Pictures simply cannot do this place any justice (Bacuit Archipelago, Palawan, Philippines)

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October 3rd 2009
Published: October 7th 2009
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(Day 546 on the road)There are places in the world that are just perfect for people taking pictures of them. And then there are places like the Bacuit Archipelago in the Philippines where I am at the moment, that no matter how many pictures you take of them, their true beauty can never be captured in a photograph. This place here is so amazing I sometimes had to pinch myself to believe it is real.

I must say that I don't get this feeling too often these days, this feeling of being completely awestruck by a landscape or a sight, so when it happens I cherish it all the more. I think the more beautiful things I see on my travels the more difficult it becomes to excite me. Don't get me wrong, I am far from being tired of travelling. The sensation is probably best compared to endorphin, which the brain produces when you are happy. But as time goes by and you adjust to the sensation, you need a stronger and stronger stimulus to get the hormones going. I feel it is similar in a way for travels, especially when certain sights are nearly identical; temples are a good example of this for me.

But the Bacuit Archipelago does not fall into that category at all. It is essentially a cluster of countless limestone islands and islets of all kinds of shapes and sizes that are sprinkled across the ocean in northern Palawan. The best point of access is from the pretty and laid-back beach town of El Nido, which is geared towards tourists but has, take note, no ATM. The last ATM is located eight hours away by bus in Puerto Princesa. So bring plenty of cash, as it is likely that you will stay longer than intended. I did.

But before reaching El Nido however Evgenia and I spent two nights in Sabang, the stepping stone for the famous underground river. The river can be accessed by small rowing boats, and after a pleasant one-hour hike to the cave entrance we were soon inside taking in the great stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Back in Sabang, we were caught at the edge of the devastating typhoon Ondoy (for some reason called Ketsana in other parts of the world). Not known to us at all at the time (Sabang has no electricity so we were cut off from the outside world), it was the worst typhoon that hit the Philippines in almost 50 years, killing over 300 and destroying the homes of more than 500.000 people. An unbelievable tragedy for this poor country.

In Sabang, the typhoon was bad but not as bad as in and around Manila. During the night the storm was pretty hard, lifting the roof off our bamboo bungalow and causing a few small stilt houses to collapse. The typhoon started with heavy, almost continuous rain and mighty winds around noon, which made for some amazing waves. We spent a long times in the water and had childish fun body-surfing the huge waves. Some of them were so powerful it literally hurt if they caught you.

Two days later we took the bus to El Nido. The seven hours bus ride on the muddy dirt road was rather uncomfortable. It was raining constantly, and we had the choice to either sweat like pigs inside the bus with the windows closed or to get wet from the rain coming in with the windows open. Not an easy decision! Our bags were on top of the bus, and pretty much everything we had was soaked by the time we reached El Nido in the late afternoon. And with the high humidity and ongoing rain most things would remain wet for the next few days.

Once in El Nido, we were forced to sit around for another two days waiting for the storm and rain to subside. On the plus side, we had found a lovely room (thanks for the tip Karen!) and were able to pick up free wifi from the upmarket hotel across the street - how convenient. We also ate copious amounts of bananas, which cost just one pesos a piece. At the current exchange rate, you can buy 69 bananas for one euro here, unbelievable! Consider that the next time you pay a euro for maybe four or five bananas in your average European supermarket. On day three and four the weather was finally sunny and clear; most of the amazing pictures I took are from these two days.

And as mentioned earlier exploring the archipelago by boat was just unbelievable. There are so many islands with hidden bays and deserted golden beaches it would take a lifetime to explore them all. The locals offer three main tours (A, B and C). I did all of them as I couldn't get enough of the places, but if you are pressed for time do them in the order A, C, B. Especially tour A with the Small and the Big Lagoon is breathtaking. Snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Small Lagoon with visibility of 15 to 20 metres was without a doubt the highlight of my stay in Palawan.

After spending almost a week in El Nido, leaving the place with the prevailing weather conditions and another typhoon approaching was by no means easy. More to come on that in my next blog entry...

Next stop: Coron (Palawan, Philippines).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


7th October 2009

Indeed, pictures can't do justice to that place
But great pictures you have, nonetheless.
7th October 2009

breath taking
i have seen your pictures before and i think the phillipeans would be the most beautiful place on earth. i just seen your have spent 546 days on the road, and i wanted 2 know how you afford that? do you work on the road? please get back to me im planning my adventure for next summer. thanks
8th October 2009

NYC/ must meet U and your mom
If you come to the east coast . U must contact me. I 'd love to meet your mom too. I bet she is about my age or younger? Love your pictures and blog. Patricia
8th October 2009

Looks amazing Ben.. we are so looking forward to our time there but plans are changing by the day. We now think we might go at the end of this month (my sister is meeting us there) stay for 21 days then fly out to KK then fly back for another 60 days and take in the festival that is there mid January. means we'll be there over xmas which could be expensive but at least we'll get nearly 3 months there to do many things as it all looks amazing.. your blogs are making us want to go even more! Will look forward to your next edition back from Indonesia.. we'll be interested to see how you get on with your route as it's one we'd have liked to have done if we had more time on our visa! take care
8th October 2009

We were in El Nido for a week exactly at the same time last year....what a souvenir...and yes indeed , the place is just one of the nicest beach/sea in the world...and I've seen my fair share of them! Great entry!
8th October 2009

We will be in Coron this weekend with a couple of my co-workers! now, you just made me alot more excited! YAY! can't wait to see Palawan! ... just the time needed to try and forget the trauma brought by Typhoon Ondoy.
8th October 2009

hi ben, i just read parts of your blog about the philippines. i will travel there myself october, 17th. i want to visit siargao island for surfing and palawan. can you recommend a god place to stay in el nido? it was good to get some first hand information of the weather situation as i am indeed a bit scared to go after all you hear about the floods in the northern philippines and the earthquakes in indonesia. have a good time a be save! marc/ berlin
8th October 2009

Sorry, forget to sign my comments, it was us! Peter
8th October 2009

typhoon joy
it rained all the way on that journey for me too, but we were the lucky ones, the other guys from Banwa took a private van (at considerably more pesos) and they got stuck in the mud... and i sent you that photo from Coron to make you feel better do you remember? the miserable grey one? i assume you wont be diving in coron? Do go to the hot springs especially if its raining. late afternoon to early evening is the best. enjoy.
16th October 2009

How are you?
Hope you are doing fine there. Metro Manila is a mess. Flooded yesterday, many stranded, some without homes, cars left "drowning" in streets. We have no water here at home. Thankfully, we have power though our cable tv is not working. Stay safe.

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