Viewing: beach

Off the beaten track: Nacpan Beach, El Nido

You know you’re off the beaten track when the track suddenly begins to look something like this.

El Nido Palawan road trip

You may bump into a few fellow travelers on the same path…

Carabao and kids in El Nido Palawan

in fact, more than just a few… Full jeepney on El Nido road

But you may not always end up at the same destination.

El Nido Nacpan beach resort

The most important thing you need to know about the beaten track: more often than not, going off it is totally worth doing.

El Nido Nacpan beach deserted

By far, the best part of our exploration of El Nido by tricycle was arriving at the remote, far-flung and almost totally deserted shores of Nacpan beach.


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El Nido: Sunset at Corong-Corong beach

While island-hopping is *the* thing to do in El Nido, Palawan, it isn’t the only thing to do.

Taking a break between island-hopping days (because, you know, it’s such a tough job!), Marlon and I hired a tricycle to explore El Nido by land. Tricycles in El Nido are serious, hefty, all-terrain metal workhorses, and it’s easy to get one in town. Prices vary depending on your chosen destination; we managed to negotiate a full-day road trip to two beaches for Php 1,300.

Most island-hopping tours depart from the main waterfront of El Nido, but ours took off from Corong-Corong beach, a few kilometers south of town proper.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido low tide

When we returned to Corong-Corong at the end of the tour, this brief glimpse of the beach at sundown made me curious about coming back for another look.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido bancas at sunset

With a determined grumble, our diesel-powered chariot charged up the steep, winding road from El Nido town towards Corong-Corong beach.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido sunset

At the top of the hill, this view opened up and a tiny squeal of delight escaped me, prompting our driver to pull over to the side of the road. “Picture muna, ma’am?” he said with a chuckle.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido

He pointed out our destination: Las Cabanas, a secluded resort at the southernmost tip of Corong-Corong beach.

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Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (2 of 2)

Our second island-hopping tour in El Nido fell on the day of our sixth wedding anniversary. It’s just a little bit extra (about Php200-400 more per person) for a private tour, so we decided to make it just the two of us on our special day.

This time, we opted for Tour A, which covers the Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, lunch at Shimizu Island, Secret Lagoon, and a final stop at Seven Commandos beach. For me, these places, particularly the lagoons on Miniloc, are simply postcard El Nido. If you only have time for one island-hopping tour (what a shame!), I highly suggest you pick this one.

There’s a sense of discovery about island-hopping in El Nido that I love. Some of the loveliest places pose a challenge to the traveler and aren’t easily accessible. (Smart choice leaving the baby at home, I must say.) Hidden away from view and behind dramatic limestone peaks, what a wonder it must have been for the explorers who discovered these places for the first time. To follow your curiosity through a peekaboo cutout in the rocks…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon Entrance

and to swim through to emerge in a jewel-colored lagoon, bounded by walls made of jungle and rock.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon

These days, kayaking is the easier option for would-be explorers, but I loved swimming through the Small Lagoon and exploring its little nooks and coves—even if I did slice my hand on some pretty sharp rocks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon swimming

With the Big Lagoon, scale adds an element of drama. Everything suddenly goes quiet as a stream of bancas float down a corridor of towering limestone, like a procession into some kind of royal hall. It feels both majestic and serene.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon

Our tour guide sat at the prow of the banca, which I thought looked like fun. I asked to take his place and sat there, dangling my feet into the water as our boat did one long, slow circuit around the bowl of the Big Lagoon.

El Nido Palawan island hopping tour guide

I had to jerk my feet out of the water when I saw these, though! I’ve been stung by a sea urchin before and the scars took six years to fade. Not going that route again, thanks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon sea urchins

What else did we do? Hmmm… we squeezed through this tiny passage to find a small sinkhole called the Secret Lagoon…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Secret Lagoon entrance

and dropped anchor at a spot somewhere off Miniloc, whose name I can’t remember (baby brain strikes again, argh!) for some great snorkeling. El Nido is not spectacular for snorkeling (God is fair), but this spot was really good.

