El Paraiso

It’s the best beach in the Philippines and the world according to CNNGo and Conde Nast Traveler, respectively. It inspired the writing of “The Beach” which eventually was turned into a movie. TV shows like “Survivor” and films like “Bourne Legacy” were filmed here. It is even called “Heaven on Earth.”

The place I’m talking about is El Nido, meaning The Nest referring to the edible nests of swiftlets found in the crannies of limestone cliffs. This is the main ingredient of the gourmet nido soup.

My friends and I traveled to this piece of heaven via Puerto Princesa. The five-hour trip would lull you to sleep as you see verdant trees and plants on both sides of the well-paved road. I saw a squirrel and group of birds along the way so I thought we must be really on our way to paradise.

I was pretty disappointed when we reached the town proper as it appeared like any other congested city with houses and business establishments on top of each other. My vision of a simple, sleepy little town vanished and the environmentalist in me protested this exploitation for the sake of economic gain.

To be fair, El Nido and the whole of Palawan do their best to practice ecotourism. They see the importance of protecting natural resources not only because it’s the source of their income but because they genuinely care for it. Tour guides would constantly remind tourists not to leave trash, not to take sand, shells, or corals, to avoid stepping on corals, etc. Indeed, we should always remember to leave nothing but footprints, to take nothing but pictures, and to kill nothing but time.

Our first day of island hopping brought us to the small and big lagoons, Shimizu Island (named after Japanese divers who died there), and Seven Commandos (so-called due to seven commandos stranded in the island).

On our second day, we went to Helicopter Island (because it looks like a helicopter, or a dog, or a submerged Chickenjoy depending on how you would want to see it), Matinloc Island (which has a shrine and abandoned church which was a front for treasure hunting then), Tapiutan Island, and Hidden Beach.

Aside from the magnificent view of crystal-clear waters in different shades of blue dotted with enormous mountains of limestone rocks softened by trees and vegetation, I really enjoyed snorkeling around the islands. I found Nemo and Dory and different species of fish of all sizes and colors. Each snorkeling site would boast of different sets of fish and you can’t help but wonder how many species there are. Apparently thousands.

One thing that saddened me is the state of the corals which weren’t as alive and colorful as I expected them to be. It could be due to coral bleaching as caused by climate change. It could also be attributed to the frequency of tourists (hundreds each day the whole year round) which entails countless boats anchoring and possibly damaging the corals, plus swimmers stepping intentionally or unintentionally on these corals.

Again, props to El Nido for making an effort to educate its guides and coming up with environmental conservation programs. Admittedly though, it’s difficult to keep the balance between economic development and environmental protection. Most often than not, economics and tourism would always be prioritized.

El Nido is truly a paradise. I just wish it will stay that way for a long time so that the future could still explore and enjoy its grandeur and beauty.