There’s an incredible chain of tropical islands in the Pacific that is sprinkled with pink, white and black sand beaches, ultra-relaxing luxury resorts, charming countrysides and villages, exotic foods and an enticing nightlife. READ FULL STORY
Tag archive for "Palawan"
Three beaches in the Philippines landed on CNN’s “100 Best Beaches” list. These are Palaui Island in Cagayan Valley (No. 10), El Nido in Palawan (No. 14) and Puka Beach in Boracay (No. 84). CNN cites Palaui’s “raw beauty’, calls El Nido “the gateway to adventure”, and bills Boracay “a tropical paradise”. READ FULL STORY
By Maribel Castillo
Rest and relaxation were on top of our agenda when my husband and I decided to make a quick getaway from Manila’s impossible traffic and humidity by flying off to Palawan, an island paradise southwest of the Philippine Islands chain. Bounded on the north and west by the South China Sea and on the east by Sulu Sea, Palawan and its cluster of surrounding islands formed what was once a land bridge linking the Philippine archipelago to Borneo and the rest of the Asian continent.
The promise of adventure got the better of us as soon as we touched down at the Puerto Princesa Airport. Ignoring the call of a secluded beach resort, we would take a detour and have a peek at the famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, newly declared as one of the world’s Seven Wonders of Nature. At 8.2 kilometers, the world heritage site is reputed to be the longest navigable underground river in the world.
Joining a small group of Korean and German tourists, we motored two hours up north through sun-drenched, palm-fringed countryside. The tour guide warned us to hang on to dear life as our driver negotiated zigzags and undulating roads on a drive that felt like a roller coaster ride. We had butterflies in our stomachs by the time we hit Sabang, Puerto Princesa’s northernmost barrio.
There, before us, was our pleasant reward for enduring the bumpy ride — a stunning expanse of turquoise glass comparable to the waters of Santorini in Greece and Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta.
After partaking of a Filipino-style picnic of chicken adobo and pork inihaw, it was time to head for the underground river. In Manila, we had heard stories of exotic wildlife springing from the water or greenery and popping out of stalactites and stalagmites inside a pitch-black cave. True enough, there was wildlife galore. Near the river’s mouth is a crystal-clear lagoon teeming with many fish varieties. Also within the Underground River Park is the Monkey Trail, a winding trek into a small forest where monkeys, squirrels, lizards and some 60 species of birds are found. My fears were quickly put to rest when we were greeted at the dock by a perky monkey. The monkey was more social than menacing, posing for the flashing cameras and obviously enjoying the tourists’ attention. The resident bayawaks — large monitor lizards that resemble baby crocodiles – seemed as friendly and non-threatening as any housebroken pet.
Properly outfitted in orange life vests and yellow hard hats, we boarded a banca steered by a local guide with a flair for comedy. As we entered the cave to explore the Underground River, we joined the company of bats that have inhabited the river for thousands of years. Fortunately, the bats were asleep at daytime so we didn’t bump into unidentified flying objects. It was pitch black inside until our torch-bearer turned on the spotlight to reveal amazing works of art that took millions of years for nature to create. Floating through the chambers of the underground river was like gliding through an art gallery. My advice to visitors: give your imagination free rein and the caves will disclose amazing revelations.
As dusk fell, tired but happy, we once again boarded the van and headed south to the promise of a relaxing evening at Crystal Paradise Resort and Winery. Crystal Paradise, a gem tucked away in the little-known town of Narra, is two hours southeast of the bustling provincial capital of Puerto Princesa. A full moon cast a soft glow over the island by the time our van pulled into the resort driveway. What a pleasant surprise to be greeted by an attentive staff who not only welcomed us warmly with song and solicitous care, but also offered us cool drinks right out of the buko (young coconut) shell.
I was ready to hit the sack when we were ushered in to our waterfront villa, but that did not stop me from noticing the surprisingly luxurious, 5-star hotel features such as a tastefully decorated bedroom and kitchenette, a king-sized bed, roomy bathroom with jetted bathtub, and a patio overlooking a private pool, the beach and Sulu Sea beyond. What luxury to be served dinner poolside at the villa’s private patio, soothed by the gentle rhythm of the waves! We knew then that we had come to the right place for a few perfect days of pampering and relaxation.
By morning, after a good night’s rest, we took the opportunity to explore the resort’s amenities and attractions. No doubt at the top of the list was a quiet, solitary stroll along the palm-fringed beach, far away from the hordes of tourists who descend upon the Philippines’ more popular waterfront destinations all throughout the year.
The cozy resort has a total of six waterfront Amihan Pool Villas, four of which are family suites and two are executive suites perfect for honeymooners. For visitors on a smaller budget, there is also the Katala Lodge within Crystal Paradise, which offers a number of deluxe King and deluxe Twin rooms.
Crystal Paradise is nestled in a beautiful wildlife cove that has almost year-round sunshine. It offers a number of island adventure packages, including excursions to Arena Island, a turtle sanctuary, and Rasa Island, a bird sanctuary. Because Narra is on the southern tip of Palawan, nearby islands are readily accessible via outrigger boats and these islands complement the beauty of Crystal Paradise and provide added value to the guests’ tropical island holiday.
Nature has bequeathed this little piece of Palawan paradise with a naturally nourishing ambiance of clean air and warm, sun-soaked days. To complement the health benefits of nature, the resort offers a variety of nurturing spa packages. It’s two thumbs up for the Exfoliation Massage, which was so soothing, the treatment almost lulled me to sleep. Crystal Paradise Resort and Winery also boasts of a small selection of naturally fermented fruit wines, such as banana, pineapple and mango.
