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Hollywood actress Rachel Weisz, while shooting for Bourne Legacy, called this archipelagic town as the “Emerald City” and “paradise island”. But for us Filipinos, we simply call it the “World’s Best Island” based on the perennial accolade given by the prestigious magazines Conde Naste and Travel & Lifestyle.

Located in Palawan’s northernmost part, El Nido has been one of the country’s premiere international getaways even before it became the breath-taking closing scene in the 2012 movie. Declared by the Unesco as a Marine Reserve and Biosphere, it is a natural playground which boasts of the Philippines’s rarest marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

With a 62,966-hectare land area, 64 islands, and a 103-km road network, there is much too discover in this enchanting town, which has the fortune of being Covid-free. Beyond its sought-after beaches, it is a consummate blend of merry mix of nature, adventure, culture, and everything in between.

With the gradual reopening of its economy, bubble trips were organized by El Nido Resorts, the town’s major tourism player, last July under tightly-controlled conditions and stringent health standards.

The municipal government for its part has authorized the resumption of island-hopping, which is a must-do activity even among locals.

Aerial view of Lio Beach

Pit Stop 1. Lio Tourism Estate. The town’s aerial gateway for decades, the coastal barangay of Lio evolved into a master-planned recreational enclave in recent years. With four boutique hotels, an adjacent four-star brand, several restaurants, bars, retail shops, public beach, playground parks, it is a new hub for leisure and entertainment a few minutes away from the población.

The property exudes a jolly and active vibe with its play of colors, ethnic artist motifs, obstacle course facilities from upcycled discarded materials, and the use of bicycles as the transportation within the sprawling area.

Last year, it opened a mountain eco-trail to provide a complete “ridge to reef” experience to its guests.

It also has a private jetty which serves as the jump-off to the idyllic limestone cliff islands scattered around the serene Bacuit Bay.

Author at South Miniloc dive spot
The author kayaking at Big Lagoon

Pit Stop 2. El Nido Island Resorts. The pioneer chain which has been the paragon of tropical luxury and sustainable tourism, it operates Miniloc, Pangulusian and Lagen resorts in the heart of the mesmerizing archipelago.

Currently, only Miniloc is operating at half-capacity on scheduled four-day bubble tour packages to restore people’s confidence in traveling. Dubbed as the Eco-Discovery Island, the Filipino-themed resort is home to the iconic Big and Small Lagoons, which has graced countless posters, calendars, and websites.

Under the bubble tour, guests can hop around the Instagrammable islands of Dibutuan, Entalula, Snake Sandbar, and Codognon Cave. The more active ones can snorkel, paddle a kayak or stand-up paddle board around the nearby coves, or stroll within the woods to spot rare birds and monitor lizards.

Scuba divers can plunge into the wondrous waterworld of some 20 dive sites, most notably South Miniloc which has a profusion of cabbage coral gardens, schools of fishes, such as yellow line snapper, barracuda and rudderfish.  

But despite the many adjustments due to the compliance to government MGCQ regulations, the God-endowed natural wonder and the resort’s personalized guest care are more than enough to compensate for all inconveniences.

The good news is, the opulent Pangalusian Island Resort will run its first trip in mid-October, and Lagen, hopefully before yearend.

Pit Stop 3: Marimegmeg Beach.  El Nido’s new beach colony south of the town proper, this is a swell place to frolic in the powdery sand and watch an equally-kaleidoscopic sunset which are good for a traveler’s mental health, after months of quarantine. A public beach lined with bars, restos, and homey resorts, it boasts of a zipline which glides you to Depeldet Island over the water.

Pit Stop 4: Sibaltan Beach. Get a taste of local culture and rural life in this eastern fishing village barangay 35 kms away from the town proper. Despite limited water and electricity, this is frequented by those yearning for a back-to-basics experience.

It takes pride in its replica of the ancient pangko boat, a modest archaeological museum and the Balay Cuyonon, which all showcase the cultural heritage of the pre-colonial people and Cuyonon tribe of northern Palawan.

A hip and cheap mode of mobility in beach-combing within the mainland is the tricycle which is spacious and trendy which imitated the looks of popular Japanese cars.

When Rachel Weisz said she can live here forever, don’t take her word for it. Make your own version of a great escape to El Nido for a complete sea, air and land journey.

MAIN photo shows the Miniloc Island Resort

Travel Advisory: Those intending to escape to the islands should contact El Nido Resorts to get the monthly schedules, package costs and conditions of the so-called bubble trip. Guests will be slated for a RT-PCR or swab test 3 days before the flight, and get a negative result before they are given the go-signal to join the tour. 

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