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Published: December 4th 2010
There are some places in the world, where despite your best efforts with the camera, the photos just don't do it any justice.
The Bacuit Archipelago in Palawan is one of those places.
I first read about El Nido on travelblog, and since then, the Philippines has been high up on our 'must see' list.
The trip didn't have the most promising of starts due to delays out of Kathmandu and lost backpacks in Delhi, but one whole travelling day later, we found ourselves in Manila. After a quick two night stay in Makati, we were soon off on a domestic flight to Puerto Princesa.
When we landed at Puerto Princesa airport, we were greeted with pouring rain! I was secretly hoping for necklaces of tropical flowers but we were each handed an umbrella so we could run to the terminal without getting soaked!
We weren't expecting much from Puerto Princesa. We had heard that the capital of Palawan didn't offer much for visitors. Most people move either North or South pretty quickly.
We did likewise and after one night in Puerto, we made our way to the bus terminal with the intention of catching
a public jeepney to Port Barton.
Well, the intention was to catch the public jeepney but it appears that the Puerto to Port Barton service can be a bit unreliable. With the jeepney already long gone, we decided to save ourselves a bit of hassle and shelled out the ridiculous sum of 3500 pesos for a private van.
Passing through endless rain forests, the road to Port Barton was beautiful and quite enjoyable even though it rained off and on for the whole drive. The land seems to be so fertile here. Coconut palms, banana palms and every tropical tree you can imagine. It has been a long time since we have seen forests like this.
After three hours, the metal road came to an end as we were deposited at the little beach-side village of Port Barton.
As soon as we got to Port Barton the heavens truly opened and a monsoon type rain was dumped down on us. Despite the weather, Port Barton had a calming effect on us straight away. As soon as we arrived at our cottage at Summer Homes, our shoulders dropped and the stresses of travelling faded away. While the
main beach at Port Barton is nice, I wouldn't say it's spectacular. I think the size of Port Barton makes it relaxing. It's a chilled-out place that still get relatively few tourists.
On the second day the rain stopped and the sun came out in full glory, by 8:30am it was boiling! We were so happy to see blue skies that we decided to visit some of the neighbouring bays to find clearer water for swimming. After a bit of faffing about, we found a little paradise a few bays to the left.
Perfect white sands, clear water and towering coconut palms. There were a few little villas amongst the palms but the caretakers and two dogs were the only ones about. For the whole time we had this beach all to ourselves. It was absolute bliss – swimming, sunning, sleeping, swimming, sunning, sleeping. It was great at the time but we seriously paid for it the next day. Despite the sun screen, we were burnt to a frizzle and had to spend the whole of the next day hiding in the shade. Idiots!
After a few days chilling out in Port Barton, we managed to catch
a boat north towards El Nido.
El Nido town itself is certainly not the attraction. People come here to visit the stunningly beautiful Bacuit Archipelago. El Nido is the base from which most people visit. There are two luxury resorts out on the islands themselves but the huge prices make them a place to stay for those on a short trip or with deeper travelling pockets.
we had booked a room at 'The Alternative' in El Nido as I had read favourable blogs about it. As soon as we walked into the room we decided to head elsewhere. It was an total sweat box and right next to the bar. The guy was really good about it so we tried to make it up to him by booking our tours through him and eating a few meals at the restaurant which was really good.
We quickly realised that El Nido is definitely getting more discovered and therefore much more expensive. We ended up paying 1500 pesos for an air conditioned room with private bathroom but no sea views. Sea views would be much more expensive in El Nido these days.
Touring the Bacuit Archipelago is made
ridiculously easy. Every shop, hotel or street dog sells tours. These are conveniently broken down into Tours A, B, C and D. We had our own snorkelling gear so ended up paying 500 paseos each for Tour A and 700 pesos each for Tour C. Both tours included a delicious lunch that was cooked and served on a beach during the tour.
I can't remember the names of all the places we visited during the tours but there seemed to be a whole lot places called 'Small Lagoon' 'Big Lagoon' 'Secret Lagoon' 'Secret Beach' 'Hidden Lagoon' and the like.
I may not remember the names of everywhere we went but we will try to remember their beauty forever. Most places were accessible only after a swim through a rock or over a sand bank. You paddle through overhanging rocks, turn a corner and are met with paradise. We tried our hardest with the photos but they really do look rubbish compared to what is actually there. We did do a bit of filming so hopefully that will have captured the atmosphere of the place a bit more.
The sights below water were a bit disappointing. Much of
the coral appears to be dead and the fish life was nice enough but not exactly spectacular. We also saw loads of the evil 'Crown of Thorns Starfish' munching their way through the coral in some areas but on the plus side, we saw a huge turtle diving down underneath our boat and another smaller one inside a lagoon.
On one occasion the waves really picked up while we were inside one of the lagoons in Tour C. Our crew had to perform a bit of a rescue mission to get us all back on the boat. They carried each of the females on their backs through the waves and back to safety. Funnily enough, the men were left to fend for themselves.
When we weren't on island hopping tours we decided to hire kayaks and get a bit of exercise. We made a 45 minute paddle (it nearly killed me!) out to a little island that a French guy described as a private paradise.
Indeed, paradise it was. We stayed their for most of the day, swimming in the shallows and sunbathing. After a few hours we made for the shade. Behind us was nothing but
rocks and jungle. We thought we were totally alone until we heard a rustling in the bushes. I turned around just in time to see a HUGE green and yellow snake slivering over the rock less than two meters away from us.
Before Chris even knew what was happening, I screamed ''SNAKE!!!'' and was at the waters edge and pushing the kayak out to sea. That was the end of our lovely time on the deserted beach.
Yes, the Bacuit Archipelago is a total gem. We really hope that all future tourism in the area is carried out carefully and this special place isn't ruined. As yet there are no Full Moon Parties and those involved in tourism are still actually quite friendly! There are literally hundreds of untouched beaches here yet it only gets a fraction of the visitors Thailand receives. By comparison The Bacuit Archipelago is unspoilt but already the prices are beginning to rise and the crowds are slowly building. This place is definitely going to seeing some big changes in the next ten years.
(There are 60 photos on this blog, click on the grey 2 or 3 below, to see them all)
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