Friday, June 29, 2012

Paradise on Palawan Island

Before heading back to the states, we decided to take a vacation in the Philippines. We selected Palawan Island which is supposed to have the most amazing white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and fantastic snorkeling. The island also has the Underground River, which is a New Seven Wonders of Nature. Unless it is peak season, the only way to get to Palawan is to fly into their main airport, Puerto Princesa, located on the east side of the island.  The two major destinations we planned on seeing unfortunately are not that close to the main airport so we had some traveling to do once we got there.  
For the first three days, we stayed at the Royal Oberoi Resort that is roughly 20 minutes away from the main town of Puerto Princesa and very isolated. Since we were only staying for a few days and had activities booked for two days we were not too worried about being so secluded. If we had stayed longer we would have preferred staying closer to the town for more dinner and nightlife options. 
Behind the main resort is a nice garden that leads you to their restaurant.
The restaurant was nice and open.  I will say the mosquitos were pretty bad on this island so I was thankful I brought OFF because I lathered in it daily.
We had dinner at the restaurant all three nights and the food was very good. We had the opportunity to meet Chef Ricky our first night so he would come out to say hello and tell us his specials each night.  He would also prepare anything you wanted as long as it had it available, a nice added touch to our stay. 
Grilled Octopus
Popular Filipino dish called Caldereta, a beef stew. 
Another night I had grilled Blue Marlin which was outstanding!
HONDA BAY ISLAND TOUR
Up bright and early and ready to see some fish!  The boats they use are called Bangka, an outrigger canoe largely used for fishing.
The crew on our boat.
Our first stop was to Pambato Reef for some snorkeling. Unfortunately the underwater cases you can rent did not fit my camera so you will not be seeing any cool underwater shots.  We spent about 30 minutes at Pambato Reef and then headed to Pandan Island for more snorkeling, swimming and basking in the sun.  We had lunch on this island and spent four hours there, which we felt was a bit too long but we did get to feed the fish while we snorkeled and that was very cool.  
Enjoyed some refreshing coconut water and then he cut it open so I could eat the coconut. 
Lunch time!
Lunch was included and consisted of seafood, pork, rice and vegetables. 
Beautiful clear water!  
Back on the boat and we head to Starfish Island, our last stop for the day.  Apparently the double peace sign is very popular with the Filipinos. 
Being silly...
UNDERGROUND RIVER
The next day we headed to the Underground River, a new Seven Wonders of Nature.  The attraction is located on the west side of the island, near Sabang Beach, so it was a two hour drive from the hotel.  Once you arrive to the port, at Sabang Beach, you take a 15-minute boat ride to the park. 
The Underground River is a subterranean river that flows underground before emerging into the South China Sea. You are given helmets and life jackets and then enter by boat through a cave. The only reason you wear the helmets is to protect you from fruit bats dung and dripping water from above. 
It was too dark to get any great photos while we were inside but the entire cave was formed by stalagmites and stalactites and a lot resemble characters, fruits and vegetables. I wish they had lit the place enough for you to really see what was inside. Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by this attraction.  I guess I am just not impressed by rock formations.
A lot of fruit bats hanging and flying around you!!  
EL NIDO
El Nido is known to be the best beach and island destination of the Philippines.  Situated in Bacuit Bay, this small town is 150 miles north of Puerto Princesa and the northernmost tip of Palawan Island. There are three options on how you can get from Puerto Princesa to El Nido; a non-aircon bus, an air-con van or a private air-con van.  The private van would have cost us an additional $180 so we opted for the air-con shuttle for $30.  The trip takes 5 hours and the below picture was our van for the day. Thankfully we had a couple stops so we could stretch our legs since it was pretty tight in the van.
Including the driver there were 14 of us!
Our main stop was in a town called Roxas. I did not realize until later that the guys who I bought ice cream from smiled for my photo!
The first 3 1/2 - 4 hours went pretty smoothly but then we arrived to the town of Taytay, where the roads where no longer paved and it was one very bumpy ride. I was just thankful we only had an hour left or I am not sure my lunch would have stayed down!
