Sun, sea, sand and a swim – as far as I’m concerned, a trip to Asia just isn’t complete without all of the above. And if there’s one thing the Philippines does well, it’s a good beach.
After leaving beautiful Boracay, with its dazzling aquamarine waters, shimmering sands and seven hour long happy hours (just check out my Best of Boracay for Backpackers Part 1 and Part 2 to see what I mean), I had to wonder if I’d been spoiled.
What if every time I got to know a new beach, I turned up my nose and sniffed, “Well, Boracay didn’t do it like that”? What if I just let all other beaches pass me by while I sat in my room and reminisced about my glory days at Boracay? What if Boracay’s colours were simply too vibrant and all other beaches would pale into monochromic insignificance in comparison?
Just kidding. Sure it was sad to say goodbye and Boracay would always hold a special place in my heart, but onward and upward! I was confident in the fact that there are plenty of beaches left in the sea. Ahem.
So, off we went to our next chosen Eden – Palawan. A longer, wilder island, with underground caves, rugged landscapes, glorious waters, and a couple of little backpacker havens situated just at its northern tip.
You may have heard of El Nido (post coming up about that quirky little town soon), or ‘the nest’ to translate from the Spanish name. This was the town that Alex Garland was rumoured to have stopped in on his travels, the backpacker community that inspired his best-selling debut novel, The Beach.
El Nido has grown up around backpacker convenience – it is the hub where those willing to embark on the 5-7 hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa are rewarded with access to the bountiful treasures of Bacuit Bay. Relatively undiscovered treasures too, I might add – the tourism here is low key and although El Nido likes to knock back a drink or two, it is nowhere near the hectic hustle of the Haad Rin hordes. The electricity still goes out every day, the digs are rustic and no frills, and although the food and drink scene is pretty sweet, it still retains that authentic, travelling community ambience… Just book that ticket to the Philippines now!
The beaches are a lot like the towns – relaxed, laid-back and friendly. However, do remember that nobody swims at the town beach. The waters aren’t clean and there is way too much boat traffic. Instead hop in a trike and ask for Las Cabanas beach.
Go in the morning – partly as its fun to be there alone before the weary travelling folk rise from sleeping off their hangovers and partly because the light at that time of the morning is pretty much how I imagine God would set it in heaven. Like he would literally turn down the dimmer to the ‘Las Cabanas’ setting, and we’d all be like, “Seriously God, your lighting scheme is sick.”
Imagine, a quiet, sweeping crescent of sand – perfectly white and perfectly soft. The rippling waters of the Sulu Sea are calm here in this sheltered bay – it’s practically like a lake. Exotic coconut palms fringe the shore, gazing out at the rugged karsts of Bacuit Bay, silhouetted on the horizon. And unlike many other beaches on this part of the coast, the water is deep enough to swim.
But the very best thing about Las Cabanas beach? There are NO hotels in sight. No resorts. No nothing. Well, actually there are two very rustic stands selling drinks/chopping open coconuts and ONE proper bar. So you can use a proper toilet, buy some food if needs be and basically enjoy just enough convenience on the side of this gloriously unspoiled, slice of fried gold.
This, my friend, is either a Bounty commercial, or paradise. But with the signs that show the coconut grove behind the beach has been bought for development, you can be sure that it won’t be long before they pave paradise…
But for now, take a look at my pics and judge for yourself… is Las Cabanas the best beach in the Philippines?? Have you seen any that compare? If so, let me in on the secret! I’ll be booking a ticket stat.
All pics by Alex Saint