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Close your eyes and picture the perfect island. It’s probably a beach with immaculate white sand and crystal clear blue waters. Add dramatic limestone formations to that, and you’re probably envisioning El Nido.
El Nido in Palawan is probably the closest you can get to having an unblemished island all to yourself. Particularly, in Southeast Asia, where nowhere else in the region will you find that reclusive, intimate Maldivian experience. Each El Nido Resort is a well-preserved eco-sanctuary with developments that enhance its natural beauty. Thankfully, despite the provisions of sophisticated creature comforts, the island remains some of the earth’s most unspoilt pieces of paradise.
Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Palawan Island number two in the world. It has always occupied a stellar position for many years. But it’s not the only entity that has given the island international acclaim. TripAdvisor and its netizens, Travel + Leisure, and a host of other tourism award-giving bodies, consider Palawan to be among the finest in the world. The Philippines’ longest-running travel publication, asianTraveler, likewise agrees.
Four islands, one environmental thrust
El Nido Resorts, a group of sustainable island resorts in the El Nido and Taytay municipalities in Palawan, represent the best of ecotourism. All four resorts, in the islands of Apulit, Miniloc, Lagen and Pangulasian, take environmental protection and stewardship seriously. El Nido Resorts lead all hotels and resorts in the Philippines in having the most accolades from prestigious award-giving bodies, such as the ASEAN Green and Wild Asia, for its resorts’ commendable environmental work.
Impeccable service and warmth
Studies by the Philippines’ Department of Tourism show that more than the abundance of natural wonders in the archipelago’s 7,107 islands, it’s the warm smiles, friendliness and hospitality of the Filipino people that tourists most cherish.
The warmth of El Nido Resorts’ staff is no exception. In fact, their resorts have elevated the word “service” to an entirely new level, with personal touches here and there. Upon arrival, the resort manager along with the rest of the staff welcome you with a serenade. In your room, you’ll find a personal handwritten welcome note along with a tropical fruit basket. Throughout your stay, the entire staff are at your beck and call, ensuring your accommodations are impeccable. Come the eve of your departure, you’ll find a thank you letter detailing the next day’s travel plans. By that time, many guests find it hard to say goodbye.
An eco-tourism thrust taken seriously
El Nido Resorts prides itself in having a solid commitment to environmental sustainability. Their resorts have received numerous global recognition for exercising full stewardship over its flourishing diverse environment. There’s an environmental officer in each of the resorts, whose main task is to ensure all their environment policies are in place.
Employees are trained and required to earn their prestigious “Be GREEN” pin, an acronym for Guard, Respect, Educate, El Nido, before starting. Among the programs guests can participate in are: Green Nights, Green Talks, environmental events such as coastal and underwater cleanups, and a turtle conservation project. If you’re lucky to be there at the right time, you can even take part in releasing turtle hatchlings to the free waters.
In El Nido Pangulasian Island, they even have a SUHAI (Samu’t Saring Buhay) Lounge where the environmental officer holds office. It’s a haven of learning about environmental sustainability and wildlife protection that’s real popular with the kids.
A flurry of exciting nature-oriented activities
The best thing about staying in an El Nido Resort is being able to give your weary soul a rest whilst communing with nature. However, when the yearn for excitement beckons, there never has to be a dull moment. At any given time, you can kayak, stand-up paddle, snorkel and coracle (row in a unique oval-shaped native boat) just in front of your resort. The most special activity though is island-hopping, where you can see nature at its finest. Cathedral and Cudugnon Caves, Dibuluan and Entalula beaches, as well as the Big, Small, and Secret Lagoons are just a few of the many natural wonders awaiting your exploration.
A sublime experience each mealtime
Dining is always of utmost pleasure in an El Nido Resort. Though all resorts serve a bevy of international cuisine, it’s the Filipino dishes you must try. Since a stay in an El Nido Resort means a chance to immerse yourself in local culture, they celebrate Filipino dishes here. The national dish, adobo, is served in all the resorts, albeit with a modern twist. Other dishes worth trying are: Pangulasian Island’s Pinoy Paella, Lagen Island’s Pan Seared Sole Fish served with Mango Salsa, and Miniloc Island’s Grilled Oyster with Garlic Butter Sauce. In any case, whether you’re going for the buffet or ordering ala carte, rest assured the degustation will be satisfying.
Dining to impress? If you want to raise the culinary experience ante a little bit, you can opt to dine al fresco by the pool; or if you want the works, in one of the nearby islets, complete with red vino and candlelight, an unforgettable must-do for honeymooners.
Miniloc Island – A rustic, fun-filled destination for the young and young-at-heart
If the El Nido in your mind is of an austere image of vernacular water cottages on stilts nestled on limestone cliffs, then you must be picturing Miniloc. The island’s iconic, picture-perfect cove has graced numerous pages of magazines, postcards, screensavers and even sing-along videos. It has a distinct rusticity that makes it the top choice of foreigners, including Hollywood A-listers. They find the remoteness of the place alluring. Don’t be fooled by the exteriors though; the interiors are nothing, if not luxurious.
