El Nido has long been associated with the islands at Bacuit Bay including hidden lagoons, white sand beaches and magnificent karst landscape. The town itself, located on the main island of Palawan, used to serve only as a launching pad for tours to these islands as well as overnight accommodations for visitors. However, in recent years, previously hard-to-access beaches further inland or near El Nido proper have now been getting a share of the spotlight.
Hidden lagoons with crystal-clear turquoise waters ringed by imposing karst formations have been the defining picture of El Nido for years now. Despite the increasing popularity of other destinations here, most people visit El Nido for island-hopping, and more specifically for touring the lagoons of Miniloc Island. We normally prefer to visit less-known sites but the beauty of El Nido and the allure of these lagoons were simply too irresistible.
The Bacuit archipelago, with 45 islands and islets that contain steep and massive karst cliffs, white sand beaches, hidden lagoons and coral reefs, is easily the most toured part of El Nido in northern Palawan. Tour operators in El Nido Town offer four different whole-day packages for touring these islands, namely Tours A, B, C and D. The most popular are Tours A and C. We chose to start off our second day on El Nido with Tour C, promptly leaving the town at 9AM in the morning along with 17 other people aboard our motorized outrigger.
Our first encounter with this city was merely incidental. We were touring the island province of Siquijor and the nearest airport to the island happened to be Sibulan Airport near Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. Right after landing on Sibulan we headed straight for Dumaguete's port and boarded a ferry bound for Siquijor. On the way back to Manila we decided to have lunch and wait out our return flight for a few hours at the city. It was then that we realized we had been missing out on a tourist destination right then and there.
(Laguna) Nang ito ay marating ko
(Laguna) Para bang ako ay nagbago
(Laguna) Kakaibang damdamin
Sampaguita (written by Gary Perez)
It's not surprising that Pinoy rock queen Sampaguita would croon over this province. With its picturesque waterfalls, hot and cold springs, attractive churches and scenic lakes, Laguna is an indubitable plethora of natural, cultural and historical gems. And with its proximity to Metro Manila, the province is a no-brainer whenever we want a quick and easy getaway from the confines of our concrete jungle.
Eons ago, Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo, Rizal was the one waterfall we knew that was closest to the Manila metropolis. As kids we would always look forward to our visit to the Antipolo cathedral, the cashew stores and to Hinulugang Taktak, spurned on to swim in its waters by the famous local song about those falls. In the years that followed unfortunately, Hinulugang Taktak has been transformed into something closer to a cesspool, its waters polluted and filled with thrash; not so surprising since the falls are fed by a stream that runs through a densely populated municipality. (Recently however, the local government has initiated a rehabilitation of the place.) Our fascination with waterfalls in Rizal province would have ended there until we discovered Palo Alto Falls in Baras and another one in Tanay that we've heard about long before but never got to visit until very recently: Daranak Falls.
Our car was waved down by a little girl holding a handheld radio on the side of the road. Puzzled and amused we surmised that she must be the one controlling traffic on this end of the road going up the hill towards our destination. We've heard that the people here have a system in place to ensure that only one car will be on the road at any given time. Fine. But a little girl?
We've always made it a point to go on a vacation trip in December. However, the weather has grown so unpredictable lately that booking flights to distant destinations at this time of the year is a risky proposition. And typhoons that come during the month of December are among the strongest on record. That's what attracted us to Baler a quaint, remote town in the province of Aurora. Accessible by land from Metro Manila, we do not have to go through the risk of getting a flight cancelled. Baler has always been known as a surfing destination and we're not really into surfing. However, this town and its surrounding municipalities have so much more to offer besides riding the waves of the wild Pacific blue.
In times past we've always associated Leyte with the World War 2 landing site of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And perhaps the San Juanico Bridge which is still the longest bridge spanning a body of sea water in the Philippines. Besides those there was nothing about the island that we could associate with tourism, particularly attractive natural destinations. Fast forward several years later and we realized how much we have overlooked this province's beauty.