8 Great Philippine Hideaways
As seasoned sun-seekers know, not all beach resorts in this 7,000-plus-island archipelago are created equal. From the far reaches of the Sulu Sea to the shores of Siargao, here are eight of our favorites, each a standard-setter for local flair and sophistication
Reported by Cynthia Rosenfeld, Katherine Jack, and Chris Kirkpatrick
The Philippines’ newest private- island resort is also among the chicest hideaways in the country, with 42 thatch-roofed, eco-friendly villas perched in the forest canopy or positioned along a snaking ribbon of white- sand beach. What to expect? Ravishing views of Palawan province’s karst-studded Bacuit Bay; sumptuous interiors done up in earthy tones and locally sourced natural fibers; and instant access to coral-rich waters (part of the Palawan Biosphere Reserve) that you can explore by kayak or on outings with Pangulasian’s top-notch dive center. Should guests wish to venture farther afield, sister properties Miniloc Island and Lagen Island, all operated by the trailblazing El Nido Resorts group, are a short speedboat ride away, as are natural attractions such as the vast limestone cavern of Cathedral Cave. But there’s plenty to keep you busy on Pangulasian, whether it’s dining on tropical fruits and fresh salads from El Nido’s organic gardens, sampling the Filipino hilot massage at the bijou spa, or hiking the island’s nature trail, along which it’s possible to spot hornbills and long-tailed macaques.
Trip Tip: Stargazing here is about as good as it gets in Asia. After cocktail hour, ask the friendly staff to point out constellations such as Virgo and Orion, known in Tagalog as Balatik, or “spear trap.”
63-2/813-0000; elnidoresorts.com; doubles from US$748
A 45-minute drive from Tagbilaran City on Bohol—itself an hour’s flight from Manila—takes you across a causeway and through palm groves to the southeast corner of Panglao Island, where this cliff-top retreat overlooks the quiet end of bar-lined Alona Beach. Amorita managed to accommodate both families and canoodling couples even before ongoing upgrades created separate wings for each; now, it caters to all with aplomb.
Standard rooms are spacious, comfy, and well kept, but villas —which come with outdoor showers and private plunge pools—are definitely worth the extra cost. Panoramic views of the Bohol Sea are just one of the highlights at Saffron, a poolside alfresco restaurant filled with abaca and rattan furniture; the bok choy–wrapped sinanglay (tilapia) fish with lemongrass and coconut is another. Morning buffets here are also superb, offering copious amounts of fresh fruit and just-baked pan de sal bread rolls. Old-school and entirely relaxing, the tightly edited selection of in-room massages are a must. The hotel also organizes dolphin-watching excursions, dive trips to see turtles and whale sharks off Balicasag Island, and cultural tours that take in heritage sites like Baclayon Church, built by the Jesuits in 1727.
Trip Tip: Complete a visit to the nearby Bohol Bee Farm (bohol beefarm.com) with lunch at its café; the signature Spicy Flower Salad and homemade ubi (purple yam) ice cream are must-tries. And on mainland Bohol, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation (tarsierfoundation.org) givesvisitors the chance to see one of the world’s smallest primates in a natural setting.
63-2/553-9549; amoritaresort.com; doubles from US$168
Siargao, Surigao del Norte
This is not, as the name implies, a private-island resort; but between the 45-minute flight from Cebu to Siargao’s Sayak Airport and the half-hour
jeepney transfer to Dedon’s lush grounds on the southeast coast, it feels as exclusive and secluded as you could wish. Belgian-German footballer turned entrepreneur Bobby Dekeyser used to stay here while overseeing the production of his company’s Philippine-made outdoor furniture, and decided to buy and recast the four-hectare property—the erstwhile Pansukian Tropical Resort—as a showcase for his brand’s take on barefoot luxury. Surfers will want to head straight to Cloud 9, one of Asia’s most legendary breaks, while less ambitious guests can settle for lounging on Dedon’s hand-woven sun loungers, deck chairs, and the cocoon-like Nestrests that hang from leaning palm trees. Or you can just unwind in one of nine duplex villas crafted by French designers Daniel Pouzet and Jean-Marie Massaud. Like Club Med, which gave Dedon its first major commission, rates are all-inclusive, but here that covers everything from private yoga sessions and boat trips to champagne dinners for two on the talcum-soft sand.
Trip Tip: Bobby Dekeyser says his favorite day trip is to the protected lagoons and caves of Sohoton. Though visitors can get there by kayak or banca, do as Dekeyser does and explore the area atop a Dedon paddleboard.
63-917/701-7820; dedonisland.com; from US$480 per person per night
Why share paradise when you can have a 50-hectare private island all to yourself and abunch of friends? Tucked away in the Calamian Archipelago some 260 kilometers southwest of Manila, Ariara accommodates a maximum of 18 guests exclusively, with British owners Charles and Carrie McCulloch including extra enticements such as use of a 30-meter yacht for island-hopping cruises, as well as jet skis, windsurfers, and fishing and snorkeling gear. But even if you stick to dry land, Ariara impresses: its eight airy beach cottages and jungle villas, designed by Filipino architect Jorge Yulo, have been infused with indigenous Pinoy charms under thatched roofs, with local furnishing ranging from Mindanao textiles and wooden chests crafted in mainland Palawan to ceramics by artist Ugu Bigyan. Orchestrating the meals, which are included in the rate, is Swiss chef Jacqueline Alleje, who rightly draws raves for her pomelo-and-arugula salad, spicy pumpkin-coconut soup, chili squid, soy-sake shrimp, and a luscious banana-cashew ice cream. The island comes with about 30 staff who will be happy to help you plan out your day, whether that involves sunrise yoga classes or New York–caliber manicures.
