When Filipinos went to watch The Bourne Legacy, the Hollywood movie starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz that was partly filmed in the Philippines, most of them left the movie house not really pleased with the way the country was depicted.
Manila, they say, is a character, but the movie did not do it justice. Instead of the picturesque gritty city, what were shown instead were the financially-challenged communities, disappointing heavy traffic, and incompetent police men.
Unlike most of them, however, I was one happy movie goer because of one thing: El Nido.
That feeling of excitement that some of our kababayans probably felt when Manila was mentioned for the first time in the movie, I had that moment 60 seconds to its ending. In the film’s closing frame, Renner and Weisz were seen on a boat in the middle of a vast sea with numerous islands and towering limestone formations around them.
My heart almost leaped with joy for a few seconds the moment I recognized Pinagbuyutan Island from afar. It’s my favorite piece of paradise in El Nido, which variably looks like a big chunk of heart or a baby elephant, depending on where you are coming from.
Sublime and grand yet laidback
I have always been fascinated with El Nido’s beauty. I find it to be sublime and grand at the same time. There is a sense of tranquility wherever you go, and you certainly feel that even when you think the wow-inducing, jaw-dropping vista of Big Lagoon is just a little too much for your senses the first time you lay your eyes on it.
But it is not just El Nido’s impressive landscape that boasts of jagged limestone formations, or its pristine beaches which make the best playgrounds for beach worshippers, that endear visitors to this place. There is a laidback lifestyle that is evident in this little town, one that allows you to slow down and forget your worries that certainly belong to the city.
With 45 islands and islets to choose from, El Nido is possibly the Philippines at its finest. Whenever I talk with foreign travelers in the country, I tell them with excitement to visit Palawan. And when speaking about the country’s last frontier, it is almost always that I end our conversation with, “I tell you, you’re going to fall in love with El Nido.”
Because everyone who had been to these fascinating islands did, including author Alex Garland, who is believed to have been inspired by El Nido’s secret beaches when he wrote his popular novel “The Beach.” Even the location manager of “The Bourne Legacy,” Dow Griffith, boldly proclaimed El Nido a paradise after wrapping filming there.
In Donsol this year, I met a traveler from Spain who celebrated his birthday in one of the islands of El Nido with his girlfriend. He couldn’t help but gush about just how beautiful it is, and said that for the first time in his travels around Asia, he was actually at a loss for words to describe the kind of experience that one stumbles upon in El Nido.
Another friend of mine traveled to El Nido with her family last year and before I knew it, she was back again after a week. While on leave from her PhD studies in Singapore this year, she kept going back to the islands every month since May.
Before El Nido, she was mainly a mountain person. The islands that comprise the Bacuit Archipelago, she says, are just uniquely different.
After all, one never runs out of things to do in El Nido.
Island-hopping and diving
The island-hopping tours alone take you to a number of lagoons, one of which is the Small Lagoon, where visitors have to swim through a small opening when it is high tide just to get to it. You can also climb one of those rock formations in Shimizu Island while you wait for your lunch to be served.
Or you can hike the hill which affords you with a good view of Snake Island, which is really a winding piece of sandbar that disappears when it is high tide. You may also want to explore the Cathedral Cave, so named because of its façade and high ceiling that reminds one of a cathedral.
You can sunbathe in Entalula Island, where the white sand is as powdery as those in Boracay, or you can simply enjoy a coconut drink while relaxing at the beach of Seven Commandos. When you are feeling a little bit more adventurous, go on the island-hopping tour that will take you to Matinloc Shrine and have fun anticipating the Hidden Beach to appear.
Of course, swimming and snorkeling are two things that you should not take for granted when on these island-hopping tours. El Nido is also home to numerous diving sites.
But even just walking or biking around El Nido town presents one with an experience that is as totally satisfying as your water adventures.
The place echoes an undeniable rural appeal, and you get a dose of that just by admiring the houses that are set against towering limestone rocks, or from fishermen with their freshest and biggest catch whom you meet while you make your way to the market.
You can also wait for the sunset in Corong-Corong while you observe the nearby fishing village go on with its daily life. Alternatively, you can head to Las Cabanas, a private beach which is a 10-minute tricycle ride from the town center. Here, you can also enjoy the sunset while you ogle at the grandness of Pinagbuyutan Island nearby.
If it is an experience that you don’t want to really forget, dare to climb the Taraw, the cliffs providing a scenic backdrop to El Nido town proper, for an aerial view of the place.
My love affair with El Nido started in 2010 when I went to Palawan to celebrate my birthday. I have been returning every year since, each time finding myself coming back sooner than I expected to.
During my first visit, I remember Typhoon Juan was still threatening the country and the weather that greeted me in El Nido was just depressing. If not for the imposing beauty of Cadlao Island and the enchanting vibe of this little town, I would have taken the next trip out of El Nido. I was alone for my birthday and I certainly didn’t want to celebrate it within the four walls of my native room.
But El Nido knows how to reward its visitors who endure the six-hour trip from Puerto Princesa, the last hour of which is spent on a rough road, or those who brave the tiring six- to eight-hour boat ride from Coron, which I tried during my last visit to the island in March this year.
This is why more than getting interested in the prolonged Manila chasing scene in “The Bourne Legacy,” I found myself feeling more excited at the kind of life awaiting the characters that Renner and Weisz play in the movie when they were shown traveling in El Nido.
El Nido, obviously, was a fitting finale to all their adventures. It is a new horizon that promises rugged fun and soulful journeys. I am sure they are going to find the sense of bliss and tranquility that I love about El Nido, which every traveler has also found in these islands.
Just recently, the popular travel guide Lonely Planet has named Palawan on its Best in Travel 2013 list. I am certain that the editors have El Nido in mind when they announced this.
So, what are you waiting for? Head to El Nido now!
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 🙂
- *As it appeared on www.gmanetwork.com.
- Except for the food photo which was taken in March 2012, all other photographs on the first collage were taken in October 2012. All photographs were shot using a Canon 550d.
- Laidback El Nido afternoon taken in October 2012; Snake Island photograph in March 2012; El Nido sunset taken from Corong-Corong in May 2011, all taken with a Canon 550d. Photograph of Juanderkid on a bicycle was taken in October 2010 with a Sony T90 digicam.
- Second collage photographs: diving in October 2012, jump shot taken in October 2010, sunbathing against Cadlao Island taken in May 2011, Juanderkid does an Oblation in March 2012. Except for the jump shot that was taken with a Sony T90 digital camera, all other photographs were taken with a canon 550d.