The Beauty of El Nido and the Bacuit Islands
Alex Garland’s novel “The Beach” and its film adaption, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, put Thailand on the map for any South East Asian travel adventure but it is the mystery of the country’s untouched beaches that lured travellers to its shores. Supposedly the movie was filmed off the coast of Koh Phi Phi on Thailand’s Andaman coast but most travellers are unaware that Thailand wasn’t the inspiration behind Garland’s book – it was El Nido, Philippines, a picture-perfect archipelago untouched by typhoons, flooding or tourism.
El Nido concealed in a cove off Palawan’s northwest tip is famous for its crystal blue water, turquoise bays, abundant tropical fish, deserted islands, sandy white beaches, limestone cliffs and secret lagoons – which makes it a perfect get-a-way for couples, adventure seekers and those looking to relax on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Travellers to El Nido can fly into Palawan’s capital city, Puerto Princessa and either grab a bus (get there early as the last bus leaves at 7:30 am) or hire a private car to traverse muddy, unpaved roads. Alternatively, El Nido, the gateway to the Bacuit Islands, recently opened an international airport which makes traveling to the region seamless.
Town of El Nido
While the brown, stony beach in El Nido is nothing to write home about, it is the town’s surrounding 7000 islands, which makes El Nido an idyllic paradise. There are endless islands to visit and explore. I spent 3 full days swimming in turquoise coves, snorkeling with exotic fish and exploring hidden beaches. While every island is beautiful in itself, the most popular spots in the Bacuit Bay circuit are: Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, 7 Commando Beach, Entalula Island and Snake Island. Group tours start at $14 per person while chartering a private rickety boat will set you back $41. We managed to negotiate a full day tour and a supervised night on hidden beach, with all supplies and food for $47.
Not only is it beautiful to explore the various islands, the snorkeling is world-class. While I love diving, there were so many fish at the surface that it was almost unnecessary to dive. We saw sea turtles, mantas and squid. Our tour included lunch, which was fresh- very fresh. In fact, we had to catch our lunch, joining our guide Rodrick on his spearfishing mission. Once we caught a nice Lapu-Lapu we grilled the fish and ate it with our bare hands on the beach.
Hidden beach was by far the most spectacular beach, with its entrance shrouded in limestone – it would be impossible to find it without a knowledge guide, steering you in the right direction. Once I caught a glimpse of the beach I was overwhelmed by its crystal clear water – it wasn’t even blue or turquoise – it was clear. I hopped off our boat onto a pristine beach where I could hear the chattering of monkeys swinging on the swaying palm trees.
It is the archipelago’s untouched by law, which make this island group truly unique. While the majority of islands are deserted, there are several islands inhibited by small fishing villages and high end resorts, such as, the Lagen Island Resort and the undoubtedly more rustic Miniloc Island Resort. Although tourism is in its infancy, with the opening of El Nindo’s international airport the beauty of this archipelago is becoming more than a whisper.
Travellers can channel this own Robinson Crusoe experience by renting a boat, kayaking through the limestone cliffs and inlets, snorkeling through schools of fish, spearfishing, shark diving and even windsurfing on the crystal clear water. This archipelago has been named “Isle of the Gods” so it is no wonder that Alex Garland wanted to keep this magical place a secret.
El Nido is a magical paradise fit for anyone who loves water, beaches and utter relaxation.