El Nido Palawan island hopping snorkeling spot

To end the day we spent an hour or so at the pristine Seven Commandos beach, which was a welcome break to just doze in the sun after all that swimming.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos Beach

The tours dock at Seven Commandos at around 4 in the afternoon, perfect timing for a little merienda of fresh coconut juice from a tiny, barely held-together shack on the beach…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos

or, my absolute favorite, a mango shake from the small beach bar on the island. Drinks on Seven Commandos are sold at tourist prices, but there’s practically nothing on this island; the locals have to recoup the costs of periodically bringing everything over by boat, plus make a living.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos mango shake

Sweet Philippine mangoes on a gorgeous Philippine beach—if you ask me, that’s a combination that’s pretty hard to beat!

Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (1 of 2)

I’ve had it with this gray, gloomy, freezing winter weather. In revolt, I hereby declare this El Nido Week on the blog!

For the whole week, I refuse to blog about anything but turquoise waters, remote beaches, secret lagoons, sunny golden shores, and charming little beach bars and restaurants. Tough luck for you!

El Nido Palawan island hopping Helicoter Island beach

Looking for wintry layers, coats, boots and blankets? Look elsewhere!

Marlon and I decided to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary in another bucket list destination: El Nido, Palawan. The plan was to leave Tala with my family for a few days and aim for something a little more adventurous and off the beaten track. What better place to go than the Philippines’ so-called “last frontier?”

There are two ways to do El Nido: go for luxury with the exclusive, full-service, five-star El Nido Resorts, or do it backpacker style by staying in El Nido proper. With only our bank accounts and no baby to consider, Marlon and I joined the great unwashed among the basic, no-frills hotels of Bacuit Bay.

Regardless of accommodation, everyone goes island-hopping in El Nido. It’s simply the thing to do. All the tour companies on El Nido offer the same four itineraries with standard prices, which is brilliant because it saves you the hassle of researching or bargaining.

Our first tour took us to the beautiful white shores of Helicopter Island (see above) before depositing us at Matinloc Island for—no exaggeration—the hardest, most challenging swim of my life. And I consider myself a fairly good swimmer.

El Nido Palawan island hopping swim to Hidden Beach

Seduced by the prospect of a hidden beach, I jumped into the water without much thought and was immediately caught up in a powerful, pounding current. There had been a storm the day before, and the tide was still churning. The banca was too far out to return to, so there was nothing to do but swim to the island before the sea bashed me against the rocks. Seriously—it was a very real possibility.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach entrance

Somehow, after fighting the tide with everything I had, I made it! I headed into calmer shallows, and up a corridor of dramatic limestone peaks…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach

until I reached Hidden Beach, which is everything you hope a hidden beach could be: idyllic, remote, so beautiful it’s almost surreal.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach crystal clear waters

I mean, just look at that water!

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Cheers to the New Year!

To love, laughter, food, friends, discovery, adventure, surprise, wanderlust, change, forgiveness, opportunity, choice, commitment, and all the things that made 2013 worth it. May they reappear in new, surprising and amazing forms in the coming year.

Let’s drink to that!

Sunset margaritas El Nido

Frozen margaritas on the beach at sunset are always a good way to end any trip. It exactly how Marlon and I ended our adults-only trip since Tala was born, the details (and gorgeous pictures) of which I will most definitely share with you when we return to normalcy.

With my wishes for an amazing 2014, I raise a sunset margarita to all of you. Cheers to the New Year!

2013: My Year in Travel

The plan for 2013, believe it or not, was to seriously cut down on travel. Looking back at the year in travel, that was clearly a fail.

We might have failed, but we didn’t fail miserably—we had so much fun doing it! Tala’s arrival only slowed us down for the first three months; it wasn’t long until we got itchy feet again.

Berlin Oberbaum Bridge street art

Berlin, Germany was our first trip of the year, and our first with Tala. Cheap eats, great nightlife, street art, Tala’s first museum visit, blogger meetups, and a redemptive visit to my favorite hangout, the Badeschiff, were some of the highlights that cemented Berlin as one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Monkey installation building Berlin

A monkey-covered building I saw in Mitte. Anyone know what it is?

