White powdery sand, pristine waters and lush green palm trees. With over 7,000 islands to pick from, it comes as no surprise that the Philippines is home to some of the world most beautiful beaches – a paradise for any beach lover. While we’ve gotten more than our fair share of world class beaches (the Caribbean, Thailand or the Maldives, to name a few), Filipino beaches still stood out as some of the world’s best.
Arguably the most famous beach destination in the Philippines, the tiny island of Boracay lures a massive number of tourists every year. The main draw? The four kilometer long postcard worthy White Beach.
White Beach was utterly beautiful and wild. During the day, the wide strip of sand gave way to the gentle slope leading into the warm crystal clear water, where numerous sailboats waited to take tourists on a cruise across the beach.
Just as the sun began to set and the tide receded, some of the retreating waters became trapped by humps on the sand, creating mirroring lagoons. The downside was a muddy and wet surface to walk on. The upside, however, was an effect that created a sunset to die for.
The early evening sunset hours were by far some of our favorite times in Boracay. The hues in the sky were simply stunning. We spent hours and hours walking, sitting and lying on the sand while admiring the view of the out-rigged sailboats passing by with the perfect background.
After the last rays of sunlight that lit up the sky were gone, Boracay showed us its wild side. Combining tropical paradise with a selection of bars, that together with the palm trees, stretched for as far as the eyes could see, beach parties started all over White Beach. From pub crawlers to classy tourists, White Beach was filled with life that continued through the night.
In the morning, the beautiful Boracay was renewed – ready for yet another idyllic day. Boracay really lived up to its reputation. It had both quality beach and nightlife rivalling any and all beaches in SE Asia.
Island Hopping in El Nido
Before this trip was ever conceived, I remember sitting at home, watching an episode of the Amazing Race where competitors went to El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. It looked otherworldly. From that moment on, El Nido has been on my list of top destinations and both Julie and I couldn’t believe we were actually here in person.
From Puerto Princesa, we took a six hour van and finally set foot in El Nido, in the very north of Palawan island. The El Nido town was touristy and not particularly attractive. However, as soon as we hopped on a bangka (Filipino-style boat) and set sail into the Bacuit Archipelago, everything changed.
To better explore the archipelago, we took an island hopping tour that took us to several of these majestic islands. The view of the severe limestone mountains shooting out of the waves were reminiscent of those from Ha Long Bay – simply gorgeous.
Landing on several secluded beaches, we enjoyed the natural beauty of El Nido just like we imagined we would years before. Swimming, snorkeling or simply sitting on the sand, the views were lovely, albeit in cloudy and rainy weather. We could only imagine how much better the scenery would look under the bright sun (though we would have had to bother with more sunscreen).
Our boat took us through small passages between islands, into idyllic lagoons and beautiful reefs. We savored a barbecue lunch cooked fresh on one of the islands. While island hopping in El Nido didn’t look nearly as nice as it did on TV (mostly due to weather), we spent a day quietly savouring untouched beauty… and some of the softest sand we’ve ever felt between our toes.
Diving in El Nido
As we’ve mentioned, weather wasn’t on our side in El Nido. For the whole week we stayed there, it rained every single day. For a few hours here or there, we caught some sun peeking through the clouds, but sooner or later, it disappeared behind more rain. While unfortunate, we didn’t let that ruin our plans. We’ve had incredible weather for most of the past 11 months, after all, so we can’t complain. Plus it gave us even more reason to go diving in El Nido!
Even though we would have preferred more sunlight for even better visibility, the crystal clear waters of the Bacuit Archipelago were meant to scuba diving.
The first dive was at the Twin Rocks dive site, next to Miniloc island. For over 40 minutes, we explored the beautiful corals and saw some blue spotted stingrays swimming by us. The way to the boat was marked with strong currents which made swimming difficult and quite tiring – fortunately everybody made it back!
The South Miniloc dive site was next. One of the most popular in the area, it truly lived up to its fame. Only a few minutes in, we were swimming by a huge area covered with cabbage corals – the view was jaw-droppingly cool!
The patterns created by the corals were simple yet intricate – it was hard to swim away.
We also spotted a cuttlefish there. With its hypnotic movements and color changes, it was one of the most mysterious creatures I’ve ever seen. It was also incredibly fast! When we tried to get closer, it moved away so quickly it seemed like it had just instantly vanished from our sights.
The next sighting of interest during the dive was a nudibranch, showing its multitude of colours in one of the corals. These mollusks are known for being some of the world’s most colourful animals and we weren’t disappointed!
The last dive of the day was at the Natnat dive site, where we saw several types of clownfish and cute anemonefish swimming through the anemones. Unlike the first time we saw clownfish in Thailand, we had an underwater camera this time to take advantage of the situation and capture the best shots.
It was also at Natnat that some weird looking dendritic jawfish hid in their burrows, waiting for us to pass by so they could continue feasting off of planktons. Overall, I was really happy with the dives, and especially happy that I rented an underwater camera to capture all the magic we saw. The Philippines has some of the best dive sites in the world, so we’re glad we were able to squeeze in a few dives.
Our experience with beaches in the Philippines was exactly what we expected it to be. Partying in Boracay, island hopping and diving in El Nido, we had a blast and can only imagine all the other marvelous beaches that have yet to be discovered in this island nation. Philippines, we will surely be back for more!