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El Nido, Palawan: Postcard Perfect

The appeal of the province of Palawan may be mainly its being a largely untouched place. But as M.D. dela Cruz Tan discovers, there’s more to this place than meets the eye.

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PHOTO BY O. ROMERO, COURTESY OF JINGJING ROMERO

The first time Australian D.J.M. Winters stepped on the shores of Miniloc Island, in El Nido, north of Palawan, to visit the country’s “Last Environmental Frontier,” as well as “check out what business ventures may be there,” he noted that “it was like stepping on a photograph come to life,” he says. “Everything seemed too good to be true. Palawan is almost surreal for its beauty.”

Winters’ amazement is understandable, what with Palawan long considered a land of clichés, at least as far as the image of a stereotypical tropical paradise is concerned. Sandy white beaches stretching for miles, incessantly kissed by the crystal clear waters that mirror the blue sky, or reflect rolling clouds as they pass, seemingly lovingly blown by the whistling wind, just as they make the tall palm trees by the beaches bend, dancing to a tune only they can hear – all of them are in Palawan. And so much more, actually.

“It most certainly is full of surprises,” Winters says.

RICH HISTORY

Not largely known is the province’s rich history, best exemplified by the antiquities that abound there. Underwater or on the ground, however, Palawan has something to offer everyone.

Named after the nests of swiftlets (the main ingredient in the world-famous Nido Soup), El Nido (Spanish for the nest) is a 50,000 hectare-town of 18 barangays populated by some 27,000 people “very overprotective about their settlement,” notes Winters. “Rightly so, though, what with the place’s ecological treasures – all deserving of superlatives, but all fragile, and seemingly always in threat.”

Among Winters’ “favorite occurrences that are bound to be reminisced time and again” include kayaking from island to island, “my concentration broken only by the flapping wings of sea hawks, sighting unseen preys as they circle limestone cliffs formed millions of years ago;” bird watching, especially since El Nido’s forests are home to over 100 species of birds, many of them endemic to Palawan; stargazing, “realizing how small we are in the scheme of things;” island hopping to “see that here, seeing beauty never stops;” and simply admiring nature, such as “observing the peculiar looking pitcher plants that, to better their chances of survival, evolved to hang ever so low, almost touching the waters as they dangle from the rocky cliffs, waiting for whatever it is that will get trapped in their cavernous carafes to sustain them,” Winters says. “Nature 101.”

Amazement is, indeed, everywhere in Palawan.

In Miniloc Island, right off the pier is a rich marine world teeming with life, so that those snorkeling are literally inundated by swimming groupers, fusiliers, parrot fish, and other fish species that are normally only seen in, say, Animal Planet. In Lagen Island, mangrove tours, especially before at the break of dawn, right before the sun starts bathing with golden color everything under it, wild birds, many of them migratory, fly from their nests, their graceful motions mirrored by the waters under them.

In Matinloc Island, there’s the not-so-secret Secret Beach, worth visiting for a “glimpse of the sense of total seclusion,” Winters says, even if it is only accessible by snorkeling through a small crack in the limestone walls that envelope it.

And then there are the Big and Small Lagoons, both welcome retreats, with their pristine waters seemingly contradicting the roughness of their source, the “unruly sea” right outside their confines. There, it’s a different world altogether, filled with rock formations that resemble elephant tusks, a praying Virgin Mary, the caped crusader Batman hiding behind some rocks, phallic idols – “whatever,” Winters says. “It’s more like a cloud, actually, wherein you see them as what you want them to be. Like a fantasy, you can tailor-fit it to suit what you want. El Nido’s cliffs are like that, too. A hark back to the times when nature was magical.”

LAND OF BOUNTY

No wonder, thus, that “I’m looking at staying here for good,” Winters says with a laugh. The same appeal has actually already made ”regular inhabitants out of many who visited Palawan,” says Mickey Castaño of Belcas Realty Corp., which “recognizes the place’s great potential.”

Enterprise Magazine earlier reported (Paradise Found, March 2006) that there are opportunities to buy beachfront properties, or even entire islands, in the various towns of Palawan – and all at very affordable prices. In El Nido, for example, lots sell for about P1,500 per square meter, while small islands can be bought for as low as P200 to P300 per square meter. Adds the online publication Offshore and Real Estate Quarterly (escapeartist.com), beachfront properties with a frontage of approximately 300 feet (90 meters), and a total area of under two hectares cost less than P175 per square foot – roughly equal to 20 US cents, or less than $2.25 per square meter.

“This makes it an ideal time to invest,” says Castaño, who stressed that there is, however, “an urgency in investing since local officials (recognize) that in order to preserve Palawan’s beauty, over-development should be avoided, (and so) only a limited number of developments are allowed.”

Again in El Nido, only 32 resort developments are allowed, “making it good for those who invest in the place, what with less competition, but, more importantly, preserving the place’s appeal, which is its largely untouched beauty,” Castaño says.

