Siargao Island, Searching for the perfect waves and beautiful beaches
It was basically a toss between Islands of Bantayan and Siargao this year. Despite our motto, never to go to the same place twice, this time we did exception to this rule. Everything was so perfect last year that we decided to re-do it. So surfer’s paradise, here we come!
We took off from Mactan Island (Cebu) and enjoyed the view way below us. On our way to Sayak Airport in Del Carmen, Siargao, we saw settlements of reefs, islands and sandbars right out in the middle of the sea.
As the aircraft started its descent and neared Siargao, we flew over this small, tropical island called Poneas with an incredibly beautiful deep-water lagoon in the middle of it.
This year we decided to stay at Villa Maya (TA review) which is about 3 min motorbike ride from Cloud 9. Last year we’ve been at Greenhouse resort and we had such a wonderful time there, but knowing the tidal situation on the island, this year we went for a place that has a swimming pool.
We rented two motorbikes (P350/7,5 USD per motorbike/day) so we were mobile for dinners and other trips to General Luna and Cloud 9 and not always depended on habal-habal rides.
Since we already did few things around the island last year we chose the trip to Sohoton lagoon which is part of wonderful islands of Bucas Grande Socorro. There are still isolated places, where nature is just waiting to be explored, where the scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife is abundant and awesome. And this place is one of them.
The only way to get to it is by boat. It took us more than 2 hours boat ride one way. The trip was quite expensive though. Boat rental from Siargao Island cost us P7,000/150 USD for all of us + additional fees and charges once you arrive in Sohoton Tourism Center (P2,500/54 USD).
The boatman dropped us off at the Sohoton Center where the tourists register and have their trip arranged.
After that we were transferred to a smaller boat to drive us around the caves in the lagoon. Along the way, you can see magkono, the hardest wood in the country and quite a few stalactites.
Here comes the real adventure – Hagukan cave. You have to dive in and swim through the cave’s opening underwater. Once inside luminous water made it seem we were transported to another world.
After lunch that was gently said bad and more additional charges (fee for using utilities etc.), we headed back to the Tourist Center to get another boat, a smaller one good for 2 passengers that will do their best to look cool and strong, paddling with the boatman. On the way to the jellyfish sanctuary, you will pass by shallow, gushing waters where you will walk through. Aqua shoes will be very much helpful here to create traction in your steps. As you go back to the boat, your soul is at peace because even though it’s almost noon and you’re under the sun with little or no shade to run to, you realize that you don’t really get quiet moments like this all the time and just anywhere.Stingless jellyfishes teem as you go farther, some transparent like round gelatin, and most are brown.
At least that is what we heard from the boatman, since you can only see them in April and we only saw few of them while swimming in the lake. Truth be told if we knew that we would probably skip the whole Sohoton trip since it was really long boat ride for the kids and the most expensive thing we had to pay in our month of travel in the Philippines and Cambodia.
We did it on our previous visit but it was great so we went on these three islands again. We left the General Luna port and headed to the islands. First stop is Naked Island, than Daku and you finish your trip with visiting Guyam Island.
As you can see, there isn’t much to the “Naked” Island. But it’s still beautiful, though. Because it is naked there are no plants, no trees, no houses, and no cottages. It’s just going to be you, the island, and the scorching heat of the sun.
We took a dip for less than an hour, took lots of photos and then headed to Daku Island.
Daku Island was the highlight of our tour. It has a great beach, covered in powdery white sand, and is definitely the best place to relax on the beach or swim. If you bring fresh fish from the market, you can have it cooked here for a fee.
We went for mango and bananas instead. Lots of mangos:) Svit and Nia wouldn’t go out of the water for more than an hour and we really had great time here.
Daku means large in the local language, and it is by far the largest of the islands on the tour. There are some nipa huts available to rent to get of the sun and have a meal or drink. Svit made friends with locals and soon it was in their company listening to them singing. It was really a great moment.
After saying goodbye to our new friends we left for Guyam Island, our last stop. We were completely alone on this place and it felt like being stranded on the deserted island.
