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December 27, 2010

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Home » Feature » Travel

Glorious getaway in Philippines

IF you want to party or you want to get away, the Philippines is the place.

Festivals are celebrated all-out in the Philippines and those on a holiday break can steep themselves in all-out partying - or take refuge in nature at a luxury resort.

El Nido

Spectacular jagged limestone islands rise from the blue sea and elsewhere pure white beaches stretch as far as the eye can see.

This is El Nido, a collection of villages on the northwestern tip of mainland Palwan Province and around 430 kilometers southwest of Manila, the Philippine capital.

El Nido is named after the edible nests of swiftlets (collocalia fuciphaga) found in the crevices of its limestone cliffs. "Nido" is "nest" in Spanish and nido or bird's nest soup is a delicacy. Bird's nest is considered a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine.

Majestic cliffs stand over clear waters with 200 species of tropical fish, 100 species of corals and three species of endangered sea turtles. More than 100 species of birds live in the lush tropical forests.

El Nido is also the site of luxury resorts, including the El Nido Resorts. The Bacuit Bay area of the island, site of the resorts, is a protected wildlife area.

Lagen Island Resort and Miniloc Island Resort are the Philippines' poster resorts for responsible tourism. The new Apulit Island Resort is the newest star addition, star soft-opened in September.

Visitors can sunbathe in secret coves, kayak in hidden lagoons, explore isolated island, hike through tropical forest, picnic on a private beach, tour the mangroves by boat and snorkel or scuba dive among the coral reefs.

Apulit Island's limestone geology is around 250 million years old. El Nido's majestic limestone cliffs are estimated to be 250 million years old and on one side there are five caves. One of them is St Joseph's Cave, so named for the statue-shaped rock formation at the entrance. Within are seven chambers.

The caves and surrounding area are magnets for explorers.

Palawan is famous as a snorkeling and scuba dive spot. The white stretch of sand that is the Puesto del Sol Reef is an excellent snorkeling base. Just a few meters off the beach are coral gardens and steep drop offs that intrigue adventurers. At times stingrays can be seen gently moving through the water and pawikan, or sea turtles, can be spotted.

The Octagon rock is a few meters away from the first fish feeding station, where all kinds of fish can be found. Hardy swimmers can make it as far as Apulit Rock, a popular dive spot in deep waters. Those out to see big fish may see sharks (not dangerous), stingrays, sea turtles, tuna, groups and other denizens.

The resort provides a free introductory dive and basic instructions; open-water and advanced dive certificates are available.

Island-hopping is popular and there are regular trips to Pabellon Island, Elephant Island and Isla Blanca.

After magnificent gold, red and purple sunsets, the evening beckons, the moon rises and activities are varied.

Dinner is not only served in the main restaurant but also on the beach and near the rock garden under the stars. Staff may croon Tagalog love songs if the mood is right.

For a breathtaking view of the bay or stargazing, visitors can climb 109 steps to the Rock Bar for music by talented artists.


Those heading to Manila Bay may enjoy visiting the vast SM Mall of Asia, said to be the third largest in Asia. It's air-conditioned and both modern and traditionally Filipino. It offers endless shopping and sales, cuisine of all kinds, cinema marathons, even dental checkups and cosmetic surgery.

It's so big that the mall offers a shuttle service.

Downtown Manila is a diverse and fascinating place to explore, especially if visitors try to think more like locals.

Walking through General Luna Street in Intramuros for a day is like opening a great, great grandmother's closet and unearthing letters, photos, antiques and memorabilia.

Binondo, the world's oldest Chinatown, is the place to explore another side of Manila - as well as going on a feeding frenzy. Stalls sell real siomai (traditional Chinese dumplings) and siopao (meat-filled streamed buns). Chinese food with Filipino twists are everywhere.

Strolling through narrow streets, visitors observe people from all walks of life and at all hours of the day. Qujapo Church and market are worth a visit. Hip-hop music thumps in the background and everywhere there are local snacks, barbecue sticks and piles of produce of all kinds. The scene is mesmerizing.

On Fridays, the market buzzes with people lighting candles, fortune-tellers and vendors selling things that may be junk to some but treasures to others.

Where to stay:

Miniloc Island Resort is set against sheer limestone cliffs. It resembles a quaint coastal village, with water and waterside cottages, sea view rooms and deluxe sea view rooms built on stilts. Garden cottages are surrounded by tropical plants, cliff cottages nestles in the hillside and beach side rooms are right on the beach.

There is snorkeling right off the pier. A short kayak ride away are the spectacular Big and Small Lagoons.

Lagen Island Resort is set on a cove at the edge of a lush forest. There are magnificent views of the sunset. It offers water cottages built on stilts, beach front cottages with a view of the entire cover, forest rooms and forest suites on the fringe of the forest.

A short hike in Lagen forest leads through a canopy of giant trees and takes visitors to a private cove.

How to get to El Nido:

The direct and fastest way is by air from Manila, via island Transvoyager. The flight takes 75 minutes and lands at El Nido Airport where guests are met by resort staff for transfer to a motorized outrigger boat for a scenic 40-minute ride to the resorts.

Must do in Manila:

Take the King of the Road, or old World War II Jeeps converted into Jeepneys - the most affordable and entertaining transport in Manila. Drivers hurtle through traffic with jerks and abrupt stops in what can be roller-coaster rides.

Jeepney rides start at 7 Philippine dollars (16 US cents) and increase after 5 kilometers to 8.50 Philippine dollars for every kilometer thereafter.


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