A warm welcome awaits the weary traveler upon arrival in Apulit Island.
As the boat navigated through the sapphire waters and toward the pristine cove, we came across a priceless view of magnificent limestone cliffs with a white sand coastline at its foot. The long shore of the beach is peppered with tall coconut trees and lined with water cottages on stilts.
While we took in the spectacular sight, we heard the soft sound of mellifluous music, which became clearer as we approached the dock. We realized that the resort’s staff was serenading us, their guests. We were greeted with sincere smiles, as each of us received a handmade lei, a refreshing drink, and a taste of the locally grown cashew nuts. I have never experienced this sort of grand welcome and it made me look forward to my stay in this paradise-like sanctuary, which I would call home for the next couple of days.
Hidden by the vastness of the sea and the towering limestone cliffs, the unspoiled site of Apulit Island Resort offers enough privacy for vacationers who simply want to get away from it all. It houses 50 water cottages that are all built by the shore, and these are no ordinary beach houses. Each one was constructed based on the classic nipa hut design—a traditional Filipino architectural style–but with the convenience of modern amenities and some eco-friendly facilities, too.
There is a big comfortable-looking bed in the middle of the room, air-conditioning, a mini-bar, intercom, and a well-equipped bathroom that comes complete with basic toiletries. What made the room more welcoming was the complimentary buri (palm leaves) bag and native slippers for each guest. There was also a colorful serving of fresh fruits to add that special touch. After a very long trip, it was pure joy to munch on some sweet mangoes and other refreshing fruits.
I was thrilled at the prospect of living in my own private sanctuary, and even more delighted by the fact that each cottage had a terrace that provides a panoramic view of Taytay Bay. I enjoyed sitting there while breathing in the fresh air and feeling the gentle wind on my face. The only thing that a city person might miss is the fact that there are no televisions in the cottages—something that I appreciated during my stay. Instead of staying cooped up in the room, I explored the unfamiliar environment and tried new activities.
The first thing on my agenda was to look around the resort. I was really awed by Apulit Island’s concept of having all cottages on stilts and by the beach. I have not seen any other place like this. Even LybanorGodio, the Director for Operations-General Manager of El Nido Resorts, shared that this was her favorite feature of the resort.
“All the rooms are on stilts. Every single day when you wake up, you see the baby sharks and you have a fabulous view. In our deluxe water cottages, there’s even a stairway that brings you directly to the ocean.”
True enough, a baby reef shark made its appearance below the water cottages, as these are more visible during the daytime. I got excited and tried to take a photograph, but it was long gone by the time I got my camera out of my bag.
Meeting the masterchef
At the heart of the resort is the Clubhouse, where guests gather to eat buffet meals during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One area looked extra special—the display showcase of the fresh seafood and other meats for grilling. I spotted a large red snapper, clams, squid, and crustaceans and wanted to sample everything but did not want to risk going into a food coma. Instead, I requested to have small servings of squid, shrimps, clams, and pork belly slices, cooked on the spot. I also saw the resort’s chef in action at the grilling station.
Chef Reynaldo Dela Cruz, better known as Chef Rey, has been with the El Nido Resorts Group since 2006. He was transferred to Apulit Island when it opened in December 2010 and is currently the resort’s Executive Chef. Among other tasks, it is his job to create menus that cater to an international flavor for the resort’s guests that hail from different parts of the world. “AngTaytay ay mayamansalamangdagat. (Taytay is rich in marine resources),” Chef Rey says. He shares that the resort’s restaurant stands out because of its wide variety of seafood and excellent service. Having experienced working in a five-star hotel, he has made sure to, “Maintain food quality standards, the technique of food presentation, and standardize recipes.” To better serve the guests, Chef Rey accommodates special requests, such as a private dinner set-up by the shore or a beach picnic lunch.
Wearing an explorer’s hat
My travel buddy Ena and I woke up early on our second day to go boating and to explore caves around the vicinity. The resort assigned Clark, a Marine Sports Guide, to accompany us on our island tour. Our first stop was the Secret Cave.
The speedboat slowed down as we approached the cave. We looked at it from afar because of the guano (otherwise known as bat dropping) and listened to Clark as he shared the origin of the cave’s name. He said that during low tide, the cave is clearly visible to the naked eye, but it disappears during high tide, as the rising waters cover the cave’s opening.
The second cave is interconnected with the first one, and is situated just a few feet above it. Aptly called the Bat Cave, plenty of fruit bats dwell in this dark cavern. According to our guide, no guests are allowed to go inside because of the smelly guano.
According to Clark, the third cave, Saint Joseph’s Cave, is the biggest among all the five caves near Apulit Island, and can fit around 50 to 70 people at one time. As we neared the entrance of the cave, a particular rock formation stood out. Forming a column—where stalactites and stalagmites meet—its shape looks like a saint. The glittering stones scattered all over the rock formation made the surroundings sparkle, giving the cave an even more mystical feel and making its name even more believable.
As little drops of rain began to fall, we quickly put our valuables inside the dry bag that our guide brought along. I brought my buribag during the tour, but unfortunately, it’s not waterproof. Since my camera is one of my most cherished possessions, I did not even hesitate to transfer it inside the dry bag when I felt the raindrops fall on me. I noticed that the resort offers the use of dry bags, which are always present on every boat that goes in and out of the island. These can be used even for big pieces of luggage, which gives the guests some peace of mind. Who would want to risk letting their things get wet, or worse, fall into the deep water?
Our cave tour became more exciting when we headed to the fourth one and Clark informed us that we can go down there and explore the area. I removed my camera from the dry bag so I can take photographs inside of the so-called Lobster Cave. Clark told us that the people from Taytay discovered this cave a long time ago, when there were still lots of lobsters inside it. We went inside the cave and, although we did not see a single crustacean, we had the chance to see wonderful of rock formations and the play of light and shade in the crevices, as the emerging sunbeams hit the uneven surfaces.