To sum it up, this day was fun-filled and well spend!
Beside all this there’s plenty of things to do on the Island itself. It has beautiful beaches…
Of course you can’t visit Siargao and don’t go to world famous Cloud 9 surf spot with it’s equally famous boardwalk.
While there you must take a break at Cafe Loka near the Boardwalk.
You also MUST go to Kermit Surf Resort and Restaurant and have one of the best oven baked pizza we’ve ever tried in Asia.
As always in July we have to celebrate Edita’s Birthday, so here is an honorable mention for her:)
Since being a teacher herself, Tina stopped by a local Elementary School near Villa Maya and had a chat with the teacher and kids and she had really wonderful time with them.
This summed up our Siargao adventure. The next day we left this beautiful surfers paradise which is must see for non-surfers as well and headed to Cebu City and then via Manila to Siem Reap, Cambodia, our last stop on this year Asian adventure.
El Nido (“the nest” in Spanish) is a small town located at the north end of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Ideal starting point to visit the archipelago Bacuit. The cluster of islands is said to be the inspiration of many movies including “The Beach”. But truth to be told this is very popular pitch that locals try to sell you all over Asia. The best parts of the area can only be reached on day trips, known simply as Tour A, B, C and D.
But truly El Nido is breathtaking. I can’t begin to count how many times we said “how beautiful!” when we saw something new. If we ever go back, we’ll simply go on all the tours since this time we ran out of time to do them all.
With one ice cream break our drive from San Vicente to El Nido was a pleasant one with beautiful landscape and one short rain shower. We’ve decided to stay on Corong-Corong beach which is about 5 min motorbike ride from El Nido town. With kids this was a much better option from the hectic place that El Nido is.
The local government of El Nido standardizes the tour operations in the town. Boatmen and travel agencies must abide by the rules and guidelines that they set in order to provide a smoother and more consistent service to tourists. Since all the boat trips around town are fixed this also was not a factor for choosing Corong-Corong. Another big asset, as we learned the first evening, is the view of the sunset here. Yes, we are suckers for pink skies:)
El Nido Mahogany resort was the place that we called home for the next four nights. It’s a lovely new resort with only seven cottages/villas and a nice pool that kids enjoyed on our returns from the day trips (TA review).
El Nido has several small lagoons, big lagoons and even hidden lagoons. Nonetheless, you may kayak your way to one of these hidden lagoons amongst the towering limestone cliffs. Below are July 2016 tour prices all including BBQ lunch and non-alcoholic beverages. The boatmen will prepare lunch on one of the stops during the tour. Lunch is composed of the following: grilled fish, grilled pork or chicken, rice, vegetables, and fruits (usually bananas, watermelons, or pineapples). You have to add 200 PHP / 4,3 USD Eco-Tour Fee (Govt’) which is good for 10 days and multiple trips. All tours start at 9am and end between 4pm-5pm depending how much time you spend at each location.
1200 PHP for the tour A (25 USD)
1300 PHP for the tour B (28 USD)
1400 PHP for the tour C (30 USD)
1200 PHP for the tour D ( 25 USD)
If you’re visiting El Nido for a few days, you’re probably wondering which tour is the best to take. If you ask most people, it’s a toss between Tours A and C so we did both. Boatmen are more likely to cancel Tour C during inclement weather, while Tour A remains calm most of the time.
Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, Simizu Island, Entulala Island, Payong Payong Beach, and 7 Commando Beach (we made a stop on the Papaya Beach which is just a stone throw away on the right side of 7CB and our boat was the only one there).
Tour A takes you around the limestone paradise of Miniloc Island and its iconic lagoons. The sights at Miniloc are usually the ones perfectly captured in the postcards. There are a couple of beach stops: one in Simizu Island and another at the 7 Commandos Beach in mainland El Nido.
