El Nido was the catalyst for my travels to the Philippines. As a girl who makes many hypothetical itineraries when planning a trip, it takes compelling beauty to get me to finalize. At the northern tip of Palawan, El Nido is the paradise you’re envisioning when you picture Southeast Asia. From a remote setting, to unearthly limestone cliffs, and unparalleled seascapes, El Nido is not to be missed.
At the end of a long trip, I always relish in splurging on accommodations in a beautiful location. As a stroke of luck, Pangulasian Island Resort, a SLH (Small Luxury Hotels of the World), hotel is located on a private island in El Nido.
Pangulasian Island Resort embodies what it means to be a boutique property from exceptional location and effortless service, to unexpected amenities. With only 40-odd rooms spread out generously, Pangulasian Island is intimate. Your room either flanks the shell-lined beach, or is perched in the tropical canopy.
We arrived in El Nido via overland transfer from San Vicente. Although it was a long drive on winding, semi-paved roads, the palm-fringed landscape of Palawan provided a constant view. Guests can also fly directly from Manila via AirSwift. A boat met us at the Lio Airport in El Nido, and though the sea was rough, I was too distracted by the bizarre silhouettes of the sheer limestone cliffs to feel afraid. As we approached Pangulasian Island from the sea, it emerged as a jewel in Bacuit Bay. We were met at our boat with cool cloths smelling of jasmine. Upon entering the airy reception area were given delicious mango juice to enjoy while we checked in and toured the property.
Our beachfront villa at Pangulasian Island struck the perfect balance between modern and cozy. A grand bed draped in gauzy linen was the centerpiece of the expansive villa. Accented in dark hardwoods and light neutrals with Filipino design elements, the space is understated luxury with the casual warmth of home. If only home was a stones throw from vibrant azure waters of the South China Sea! The amenities were impressive. From straw hats in varying sizes to keep, to perfectly sized sandals, various snacks, steel water bottles, and a fruit bowl filled with the freshest Philippine mangoes… Too many to list! Each villa has an sweeping front deck, with cozy options for relaxation, including an outdoor bed in the shade. The bathroom is resplendent in marble with a floor-to-ceiling glass shower, and a huge chaise lounge perfect for husbands waiting “patiently” for their wives to get ready.
Pangulasian Island offers a range of activities, allowing guests to be as active as they prefer. You can try anything from kayaking to windsurfing, even sailing a Hobiecat! The resort includes two island-hopping trips with your stay, which feature the best stops in El Nido. The conceirge stops by after dinner and inquires about your plans for the next day, offering suggestions and answering questions. They will arrange everything. We mentioned wanting to kayak around the island, and the next morning a full kayak setup was waiting for us outside of our villa! There is also a short albeit steep hike up to the viewpoint at the top of Pangulasian Island which gives way to a stunning 360 degree view of the countless islands in Bacuit Bay.
There are two restaurants on Pangulasian Island which offer delicious meals. Although not all-inclusive, food is reasonably priced for American standards. However, it will seem quite expensive in comparison to prices paid elsewhere in the country. Dining poolside offers a casual setting; from delicious pork belly sinugba and other Filipino favorites, to countless fresh seafood options. I also tried coconut liquor (lambanog) for the first time in a yummy watermelon cocktail called the Bacuit Bay Sunset. Pangulasian Island’s main restaurant offers an upscale atmosphere that always feels romantic. A talented vocalist sang love songs in English and Tagalog while accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. I gravitated towards the seafood dishes, my favorite of which was the Red Snapper. I also loved the Adobo trio, which was a fun take on a Filipino favorite.
Island hopping in El Nido is stunning, and Pangulasian Island Resort provides an exceptional experience. Kayaks were already moored at Small Lagoon when we arrived, and ample time was provided to paddle around the vibrant lagoon by afternoon light. Snacks and iced tea are passed out on-board the outrigger, which provided fuel for snorkeling in Bacuit Bay. Although jellyfish decided to join us, and a few were stung, the crew was ready with vinegar to neutralize it! My husband argues that the incredible underwater world was worth the sting. Snake Island, a serpentine sandbar, was a fun spot for photographs, both in the water, and at the top of the hill overlooking it. We explored several stunning limestone caves and deserted beaches. Boating around the sheer limestone faces of Big Lagoon was the most tranquil, given that we came late in the day after all of the tours from town had departed.
Pangulasian Island Resort offers the kind of bespoke experience that exceedingly few properties can offer. A lazy glow seems to fall over the hotel every afternoon, and continues through to each sunset. Balancing both opulence and comfort is something that is difficult to do without it feeling overdone, and Pangulasian Island achieves it effortlessly. Time both stood still and flew by during my 5 nights here, and I look upon our relaxed afternoons by the South China Sea with the warmest nostalgia.