Singapore was recently memorialized by the BBC in an episode of Planet Earth 2 as a city that has done great things in the arena of inviting nature into the city. Indeed, the island nation has done a far better than average job at preserving its natural habitats. It has one of the best track records of conservation of any city in Asia. Yes, if you do some Googling, you’ll find some disagreement with that contention here and there, but by and large, Singapore cherishes its nature in ways many, many cities worldwide do not.
And what’s more, they’re good at making nature accessible to anyone, including children. Here are a few of Singapore’s best nature haunts, and how to see them with kids.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of the biggest and best-preserved nature parks in the country. It has a long history of conservation, and boasts the fact that it is home to one of the largest stands of primary old growth rainforest never to have been logged. Bukit Timah itself (bukit means “hill” in Malay; Timah is the name of the hill) is the highest point in the country, clocking in at a dizzying…163 meters/537 feet. Despite the reserve’s diminutive size, being only 1.64 square kilometers/400 acres, it is home to a staggering amount of biodiversity, with over 500 species of animals, and 840 species of plants.
Being such an excellent place for nature enthusiasts, it is overlaid with a large network of trails, with all different ranges of difficulty and length. There are aspects of the reserve that are suitable for children of all ages, even tiny ones in strollers, if you can believe it. The main road leading from the park entrance to the summit of Bukit Timah is paved all the way to the top. If you’re masochistic enough, you can actually push your young ones all the way up the trail. Be cautious, though, because it’s very steep in parts. Don’t let go.
One of the prettiest sights in the reserve is also accessible by wheel-bound kiddos, Singapore Quarry. Located at the end of a relatively mellow road, the former quarry has filled with water, creating a lake surrounded by multicolored cliffs and lush vegetation. It is one of Singapore’s hidden treasures, known to locals but rarely visited by tourists. A jetty has been built to overlook the site from the most picturesque angle. Fish swirl around the water beneath, and the reeds are home to lots of colorful insects.
Much more of the park is accessible to walkers, including another quarry, Dairy Farm quarry, which has now been converted into Singapore’s only wild rock climbing spot. It’s a bit secretive to find, but the area is beautiful, and well worth the small detour to find it.
In 2013, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was connected to Central Catchment reserve via the Eco-Link bridge, a bridge especially for critters, that spans the highway that cuts the two parks off from one another. You mere humans may not cross it, but thankfully, for the sake of biodiversity and healthy animal populations, animals like the Sunda Pangolin and Palm Civet use it on the regular.
Central Catchment Nature Reserve
Singapore’s biggest nature reserve is host to a tremendous amount of wildlife. Singapore is a large, densely packed city, but it is built right on top of an ancient rainforest, and this large tract of forest has pretty well preserved the biodiversity that was once spread over the whole island. Most large mammals have long been extirpated, but macaques, pangolins, colugos, and Singapore’s only remaining troop of banded leaf monkeys remain. The reserve is host to over 500 species of animals and over 1600 species of plants.
The reserve is crossed by a network of trails, and is host to several unique attractions. The MacRitchie Treetop Walk is well worth the journey. It is a suspension bridge built through the rainforest canopy, stretching between two hilltops. It provides an excellent vantage point to view the forest from a different perspective. Just beware of monkeys. The bridge is narrow and those scoundrels might try to go for your bag or sunglasses when you try to pass them. The Jelutong tower also…towers…over the canopy, and gives you substantial vistas in all directions.
There are several different ways to access the area, the easiest being from Venus drive. From the carpark there, you can take the well-marked trails into the reserve. Trails around MacRitchie Park also connect to the reserve. It is even possible to walk between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment by walking down Rifle Range road. Zhenghua park also connects to the upper reserve trails.
The reserve is best suited for somewhat older children, who can keep up on a hike for a couple of hours. It is not suited for young children. Unless you’re this guy:
I really wish I could have gotten a better picture of him, but look closely. He’s carrying a baby in a baby carrier while hiking through a rainforest. My absolute hero.
Side note about the reserve, which highlights the country’s push for preserving its nature: there was recently a public kerfuffle over a proposed subway line that would run underneath a section of the reserve. Even though the train would run underground, building the line would require a temporary service road to be built over the proposed route, in order to test the soil for potential problems. After construction, the service road would lay fallow and be allowed to regrow vegetation. Even this was too much to allow for many people, since the road would cut through primary rainforest, cut across streams, and disturb the delicate ecosystem within the reserve. There is an alternate route planned and pushed for by environmental groups that would go around the reserve, though it would add several minutes of travel time. Alas, the issue has yet to be resolved. The Powers that Be have yet to make a final decision.