The Big Lagoon on the El Nido Tour A is all about cruising. For me, this was the best part of the day. The whole tour was great, but the water in the lagoon was just breathtaking. There wasn’t a ton of sea life besides the giant sea urchins, it was more about the turquoise water surround by dark jagged limestone cliffs. The lagoon is extremely shallow and the deck hand (the boy on the left of the boat) sat off the bow of the boat helping the captain miss rocks our entire trip in the lagoon.
After a short ride throughout the bay you stop at the small lagoon. On the northern end of Miniloc Island lies an open top cathedral of limestone. Vertical stone walls form a lagoon of shallow water in nearly a perfect circle. We went into kayaks and start paddling deeper into the lagoon. You have to go through a very narrow entrance to get into lagoon itself. Once inside, staring up at the imposing walls, it starts to look like a very alien landscape. You can also go in the water and swim which we didn’t do since climbing on with Nia and Svit on board would be a bit difficult.
Simizu Island is the usual lunch stop. But if it gets too crowded, the boatman picks an alternative, usually Payong-Payong Beach. The lunch stop today was on yet another ridiculously beautiful island. One can almost get tired of looking at such amazing scenery, it made our eyes hurt and made us never want to leave. Lunch on El Nido Tour A is grilled fish, pork, salad, fresh fruit, and a bunch more. The most striking feature of the island was this outcropping of rocks a short walk from where we docked the boat. Out of the sand stuck a razor thin blade of the black limestone found all over El Nido. This piece reminded me of the top fin of a fish, and it made me wonder how it just stood straight up in the bright white sand. This place is just amazing.
7 Commandos beach – Papaya beach
As legend goes, 7 Japanese commandos took refuge here during WWII, and ended up living here (actual information is cloudy at best, but that’s what the guides tell us). Our guide decided to stop at another beach off the mainland for our last activity. It’s called Papaya Beach. On our opinion it’s prettier and less people stop there. Actually we were the only boat docked at the time. While Nia and Tina were playing in the water, our guide took Edita, Svit and me snorkeling because there were some turtles there seen just before. Of course no luck there so we played a bit with the ball on the beach after.
On the way back to our place we were surprised with a storm but thankfully it didn’t last long.
Similar to our first day, we left the Mahogany after breakfast. We kept our tour guide from the tour the day before. Tour C will take you to El Nido’s secret beaches and will end at the Helicopter Island. After introductions and prepping our gear, we were off.
These days it’s more special than it is secret. You will find a mess of boats jockeying for position while their passengers jump out to swim the hole in the rocks that leads to the secret lagoon. Thankfully we were the first on the scene so we had this gorgeous place only for ourselves. Well for a little while at least. When we got there, a set of tourists was just leaving so we had the place to ourselves. The highlight of the trip is the Secret Beach, a hidden pocket of fine sand enclosed by towering karst cliffs. It is accessible only via a small opening that requires visitors to swim through it.
The scenery is stunning and it’s one of the shortest rides, and of course, it has the secret lagoon as its ace up its sleeve. You can see school of fishes while you swim through the entrance which was pretty cool for Svit and it took at least a bit of his annoyance for wearing a life west off him.
After our delicious lunch and a bit of downtime, we headed on to the Hidden Lagoon. The hidden lagoon is exactly what its name implies. You will not see the beach from a boat. You access is first by swimming and then walking through shallow waters surrounded with the lime stone cliffs.
I love how stunningly beautiful this place is. We asked if we could stay here for a while and our guide agreed. We had the place to ourselves for a good 30 minutes before another group arrived. They did not stay long, so after they left, we were left with the quietness of this beautiful place.
This place is also completely hidden from the outside since you have to climb in through small natural window in the cliff wall that surrounds it. If there is a lot of boats in the area in that time you can be in for wait since you can only enter it one by one.
Matinloc Shrine is an abandoned property situated in a heart-shaped island. I saw some pictures of the place in its heyday and I lamented the disrepair the place has been left in. Even at the state it was in, you could easily see how majestic this place used to be. But since there were really a lot of people there we’ve decided to skip this one and went to another gorgeous beach where we did some snorkeling and had lunch.
