Trip of a Lifetime – Playing in Paradise. The second part of our trip to the Philippine Islands starts with a snorkeling adventure. It begins early in the morning before the sun is up. We joined up with a scuba diving – island hopping tour that we booked through Submariner. They are a five star rated diving company in El Nido.
Since I don’t dive and my daughter-in-law is expecting, we were going to only snorkel along with a couple from Germany. We were onboard with approximately 12 people, 4 dive masters, the captain and first mate of the boat. We were all provided with wetsuits and the appropriate equipment. The tour includes stopping at 4 beaches and lagoon areas, a complimentary lunch and a beautiful morning to boot! The time in the water was amazing! It is so clear that when snorkeling, the coral looks close enough to reach out and touch. However, we kept our hands clear from the endangered reefs.
In addition to El Nido’s over 800 marine species, it also offers 400 different kinds of corals and 500 marine vertebrae types within approximately 125 square miles. The conditions are perfect for snorkeling on this fine day. The exotic marine life can easily be seen in just a few feet of the crystal clear water. The blue invertebrate echinoderm – part of the phylum Echinodermata family with its five or more radiating arms, also known as a star fish are my favorite!
What a day on the water. There are so many small islands and beautiful lagoons surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters. We returned to port just in time to witness the beautiful sunset. Our group was more than ready for some tasty food and refreshing drinks! There is no better way to end a perfect day!
The next day we were excited to be taking a private snorkeling tour. We will be exploring some remote beaches which include Cadlao Lagoon, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach and Helicopter Island. Each stop will be unique in its own right.
Our first stop was Cadlao Lagoon. As we approached the entrance, the sheer black limestone rocks juxtapose against the greenery that actually hides the entrance to the lagoon. We arrived during low tide so the boat had to anchor in deeper water. We departed and made our way to the other side of the sheer rocks that opened up to a beautiful lagoon surrounded by tropical foliage. We snorkeled and marveled at its surreal setting for about an hour.
On to Matinloc Island and Shrine. It is the longest and most narrow in El Nido’s repertoire of islands. It consists of a crescent shaped white sand beach at the corner of a sinkhole. It is inaccessible by boat and surrounded by steep rock walls. At high tide divers must swim underwater through a narrow crevice in a rock wall. At a lower tide you can swim through using just your snorkel gear. It can be very easy to scrape yourself going through the opening if you are not careful. When you pop through the crevice, you come upon a smaller and intimate beach. Once inside, the water suddenly becomes very shallow and rocky. We continue snorkeling and observe all the various marine life that inhabit the clear shallow waters. On this particular day, the current was pretty strong and we needed to be a good swimmer to make it through the opening and back to our boat. After the exhilarating swim, we made our way to the Matinloc Shrine.
Hidden amongst the lush tropical forest is the Matinloc Shrine. It is also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc and the Blessed Virgin. This sacred monument was built in 1982 to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story we were told was that a wealthy Catholic man built this beautiful shrine and church. Supplies were brought in by boat, but it is very difficult to get to the site. It eventually went into disrepair, became abandoned and is now a popular tourist attraction. In its better days, we were told that the faithful would make pilgrimage to worship the Virgin Mary. Local folklore states that it is haunted and paranormal sightings have been reported. You can still see the beauty and quality workmanship that went into building the shrine. We ventured up the very narrow and steep rock formation above the shrine to get a better view. It took us to a place where we could look out over the South China Sea to admire the amazing views (see photo above statue right).
Lunch time was upon us. We were treated to some amazing food that was grilled and prepared right on our boat. The Captain anchored off a stunningly beautiful white sand beach named Star Beach. We laid out our towels and proceeded to enjoy a relaxing lunch. Afterwards, we experienced more phenomenal snorkeling on this little piece of heaven (shown, below left)!
Our last stop was Helicopter Island, which is appropriately named for its likeness to the whirly bird! It is also known for its white sandy beaches that border the island’s beautiful turquoise waters. We were pretty “snorkeled out” from all of our earlier excursions, so we took the opportunity to relax on the beach and be in the present moment!
What an incredible day as we returned exhausted, but fulfilled beyond words. Did I mention that this private boat tour was only thirty US Dollars per person! I also received an hour long massage in an air conditioned spa for only $8. The US dollar goes a long way in the Philippines. I figured we may have saved money during our week here as opposed to our spending habits at home. We had a craving for some Americanized food. So for our last night in El Nido, we treated ourselves to an Italian meal at Nido’s Little Italy Restorante. The food was very tasty and their prices are budget friendly.
The next morning we headed out for the airport – Lio Airport is just outside of El Nido. We are catching a flight that takes us directly to Manila. Then we get on a connecting flight back to Shanghai. The airport is a bit, well let’s say, rustic. The baggage carts to the airplane were human powered and a herd of water buffalo nonchalantly grazed next to the airfield. But the best part of our departure was when we were serenaded by a group of Philippine women while boarding the plane.
It was hard to leave. We loved our time in El Nido and its neighboring communities. The people were very nice and accommodating, the islands with all their beauty and the time spent together was priceless!
The flight back to Manila was a quiet one. A lot more comfortable than the five hour van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. As we circled back around the island, we got to take one last look at the paradise we enjoyed over the last few days. We will definitely make plans to again visit this little slice of heaven.
Next stop, Shanghai!