El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Palawan, an archipelago of around 1,780 islands that's named after its largest island, is one of the most remote provinces in the Philippines. Known as the country’s “last ecological frontier” due to the astounding diversity of coastal and marine ecosystems, the entire province is protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. At the northern tip of the island of Palawan sits El Nido, gateway town to the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area, which spans about 350 square miles of land and sea. In El Nido, vertical limestone cliffs rise over the palm-lined shores of turquoise Bacuit Bay. Just offshore, mystical karst towers jut out of the crystal-clear water. For divers, snorkelers, and anyone looking to get away from it all, El Nido is the launching pad for island hopping in the enchanting Bacuit Archipelago. Hire a guide or join a tour and explore this tropical playground filled with secluded sugar-white beaches, secret sea caves, hidden lagoons, and coral reefs teeming with marine life.
When to Go: March to June is the sunny and dry summer season.
How to Get Around: Island Transvoyager, Inc. (ITI) offers daily flights from Manila to El Nido. Arrange island-hopping tours through your resort or directly with local outfitters like Caera Travel & Tours and El Nido Boutique and Artcafé.
Where to Stay: Posh Pangulasian Island combines a Shangri-La setting with upscale amenities like gourmet dinners on the beach; an onsite gym, spa, and library; and luxurious accommodations in 42 private villas. Opened in 2012, the tropical hideaway is the newest and most exclusive property from northern Palawan sustainable tourism leader El Nido Resorts. For the best water views, choose one of the six pool villas with private deck pools overlooking Bacuit Bay.
Where to Eat: Local, organic produce; fresh seafood (such as steamed crabs, grilled squid, banana-leaf-wrapped jackfish); and traditional Filipino fare like menu items Beef Steak Tagalog and Pineapple Pork Chop Barbecue at Pangulasian Island’s Amianan restaurant. The menu changes seasonally based on what’s fresh, and most of the greens and some of the fruit are grown in El Nido Resorts’ local greenhouse farms.
What to Read Before You Go: When the Elephants Dance (Penguin; reissue edition, 2003) by Tess Uriza Holthe infuses Philippine myth and culture into a riveting narrative set during the last days of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Cultural Tip: El Nido primarily is a cash-only town, and there are no local banks or ATMs. Resorts and many restaurants accept credit cards, but you will need to stock up on Philippine pesos at the Manila airport.
Helpful Links: Philippines Tourism
Fun Fact: Every full moon from March to May, El Nido Resorts turns off all nonessential lights at its four Palawan properties for one hour. The energy savings from the electricity shutdown is used to purchase seedlings to be planted in the El Nido watershed.
Staff Tip: While on the island of Palawan, be sure to schedule a day to visit theUnderground River. One of the world's longest underground rivers, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and voted one of the seven New Wonders of the World. Visitors on guided rowboats enter subterranean chambers full of bats and echoey silence. Don't miss walking around the reserve; you may spot what appears to be a baby dragon but is actually the endangered monitor lizard.