Our last stop was Helicopter Island, which we passed by the day before when we went on Tour A. Helicopter Island offers great snorkeling. The water is clear and marine life is lush but I guess you could say that for all of El Nido. Since Nia felt asleep in my lap we stayed on the boat while the rest of our group went in the water for about half an hour after which we headed back to our resort full of life lasting impressions.
Nacpan Beach and Calitang Beach / Twin Beaches
Beside the beautiful beaches and coves that you can see on the boat trips, area on the top of the Palawan Island abounds with them. The one that stands the tallest among them is Napcan Beach. You can go there on a daily trip with jeepney from El Nido or you can do it by renting a motorbike as we did.
The first part of travel was a breeze, beautiful countryside views and paved road. After 40 minutes, the road turned rough and dusty. The roads are not for the fainted hearted though. But since we were traveling with bike from when Nia was still in a sling of course we took this opportunity for another adventure. With the ride adopted to kids it took as around one and a half hour easy drive from Corong- Corong.
You have to pay fee at the entrance in the village that then leads to the beach.
A very long beach lined with coconut trees was the first sight that greeted us.
Then the breeze touched our face and our feet touched the white and fine sand which led to the crystal clear and tranquil blue water. We were just all smiles, because it was perfect!
The beach itself is gorgeous, shallow for about 50 meters which was great for Nia and Svit. There is also shaded area around where you leave your bikes so if you don’t prefer the sun you can stay there. A 10 min stroll on the left of the beach will lead you to a small hill where you can do some scenic pictures of this area. Since we were playing with the kids in the water Edita volunteered to do the hike, so probes to her for the photos. If you don’t mind the stroll you should really take this walk but do bring a bottle of water and, if you have, sneakers rather than flip-flops. The view from the top is amazing and since majority of visitors don’t bother climbing up, you can have the view almost all to yourself and believe me it will not disappoint.
There are few places on the beach where you can grab some food or refreshments. Nia and Svit tried banana and mango shake which are really a must try while we stayed at our standard option. Yes you’ve guessed it … Red Horse again:)
We could easily stayed in El Nido for two more days because this area is really spectacular and we don’t have any wonders how Palawan was voted best island in the world for two years in a row. We will be back for sure to explore Coron area since we were advised not to cross the narrow strait between El Nido and Coron on boat during monsoon season due to rough seas. We got a confirmation that we made a wise decision later on in Cambodia when we stumbled on a Slovenian family (that we first met last year on Siquijor). They said that they took this route last year at it took them 9!! hours of let’s say very unpleasant boat ride.
Looking back at the photos now, if we could travel back in time to re-live this places again, we would enjoy it even more. You should be more than 100% present at any time. Future will take care of itself anyway. Time is something that you can never buy back.
SAN VICENTE, THE NEXT BIG THING IN THE PHILIPPINES
On our last year’s flight back from the Philippines we said that we’ll be back for sure. And boy we were right. We started planning our trip in January and this time we decided on Palawan. Since the readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine voted this island “The best Island in the World” for the second time in a row we knew we had to see if it measures to its reputation. Spoiler alert: IT DOES!:) As July means rainy season we were a bit skeptic but as it turned out the weather was just perfect.
This year we took the Qatar flight from Zagreb (Croatia) via Doha to Kuala Lumpur which, through the years, became our base for further flights around South East Asia.
After a cold Tiger beer we were in our beds anxious for our early Air Asia flight to Manila. Four hours went bye fast and we landed at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
We had two more hours until Cebu Pacific flight to Puerto Princesa, capitol of Palawan and major hub to the Island.
In 2017 the new international Airport in San Vicente is set to be open and that will significantly shorten the time travel to El Nido on the north end of the island.
As soon as we were off the plane we had another three hour drive with minivan to our first destination – San Vicente.
