El Nido Island, on the northern tip of Palawan Island, in the Philippines, is reached by Sea Air from Manila and North Luzon. It’s not a sea plane this time, (although these are on offer), but the plane skims over the dots of islands that form northern Palawan, as close to the water, it seems, as a sea plane, before bumping over the hills to land. We stop at Busuanga Island on the way out. This is where folk go diving over World War II Japanese wrecks that were sunk by American navy bombings in Coron Bay,
Palawan Province is named after it's largest island and it's the largest province in the Philippines. It's also known as The Last Frontier, as it's on the western reaches of the archipelago. And Palawan is often referred to as The Best Island. I'm hoping the reasons for that will become clear.
Exploring El Nido
El Nido is (yet another) hidden gem of the Philippine Islands – a relatively unknown Halong Bay of feathery karst columns, each surrounded by its own idyllic white sand beach and colourful reef. What better way to spend a holiday, with Neil, than to commandeer a banca (local boat) each morning and sail away to a different island, with a picnic lunch that you can probably eat in total seclusion. all you have to do is wander down to the pier in the fishing village. It all adds to the fun, when the boat breaks down.
Some of the reefs of El Nido are recovering from the dynamite fishing, which is still not completely eradicated. But, close by, Miniloc Island is famed for the clear waters of its Small and Big Lagoons. Shimizu Island has fish-filled waters and engaging snorkelling and Dilumacad (Helicopter Island because it's ostensibly shaped like a chopper) has a long tunnel leading to an underwater cavern. But you have to dive to see this, so I’m leaving that one out. There are encounters with grottoes (artificial and natural) and birds nest guardians to enthral instead.
El Nido means “nests” in Spanish and this is the home of the island’s endemic swiftlets. The birds, known locally as balinsasayaw, use threads of their saliva, instead of twigs, to build their nests in crevices and caves on the cliffs. Climbers called busyador brave the slopes each day, to collect the nests. These are highly prized by the Chinese for making soup.
My favourite island, of the many, is probably Pinagbuyutan Island. It's tranquil, less visited, and has dramatic cliffs which tower over the minuscule stretch of sand, with its one shack. The snorkelling, just off the beach, is pretty good too.
Accommodation in El Nido
There are upmarket (and correspondingly expensive) resort hotels, complete with their own islands, to be had. But I’m settling for Lally and Abet Beach Cottages. It's not the prettiest of all the many stretches of sand, but it’s comfortable, reasonably priced accommodation. The owners are really helpful in sorting out each day’s excursions and in providing plenty of coconuts. Like many Asian villages it's a little noisy at night. The dogs never seem to stop barking. There are plenty of restaurants serving local food, of varying quality, like squid in its own ink. Now back to Manila