El Nido, Philippines
El Nido Island, on the northern tip of Palawan Island is reached by Sea Air from Manila. It’s not a sea plane this time, (although these are on offer), but the plane skims over the dots of islands in western Luzon Province, as close to the water, it seems, as a sea plane, before bumping over the hills to land.
This area 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 than to commandeer a banca each morning and sail away to a different island with a picnic lunch that you can probably eat in total seclusion.
Some of the reefs of El Nido are recovering from the dynamite fishing that still is not completely eradicated. But, close by, Miniloc Island is famed for the clear waters of its Small and Big Lagoons. Shimizu Island still 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.
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. Its not the prettiest of all the many stretches of sand, but it’s comfortable reasonably priced accommodation and the owners are really helpful in sorting out each day’s excursions and in providing plenty of coconuts.