Perhaps the amenity that has won praise from most guests is the excellent service provided by resort staff. The resort chef also deserves special mention. During our four-day sojourn at the Crystal Paradise Resort, the chef impressed us with a delectable and visually appealing repertoire of culinary delights. A must-try from the savory menu are the Seafood Paella, the Spicy Sizzling Prawns, and the Bicolano Laing (gabi leaves in coconut milk). At Crystal Paradise, this top-notch quality cuisine comes at a reasonable price.
By Karl Malakunas
PUERTO PRINCESA – For tourists the Philippine island of Palawan seems like paradise, but for environment activists it feels more akin to a battlefield.
Murders and threats on what is promoted as the Southeast Asian nation’s last ecological frontier are emblematic of a struggle across the country, where dozens of environment campaigners have been killed over the past decade.
Father-of-five “Doc” Gerry Ortega became the latest casualty in late January when a hitman shot him in the head while browsing in a second-hand clothes shop along one of the main roads of Palawan’s capital city, Puerto Princesa.
“He received a lot of death threats,” Ortega’s wife, Patty, 48, told AFP in an interview at a cafe just a few hundred meters from where he was killed.
The murdered Ortega, 47, a veterinarian, made many enemies via a daily radio morning show he hosted in which he lambasted politicians whom he accused of being corrupt and allowing the island’s natural resources to be pillaged.
“He was a very passionate man, passionate about the environment,” his widow said.
On the far western edge of the Philippines’ archipelago, Palawan has some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, stunning coral reefs and biodiverse forests — it is home to two UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.
But environment campaigners say Palawan’s natural wonders could be destroyed within a generation amid the frenzy to exploit them, citing as an example the destruction of countless coral reefs from cyanide and dynamite fishing.
Its reefs supply more than half the nation’s seafood, plus millions of dollars’ worth of fish to other Asian markets.
Palawan also has vast amounts of nickel, cobalt and other valuable minerals, prompting hundreds of applications to mine about half of the island.
The applications have spurred a high-profile campaign to ban all forms of mining.
Meanwhile, 11 percent of the Philippines’ remaining virgin forests and 38 percent of its mangroves are on Palawan, according to government data.
“From the post cards it’s a great tourist area,” Robert Chan, a crusading environmental lawyer and executive director of Palawan NGO Network Inc, told AFP from his rundown headquarters in Puerto Princesa.
“But if you talk about the resources that really mean something for biodiversity or medicines eventually for our future generations, if you talk about its old growth forests, if you talk about mangrove forests, if you talk about its coral reefs, were losing it.”
While there are many laws to protect Palawan’s natural resources, they are no match for the lawlessness and corruption that permeates all of Philippine society, according to environment campaigners and some politicians.
“The biggest obstacle really is the temptation of money from big industries and (those involved in) illegal activities,” Edward Hagedorn, the long-time mayor of Puerto Princesa, told AFP.
Hagedorn, regarded by Palawan’s environment activists as one of their most important political allies, has banned mining and logging in Puerto Princesa which, although a city, has huge tracts of forests and white sand beaches.
“Outside the city destruction is happening very fast,” he said.
Hagedorn said powerful figures had often tried to bribe him to permit environmentally destructive practices, such as allowing truckloads of seafood that were illegally fished to be flown from his city’s airport.
“You’ll be surprised. Law enforcers, judges, come into my office (offering money and) asking for me to give them a chance,” he said.
Environment campaigners say that, amid this chaos, they have to perform functions that government bodies and law enforcers should be doing, which often pushes them into very dangerous situations.
Attorney Chan, 43, said four environment activists from local communities he had worked with over the past decade had been murdered.
Chan and his colleagues train communities to resist destructive environment practices by filing law suits, but also to confiscate equipment such as chainsaws used for illegal logging and even boats used for illegal fishing.
Under Philippine law, citizens are allowed to seize equipment used in illegal activities and arrest those involved.
Over the past 10 years, Chan said he, his colleagues and the communities they worked with had seized more than 360 chainsaws, two large ships, about 20 small outrigger boats and rifles.
But the successes are tempered by a sense of danger.
Chan, who is married and has a young daughter, recounted losing an activist in 2006 who had been working to oppose illegal logging and the cutting down of mangroves in his community.
“We found him in a shallow grave in a beach. He had been specifically buried there for us to find him,” said Chan.
“His testicles were taken off, put into his mouth, his tongue was cut out, his eyes were gouged out, his fingernails were taken out, he had around 16 stab wounds.”
Abdelwin Sangkula, another Puerto Princesa-based campaigner, said he had also received many death threats over the past few years.
“I’m worried about my safety and the safety of my family. But I will continue with my fight, said Sangkula, 39, who has three children and was a regular guest on the murdered Ortega’s radio show.
“I don’t know whether it’s just in my blood, but I see injustice and unfairness with what’s happening in this province.”
Abraham Mitra, the governor of Palawan who is also chairman of the province’s sustainable development council, did not respond to requests by AFP for comment on the allegations made by the environment campaigners.
The development council has run full-page advertisements in national papers recently rejecting claims that the local environment is being destroyed, and insisting that mining applications are being approved in a responsible manner.
In the case of Ortega, the accused gunman and four other people alleged to have been involved in the killing have been arrested.
His widow has filed documents with the justice department accusing a powerful local politician of masterminding the murder.
The politician, who has not been arrested, has gone on national television to deny any link to Ortega’s killing. Police investigations are ongoing.
Palawan made it to National Geographic Traveler’s list of 20 best travel destinations in the world this year.
National Geographic Traveler said Palawan’s limestone karst cliffs, coral atolls, mangrove forests, sugar-white sandy beaches, and extensive fringing reefs create one of the Philippines’ most biodiverse terrestrial and marine environments. READ FULL STORY
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