By Dr. Jaime C. Laya
“Pack your bags, leave your worries behind, and take that well-deserved holiday,” invites a Palawan hotel. Awaiting are powdery white sand, swaying palms along a turquoise sea that turns sapphire and finally ultramarine where it meets sheer cliffs swathed in green, dark distant mountains, and galleon clouds sailing in the azure firmament.
The siren call entices legions to Bacuit Bay on Palawan’s west coast where one can stay in a town hotel/inn/Airbnb/whatever or in a beach resort. The rest of the time is best spent on package island tours—on a boat for the day to marvel at nature’s beauty, laze on a beach, snorkel or dive with fish and coral, mountain climb, spelunk, bird watch, or idle the day away on a hammock.
Accommodations range from a downtown Ritz that’s “mura at di kailangan ng credit card” (P800/day with electric fan, breakfast, and a honky-tonk neighbor) to a villa-with-pool on Pangulasian Island at prices only the brave dare ask.
Of course you get what you pay for. With neither sidewalk nor shoulder on the two-lane “highway,” huddles of buildings at road-edge, uncertain water, drainage and sewage systems, the town is no village beautiful. Upscale are Ayala-run resorts on three islands offering superb rooms, food, attractions, and info-filled tour guides.
Island tours normally include Miniloc and its three spectacular lagoons. Your boat takes you to the Big Lagoon’s entrance where you transfer to a two-passenger, self-oared kayak. You paddle into the Small Lagoon single-file through a small opening in the rock (duck or get a scalp-shave). It’s so petite that only a dozen or so boats can be inside at a time. To the Secret Lagoon you wade through rough water, hoist your butt up a rock, slide in, and swing over to the other side.
Bird choruses welcome you on emerging into glorious chapels (or cathedral—the Big Lagoon) with sheer limestone walls, crystal water pavement, blue sky vault. Millennia ago a giant cavern collapsed into three sections that are today’s lagoons. Indeed, there are traces of stalactites beneath the foliage.
Perfect for snorkelers is Pinagbuyutan (Ellis) Island. Just offshore, you flipper slowly and four feet below are thickets, bushes, shelves and tables of hard coral, and carpets of waving soft coral in greens, reds, blue, yellow, all joyfully alive with fish of all colors, shapes and sizes.
At Cudugnon Cave, you belly yourself in a tight twisty tunnel to a cavern where ancient Filipinos once rested in peace. It’s not for those with a high BMI.
Vigan (Snake) island is connected to the mainland by an S-shaped sandbar (hence “snake”). You wade ashore and a 15-minute climb (disclosure: a couple of senior-challenging spots) gets you to the island’s peak and a 360-degree view of paradise. Along the way when he feels sociable is an alpha male monkey. Our excellent guide Lover (no kidding, that’s his name) confides that the rascal is so cranky that a female brought over to keep him company waded back to civilization one low tide.
Notes: (a) In October 2017, Readers of Condé Nast magazine ranked El Nido among the world’s 20 best island beaches (regretfully, Boracay didn’t make it) and Ayala Land’s Pangalusian as ninth among Asia’s top resorts; (b) El Nido is a town on Bacuit Bay located in northwest Palawan, five hours by land transportation from Puerto Princesa. Air Swift flies direct from Manila to El Nido; and (c) In addition to island tours, there are package tours to beaches on the Palawan mainland, waterfalls and other natural attractions.
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