Miniloc Island is also a top choice of families and friends traveling together. Aside from enjoying close proximity to El Nido’s other attractions, the resort’s natural cove gives its guests a sense of security and privacy. Parents are thrilled that since there’s so much to do within the security of the cove, kids can finally put their tablets and PS4s aside to enjoy more outdoorsy endeavors.
Right within its cove, you can feed the huge, 5-feet long jacks (talakitok) every morning; or swim with a tornado of ox-eye scad (matang baka) – an experience that’s totally mind-blowing. Make sure you bring an underwater camera to capture this National Geographic-type moment.
Don’t miss a trip to the Big and Small Lagoon, as well as Entalula Beach, which are natural features of Miniloc Island.
All El Nido Resorts have a great spa managed by the Stresscape Group, which provides its service to many of the countries 5-star hotels. One of the best places to get a treatment is in Miniloc Island since you can have its signature massage in a Water Cottage, where you can relax to the soothing sound of the waves.
Lagen Island – A bio-diversity showcase with modern comforts
Lagen Island does not disappoint in its positioning as an eco-sanctuary. After all, the island is one lush four-hectare forest, the densest among the bay’s 45 islands. Since being in Lagen Island means you’re in both a beach and a forest, it’s idyllic for relaxing and breathing nature in.
Lagen Island may seem remote from the maddening crowds, but it’s furnished with modern facilities. That’s the reason why it’s popular with companies that want to reward their staff with rest and relaxation, and at the same time, need state-of-the-art facilities for training. It’s easy to imagine why, immediately after conferencing in their 70-seat conference room, their employees can quickly head on to the hiking trail for team-building and bonding.
As an eco-sanctuary, many of Lagen Island’s activities promote interaction with nature. Aside from the hiking trail, there’s nature walk and bird viewing. All are done with trained guides who are well-versed on flora and fauna. During your stroll, there’s a chance you might see the Palawan hornbills, frequent visitors of Lagen Island, and the bearcat, which is unique to the island. Don’t be afraid of long-tailed macaques and monitor lizards (bayawaks), they live amongst you in the resort.
If you want an activity that will test your mettle, go to the recently discovered Papawikan Cave where you’ll see stunning geologic stalactite formations. Warning! The trek can be quite demanding, so unless you’re fit for serious climbing, opt for the milder hikes instead.
Pangulasian Island – Barefoot luxury away from the paparazzi
To some, a getaway is synonymous to total exclusivity and privacy. Unfortunately, making this happen means emptying the bank. Fret not, when you stay in Pangulasian Island, you’ll feel like you’ve rented an entire island all to yourself.
Pangulasian Island consists of just 42 luxurious beach villas (designed by no less than the architectural firm of Philippine National Artist Leandro Locsin) with 5-star amenities. This limited number means that at most, there are only 92 guests at any given time. This also means it’s just you and a few other guests sharing the wide 750-meter beach, the infinity pool and the clubhouse.
Christened “island of the sun”, the beach’s crescent shape allows for breathtaking views of both the sunrise and the sunset. Have a cocktail at the resort’s beach bar, which has been strategically-located, for the most tantalising sunset views.
Should you feel the need for activity, there’s a superb marine sanctuary where you can snorkel with schools of blacktip reef sharks right at its doorstep. Don’t let the word “shark” scare you, they’re actually non-aggressive. Another rigorous option is climbing the 1,166 steps that lead to the sunset view deck for an amazing 360-degree view of Bacuit Bay.
Don’t forget to post photos with your souvenir Pangulasian hat, one of the biggest sombreros you’ll ever see. It’s a Pangulasian Island icon that’s bound to be a hit when you’re ready to leave reclusion and start posting in Facebook.
BEST TIME TO GO: Any time of the year is actually a good time to go to an El Nido Resort. The water is most tranquil and crystal clear from March to June. When it’s less serene, the waves make it idyllic for more challenging water sports. Rainy months from July to October is a good time when you want to be reclusive, as this season means lesser crowds, on top of better room rates.
BEST-KEPT SECRET: Not many people know that the one best month to go is November, that period of transition between the wet and dry season. At that time, the waters are so serene, you’ll easily see the bottom of the bay.
GETTING THERE: Air Swift flies several times a day from Manila and Cebu. The flight to Lio Airport, on a 50-seater ATR aircraft, takes approximately an hour. From there, you are driven to the jetty port where you take a private boat to the El Nido island of your destination.
TOP THREE TIDBITS:
#1 Palawan has consistently been recognized as the best island in the world. But Palawan, as a region, is actually a group of islands. The main island called Palawan, in itself, is beautiful. But the real stunners are the islets made up of limestones that have pocket beaches and lagoons.
#2 El Nido is a municipality that consists of a part of the mainland of Palawan and the Bacuit archipelago. When people talk about Palawan as an untarnished frontier, they mostly have El Nido, and another Palawan gem, Coron, in mind.
#3 Two new wonders of nature, the Tubbataha Reef and the Puerto Princesa Underground River, are in Palawan. That’s how exquisitely top-notch this region is.