The most extraordinary arrival to a hotel I’ve ever had. It’s wetter than any red carpet!
THIS time, I’ve gone too far. I’ve had a bucket-listful.
I land in Palawan, the Philippines, at 7pm yet my first sight of El Nido is in the dark – at 2am.
After seven hours, the minibus comes to a stop and the driver calls out Pearl Beach. When I stare out the window it’s just black trees. There’s no sign of life. It’s eerie.
This is my stop though so I venture into the darkness and pick out my suitcase.
Two men come forward saying they’re from the Orange Pearl Beach Resort. They take our suitcases, put them on their heads and start down a pitch black flight of stairs. We shuffle behind but they’re moving fast and the steps are uneven. At the bottom, they turn left.
Ahead of us is water. It’s the ocean and they’re wading into it. The waves are pounding onto the beach and crashing into the coconut trees. It’s rough and choppy. All we can do is follow. We pass beach bars with chairs getting washed away.
I wasn’t prepared for this. I am getting soaked. My shoes are wet. Where are we going?
Eventually we find a footpath out of the water and follow some steps up and – thankfully – in to a hotel reception.
At 3am, I drift asleep mumbling: “I hate it here.”
- Hitch a glide to the Turquoise Coast
- High life on the high seas with this billion dollar baby
- Arctic isles where it is cool to surf
The next morning, the view of Las Cabañas is outstanding. It has the same colours I’d expect to find in an emerald gem stone – it catches the light.
The sun dazzles, the sky is an hysterical blue and the sea a pale turquoise. The air is warm, the sand is soft and the water laps gently on the shore. The bars on Marimegmeg Beach are now open and serving breakfast. The chairs are miraculously back.
There’s a small island straight ahead and in the distance are limestone outcrops that soar up into the sky, covered in dense jungle. This is paradise. It’s radiant.
What I thought was hell the previous night, turns out to be the most extraordinary arrival to a hotel I’ve ever had.
It’s better than any red carpet. I paddle into the warm sea whispering: “I love it here”.
There are sea turtles, a subterranean river, a cave system plus stunning beaches that frequently make the Top 10 lists every year.
The island lies in the middle of the South China Sea far away from mainland Philippines but it’s not sleepy. There’s a lot to take in. The journey is long and even when you reach Manila, you’ve still hours to go before reaching this island.
Where to stay?
The Orange Pearl Beach Resort. It’s not glamorous but it is right on the beach and at night when the tide comes in, it’s in the water too! Bumping up against the sea was a tremendous experience. I wouldn’t swap our arrival for a red carpet at a five-star resort. Plus every night we came back from town, it was the same thing. From here on Marimegmeg Beach, you can zipline across to the next island, island hop by kayak, snorkel, have a massage or relax on a sun lounger. A rickshaw taxi into the main town takes around 10minutes.
Where to eat?
There are no Michelin star chefs but these cooks are no amateurs. Food is fresh and made from scratch. The fish jump straight out of the sea on to a barbecue then bam on to a dinner plate. The tasty fish, squid, prawns, lobster just sizzle under the flames, out on the streets by the water’s edge. The restaurants are often wooden shacks with tables on an uneven sandy floor with naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Nothing is state of the art but they’re full every night and the service is friendly.
Where to go out after eating?
There are lots of little bars in El Nido but try the German Bar. This place played a big part in my stay on Palawan. I think one night we did some singing but I can’t quite remember. Just like almost everywhere in this corner of the island, it’s not just on the beach but on the shore too so watch your step as you can easily end up in the sea.
Where’s the best beach?
There are too many great choices but I recommend Nacpan Beach. Go by scooter and drink fresh coconut straight out the shell.
Are there island tours?
Yes, and they simply known as Tours A, B & C. Tour A, runs everyday and is the most popular. It’s sold in the town and at almost all hotels. They take you to secluded lagoons, distant islands and hidden beaches.
How long should I stay?
This island has mystical powers so I recommend staying as long as possible because it’ll call you back plus it’s a long way to return.