On the bangka (dinghy) that carried him from Miniloc Island to the pier right by the local airport, where some brightly-clad locals were singing farewell songs in the local Cuyunin language, Winters was already “in a nostalgic mood,” he says. “You just want the experience to last.”

As if catching himself from turning mawkish, he laughs. Palawan, Winters says with a hearty laugh, is cliché personified. “It’s almost poetic, I tell you. And even that (claim) is admittedly cliché, too. Just as I tell you you’ll keep coming back here once you’ve already been here.”

*First published in Outrage Magazine in January 2009; reprinted with permission.

M.D. dela Cruz Tan is the founder of Zest Magazine. And no, the initials (i.e. M.D.) do not make him a "medical doctor" (as many have erroneously thought in the past); he is actually a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales Australia (just don't ask when, he says). He can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (of course), shoot flicks, community-organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Destinations

Greenfield District in Mandaluyong kicks off its holiday celebration

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,. followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

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Greenfield District, the smart and connected urban center of Greenfield Development Corporation (GDC) in Mandaluyong City, transformed into a holiday wonderland with the launch of GDC’s annual Christmas festivities called “A Christmas for Generations”. 

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,.  followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

“After two years of not having face-to-face yuletide celebrations, Filipinos are surely excited to once again gather with their loved ones to celebrate the country’s festive Christmas season,” said GDC President and Chairman Jeffrey D.Y. Campos.  “Greenfield District is a venue where different generations, from senior citizen grandparents to Gen Z kids, can bond with each other by taking part in the fun holiday activities of the District,” he added.

Ongoing  until December 25, Filipinos of all ages are in for a lot of holiday fun at the District. On December 17, families, especially kids are invited to come and meet  Santa Claus at Greenfield District’s “A Night with Santa” , which will feature merry activities and gift giving.

Meanwhile, adults can start their holiday shopping early as the Greenfield District Central Park will showcase weekend bazaars starting this month until December. Shoppers can look forward to discovering value for money gift ideas, trendy fashion pieces, delicious treats and more. While shopping, visitors can also enjoy a quick food trip and engage in Arts and Crafts activities while immersing at the bazaars dressed in colorful Christmas decorations. 

With a mission to build future-ready and sustainable communities for generations of Filipinos, GDC upholds its tradition of organizing events that promote the value of togetherness and spending quality time with the family.

“At GDC, we are committed to not only building properties for generations but also creating verdant, spacious neighborhoods where Filipino families can create beautiful memories together throughout the years. Christmas is a special occasion for many Filipinos, and we want Greenfield District to be part of their memorable Christmas experience every year,” said GDC Executive Vice President and General Manager Atty. Duane A.X. Santos. 

Located at the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard, Greenfield District is accessible to the public through various routes and roadways from the main business districts of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for recreational activities, get-togethers, and shopping this yuletide season.

Visit the Greenfield District with friends and family this holiday season.  To know more about the activities at Greenfield District, visit https://www.facebook.com/greenfielddistrict.

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Destinations

All Nippon Airways launches ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan.

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Prior to the pandemic, the Japan Tourism Agency reported the number of foreign visitors traveling to Japan in 2019 hit an all-time high of 31.9 million, 600k of whom were travelers from the Philippines. In 2020, the number dropped drastically to around 4.12 million due to the stringent travel restrictions throughout the pandemic, making Japan one of the world’s most difficult countries to enter.

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan. With news of Japan’s plans to reopen the country to international travelers, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest 5-star airline are launching “Beyond #MissingJapan” together.

The campaign was inspired by both social media posts of people yearning to travel to Japan and a strong sense of eagerness amongst ANA’s flight crew to welcome visitors back. And Filipinos are eager to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. According to a 2022 Statista survey, Filipinos chose Japan as their top holiday destination. Countries in the EU and US got the 2nd and 3rd choice, respectively.

‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ aims to excite  travelers for their next trip, give them head start on planning, and an insider’s perspective on the island country. The campaign features Paolo from Tokyo, a famous Filipino YouTuber based in Japan, who shares the best that Japan has to offer to both first-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike.

Paolo’s travels take us to Greater Tokyo and the hidden gems in the areas around the country’s capital. He rediscovers popular landmarks like Asakusa, shopping mecca Don Quijote, and the iconic Tokyo Station to name a few. Paolo also ventures into “New Tokyo” where lesser-known attractions such as Tokorozawa Sakura Town, Sanagi Shinjuku, and GOTEMBA PREMIUM OUTLETS® are located, must-visit spots that opened after 2020 and are within a few hours from Tokyo.

