Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Winter 2015 issue.

El Nido Islands in the Palawan archipelago, Philippines, is attempting to woo nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers with its ‘guilt-free’ luxury eco resorts.  – Priyanka Pradhan


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The water was choppier than it looked from the 50-seater aircraft, flying low over the gently swaying palm trees on the Palawan Islands.

I was flying from Manila into El Nido luxury Eco Resorts, a cluster of privately owned islands in Palawan, in the wee hours of the morning with less than 10 Kgs of baggage and a boarding stub made of wood- a little to my bewilderment.

“We’ve replaced paper with these re-usable wooden passes to conserve the environment. Imagine how much paper is wasted as boarding passes everyday by airlines all over the world!”, said an official at the Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) which operates the private carrier to El Nido.

Soon after touchdown at the rather precarious –looking runway along the beach, a speedboat ferried guests to either of the four sprawling El Nido islands, nestled amongst 1,780 others, that make up the Palawan archipelago.

Now this was one bumpy ride on the waves, but distracted by the charms of the turquoise blue waters, no one seemed to mind. A pod of hornbills soared above us even as the sparkling clear waters introduced us to our seafaring companions, just below. The staccato rock face and uninhabited islets passed by silently, lending a haunting, rustic beauty to the panorama.

“We can go swimming with the whale sharks later…with plenty of sea turtles and sting ray for company,” the boatman quipped. “On my last dive I encountered a whale shark that was about 40 feet long!” he added, much to everyone’s wide-eyed excitement and his own, thinly-veiled amusement.

With a first impression like this, it was impossible not to look forward to a stay at Lagen Island resort, one of El Nido’s properties tucked away discreetly along a natural lagoon.

Out of the four island-resorts, Apulit, Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen, the latter is arguably one of the most beautiful. Overwater villas, a sunset pier and a shimmering infinity pool are embraced by a four-hectare tropical forest. But even more inviting is the bevy of friendly locals who welcome each guest with a traditional song, accompanied by acoustic guitars and smiling faces.

Inside the villas, prominent touches emphasize the resort’s pledge for sustainability. Renewable materials are used to construct these villas, rainwater catchment system is in place for each room, and the ‘Ten El Nidos’ guideline make an appearance across the resort’s properties to educate guests about this Environmentally Sensitive Protected Area.

The resort also supports local communities by using natural and handmade, locally- sourced products, encompassing what the folks at El Nido like to call, ‘guilt-free’ luxury.

Speaking of guilt, the resort’s decadent spa inspires a day of sloth, pushing back plans for exploring the great outdoors, to another day. With an exhaustive variety of treatments using hand-picked ingredients, exotic tropical fruits and indigenous herbs from the islands, one can’t be blamed for giving in to temptation. Oh well, blame it on the island vibe.

But there’s much to do outside the resort too. Kayaking across sleepy mangroves and secret lagoons, and snorkeling with schools of friendly Sergeant Major in the coral-rich waters takes up most of the day. For the fitter lot, there’s a trekking trail across the jungle and a steep climb on Snake Island, for sweeping views of the Bacuit Bay.

If that isn’t enough to feed the adventurous spirit, a cave exploration at one of the many towering limestone formations, certainly will.

As for me, scrambling on all fours between crevices of limestone caves and finding unknown species of spiders while I was at it, was not what I expected. Even so, I found myself doing cannonball dives off low-hanging cliffs and rock surfaces. Well, there must be something in the island air to make a 32-year-old attempt this.

Fresh catch of the day is served as a picnic lunch on the white-sand beach of Entalula island, another property of El Nido. Grilled fish, a basket of mussels and jumbo prawns are meant to eaten with white rice and soy sauce, in typical Philippine style. The famous tropical mango also makes a regular appearance at meal times.

Back at Lagen resort, the poolside offers a beautiful setting overlooking the moonlit lagoon and only the sound of waves in the distance. The nights are quiet– don’t expect wild parties at the bar but look forward to sophisticated, private evenings here. The days are deliciously slow too, filled with close encounters with nature and a heady measure of adventure and romance.

Nevermind the bruised knees and matted hair. It’s the island life, afterall.

Where to stay:
El Nido Lagen Island or El Nido Pangulasian island ( Higher end)

How to get there:
Island Transvoyager Inc. operates a private carrier that ferries guests to and fro, 3 times daily from Manila to El Nido Island.
Bookings via Email to El Nido Boutique and Arts Café


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