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Not so much has been said nor heard about my hometown of Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, except that it is aptly called the Tricycle Capital of the Philippines.
Monique Buensalido enjoys the beauty of El Nido on her own
There I was, sitting alone at the bow of the boat as it sliced through the cool, azure waters of El Nido, surrounded by happy canoodling couples— the only single person in a boat of pairs. It was like being stuck in a chick flick, and I imagined the couples were trying to figure out what I was doing there alone. Did my fiancé leave me at the altar, forcing me to go on my honeymoon alone? Did I finally break down after years of a high-pressure life and decide to seek solace in El Nido? Was I looking for someone to fall in love with?
Truthfully, I was just looking to fall in love with El Nido. After having been to other cities in Palawan, El Nido seemed even more captivating than its neighbors. The highlight of my visit to Puerto Princesa was the Underground River, while snorkeling and wreckdiving were my favorite things about visiting Coron. Now, in El Nido, it was the beauty of the place that really took my breath away.
It is believed that The Beach— the novel by Alex Garland set in Thailand that inspired thousands of backpackers to scour Koh Samui for secret beaches and Leonardo Di Caprio lookalikes—was actually inspired by El Nido’s fantastic white sand beaches, limestone islands, lush landscapes and crystal-clear waters. This natural beauty creates the perfect setting for romance, which is why countless couples choose this place for their magic moments and milestones: numeous proposals, weddings and honeymoons have happened here, both planned and spontaneous.
El Nido Resorts prides itself on being able to work with this natural splendor to help couples enjoy it even more. They arrange private lunches or dinners on different islands, as well as carefully craft picturesque weddings— dream it up, and they can make it happen. But even without a boyfriend, fiancé, or husband in tow, visiting El Nido is still an enchanting experience.
El Nido Resorts currently has three properties (and another one soon to open), and of all three, Lagen is considered the most luxurious and elegant. This beautiful resort seems like an organic part of the lush, forestridden island, cradling its own tranquil lagoon and surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is indeed perfect for romantic getaways. Nevertheless, I never got a chance to feel lonely here because everyone from the resort took such good care of me.
I had taken a short flight from Manila to El Nido—one of the daily flights offered by Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) to Lio Airport. I immediately felt the personalized and exceptional service that El Nido Resorts is known for. We had to take a boat ride to the resort, and we were shuttled to the dock in an oversized jeepney, even though the distance was walkable. Upon arriving, I was surprised that their resident manager, Melanie, already knew me by name and greeted me with a warm handshake and a big smile.
The staff had a knack for making me comfortable and taken care of without being too intrusive. During boat rides, they always had fluffy towels on hand so we could dry ourselves from the inevitable sea sprays. They also brought large tubs of potato chips to tide us over until our next meal. At the end of each day, I would find a dainty caramelized pili nut dessert and a happy “Good Night, Ms. Monique” message written on a leaf and lovingly placed on my bed. And there was always the view to keep me company—I would sit in my suite’s private balcony to read, then look up from time to time to gaze at Lagen’s private cove, at Bacuit Bay’s shimmering waters, at the peculiar rock formation in front of the resort.
Beaches are always romantic (long walks on the beach, anyone?), but there’s something even more enchanting about lagoons. As they are hidden away from the rest of the sea, these pools evoke a feeling of seclusion and mystery, and no other place highlights the majesty of the limestone cliffs and tranquil waters of Palawan than the Big and Small Lagoons. Once upon a time, according to scientists, these were actually large caves that eventually collapsed, leaving only the gorgeous limestone walls and lagoons.
From Miniloc Island, a small group of us took a boat to the Big Lagoon. As we stared at the fantastic cliffs, our boatman pointed out a small floating platform where most of the “magic” happens. El Nido Resorts can arrange candle-lit dinners and amazing proposals here upon special request. There was actually a couple sitting there when he pointed it out, who didn’t seem perturbed at the fact that a large group had crashed their party of two. They happily waved at us, with their feet dangling in the water. After a few minutes of swimming around, we left them to enjoy the lagoon and headed for the Small Lagoon. It was not as easy as letting the boat take us there, though. We had to strap on our snorkeling masks, slap on flippers, and swim through a small opening underwater. Our efforts were rewarded, however, with the expansive lagoon. Sheltered from the rest of the world, it was serene and quiet inside. As we admired our surroundings, the silence seemed to come over us, and we enjoyed the lagoon’s beauty in solitude.
I joined another group for an island hopping tour in the morning, determined not to miss any of the group activities that Lagen offers its guests. This was where I found myself the only thorn among the rosy honeymooning couples. Our first stop was Pinasil Island, a huge limestone rock with a large cavern, reminiscent of the high ceilings of baroque cathedrals, which can only be accessed by small boats. As our boat gingerly approached the cavern, we admired the lovely, naturally formed stripes on the walls of the cave, beautifully illuminated by the sun.
Next, we stopped at Vigan Island (more popularly known as Snake Island), which has a long and thin sand bar formed by two opposing currents. It only appears when it’s low tide, so it feels as if you’ve come across a beautiful treasure, a white hot strip of sand emerging from shimmering waters. You can even walk up to a view deck on the island to see the whole thing from a distance. As I walked along the sandbar, I realized that I was the only one walking by myself. Couples—even from other tour groups—were walking up and down the long S-shaped stretch (which is where it gets its nickname Snake Island) and transformed it into a lovely Lovers’ Lane. It was such a heartwarming sight; landscapes are beautiful, but there’s nothing like people—couples, especially—to infuse life into them. (The only problem was how to get them to take my picture without destroying their reverie.)
CLIMBING INTO CUDUGNON
Cudugnon Cave was our last stop, but, paraphrasing from The Lord of the Rings, one does not simply walk into Cudugnon. We found ourselves in a small cave, facing a small hole leading into another cavern. We were ready to go through the hole headfirst and subsequently squiggle our way in, but our guide laid a towel on the rocks and demonstrated how one would have to get in. The only way to get inside is to lie down on the rock, twist your body towards the hole, insert your legs, slowly let your body dangle inside and push off, all the while keeping your head low so you don’t hit any of the jagged rock edges. It infused a little challenge and adventure to our tour, and while we had all pretty much kept to ourselves for most of the day, we all cheered each other on as we carefully crept inside, one by one.
Once inside, I marveled at the majestic, amorphous limestone formations, cool to the touch and surprisingly vibrant with color. Our guide expertly showed us how to climb higher on the rock formations to get a closer look at what used to be an
ancient burial site during the Neolithic era. While most of these artifacts had been taken away for safekeeping and preservation, our guide pointed out some small items and said that they may be leftover teeth or bones.
After that, the couples got off at Dibuluan Beach Club to have lunch and soak up the sun, while I opted to go back to the comforts of Lagen. Suddenly, I was completely on my own, and as I rode the boat back to the resort, I realized I was actually thankful for my time here alone. More than a romantic getaway, I had been looking for that perfect, pure, and breathtaking
beach experience, and I finally got it in El Nido.
For more information on El Nido Resorts, phone (+63 2) 902 5980 (for Lagen Island), (+63 2) 813 0000 (from Mondays through Fridays, from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM) or (+63 917) 584 1576 (on weekends and holidays, from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM), emailor visit