A green sea turtle surfaces near your kayak as you paddle through an electric Kool-Aid blue lagoon surrounded by towering limestone cliffs.
A green sea turtle surfaces near your kayak as you paddle through an electric Kool-Aid blue lagoon surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Your destination? A pristine palm tree shaded beach without another soul in sight. This is just another day in Palawan, an archipelago of 1,780 islands south-west of Manila in the Philippines.
Yet, this scene has become increasingly rare around the world. Things like empty beaches, biodiversity, cultural authenticity and clean oceans are becoming scarce. The price of standing in the world tourism spotlight is high.
Case in point: Boracay. Waste management and environmental concerns so plague the tropical hotspot that on April 26, 2018, President Duterte officially closed Boracay to all visitors for six months.
Boracay is an extremely popular destination for domestic and international travellers. According to the Boracay tourism office, the island made a record US$1 billion dollars as it played host to over 2 million visitors from all parts of the globe.
With Boracay off limits, it’s time to look for a new favourite island destination while simultaneously figuring out a way to preserve the slices of paradise we so love.
El Nido: The Green Alternative to Boracay
Enter El Nido. Armed with its spectacular natural beauty and forward-thinking approach to sustainable tourism, this charming little town is the perfect launch pad to see Palawan. Get acclimated while staying in a luxury bell tent at the Bird House El Nido. The Bird House is a “glamping” eco-resort that is perched in the jungle canopy 187 stairs above Marmegmeg Beach.
The owners of the Bird House said that they were quick to recognise the growing need for businesses built around an environmental ethos in El Nido and the greater Philippines. The Bird House is now leading the green tourism initiative in the area with composting toilets, a greywater system, a garden-to-table restaurant and an entire operating system based upon the ideals of permaculture.
Beyond being entirely self-sufficient, the Bird House lures flocks of travellers to its canopy-top perch because of its luxe bohemian interiors, comfortable beds and unique outlook. Nowhere else in El Nido will you find a 180-degree birds-eye view of the exquisite Bacuit Bay. Down the stairs, adventure beckons. Options include kayaking to Papaya Beach, sunbathing at Marmegmeg Beach or trying the 750-meter zipline that sends tourists hollering from the top of Marmegmeg Beach to a neighbouring island.
A Healthy Dose of Vitamin Sea: Palawan by Sailboat
The Bird House may seem like the sky’s limit, but the reason most people visit Palawan is the islands. Out amongst the atolls, your toughest daily decision may be whether to explore what’s above the surface or what’s below. Sheer limestone cliffs that flank lagoons of crystal clear, bright blue salt water are a photographer’s delight. Yet, for divers, what lies beneath is more enticing. Palawan is world-renowned for scuba and free diving because it is home to hundreds of unique species of coral and fish.
One of the best ways to see more of the islands, skip the crowds and reduce your carbon footprint is to rent a skippered private sailboat. Several outfitters run trips throughout the year with best sailing months being January through March.
Once you’ve met your boat and captain, you motor out of Corong Corong harbour, put up the sails and leave the rest to the wind. You’ll soon find that the slow pace of travel is not only relaxing but the best way to see the seemingly endless sugar-white beaches, jungle-covered deserted islands and deep blue fantasy lagoons of the area.
El Nido Resorts: Where Luxury Meets Sustainability
Of course, not everyone has found their sea legs. If you’re a landlubber looking for a luxurious but remote alternative to sailing, try one of the El Nido Resort’s four island outposts. All four – Apulit, Miniloc, Lagen, and Pangulasian – are located on secluded private islands accessible only by boat. The El Nido Resorts group prides itself on offering exclusive high-end experiences to its guests while working with the local community to protect traditions and the environment.
Choose your island based on your mood or purpose for the trip: Miniloc for fun, Pangulasian for opulence, Lagen for sanctuary, or Apulit for adventure.
While it’s hard to look past the original – Miniloc Island was the first resort of any kind in Palawan when it opened its doors to divers back in 1982 – Pangulasian is the showstopper. The resort is located on a private island called the “Island of the Sun” for its incredible sunset and sunrise views. Pangulasian is known equally for its impeccable service and private pool villas as it is for its natural beauty. Frolic on the 750-meter stretch of snow-white sand before taking part in numerous activities like lagoon and island hopping tours included with your accommodation.
Regardless of which resort you chose, you’ll be able to soak up this luxury experience guilt-free knowing that El Nido Resorts is committed to protecting this unforgettable place. The entire operation is designed to be as low impact as possible on the environment and culture. The Resorts seek to enhance the natural experience and thus prohibit jet skis and motorised sports equipment. Their team has also installed 21 moorings around Bacuit Bay to protect the coral reefs from destruction by anchors dropped by tour boats.
Saving the Philippines’ “Last Frontier”
El Nido is often called “the last frontier” because, as the legend goes, the area was not discovered until 1979 by a team of stranded divers. But this nickname also describes the area’s unadulterated natural beauty, intact biodiversity and untouched islands and beaches. The fact that El Nido stayed out of the tourism spotlight until relatively recently created an opportunity for proactive preservation.
As luck would have it, stewards like the owners of the Bird House and the El Nido Resorts group are stepping up to preserve the natural splendour of El Nido and prevent it from becoming anything like Boracay. The future of the Philippines’ marvellous natural resources depends on our choices as travellers. ◼
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© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.
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