We went back to the boat to head to our last stop. On the way, we had a little dose of bird watching, as Clark pointed to us some black nip birds, egrets, and swallows, which produce precious “bird’s nests” that can be used in cooking soup and are especially popular in Chinese cuisine. Instead of tree parts, these feathered creatures form their nests using the strands of their sticky saliva. Once this hardens, the “nest” is harvested, cleaned, sold, and cooked. Bird’s nest soup is supposed to be an aphrodisiac, and is expensive as well.
Clark saved the best for last. Going to the fifth cave, otherwise known as the North Cave, Clark revealed that there was a small lagoon inside it. We were fascinated with the blue and green hues of the water and could not resist taking a dip in it. As I tread in the water and adjusted to its cold temperature, our guide suggested for us to swim toward the back part of the cave, which has an entryway to another cavern. We had to take our flip-flops with us so we could safely walk in the rough surface.
The inner cavern, as we had discovered, is a favorite setting among the resort’s guests for a romantic candlelit dinner for two. Here, the resort staff can create a setup that’s customized according to the client’s preferences, providing an intimate setting for truly memorable moments. I could clearly imagine how it would look like—a lone dining set would stand in the middle of the place, surrounded by glowing candles. I saw remnants of candle wax in some nooks and crannies—silent witnesses to all the romance that has been staged here in the past. Indeed, couples on vacation would not want to miss out on this unique experience.
Swimming like a mermaid
Our underwater adventure gave us quite an appetite, so we were ecstatic over the next item on our agenda: picnic by the beach. I normally associate the word “picnic” with a casual basket full of food, plastic utensils, and a floor mat. The resort’s version is definitely more upscale than that.
A native beach mat lay on the shore with a nicely set small dining area in the center. There were no buffet tables, no grilling stations–just a simple preparation for outdoor eating. Despite the rustic ambience, some modern comforts were still present. The dressed up table had two place settings complete with bowls for soup, plates for salad and the main course, as well as stainless utensils. No paper plates and plastic spoons here!
A resort staff member served the soup and then kept himself inconspicuous in the background, waiting for our signal at the end of the meal. We took our time to feast on the chef’s specialties, such as roasted corn soup, steamed prawnswith tomato chili sauce, chicken pandan, fish with lemon butter sauce, and, the pièce de résistance, chili crabs. That was my first time to almost finish a whole crab, using my bare hands and the practical crab claw cracker to savor the experience. With all the good food and the superb set-up, this picnic lunch exceeded my expectations.
Surviving the challenging climb
I have never gone mountain climbing before–nor have I attempted to go up a limestone cliff, but I suppose there’s always a first time for everything.
The trick was not to look down. Our guide, Clark, hiked effortlessly and although I wanted to, I could not imitate his movements. An inexperienced climber like me had to focus on one step at a time. As there was no path to the top, Clark had to use his knife to cut down tree branches from time to time.
I moved cautiously with every stride, getting a good hold on the pointy surfaces of the steep slope. The edges were so sharp that it could easily create nicks and scratches on my arms and legs, but I was able to avoid any with my careful movements.
Before I knew it, we were already near the summit. We wanted to reach the top where the resort’s symbolic cross stands, but were not able to go farther because the trek was too tough for beginners like us. Despite not reaching our goal, we were still rewarded with a breathtaking aerial view of Apulit Island.
Basking in the sun, sea, and sand
Near my cottage, along the shore, were several water sports equipment on display. Instead of being a beach bum, I dared to try something that I have never tried before—windsurfing.
The massive sail and the long white board did not intimidate me. I observed the resort’s Marine Sports Guide, Clark, as he demonstrated the proper way to do windsurf. When it was my turn, I went up the board and tried to lift the sail. It did not budge at all. It stayed on the surface of the water even when I used all my strength to propel it up. Clark had to assist me with the sail, until I was finally able to get a nice hold on it. It was a challenge to maintain a good balance on the board. Suffice it to say, I was only able to stand up for a couple of minutes–or was it a few seconds?–before I fell hard on the water. Despite my failed attempt, I can now say that I have tried to windsurf!
Apulit Island Resort offers complimentary use of windsurfing equipment, as well as kayaks and the Hobie Cat, which is a small non-motorized sailing vessel fit for one to two persons. All that’s needed to enjoy the freebies is an adventurous spirit and the willingness to tackle each sport.
I had a chance to converse with young newlyweds, Ryan and Ria Mandac, who tried riding the Hobie Cat for the first time. The trip to Apulit Island was Ryan’s surprise gift to Ria, and she was really impressed with the beautiful place. “Other resorts can get too crowded. This [Apulit] is the best place for honeymooners like us.” Ria even went as far to say that she would recommend it to her sister who is living abroad. Ryan agrees and candidly states that, “It’s a must-see. Angatsiyasalahat. (It’s a cut above the rest.)”
Aside from water sports, there are a number of indoor activities that would entertain the more laidback guests. Near the Clubhouse is the Bar where there is a billiards table, dartboard, and also table tennis. The area in front of the Bar has a space for those who want to play beach volleyball. Along the beachfront, one can learn coconut hat-making as well. Vacationers who simply want to take it easy can relax and bask under the sun in one of the lounging chairs by the shore.
Despite being an isolated island, beachgoers would never run out of things to do in Apulit. This picture-perfect paradise has impressed this particular beachgoer who experienced the resort’s top-notch facilities and its outstanding service. From the moment our airplane landed in Taytay, until we reached the resort and were about to leave, I felt that I was treated like a princess.