The Perhentian Islands comprise of two main islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian). The name Perhentian means stopping point in Malay as the islands became a staging point used by traders travelling from Malaysia to Bangkok.

Perhentian Kecil attracts more travellers due to cheaper accommodation options, while Perhentian Besar is a little more expensive and caters more to families and those who want to avoid the backpacker party scene. The Perhentian Islands also comprise of the small, uninhabited islands of Susu Dara, Seringgi and Rawa, which lie off Kecil. All the islands are protected under marine park status, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited. However in practice litter is one of the major problems that face the islands.

Due to the eastern monsoon, the only time to visit the Perhentian Islands is effectively limited to the beginning of March or April until late October. This is similar to many other islands on the east coast of Malaysia. Outside this period the seas can be very rough and choppy with currents that make swimming dangerous and overcast skies with frequent rain. For this reason most accommodation (but not all) are closed. Travel agents may claim accommodations are open and even then many restaurants and all shops will be closed during the off-season. If a restaurant is open during the off-season, expect limited and over-priced food choices.