded and picturesque options with the best views, but most of the suites are identical in style and décor with four-poster canopied beds, outdoor bathrooms with copper baths and spacious terraces. My husband and I are ocean lovers, so direct access to the water from our overwater villa staircase was a welcome surprise, and a spacious bath is also a necessary indulgence while on retreat.
The aesthetic at Bawah is definitely barefoot-chic with rustic accents, and the accommodation is elegant yet relaxed and natural. The wooden overwater villas are minimalist and pared back from the outside and spacious on the inside. Healthy fresh juice and snacks can be found in the minibar, and small gifts and healthy snacks welcome you at night when you return to your room.
Developments on one of the nearby islands in the reserve will see larger more luxurious villas being built by the end of this year for guests who are looking for a little more privacy and glamour, but I think even after they are built I would stay at overwater villa one.
The food at Bawah is delicious, organic, inventive and healthy. The fish is local and fresh, the farm to table vegetables and fruits enhance every dish, and there is a wide array of options that you would need a good fortnight to get through. Every whim, dietary requirement, allergy and food sensitivity that I shared with them before and during my stay was taken care of with a smile.
Good food and memorable meals are critical to an excellent healthy holiday and I feasted like a keto Queen one day, sampled every plant-based dish another, put their healthy dessert making skills to the test in the evenings, and went entirely off-script for our island picnic where I asked for a low glycemic index meal with healthy proteins. No matter what your dietary preferences are, Bawah can cater to them, which is always essential on a desert island.
There are two main restaurants on site: The Boat House made entirely of driftwood that serves up healthy Western and local fare and the Tree House a beautiful rustic spot that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch and dinner are always my favourite meals of the day and the barbequed catch of the day, papaya salad and Poké bowls at The Boat House were a daily delight, while the smoked aubergine caviar starter, red snapper and macadamia nut Carpaccio and beef rendang were the firm favourites from Tree Tops. Sunset views at Jules Verne pre-dinner and chilling out at The Grouper by the pool post-dinner proved to be the perfect end to active days.
Out of any of the island resorts I’ve been to Bawah is one of the best set up for active adventurers who love nothing more than to get up, get outdoors and then unwind with your daily complimentary spa treatment. With a results-driven spa, four marked hiking trails that range from 40-minutes to two hours, multiple islands to explore, healthy food options, a huge activity menu including everything from snorkeling to kayaking, motorised sport menu and much more, it’s just as easy to chill out here as it is to get really (really) fit.
The yoga and Pilates classes can be as easy or challenging as you need them to be, and I loved being served up their signature Yin and Yang sequence one on one. Early morning sunrise Qi Gong on the beach was the perfect way to start the day, and the Pranayama class was very grounding and educational. The wellness, diving, watersport and excursion staff are all experienced having worked at incredible hospitality destinations around the world.
Being surrounded by nature is beneficial for the body and mind—even just sitting outdoors can help you get your daily dose of Vitamin D and benefit from the proven healing power of plants. Swimming in the crystal-clear water in the morning or heading on a hike are the two best ways to start your day followed by joining the movement class at 8am.
Wellness is wild in the best possible way here, and it’s a lot of fun trying to make your way through the non-motorised complimentary water sports menu. Kayaking, snorkelling, sailing, paddle boarding, SUP yoga, canoeing are all on offer and jet skiing, and scuba diving can be booked for an added fee. The wooden paddleboard and clear canoe were my favourite touches and were a lot of fun to play around on, and of course for some quintessential secret island snaps.
Aura Spa is where relaxation and restoration are delivered on-site through the hands of expert therapists many with decades of experience in the wellbeing industry. From my first massage to my last facial, my expectations were surpassed. The menu includes massages, facials, scrubs and specialist treatments that use luxury eco-friendly Asian skincare brand Ytsara that my sensitive skin loved. The facial yoga treatment really did remove fine lines and wrinkles as claimed, and the full body massages were heavenly, especially when foot mapping was included.
After 72 hours at Bawah, the knots in my shoulders had disappeared, my neck was no longer tense, and I had caught up on some much-needed sleep. I felt restored, nourished, and taken care of, which is precisely how you should feel after a wonderful retreat.
Travelling with my husband, who is one of the fittest and most active people I know puts a wellness resort to the test. As he tested the swimming routes and deemed them suitable for Ironman training, I practised yoga. As he spent an hour on the assault bike and rower in the gym, I tried the yoga facial (that actually does get rid of fine lines as it claims). And as he put the diving sites to the test, I checked out the well-preserved reefs while snorkelling. We slept and napped a lot during our stay, exercised, ate well, and enjoyed interesting conversations with guests and the team.
If you want to go where the WiFi is weak, the food is healthy and delicious, and a private island is your wellness playground, then add Bawah to the top of your bucket list.
The all-inclusive nature of the resort (sans alcohol and diving) makes every stay very relaxing and encourages guests to experience everything they can on the island. The daily complimentary laundry service makes it easy for guests to pack light and the daily complimentary spa treatments ensure everyone departs uber relaxed. The helpful, friendly and experienced staff coupled with the worldly, interesting guests also made the stay extra special. The boutique is well merchandised with chic home accessories that raise awareness about oceans, many of which ended up coming home with me in my suitcase.
The sunset boat cruise, private Tree Top dinner, spa explorer experience and desert-island picnics are all a must. Pencil in a pre- or post- breakfast hike up the blue trail for stunning views and spend an afternoon meandering on a kayak to all of the five surrounding islands. If you’re a strong swimmer the 1km jaunt to nearby Sanggah and Muerba is a beautiful way to get your ‘steps’ in for the day and don’t forget to snorkel around turtle beach before you leave.
Rates start at US$1980 based on two people sharing per night
Bawah Reserve Anambas Kiabu, Pulau Bawah, Siantan Sel., Kabupaten Kepulauan Anambas, Kepulauan Riau 29791, Indonesia | For bookings and enquiries, contact [email protected]