Fueled by so much inspiration, I went on a blogging bender from just five days in Berlin. Look at all these posts!

Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway
Street art sightings in Berlin
Nhow Hotel Berlin
Breakfast in Berlin
Berlinische Galerie
Date night: Berlin edition
A walk to remember
Badeschiff: The return

Alicante Spain beach

As a couple, patience is not one of our virtues. That really showed in our spur-of-the-moment weekend in Alicante, Spain—the result of a too-long winter, a dismal spring, and a summer that seemed to take forever to get to Amsterdam.

Extra large mojito Alicante

Oversized sparkling sangrias (plus mojito o’ clock !) on the beach, cooling off in the Mediterranean Ocean and excellent restaurants mere steps from our hotel justified our spontaneous and kinda crazy getaway.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet
At the beach with baby
Out and about in Alicante
Alicante: Where to eat (and eat and eat)
Maastricht Selexyz Dominicanen

Closer to home, Maastricht was another weekend destination we revisited this year. Good food, contemporary art and a visit to one of the world’s most stunning bookstores made this a fun and fulfilling weekend drive.

Weekend in Maastricht
Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers
Bonnefanten Museum

Naxos port

Greece was actually the only trip we had planned to take this year. As the Big Trip of 2013, Greece did not disappoint. This country captured my heart with its warm and friendly people, mouthwatering food, picturesque villages and beautiful beaches—not to mention the underlying thrill of its epic history and ancient myths. We loved our time in Naxos…

The beautiful beaches of Naxos
Exploring the port of Naxos
Away from it all in Apiranthos
Traditional charm at Taverna Lefteris

Santorini sunset

and ticked a big one off the bucket list in Santorini—even if a sick baby and husband made our trip less than ideal.

7 great places to catch the sunset in Santorini
Oia: Postcard perfect Santorini
Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini
Greece: a few last things

Dusseldorf Christmas market ferris wheel

In December we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets in Dusseldorf, Germany. Gluhwein, gingerbread and gallivanting in the cold got us all revved up for Christmas and put us in the holiday mood for our trip to Manila.

Not bad for two first-time parents with a new baby, eh? What a year it’s been… and it’s not over yet! This weekend, I get to strike another long-awaited destination off our travel wishlist in celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. I’m so excited!

The beautiful beaches of Naxos

After pregnancy and childbirth, I was exhausted, yearning for the sun, and wanted to treat myself to something special. So Marlon and I agreed that this year’s Big Trip would be to a place that had long been on both our travel wishlists: Greece.

Since we planned this trip when Tala was barely two months old, we made a lot of newbie parent mistakes (more on those later) and paid for them big time. We barely crawled to our hotel that first day, exhausted after nearly 12 long hours of travel (!!) with a baby.

The only thing that wasn’t a mistake? Choosing to go to Naxos.

Greece has so many stunning islands, that it can be overwhelming to choose one. As the travel planner of the household, I was stumped. We wanted an island that was baby-friendly, with beautiful beaches and great food. Elena of Olive Tomato came to our rescue by suggesting Naxos. Thank you Elena!

Naxos Agios Prokopios beach

The long golden stretch of Agios Prokopios was where Marlon, Tala and I spent most of our time in Naxos. Our hotel was closer to the quiet end of this beach, away from town with its restaurants and bars. Most of the people around us were Greek families, with teenagers taking selfies, babies playing in the sand, and mothers and grandmothers squealing over Tala. And that was just how I liked it.

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Alicante: At the beach with baby

Our weekend escape to Alicante marked Tala’s first swim in a real ocean. Marlon and I truly love the beach, so this is one pleasure we were thrilled to introduce to our baby girl. At four months, babies don’t need much for a day at the beach—just a swim nappy, swimsuit (lots of moms swear by SPF suits, but all I had was an ordinary one), sun protection (SPF 50 and a hat), a towel, and a shaded place to rest. So it was really easy.

At first, Tala was wary and had her mehhh face on, probably because we were cautious and tentative going into the water.