Kids were real angels ever since we left our home so we stopped for some ice cream at first store on the way and a “few” bottles of Red Horse beer (the real stuff) :))
We arrived at Sunset Beach resort in San Vicente late in the evening. As soon as the minivan stopped we were greeted by Roberto, the owner of the resort. He instantly made us feel at home. If you are coming to San Vicente this is really the only place to be (TA review). Roberto is German national who has decided to follow his long lasted dream and moved to the Philippines years ago where he opened this lovely place called the Sunset Beach Resort.
We had few beers talking about what’s new in Europe and about our country while Nia and Svit miraculously rejuvenated despite the late hours and were running around and having fun with two resident dogs, Brownie and King.
The next 4 days we spent exploring all the beauties that San Vicente has to offer. You can do island hopping for half the price that you pay in El Nido, so we decided to do some snorkeling and to visit German Island. I have no idea why they call it that way, nevertheless, it’s one of the most popular islands closer to Port Barton. It’s privately owned with a white sand beach, a good number of hammocks suspended on coconut trees, barbecue stations used by tour operators for lunch and a lovely snorkeling site. It has a small entrance fee per boat, which is usually excluded from the tour fees but Roberto arranged that ours was included.
Most of the boatmen can be located under the Tourist Assistance Center at San Vicente Poblacion Port where you can also buy some food and drinks at the nearby stores. You can talk to them to arrange your island hopping tour.
* Don’t forget to bring snacks and water.
* Bring a hat or an umbrella so you can hide from the sun during transit.
* Bigger boats have a roof on the boats to shade guests which is a must if you’re traveling with kids.
It took us just under an hour from Poblacion Port to reach our snorkeling spot. The water was crystal clear with some great corals and abundance of fish. Svit started jumping from the boat and in no time Nia went in too. That was huge progress from last year when she mostly enjoyed the pool but not the sea. But this year was a completely different story.
We spend some time on the German Island just lazing around on the beach and doing nothing. All in all it was a great first day on Palawan.
The next day Roberto and Thelma took us to their favorite beach. After around 45 min ride with their pickup truck we reached this amazing place on the beach owned by a friend of theirs.
The beach is really stunning, long wide stretch of pure white sand and not a single soul around. Nia and Svit had a blast running in the water (which was slowly dropping and was perfect for the kids), playing with the ball and frisbee.
Roberto and Thelma also prepared a great BBQ lunch for us (fish, pork, eggplants, fruits and of course Red Horse). Nia was particularly fond of pork chops.
On the way back we stopped at Long Beach, San Vicente’s 14 kilometer long white sand beach. It is completely undeveloped and we were the only ones there. But that will change very soon since Roberto told us most of the lots are already sold and with the new Airport in San Vicente opening next year this place will be full of resorts and hotels very soon. It is sad because this beautiful and secluded place will turn into next Boracay in no time. Be aware however that even though the beach is stunning to say the least it is also full of sand flees but don’t let that discourage you from visiting it.
The next trip on our list was Papawyan Falls. After half an hour bangka boat ride we reached a village on the shore near Port Barton, from where we proceeded on foot.
Walking through the village we were greeted by the local kids yelling hello from every house. Nia and Svit were eager enough to reply to every hello so you can imagine the hello-ing. Filipinos are really one the friendliest people that we encountered on our trips around Asia. And of course if you are traveling with small kids that’s an extra bonus.
The road itself became not so “friendly” shortly after we came out of the village. It is kind of steep one and the 12 o’clock sun did not help either. It was time to put the kids on our backs and we were ready to proceed.
We reached the falls in around one hour (you can do it faster if you don’t have kids) and we were in the cold and refreshing water in no time.
Since we left Puerto Princesa this was the first time that we met other fellow travelers (mostly coming here on a motorbike from Port Barton).
On our return we’ve made a stop at Poblacion to have few drinks and something to eat. This ended up with kids having a great time with new friends and us adults enjoyed our drinks as the sun had settled down for the day.
On the fifth day the transfer, arranged by Roberto, came at 10 am and we were ready for around two hours’ drive to our next long awaited destination – El Nido. Needless to say we parted with Roberto and Thelma like family and we stayed in touch even now on our return to Slovenia.