Philippines - welcome to Paradise

Hello there!

I finally set foot in the Philippines, something I wanted to do for the past 10 years at least, and I was not disappointed. For once, my expectations were met and more!

Full disclosure: even as I am sure there is much much more beauty to this archipelago, I only concentrated my time to Palawan, because of El Nido, Coron, and - spoilers alert - the Tao Cruise.

In this day and age, when Instagram, Flickr and other Tumblr spoil you of the joy of discovering the beauty of foreign places, it was great to be able to be so taken aback by the sheer beauty of Palawan.

Day One: Arrival in Manila
After a very exhausting flight with a stop at Bangkok, I finally arrived in the early afternoon in Manila. I always find the drive from the airport very important, as that gives you a feel of what it's like to live in a capital city such as this, so I forced my eyes open, and I soon encountered these vehicles:
These, as I would find out later, are called Jubney, and it was my first time seeing so many of them, and so customized. And after a short while, I also saw these vehicles,
Much more touristy, but mainly used, as far as I could see, by Filipinos.

We finally arrived at my Hostel, Casa Nicarosa, a very central hostel not too far from the Marina.
After a nap (which was a huge mistake), I crawled out of bed and decided to go for a walk along the Marina, and that's when Manila first surprised me. Sights like this
Or this one
I did not expect this, and I really enjoyed it. I'm aware that this is a tiny bit of the metropolis, but as a first day, it pretty much set the mood for the rest of the trip.

Day 2: Taal Volcano
Today was a day trip Hiking the Taal Volcano. It turned out it was a private tour, as there was no other people to book this trip on that day. The driver gave me a quick lesson in History (which was really interesting to understand the melting pot that are the Philippines), then, when we arrived at the lake, to a resort that was part of the tour.
Lunch with a view
After lunch, we reached the hottest hours of the day, and took a boat to the volcanic island in the middle of the lake. As a side note, this tour, organized by Filipino Travel, has 2 pick up times: one at 8 and one at 10. I chose the one at 10, because I thought I would suffer from jetlag, but I would definitely recommend the one at 8, because the walk has some parts exposed to the sun, and you might want to avoid the hottest hours for that.

View along the walk, there are several craters in the Taal lake
I will not spoil anything, but this is definitely worth a visit. The walk is short, the views are amazing, and it is such an easy access from Manila that it would be a shame to miss it.

Day 3: Flight to El Nido
After a better night, I woke up early, since it was my last day in Manila, and walked further along the Marina, to enjoy the view
very occidental style
Then, after horrible traffic (every guidebook says so, but even more true when there are roadworks at the airport: allow a good 3-hour margin to go to the airport), I finally caught my plane to El Nido. Only ITI does daily trips to El Nido, and it is now situated in the Domestic Terminal of NAIA. I recommend you ask for a window, because the views along the way are beautiful.
and on arrival as well
After a warm welcome with food and singing, I took a tuk tuk whose driver was as lost as myself when it came to find my hotel, the Yolindas Tourist Inn. I had a cabin all to myself, further apart from the main hotel building, which was quite tranquil.

View from the restaurant - I do not recommend the food there
View from my room
Day 4: El Nido
Unfortunately, as this was the day before the Tao Cruise, I could not plan for a day trip, so I thought it would be a good occasion to relax. However, the part of El Nido where the hotel is situated is on Corong Corong, which was not close to town, even though it was close to the Tao office. So I walked up and down the beach:
Even though I took the time to swim in the clear water and enjoy, I was starting to get bored by the time the briefing was supposed to start.

Tao Cruise concept is "remote island experience", and it clearly addresses its message to travellers, not tourists. So before the day of departure, they assemble everyone and do a quick briefing on what we are supposed to expect in this tour. Mine was with the only - and unique - traditional Filipino sail boat they have, so they made the experience even more special.

