Palawan, Philippines

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

Boracay - The Best Island in the World?

Boracay has a lot to live up to. Its beaches have been touted as the best in the world. (On those many contentious lists). Tourism here began in the 1970s after Boracay appeared in a few films. But it was Jens Peter who really put Boracay on the map, when he wrote that it was 'Paradise on Earth'. in 1978. That's when the backpackers. Eventually, the inevitable happened. The infrastructure couldn't cope, especially the sewage and septic systems, and there were outbreaks of E.Coli, which understandably, put tourists off coming.

Some of these problems have been addressed - some remain. (More recently the island was closed for six months to enable renovation and upgrading of systems). Big chains have moved in. Spas and nightclubs, even  a golf course, have sprung up, side-lining the original inhabitants. There’s a huge  tension between natural beauty, rest and relaxation and the desire to make money. Talking of money, Boracay has the highest density of merchants that accept bitcoin outside of El Salvador. So it might be acquiring yet another soubriquet  - "Bitcoin Island".

Boracay - In and Out and Where?

Boracay (often locally shortened to Bora) is a small dog bone shaped  island in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, just half a mile off the northwest coast of Panay. It’s seven kilometres long and a kilometre wide at its narrowest point.

Boracay is an ideal place to spend a few days away from Manila, seeking rest and recreation. There’s no airport of course. We have to fly to Godofredo P. Ramos Airport  (now renamed Boracay Airport) in Caticlan on Panay Island and take a motorized tricycle, the one kilometre to Caticlan port. Then it’s a ferryboat to Cagban, on Boracay. It’s cheaper to fly to Kalibo, on Panay, but that’s another 30 kilometres away. Once on Boracay, it’s another motorized trike. There are no cars allowed  on the road that runs north-south, through the middle of the island. It’s too small. (The hotels are permitted vans and these have to be white).

Boracay has two main beaches, to choose from. White Beach, on the west coast, is about four kilometres long and is lined with resorts, hotels, lodging houses of all price ranges, restaurants, shops and diving shacks. With its classic clear crystal water, bendy palm trees and sailboats with eye catching equilateral sails, it’s the contender for Best Beach in the World.

Bulabog Beach, across the island, on the east coast, attracts more wind, and is  the main windsurfing and kiteboarding area.

So, it’s going to be White Beach, in a mid-range establishment with cottages and a wicker bar. In the middle of the beach here, the lodgings sit behind a  Beachfront Path ,separating the beach itself from the establishments located along it.

What to Do on Boracay?

What to do on Boracay? It would be very easy to do nothing all day, except laze on a sunbed and admire the view. Just getting up to eat. There’s great food to be had in the many restaurants that line the powdery sand. Juicy giant prawns are on offer. But there’s good snorkelling to be had, particularly from the many bobbing boats, all keen to offer their services. Or a wander north to local landmark, Willy's Rock, a tiny islet with a shrine atop it, just in front of  Willy's Beach Resort.

And the sunsets? Truly stunning. Especially with a cocktail in hand.

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