Tala and Daddy swim
We waded out until the water was chest-deep. Waves pick up speed closer to shore, so further out there’s less of the rocking and splashing that could upset a baby. We made sure to watch her closely for signs of distress, and when she started going a little blank we knew it was time to cuddle her all the way back to shore. Still, no tears, so yay.

Alicante beach with baby

The next time we went back in, Marlon and I decided to act super perky and excited going into the water. Our strategy worked! She definitely took to the water much better, and we were rewarded for our efforts with adorable baby laughs.

Happy baby in the ocean

In the beginning, Marlon and I really missed being able to swim and cool off in the ocean together, since one of us always had to stay and watch Tala. But when the three of us headed into the water together, things just clicked. Being with Tala in the ocean was one of those perfect moments when life exactly matches the picture you’ve always had in your head. And, baby or no baby, you know that doesn’t happen often.

Baby feet in the sand

Back on land, we burrito-wrapped Tala in her fluffy white towel (which she loves) and dressed her in her little Vespa-printed jumpsuit. We stood her up and let her dig her little toes into the sand, and watched as she charmed a herd of bikini-wearing, leathery-skinned Spanish grandmothers into ecstatic bursts of “Que bonita! Que guapa!

Tala and Mommy in Alicante

Then we just spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, napping and letting her people-watch from the safety of Mommy and Daddy’s embrace.

All together, not bad for a first dip in the ocean! I would love to bring her to the beach again. But closer to home, and the frigid North Sea? Hmmm, let me think about that.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet

“Didn’t you know you’re not allowed to act spontaneously anymore?”

This is an actual, um, thing we were told when Marlon and I let it drop that we had booked, on impulse, a flight to Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Apparently, new parents of nearly four-month-old babies don’t just book flights three days before departure and run away to the beach for the weekend. It’s simply not done.

Well, we did it. It was the cheapest flight we could get to somewhere with a beach, hot weather, real sunshine (not the wishy-washy, nambly-pambly thing that passes for sun here in Holland) and great food. It was just for three nights (“seems like a lot of trouble with the baby for just three days,” Marlon was told at the office). But it was fantastic!

I’ve been spoiled by the horrific building codes of the Philippines, where accommodations are built right on the beach—you can practically tumble out of your door half-asleep in the morning and land on the sand. So we chose our hotel, the Hospes Amerigo, because of its proximity to Alicante’s biggest sandy beach, Playa Postiguet.

Alicante Playa Postiguet

Every morning for three days, we joined the exodus of beachlovers down the tiled promenade of Explanada de Espana, toward the beach. I loved (and envied) the casual ease of it, locals walking around town with folding beach chairs tucked nonchalantly under their arms like purses.

Alicante heading to the beach

Arriving early is key to getting a good spot. Since this is Spain, early is relative: at 9 or 10am, there’s nobody at the beach but pensionados and families with little kids, and most of the beach chairs are still empty.

Alicante Playa Postiguet beach umbrellas

Where is everyone else? All the singles and young people are still asleep after crawling home at 6am. Like I said, this is Spain.

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Let’s Do Brunch in… Bali

Winter has overextended in Europe, but back home in Southeast Asia, summer is already in full swing. This long Easter weekend in particular is prime beach time; everyone’s out of town and the endless parade of vivid sunsets, bright white sands and turquoise waters on my Instagram and Facebook feeds are killing me.

So it’s perfect that this month’s virtual brunch is in the beach paradise of Bali.

Sanur beachfront Bali

I’ve never been to Bali myself, but if I did go, the first person I would ask for tips is The Diplomatic Wife. She’s a friend from university who found herself turning from party animal to domestic diva when she and her diplomat husband were posted to Jakarta. The Diplomatic Wife blogs about her life in Jakarta—full of delicious food, easy DIYs, stylish homemaking, and travels around Southeast Asia—on her blog and runs a chic webshop filled with her fab finds and jewelry designs.

Diplomatic life will soon take her to Berlin. But for now, The Diplomatic Wife leads us away from the tourist crowds and glitzy bars to her favorite brunch spot in Bali.

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