By DOM GALEON
El Nido in Palawan is a gem, no doubt about it. Its pristine beaches, clear waters, and flashy sunsets are among the best the country has to offer. When you’re in El Nido, you really feel like shouting, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” And judging by the droves of foreigners who visit this coastal town in northern Palawan, it really is more fun here.
I recently had the chance to enjoy a weekend in El Nido and we stayed in a new resort that just opened in August of last year. Seda Lio is a 153-room hotel located in the sprawling Lio Tourism Estate, owned and developed by Ayala Land. This 325-hectare property boasts a lively community that includes bars and restaurants fronting Lio beach (but far enough from the coast to keep the sands open for tourists), an art alley of sorts, a number of hotels and hostels, and of course, the four-hectare Seda Lio Resort.
A one-stop tourist haven
From NAIA’s Terminal 4, we flew in to El Nido via AirSwift. The newly renovated El Nido airport, which is also located inside the Lio Tourism Estate, is less than 10 minutes away from Seda Lio. Going there, we had the unique privilege of being driven by Seda Hotels group general manager Brett Hickey. As soon as we arrived by Seda Lio’s lobby, we were welcomed by hotel staffers dancing while singing in Cuyonon, one of the local dialects in El Nido.
Seda Lio is a perfect jump off point for an El Nido adventure. Conveniently situated between a great expanse of Palawan greeneries and the majestic blue of calmness of Lio’s waters, the resort is a haven of rest and relaxation located less than 20 minutes away from El Nido town proper. It has every amenity expected in a prime destination: A huge open area for events, swimming pools, bars, a ballroom that doubles as function halls, and a health and wellness center (the Mayana Spa). Guests can even rent bikes to explore the rest of the Lio Tourism Estate, perhaps to visit Kalye Artisano and explore its stores that showcase local crafts from Palawan that is curated by Piopio.
Around a five-minute walk from the main resort, there’s a hangout place for guests and backpacking tourists called Lio Beach. This hub of bars and restaurants includes the only vegan resto in the area called Shaka Café, owned and operated by an Australian who has settled in the Philippines. At night, Lio Beach comes alive, with various events and activities that cater to both local and foreign tourists. One such event was the Lio Beach Festival, which happened last March 21 to 24. On its third night, there was a musical festival that celebrated Earth Hour and sustainable development.
Speaking of sustainable development, Seda Lio is not lagging behind in its efforts to protect and preserve the natural beauty of Palawan. Like many hotels today, Seda Lio has gone plasticless, opting for glass bottles for in-room water or ceramic dispensers for body wash, shampoo, and conditioners.
“I’m looking at bamboo options right now,” Brett explains. “There’s a local Philippine supplier. I’ve got a couple of options in my office right now. Right now, the boxes and packaging in our amenities are 100 percent biodegradable.”
Seda Lio also uses graywater for its toilets. “We have our own sewage treatment plant that filters waste water into graywater, which is in our toilets and used to water plants,” Brett adds. “But the sink is water from our tank, so it’s potable.”
Seda Lio is a perfect jump off point for an El Nido adventure. Conveniently situated between a great expanse of Palawan greeneries and the majestic blue of calmness of Lio’s waters, the resort is a haven of rest and relaxation located less than 20 minutes away from El Nido town proper.
Beyond the sea
No visit to El Nido would be complete, of course, without a proper island hoping tour. We didn’t get to visit every single island around El Nido, but we did get to hop to two islands while cruising around Bacuit Bay. And ours wasn’t your usual boat tour. We went aboard a yacht called the Sea Frontier, operated by the El Nido Yachting Club. This three-level yacht, with wooden floors, interiors, and railings, was a floating piece of luxury on the sea.
Our first stop was Pinagbuyutan island, also known as Ellis island. According to our guide, Omar, who was also one of the crew members of the Sea Frontier, Pinagbuyutan is among the oldest islands around Bacuit Bay, roughly 170 million years old.
After spending about an hour in Pinagbuyutan, enjoying its clear waters, the nearly white sand by its beach, it was time to head back to the yacht for lunch. The crew prepared a feast for us, with local favorites like adobo, prawns cooked in butter, an assortment of vegetables, fresh fish, and really delicious pakwan (watermelon). For some reason, everything tastes better when you eat it on a boat, someone from our group says.
Our second stop was Snake island, which isn’t really an island but a long stretch of sandbar. From the yacht, we had to take a small boat to the sandbar. The yacht couldn’t go very near because the water around Snake island was shallow. During that short trip from the Sea Frontier to Snake island, as four of us were enjoying the rather strong waves rocking our little boat, a sea turtle swam beside us. When we go to Snake island, the sandbar wasn’t quite visible because it was no longer low tide. Nevertheless, we were still able to walk on the sandbar with ankledeep seawater.
Then it was time to go back to the resort. We spent the remainder of our time aboard the yacht chilling, listening to music from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, occasionally singing along to tunes, some were even dancing. All the while, we were enjoying the spectacular views of the islands in Bacuit Bay while soaking in the waning rays of the setting sun— just a typical day’s end in El Nido.