After getting ready, I went to this restaurant called La Plage (I really didn't go there because it was French, but because it was known for having great food, and it was close to Tao house). The view is amazing, you are basically on the beach, and the food is indeed delicious
Sunset is better experienced through your senses, not your lenses
The next 5 days are about the cruise, and it is going to be very difficult to word how amazing the trip was. You have to experience it, and all the more with the sails, and language is failing to grasp the sensations. So I will let the pictures speak.
Day 5: cruise day 1
After gathering everyone at El Nido Port, we embarked on our beautiful wood boat, and set the sails North.
El Nido Port
with the sails open
During the day, we had different stops for snorkeling, but there was so jelly fishes that the experience was a bit tarnished. Also, we were still too close to El Nido to see a variety of fishes.

Day 6: cruise day 2
Sunrise in Cadlao basecamp
Sunset on another remote island
Day 7: cruise day 3
Ginto Island
Day 8: cruise day 4

Snorkelling stop - Takling island
lunch break - Cobra Island
sunset at Bulwang island
Day 9: cruise day 5 and arrival in Coron
Last sunrise of the cruise
Arrival at Coron, with the famous Hollywood-style hill
After hugging the crew and fellow explorers good bye, I arrived at Coron and was picked up by boat to my hotel for the next 5 days, Discovery Island and Dive Center
Pier to the hotel

Day 10: Dive day 1
As you can guess from the name, the hotel has its own Dive Center, so I jumped on the opportunity to see some wrecks. And I was not disappointed.

The first day of dives was epic, as we were wandering in the passageways of Akitsushima wreck, Okikawa Maru and Olympia Maru. I was afraid to have a claustrophobic reaction, but I was so amazed by the view and the path we were taking to be afraid of being 30 m under water and going through a narrow crack on the hull. There were things to see everywhere, and I often found myself spinning around just to try to grasp what was surrounding me.
on the way to one of the dives
I must admit that my former shipbuilding self was very impressed as well. These boats were standing as pieces of History, and now the Ocean was taking over in the most beautiful way.

Day 11: Dive Day 2
As this was the last day for the couple of divers I had joined the previous day, that day we "only" did one reef dive, one dive on the Skeleton wreck (very picturesque, as you can only see the beams of the structure remaining), and finally the Barracuda lake.
entrance to the Barracuda lake
Barracuda lake was an out-of-this-world experience, with the thermal water going up to 38C, and the underwater landscape was barren in a very intriguing way.

At the end of the day, I joined a couple of friends made on the Tao Cruise, and could appreciate the town vibe of Coron. There are a lot of delicious restaurants in Coron, and the one we went to served the best octopus dish I could taste on the trip.
sunset in Coron
Day 12: Dive Day 3
That day, I decided to rent a GoPro because I could not stand to see so many beautiful underwater landscapes without being able to keep a digital memory of it.

So we went to Kogyo, Tangat Maru and Teru Kaze Maru, and when I say "we", I mean my divemaster and myself, which did not spoil the fun, on the contrary.

Kogyo wreck - it used to be a construction ship
the outside hull of the Teru Kaze Maru

Day 13: last day in Coron
As it was my last day in Coron, and I was taking the plane the next day, we "only" did 2 dives.

One was at Siete Pecados, a gorgeous snorkeling spot, but at 18m, the current was quite strong, and after so many wreck dives in my mind, reef diving lost a bit of its spice.

The other one was called "Twin Peaks" because of the limestone rocks above the surface, and that's where I saw my first Filipino Barracuda.

Afterwards, the dive boat took me to 2 of the places I wanted to visit "above" the surface:
Kayangan Lake
Twin Lagoon
Twin Lagoon was particularly impressive with the clear water, and the mix of salt and fresh water fauna.

Since it was my last day on the island, I joined again my friends in the town centre, and we met at an Expat bar called the No Name Bar

Day 14: Flight to Manila, then home...
Unfortunately, the time had come for me to go back home, but this last flight above Coron was pure magic. Once again, I definitely recommend asking for a window when you book your ticket.

And that was it for the Philippines. It was as good as I hoped and more, every day was an experience for the senses, and even though I'm aware I did such a tiny bit of it, I'm purely satisfied with this trip. As usual, I will definitely come back.

What places would you recommend visiting in the Philippines?

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