 Tried to get a picture of the road with all the potholes.
 WE MADE IT!
The hotel told us to call once we arrived and they would pick us up on the beach. Just standing here looking at this view I knew our next four days were going to be magical!
The driver arrived with our mode of transportation to the hotel! 
There were so many hotel options but after I saw some of the photos of this resort I knew this is where we had to stay. The resort is called Cadlao and has only been open for six months. El Nido has some very high end resorts with water cottages, called El Nido Resorts, but they are $500 a night. The owners of this resort wanted to provide the same luxury experience as El Nido Resorts but at a more affordable rate. Our room, which included breakfast, was only $105.00 a night. Also from the hotel, you can walk to El Nido town in about 10 - 15 minutes so a bit secluded which we loved.  Our room is to the left of this picture.  
The restaurant.
Scott enjoying the view in the infinity pool.
Beautiful sunset!
ISLAND HOPPING DAY ONE
Palawan's Bacuit Bay looks a lot like the amazing islands around Southern Thailand near Phuket. We booked our island tours with a company called El Nido Art and Boutique Cafe. Todays tour consisted around the Matinloc and Tapuitan Islands. We stopped five times throughout the day to snorkel. The sapphire-blue waters and towering limestone cliffs were majestic and snorkeling was fantastic since the water was so clear.
Lunch was literally a picnic on the beach. They set up a portable dining table and we had grilled pork skewers, fish, vegetables, rice and fruit.
Fred cooking the pork skewers and fish right on the beach.
During our stop for lunch we had some time to swim and snorkel.
After our day of island hopping a few of us decided to go out to dinner. Michaela (far left) is from Northern Ireland and James (left of Scott) and Lindsay are from England.  One of the things I love about traveling is meeting new people who you really connect with and will continue to stay in contact after you leave.
ISLAND HOPPING DAY TWO
Every morning we enjoyed a lovely breakfast while soaking in the view of Cadlao Island and Helicopter Island in the distance.  
The resort had an extensive breakfast menu that was included in our room rate. 
Freshly squeezed orange juice.
Delicious mango!
Today we went on the most popular snorkeling tour to three lagoons on Miniloc Island; Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon and Secret Lagoon and then continued onto Simizu Island and Entalula Island. The first stop was to the Big Lagoon. The stretch of crystal clear turquoise water between the limestone cliffs was spectacular. It was definitely my favorite of all the islands we visited. True paradise!!
Snorkeling around Small Lagoon.
Scott sat in the most appropriate seat on the boat since he was the oldest! :-) 
You can see some of the fish swimming near the boat.
Stopped for lunch at the beautiful Entalula Island which we had to ourselves.
Our guide we had both days.
Fantastic grilled tuna and pork and vegetable skewers for lunch.
More snorkeling which was phenomenal both days!
Our last stop was to Cadlao Island so we could swim and enjoy some cold beverages! 
Michaela joined us after our tour for dinner at a great Italian Restaurant called Altrove.
GOODBYE PALAWAN
Unfortunately our vacation has ended and it was time to head back to Manila. ITI is a dedicated airline for guests staying at one of the luxury El Nido Resorts. You actually can not fly into El Nido unless you are staying at one of their properties but fortunately that is not the case leaving El Nido.  Although it was expensive to fly back to Manila using ITI it certainly was better than taking the five hour shuttle van back to Puerto Princesa to fly out of their main airport.  
Filipino women signing as you arrive or depart from the airport.
I felt like a celebrity getting into this tiny plane.
And Scott did too!  
The view from the plane was amazing!  
We arrived at the Manila private jet terminal and they rolled out the red carpet!  
I am so happy we were able to take a week vacation and to spend it on Palawan Island.  I have been to a lot of beautiful beaches but this was, for me, definitely one of the best! We both agree that El Nido was the highlight of the trip. If we had known how spectacular this area was, we probably would have taken the shuttle van immediately from the Puerto Princesa airport and spent our entire week in the Bacuit Bay area.
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