Close your eyes and envision floating in the calm azure waters in the middle of the ocean with luminous fish and coral just beneath you. In the distance, you can hear the sound of waves and palm trees rustling in the gentle wind that promises to carry your woes away. In the past, we have tried hard to visit the Philippines but work, thunderstorms and life just always got in the way. Nevertheless, Sachet (my husband) only turns 30 once and celebrating in the middle of a lagoon in the Philippine Sea with speedboats whisking us away to deserted islands or swimming with whale sharks seemed befitting.
The Philippines is everything a water baby could ever want. The country consists of 7000 + islands, unique wildlife both in the water and above, rice fields as far as the eye can take you and our all-time favourite – sunny skies, coconut trees and turquoise waters.
Below is how we spent our 10 days roasting on white sandy beaches and swimming in the sea.
Day 1 – Day 2: Hello Cebu
Cebu is a warm, sleepy city that provides the perfect base for those looking to visit Kawasan Falls/ canyoneering and whale shark swimming. We chose to stay close to the airport from where we used a trusty tour company (Island trek tours) to take us to the falls and slip in a few hours to swim with whale sharks. Caution: If you decide to do these activities in one day (as we did), your day will begin at 3.30 AM with a pick-up from your hotel followed by a 3-hour drive to Oslob from where you officially begin your tour. The bigger question here is – Is it ethical to swim with whale sharks when they’re being force fed by locals? We read countless articles online that were dead against it while some suggested it was being done responsibly as opposed to illegally on the sly. We decided to give it a shot and to our surprise, it was managed extremely professionally by locals who seemed to genuinely care about protecting these beauties. Downside? I was stung by what seemed like about a 100 jellyfish while swimming with the whale sharks – perks of having fun!
The day proceeded with a 4-hour canyoneering adventure that led to the Kawasan Falls. One of the best experiences we’ve had while traveling that included jumping off cliffs, sliding down a water hole and swinging like Tarzan over turquoise blue waters. It’s important to note that Kawasan Falls is extremely busy through the day with countless tourists scrambling for photos; therefore the canyoneering experience was far more enjoyable than the actual falls.
Day 3 – 5: Goodbye Cebu, hello Palawan
A short flight to Coron from Cebu and we were bang in the middle of the most beautiful setting one can envision. Enter Paolyn Houseboat – a true oasis in the middle of a lagoon flanked by the famous twin lagoons and Kayangan Lake. Words cannot describe how incredible an experience it is to wake up each morning and jump in to the varied coloured waters of the lagoon or paddle around your residence in the middle of the day. Breakfasts are brought to your outdoor seating area, cocktails to your bed and post dinner star gazing sessions are held on the upper deck making it a truly unique setting.
Each morning we set out kayaking or renting Paolyn’s private speedboat that took us to several sightseeing and snorkeling spots in Coron. Some of these were Twin Lagoons, Barracuda Lake, Kayangan Lake and any island/sandbank you may point at. Sunsets and sunrises are not to be missed in Coron as each day brings forth a different hue of the sun beaming over the calm waters.
Day 6 – 9 – El Nido all day everyday
Just when we thought things couldn’t get much better, we arrived in El Nido. Located off the beaten part and neatly hidden from the main strip in El Nido is Cadlao Beach Resort positioned directly on the rocky beach. From here, we hopped on to our private boat and set sail in search of more islands and fish to snorkel with. Skipper Charters was our tour company that provided a first class experience in the form of a top quality speedboat, like-minded travel companions, lunching on a private island and discovering hidden lagoons for snorkeling with more fishies and turtles. El Nido has 4 main tours to pick from (A, B, C, D) with Tour B and D being the least popular with more chances of exploration outside the regular tourist spots. Our chosen Tour was D.
Our days in El Nido were relaxed with each passing day spent either walking the island main strip, trying local foods or hopping on a long tail boat in search of deserted islands.
Though we highly recommend renting a boat and exploring the neighbouring islands of El Nido, another way to spend your day can be found just a few kilometres driving distance away. Once you’ve negotiated a fair tuk tuk price; below are the beaches within El Nido that you can explore:
- Nacpan beach – the most popular and for good reason. The sand is soft, waves calm and beers chilled straight from the nearby beach clubs.
- Las Cabanas beach – Hang at the Las Cabanas beach club when here slightly, off the main tourist radar.
- Seven Commandos or Halo Halo Beach – Ideal for spending the day swimming and sunbathing.
- Papaya beach – Short boat ride or kayak from the main island. Spend the day on hammocks with a beer.
Day 10 – Farewell
Once an off-the-beaten destination for many, the Philippines has slowly gained popularity among travelers in search of tranquility and beauty at a reasonable price. You are never too far from the next island when in the Philippines and the opportunities to explore whether on land or water are infinite. No amount of days are enough when discovering this island nation and we would return in a heartbeat to experience this and more all over again.
How to get there: Singapore Airlines from all major cities
Best time to visit: November – May (dry months)
Best known for: Sunshine, blue waters, palm trees, Kawasan Falls and whale sharks
- Island Trek Tours – Whale shark swimming and canyoneering in the Kawasan Falls (Cebu) Island Trek Tours
- Skipper Charters – Island hopping (El Nido) Skipper Charters
- Cebu – Appleton boutique Hotel Cebu
- Coron – Paolyn Houseboat & Restaurant
- El Nido – Cadlao Beach Resort