Before I embark on a detailed review, let me give a quick background of Palawan so that there is no confusion in the minds of the readers (as the words “Palawan” and “Palawan Island” are often used interchangeably in many forums).
Palawan is the largest province in the Philippines and is a complex ecosystem that serves as refuge to hundreds of marine and terrestrial threatened species. For these reasons, as also the fact that it still retains more than 50 % of its original forest cover and harbours vast stretches of old growth forests on its mountainous slopes, it is often called the Philippines’ “last biodiversity frontier”. Palawan Island is the largest island of the Province of Palawan and this, along with a number of other smaller islands surrounding Palawan Island (Coron, Busuanga, Cuyo, etc.) make up Palawan Province.
We (i.e. self and family) went to just a small speck of an island (i.e. Apulit Island) off the northern part of Palawan Island. However, the subject title is not intended to deceive the readers because, if where we went to is representative of Palawan as a whole (after all, Palawan is not that huge with just 2,000 kms of coastline) and if locals and fellow tourists we met who said that it is indeed so are to be believed, Palawan must indeed be paradise. Incidentally, Palawan Island was voted as the best island in the world in the Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, 2014.
We had this desire to traverse Palawan Island from South to North but the short leave granted to the hubby by his miserly boss compelled us to try and zero down on just one spot in Palawan Island for a very short holiday. Encyclopedic research by the hubby led to the conclusion that the northern part of Palawan Island was the most scenic (again, so confirmed later by locals and fellow tourists).
But here arose a problem. While the southern part of Palawan Island is relatively well serviced by airlines landing in Puerto Princesa (the largest city of Palawan) including directly from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the north has just a small airport strip in El Nido serviced by only one airline named Island Transvoyager Inc. (“ITI”) which is owned and operated by El Nido Resorts (a hotel group managing four island resorts in the north). The problem was compounded by the fact that people not staying in any of the El Nido resorts could book a seat in ITI only five days prior to departure. Confronted by the fact that we did not have the luxury of time for booking flights at such short notice nor take a long road ride from south to north, we took the bull by the horns and booked a three day stay in the El Nido resort in Apulit Island with flight bookings in ITI (in spite of the pricey hotel tariff charged by El Nido and the almost extortionist air fare of ITI).
Fast forwarding the story of our travel saga, we landed up in the private hangar of ITI in Manila airport. After check in of baggage, we were ushered into their lounge where we helped ourselves to snacks and coffee before boarding the flight. It was a mere one hour flight to the El Nido Airport but during the course of that flight, we witnessed some amazing scenery. That by itself almost justified our extravagant voyage to Palawan.
(A word about El Nido here. It’s a small town in Palawan Island and while it has a host of restaurants and beach bars, there is nothing much apart from that which it can boast of – basically, it’s a base for exploring the Bacuit Archipelago and other such marvellous scenery of Palawan through island hopping tours and what not).
After landing in the airport, we undertook a two hour bumpy ride to the jetty in TayTay where we were loaded onto a motor boat (a rather slow motor boat if I may say so) which would take us to the resort. The motor boat ride gave more than a hint that we were approaching a surreal, unspoiled part of the world.
Enduring a 1.5 hour ride across the choppy waters, we landed up at the resort. Now I don’t want to spend time talking about the resort as the focus is on Palawan’s scenery but suffice it is to say that the resort is very well kept with quaint cottages on stilts, good food, extremely friendly service and a host of activities (chargeable as well as non-chargeable) to keep you occupied. Particularly admirable is their concern for preserving the ecological system.
After having checked into our room, and while cursorily inspecting the surrounds from our room balcony, what struck us most was the colour of the sea…….or rather colours because the sea seemed to display multiple hues of blue – emerald blue, sapphire blue, sky blue, etc. It seemed unnatural – almost as if someone had very gently dripped various shades of blue paint on to a canvas made of water. Maybe this was not one sea but many seas carefully lined up next to each other ? How else could it so happen that with every mild wave, a darker shade of blue water appeared to embrace the sea in front of it, then slowly faded away when engulfed by it to give rise to the next paler shade of blue and so on and so forth until, finally, the blue broke away into white when it approached the shore?
But this was just the beginning – believe it or not, the true beauty of Palawan lies below the water. We mustered courage to go snorkeling even though none of us in the family are swimmers. Aided by a more than competent diving instructor from the resort, we literally took the plunge (into the waters) and were suddenly exposed to a whole new world. Now if it were not for the interference of the snorkeling equipment (and, more importantly, the value I place on my life), I would have gasped in awe and shrieked with joy at what I was suddenly witnessing. Corals and more corals – in all shapes and sizes and colours (am I getting repetitive in my usage of the word “colours” here ?) ! As you went closer and closer, the corals literally exploded in beauty like fire crackers before your eyes. The rainbow appears occasionally in the horizon but believe you me, it is omnipresent below water here ! Wikipedia informs me that, in Palawan, “sprawled beneath the seas are nearly 11,000 square kilometers of coral reefs representing more than 35% of the country’s coral reefs”. Now add to that the shoals of fish swimming around and you are transported to a phantasmagoric world of aqua – Palawan boasts of a huge variety of fish such as swordfish, marlin, tuna, crownfish, mackerel, etc etc.
Unfortunately, because of our lack of swimming abilities and absence of underwater cameras, we could not click snaps underwater to pictorially depict what I am eulogizing about through mere words. But just so that you don’t miss out on what I am trying to describe rather inadequately, here is a snap of corals borrowed from another source which was clicked in more or less the same area.
Photo Credit : www.thetravellingeditor.com
However, we do have a few snaps of our own clicked from the balcony of our room even though they do not do any sort of justice to what I enthusiastically described above [missed out though on clicking the baby sharks swimming below our cottage early morning 🙁 ].
Back to above the water…….on our island hopping trips, we discovered miles of sea pockmarked by desolate, miniscule stretches of land and feasted our eyes upon picturesque limestone rocks and forested hillocks in the surrounds. What was striking was how remote and quiet this part of the world seemed to be so much so that even the gentle murmur of the sea seemed to interfere with the silence all around. We also had our very own “Robinson Crusoe” moment when we landed upon a pocket sized island inhabited only by a forest guard and his dog !
I really do need to stop here because I have no words left to express the beauty of this place (and even the words I have expended thus far are a futile attempt at describing the beauty of Palawan). All I can do now is to urge you all to make at least one visit to this place. Palawan is indeed a slice of paradise – and when you gaze into the horizon when ensconced here, heaven seems that much closer!!