Last December, the Unilever exec took a trip to the Palawan municipality and was reminded of the many reasons why it is a global favorite.
Last December, after nine months of being locked down in Manila during the pandemic, I was ecstatic to finally get the chance to travel to one of my favorite islands in the country—El Nido, Palawan.
The last time I visited the island was in 2018 when I joined the Tao expedition and sailed on a Parao (a local sailboat), from Coron to El Nido. That journey took all of five days and is probably one of my most memorable experiences to date. Punctuated by vistas of majestic limestone formations, vibrant sunsets and crystal clear, blindingly blue waters, the trip was breathtaking and I clearly remember docking in El Nido with sun-kissed skin and a grateful heart.
Named by Conde Nast as one of the “Best Island Beaches in the World,” based on their Reader’s Choice Awards last December, this island paradise is definitely a place that should be revisited. First things first though: Given the pandemic and the threat of COVID-19, I needed to know that strict safety protocols were in place when traveling from Manila to El Nido. I was relieved to discover that all visitors to El Nido were required to take PCR swab tests at least 48 hours before their flight. They also need to register via a QR code, which they will also use to submit hotel booking confirmations, itineraries, and test results.
Face masks, shields, and social distancing are also required from the moment you enter the airport in Manila, during the a-little-over-an-hour flight, while waiting for officials to check that all health requirements are in order upon landing, to the time you leave the airport in EL Nido. As an added assurance, the staff of Air Swift, the carrier that flies straight to Lio in El Nido from Manila are all tested for COVID-19 daily.
After putting my fears to rest, it was time to put my energy into preparing for the trip. Although one can opt to stay at El Nido Resorts like Miniloc, Lagen, Pangulasian for a travel bubble experience, I decided to stay in the main island where I could choose from an array of lodgings near town.
Two resorts stood out when I did my research and asked for recommendations. The first was Maramegmeg Beach Club, a boutique hotel located along the sandy stretch it was named after. The hotel currently consists of 12 rooms with the most captivating view of El Nido’s turquoise waters and limestone cliffs.
I opted to stay in Maramegmeg, which was a short 15-minute drive away from town. It afforded me the escape I needed without the feeling of isolation. It helped that the Maramegmeg Beach Bar, which is located in the hotel, is a popular watering hole known for a cool vibe, good music, and yummy nibbles.
I would highly recommend a stay in Maramegmeg Beach Club simply because the resort is gorgeous. With its lush and verdant landscaping, warm and unpretentious vibe, perfectly-situated infinity pool and majestic views, the resort provides a much-needed respite and escape for weary city-dwellers. Art lovers can also enjoy the pieces that are on display in the common areas, which are all part of the owner’s personal collection.
During my trip, I also discovered a new resort that seems to have made the rounds of various celebrities’ social media feeds in the last couple of months. Located around 40 minutes from town, Angkla Beach Club and Boutique Resort is a haven and hideaway that’s nestled along the stretch of white sand in Nacpan Beach. Angkla is perhaps one of the best new resorts in El Nido and well worth a visit, if not a stay. Don’t let the stretch of rough roads that lead to the resort deter you from experiencing what it has to offer because the place is sublime.
Upon arriving at the resort, I walked through a row of tall, lush greens. This led me to an opening that unexpectedly showcased the wide, impressive expanse of beautiful Nacpan Beach. After a brief moment of awe that left me speechless, I started to notice the beautifully appointed pool and main dining area. It was evident that a lot of thought, care, and attention to detail went into the design of Angkla. While it featured local elements and materials like cogon rooftops that seemed to have taken inspiration from the ubiquitous bahay kubo, the design aesthetics were modern, elegant, and understated. The rooms in Angkla reflect the same laid-back yet luxurious feel, providing a real sanctuary for discerning travelers.
While in El Nido, I also always make it a point to save a day for island hopping, particularly its popular lagoons. There you can rent a kayak to go around the limestone cliffs in the Big Lagoon or swim and snorkel in the Small Lagoon. A boodle lunch in one of the many islands is also a must. Given that there are now certain restrictions around the number of islands one can visit, it’s best to book the island ahead. I always ask the resort to help arrange these tours, including the delicious meal that their staff can prepare and set up.
One other must when in the island is a meal in Panorama, a long-standing restaurant and bar that’s known for the best Paella and the most glorious sunset sessions. Not all of the establishments that operated pre-pandemic were up and running and the island seemed a bit quieter during this last visit. But perhaps this only served to draw more attention to the very things that make El Nido a beautiful, incomparable, even magical island paradise.
It was indeed a joy and a gift to rediscover El Nido and its many wonders. And as always, I leave with sun-kissed skin and a most grateful heart.
The full spread on Derek Ramsay’s new home can be found in Volume 1 of Lifestyle Asia 2021.