Labrador Nature Reserve
This delightful little pocket of nature is extremely accessible, and despite its diminutive size, is a great stroll through Singapore’s wildlife. Read our post here for more details on this park.
The advantages of this reserve are 1) its location close to the central business district and its own MRT stop, and 2) its accessibility to children of all ages. A nice, languid, mostly shaded boardwalk and paved trail runs around the entire area. Perfect for strollers, to which we can personally attest.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
This reserve, at the far northwest corner of mainland Singapore, is a little tricky to get to, but is well worth it, especially if you love birds. It is a stopover on many an avian migration route, and one of the trails does a loop around a marsh where large numbers of different species of birds mill about and pluck food from the mud flats. You can watch them for as long as you want from the various hides and blinds that circle the marsh. And be sure to look down at the water’s edges to spot monitor lizards, horseshoe crabs, and mudskippers. The reserve is also one of the only places in Singapore to spot crocodiles.
The only way to get there by public transport is to take bus 925 from Woodlands MRT, and get off at Kranji Reservoir carpark B. The entrance is across the street. One bonus of the isolation of the reserve is the fact that, especially if you get there early, you will see very few other people. It is peaceful and the wildlife will be less disturbed.
It is possible to take a stroller through the reserve. The boardwalks and trails are a little rough and rocky in parts, but it is doable. Walking the full length of the trails will take at least two hours.
A word of caution: bring an obscene amount of mosquito repellent. They are legion. And they will eat you alive if you are foolish enough to forget it.
Bishan – Ang Mo Kio Park
This one is cheating a little, because it’s not really a nature park. It’s just a park. But it is worth mentioning for two reasons:
- It looks somewhat like a real nature park. The Singapore government spent a ridiculous amount of money to make the river that runs the length of the park look like a real river, and not like the concrete sloughs that other rivers in the country have become. And they stocked it with tons of fish, turtles, and even a family of otters. Plenty of bird species frequent the area as well.
- It is easy to visit. Not only are there numerous bus stops around the park, it is a park with plenty of easy, easy walking paths. The park has lots of other kid-friendly amenities too, like a playground, splash park, and even a McDonald’s.
Basically, it’s not a super authentic nature experience, but kids will love the easy thrill of watching the fish and otters and birds play around, and then being able to play in the playground or splash park. If you want to see some animals but don’t have much time, this is a good option to consider.
This is the most far-flung destination on this list, but well worth it if you have the chance to make the journey. It’s a very well-organized island, with plenty of amenities and attractions to keep you occupied, like temples and shrines, quarries, and Chek Jawa. Chek Jawa Wetlands constitute one of Singapore’s most important biodiversity hotspots. A network of boardwalks and jetties give a close-up glimpse of the marshes.
It gets busy around the central village (which is an interesting place in its own right; it resembles many of the old kampungs, or villages, that used to be found throughout old Singapore), but the farther you branch out, the fewer people there will be. It is easy to get lost in nature here. Sea kayaking tours are available too, to give you a different view of Ubin.
The main trails running over the island are all paved, making them amenable to strollers; however, it’s a big island, and cycling is the preferred mode of transportation. Kids’ bikes are available, including those with training wheels, and several places rent out bikes with toddler seats on them too.
To get the ferry there, you will have to get all the way to the Changi Point ferry terminal, at the far northeast corner of the island. Due to the remoteness, block out an entire day to see the island.
Singapore is not the thick, steamy, timber jungle it once was. It is now an efficient, sweaty, concrete jungle. And while Gardens by the Bay, the grove of giant metal super-trees touted by the BBC as a marvel of Singapore’s nature affections, may not be the best example of its nature-loving credentials, the country does indeed show off its natural side in may other ways and places. (Though the super-trees are a cool sight. And it is also worth noting that the Cloud Dome and Flower Dome, right next to the super-trees, is well worth a visit as well.) And, since Singapore is so determined to get their people to have babies, they have done an excellent job making even ancient rainforests and marshes family friendly. So get the kiddos hyped on seeing some rare and beautiful plants and animals and get out and see what Singapore has to offer. Just keep an eye on the monkeys.