Only accessible by an expensive boat or a gruelling hike, Turtle Beach in Penang (also known as Pantai Kerachut in the local tongue) weeds out many of the casual beachgoers. What’s left is a peaceful and uncrowded beach filled with locals picnicking in the shade and tourists who come and go. There were almost no families or children when we visited.
How To Get To Turtle Beach
You can book passage on a boat to Turtle Beach at any of the various providers that are set up near Penang National Park. It takes about fifteen minutes to get from the jetty to the beach. The prices will be to rent the entire boat and should be for your group of up to 10 people only. The cost varies between RM100 to RM150 for a one-way journey. The price is around RM200 for a return trip which might include a stop at Monkey Beach if you haggle.
You can also hike to Turtle Beach from the national park, which is a 90-minute journey, one way. You can read my hiking guide from Penang National Park to Turtle Beach to get an idea of what’s in store. Since there is a beach at the end of this trail, it may be tempting to do the walk in your flip flops. This is a real hike, and best done with proper footwear. There are a lot of exposed roots, tiring uphills and steep downhills that will blister your feet if you’re just wearing flimsy foam sandals. I would advise that you wear your hiking shoes if you’re going to do this, and pack your beach shoes in your bag.
This comes from an avid hiker, but I would recommend doing the hike for at least one of the journeys – preferably hiking back if you have to choose one. Hiking there and back and not relying on a boat at all is better. Not only do you save money, but you will be in complete control of your schedule.
When you hire a boat for a return journey, the boat does not stick around and wait for you. It drops you off, then presumably goes back to the jetty to serve more customers. You must tell the boatman upon disembarkation what time to come back to fetch you. You have to, essentially, guess how much time you want to spend at Turtle Beach. What happens if you’re having a blast but have to cut it short because you told the boatman to come back after an hour? Then there’s the rare experience from other tourists that say the boatman never came back at the agreed time and stranded them there.
Facilities at Turtle Beach
There are no vendors at all once you get to the beach, not even a drink machine or water fountain. Bring lots of water! And food if you need it! The former is especially important if you are doing the hike to or from Turtle Beach.
There are showers at the far end of the beach near the pier, but they aren’t particularly private. It’s an open-air hut with walls reaching up to the shoulders to block the view from the rest of the beach. A wall of this same height will also be all that separates you from the person showering next to you. Keep your bathing suit on when rinsing off here. There are two “stalls” with no doors on them. One of the “showerheads” was literally a hose controlled by a valve.
Right next to this is the washroom building. The cleanliness is really poor, and don’t expect any niceties like toilet paper, dry floors or soap. In fact, there wasn’t even a sink in the women’s. There was just a hose next to the entrance connected to a water knob. The condition of the men’s toilets was even worse. It was so bad that Mark called it “horrific” and refused to go back in there to change out of his wet swim trunks. He, instead, changed behind the building.
There is a guard post at the edge of the forest in the middle of the beach. During our visit, there were two guys in here who didn’t leave the building much. They only came out to warn people about the jellyfish in the ocean. They will have information on the national park system if you need it. If you decide last minute that you need a boat to take you back to the national park jetty, you can also plead with the rangers to call one for you.
The turtle sanctuary is a big draw for visitors to Turtle Beach. Here you can see baby turtles that have recently hatched. It is only open in the morning, and we passed many people on the hiking trail who were coming back and presumably went early to see the turtles. Don’t have high expectations of this place. You won’t be able to touch or hold the turtles, nor will you witness National Geographic-like scenes of newborn leatherbacks paddling across the sand. Some reviewers online were even miffed that it was just “baby turtles in plastic tubs.” This is simply a small shack that will keep you busy for maybe twenty minutes. The sanctuary’s main goal isn’t to make tourist money. It’s to educate the public on how to preserve the turtles’ habitat and to assist in hatching.
Water & Sand at Turtle Beach
The sand is a fine, white grain that feels good underneath your feet. However, it gets severely hot from the sun very quickly. You’ll be hopping back and forth from your towel to the water. There are no sharp rocks or shells on the shoreline that you’ll need to worry about. The water is cleaner than Batu Ferringhi beaches, but it’s still murky.
The guards monitor the water quality, and a flag on the beach indicates its safety. This area is notorious for jellyfish. When the red flag is up, they want you to stay out of the water. The enforcement of this is casual, true to Malaysian style. You won’t have a guard yelling at you from the shore or diving into the ocean to stop you. Malaysians can be a bit shy and non-confrontational, especially when it comes to foreigners. Us, and a lot of other visitors, didn’t notice the flag, so we went swimming.
It was only after I returned to the beach did the ranger inform me apologetically that swimming is prohibited due to the jellies. We compromised by sitting right on the shoreline so we could still get some water on us to cool off. Whether it was because the rangers couldn’t see us or because we were technically following the rules, but we didn’t get scolded again for doing this.
Turtle Beach spans the area right after the bridge by Meromiktik Lake until the pier. This is a fairly long stretch where you should be able to find a spot, especially since there are fewer people here. There is nothing on the sand but footprints: no drink kiosks, no umbrellas, no loungers. If you seek shade, you’ll have to set up under the trees that are further back from the shore.
It’s very rewarding to have a beach with toilets waiting at the end of a sweaty hike. Turtle Beach has very pleasant sand and a quiet atmosphere that is better suited to sunbathers rather than swimmers. The serious drawback of this place is the water – you should always expect the red flag up if you visit. It’s hard to come here and resist taking a dip no matter how dangerous it supposedly is. If you must, do it as soon as you arrive before the guards come and talk to you. Make sure to get your fill and, oh yeah, be prepared for any jellyfish stings if you insist on swimming.