Get a real-life glimpse of Paolo’s experience in this 360 video that takes you inside the awe-inspiring pop culture haven Tokorozawa Sakura Town and walks you through the temples of Asakusa and Miyashita Park, a rooftop oasis in the heart of bustling Shibuya. The 360 video also gives you a feel of the festive vibe at Sanagi Shinjuku and the shopping that awaits at the endless aisles in Japan’s biggest discount store, Don Quijote, and the more upscale complex, Coredo Muromachi. Always growing and evolving, Tokyo still has so much more to offer

Mr. Isao Ono, Vice President of Marketing & Sales, Asia & Oceania from ANA said: “I believe our ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign will give those who have missed Japan an opportunity to rediscover the country through a series of videos featuring Asia’s most well-loved personalities as well as a 360° first-person perspective of landing in Japan. At ANA, we are committed to providing passengers with the best service in a safe and clean environment. We look forward to welcoming more travelers to Japan soon.”

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Destinations

Travel with your furry friends with Airbnb this festive season

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

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This week marks World Animal Day, an international day celebrating all animals and promoting a better future for animals all over the world. As the festive season rapidly approaches, there’s no better time to start planning a getaway for your loved ones – with fur kids in tow.

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

More than 3 million pets have checked into Airbnb since last November. As of June 2022, pet-friendly stays make up almost one-fifth of all Philippines listings on Airbnb, a 44% increase compared to June 20192. The top ten destinations for pet-friendly travel in the Philippines in Q2 2022 are:

  • Manila, Metro Manila
  • Baguio, Cordillera
  • Patuto, Calabarzon
  • Quezon City, Metro Manila
  • Taguig, Calabarzon
  • Cebu City, Central Visayas
  • Olongapo, Central Luzon
  • Nasugbu, Calabarzon
  • San Fernando, Ilocos
  • Calamba, Calabarzon

Amanpreet Singh Bajaj, Airbnb’s General Manager for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan said that when it comes to pet-friendly Airbnb stays, owners are seeking stays with additional space for their furry friends, often in locations outside capital cities.

“If you’re an avid pet lover, you’ll know that no holiday is quite complete without taking your family pet along. We have something for even the fussiest four-legged family members, and certainly, homes with spacious yards and deck areas are always among the most popular for guests with pets,” Bajaj added.

In the Philippines, over 15,000 guests have traveled with their pets on Airbnb3. To inspire more fur moms and dads planning to bring their pet friends on their next getaways, here are some amazing pet-friendly listings in the Philippines —  from spacious homes with huge backyards for your pets to roam to stays co-hosted by equally hospitable pooches!

Spacious farms for the zoomies

If you’re itching for a quick weekend away from the 9-to-5 routine, these farm stays that are drivable from Manila can certainly give you and your fur baby that relaxing getaway you both deserved.

  • The Alperi Farm is a newly built private farmhouse in Amadeo sitting on an expansive 2,000 sqm — perfect for non-stop fetch and the occasional zoomies. Offering guests plenty of opportunities to unplug and bond with loved ones (pets included!), the farmhouse comes with entertainment and activity options including a playhouse, bird sanctuary, a gym, and even a theater and arcade room.
  • Another farmstay south of the metro is Campo Canueza, which provides the best of both mountain views and beach access. It has a two-storey air-conditioned bahay kubo, a private pool, and an expansive space where you can freely walk your pets. At night, you can pitch a tent outside and enjoy uninterrupted views of the night sky.

Beachfront homes for the water-loving breeds

While some will just dip a toe, other dogs are born for the water — and will be truly delighted to hit the beach. Head on to these beachfront stays if you and your canine companion are dreaming of sands in your toes and paws.

  • Saya Nest is one of the seven nests hosted by proud fur-mom and Airbnb Host, Tamara. Located in the rainforest of Subic Bay, it lies just a few minutes from the beaches and falls. There is a fenced-in patio so your pets can run off-leash, a bathtub overlooking the forest, an outdoor table and grill, and a hammock by the porch. If you’re lucky, you might even be welcomed by Tamara’s own fur babies!
  • If you and your pet are up for a little island adventure — check out this Beachfront Loft in Palawan. It is located in a 2-hectare beachfront community in Aborlan just south of Puerto Princesa, and sits right by the sandy beach. Go boating with your pet by day and warm up around the bonfire at night while listening to the calming waves.

Breathtaking views for your best bud

Looking for vacation rentals with picturesque views where you can bring your fur babies? Search no further! These homes are not only pet-friendly — they make you want to bask in the scenery and stay for longer.

  • Anto House is a secluded farm nestled in the highlands of Antipolo, offering a 360-degree view overlooking the distant Metro Manila skyline, Angono hills and ridges, and the Laguna de Bay. Featuring two beautiful bamboo casitas that can accommodate up to 14 guests, it’s perfect for family gatherings and even reunions. There are also animals on the property like goats and sheep that both kids and fur kids can interact with.
  • How about calling an entire island your home for the weekend? This rustic, tiny island is right in the middle of Lumot Lake, with astounding views of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. If your fur bud’s love language is quality time, you can set up a mini obstacle course, go swimming at the lake, or simply just watch the world go by.

1 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

2 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

3 Based on Airbnb internal data from November 11, 2019 to June 30, 2022

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