Forget Barbados’ beaches and the white-washed sands of the Seychelles, because there’s a new hot-spot destination for 2013.
Unlikely to be on your places-to-visit wish list, mainly because those in-the-know speak of it in hushed tones (once you catch sight of the stretches of deserted beaches and clear-as-glass expanses of aquamarine waters you’ll appreciate why) but *whispers it* the Philippines won’t be flying under the radar for too much longer.
Boasting over 7,000 barely-touched islands, hidden coves, unspoilt coral reefs, breath-snatching cliff faces and rice terraces. The Philippines feels like the final frontier.
And nowhere more so than the country’s largest province, the lazy hazy Palawan archipelago.
With over 1,000 islets of its own and just a handful of resorts (even on the largest and most popular islands) it’s an obvious choice for a first visit (bypassing the already over-visited but still beautiful Boracay). Surprisingly accessible from the overwhelming sprawl of the Philippines’ gate-way city and capital Manila, simply jump on a boat or plane to central Puerto Princesa, known as the culinary capital, where you should then shotgun a window sea on the 19-seat turbo-prop plane that soars over the picture-perfect islands up to Bacuit Bay, on the northernmost tip of Palawan.
Bordering the South China Sea, Bacuit Bay is the epitome of ‘heaven on earth’ and supposedly the true location on which Alex Garland’s The Beach is based. A garden of Eden amongst the world’s over-subscribed tourism industry, it is defined, somewhat inevitably, by its’ watery surrounds and yet there is so much more to this idyll than meets the sub-aquatic eye. Luscious green forests, precarious cliff-faces and mountainous peaks unearthing babbling rivers and hot springs, will satiate even the most hardy of adventure-seekers. Whilst the mill-pond still natural lagoons (like soaking in a balmy bath) and jet-ski free reefs offer divers, snorkelers and water-babies alike a dazzlingly bright, equally untouched, subterranean world.
Resorts on the Palawan peninsular are as breathtaking as the surrounds, but equally as insouciant. Choose from thatched beach-front cottages set against a rugged, rainforest backdrop, palm-shaded villas which sit almost at the sea’s edge, or the more luxurious but far-from-ostentatious private island resorts boasting aqua infinity pools, indulgent spas and acres of for-your-pleasure-only tropical paradise.
When (or should that read, if) all the headspace gets too much, head to the lone village of El Nido, surround yourself with Palawan culture and indulge in a locally-sourced diet of freshly-caught fish, unusual fruits and vegetables including delandan – a delicious thirst-quenching orange-esque fruit and Kalamansi – a sparkling Filipino lime that is squeezed over fresh tangigi (tuna) and maya-maya (snapper).
So paradisiacal is Palawan and the Philippines that I’ll even admit to having a slight loathe-to-share-the-love moment just writing this for fear of one of the true final frontier’s being discovered by the rest of the world.
For those paradise-seekers willing to travel the extra thousand air miles (and believe me when I say you will not be disappointed) do so with Malaysia Airlines (part of the OneWorld Alliance) who offer fantastic non-stop connections to South East Asia (Bali, Jakarta, Koh Samui, Phuket, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Manila, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Rangoon) from the UK thanks to their new Double Daily Flights aboard the Airbus A380. Experience a 5 star service that includes the best cabin crew to fly the skies and an overly generous baggage allowance of 30kg for economy class, 40kg for business and 50kg for first – although if you’re heading to Palawan we can’t imagine you’ll need (or want) too many worldly possessions to bring you back to civilisation aside from a handful of bikinis, a pair of sandals and a couple of soon-to-be-sunbleached dresses.
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