Trip Tip: For those seeking something more adventurous, take Ariara’s speedboat out in search of the remains of a 17th-century Spanish fort.
ariaraisland.com; exclusive use of the island is priced from US$395 per person per night for a minimum seven-night stay, including all meals
Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa
Placid turquoise water and a private crescent of sugary white sand make the Shangri-La’s Banyugan Beach, on the northwest tip of Boracay, a contender for the Philippines’ most inviting strip of sand. Unlike most Boracay beaches, it’s also kept spotless, as is the adjoining Punta Bunga, where water sports and romantic strolls along the shore beckon. Opened in 2009, the resort’s 219 guest rooms and suites fan out across low-rise buildings on either side of the breezy lobby, and make good use of native elements such as capiz shells and rattan. Watch the sun sink into the Sulu Sea from the day bed on your room’s balcony, or from the deck at Solana Bar over calamansi daiquiris.
Trip Tip: Aim for one of the villas perched high in the jungle-clad mountainside for the most panoramic perspective; they also come with butlers and plunge pools.
63-36/288-4988; shangri-la.com; doubles from US$325
Apulit Island Resort
Apulit Island, formerly Club Noah Isabelle, was re-launched by El Nido Resorts in 2010. Spread out along a wide, sandy cove facing Taytay Bay, 50 water cottages sit on stilts above the shallows. Forest-clad limestone cliffs tower behind them—the rest of this private 40-hectare island remains untouched and is a haven for endemic wildlife such as Palawan squirrels and hornbills. There is plenty to fill your days including island hopping, caving, rappelling, Hobie Cat sailing, and 10 nearby dive sites, including an impressive house reef. Deluxe water cottages have their own steps leading into the sea, so you can swim or snorkel straight from your room. The corals teem with diverse marine life (Taytay waters are home to more than 156 fish species) and are also visited by pelagics such as green sea turtles and manta rays. The cove is a kind of nursery, so you will soon be familiar with the baby black-tip reef sharks that glide through the shallows beneath your balcony.
Trip Tip: Buffet meals are served in the Clubhouse, but romance-seekers can request private dinners on the beach or lunch excursions to nearby Isla Blanca.
63-2/813-0000; elnidoresorts.com; doubles from US$528
This Amanresorts outpost has been on the checklist of savvy travelers since it debuted on a secluded private isle in 1993, and you’ll understand why even before touching down on its tiny airstrip. From the window of a chartered turboprop from Manila, the approach to Amanpulo presents a dazzling fringe of white sand surrounded by turquoise shallows and the ultramarine expanse of the Sulu Sea. While the resort’s 40 timber-framed casitas, arranged along the beach or on higher ground toward the center of the 89-hectare island, are meant as riffs on the traditional nipa hut, architect Francisco Mañosa’s design—wraparound sundecks, floors of Philippine mahogany, well-curated handicrafts, Cebuano-marble tubs—is anything but rustic. You could get your money’s worth just strolling along the powdery beach that encircles the island, or lingering over sundowners on the terrace of the Clubhouse. But there are plenty of other diversions to keep you busy, from bird-watching and watersports to visits to the two-year old Aman Spa, where local Cuyonon-inspired treatments unfold under luminous capiz-shell ceilings. And when it comes to getting around the island, there’s no need to wait for a buggy transfer: at Amanpulo, you’re given the keys to your own golf cart.
Trip Tip: Complimentary snorkeling trips depart twice daily and offer a good chance of spotting stingrays and sea turtles.
63-2/532-4040; www.amanresorts.com; doubles from US$900
Mactan Island, Cebu
This stone-clad hideaway of six suites and three villas feels like someone’s lushly landscaped beach house, with padded canvas cushions both indoors and out, plump mattresses, and generous decks. Bathrooms have plenty of space for a deep soaking tub that faces the sea and a seriously powerful rain shower. Young, energetic room butlers can arrange everything from car rentals to babysitting services should grownups wish to head across the bridge to sample Cebu City’s thriving nightlife. Come mealtime, Australian chef Wade Watson excels equally at casual cuisine (wood-fired flatbread pizzas with goat cheese and grilled local vegetables) and at more serious fare like his herb-crusted salmon or six-hour-cooked pork belly served with cauliflower puree. When it comes time to relax, guests have their choice of grass-topped beach cabanas or a seaside infinity pool overlooking the vibrant blues of the Hilutungan Channel.
Trip Tip: Head to the small but serene spa for innovative treats like a bamboo body polish or mother-of-pearl foot scrub.
63-32/495-3461; abacaresort.com; doubles from US$408
Originally appeared in the April/May 2013 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“8 Great Phillippine Hideaways”)