Marianne Rogerson took some family time on the white sandy beaches in Bohol and El Nido.
Despite having lived in Asia for ten years and travelled extensively throughout that time, as a family we had yet to make it to the Philippines. It was time to change that. So enticed by the promise of white sandy beaches, fabulous snorkelling and cute little fluffy animals, we set off for a Filipino adventure in Bohol and El Nido.
Situated to the east of Cebu, Bohol is the Philippines tenth largest island. Most tourists head to Panglao Island, Bohol’s largest offshore island. It’s here that you’ll find all the beach resorts and it’s where we started our Philippines holiday.
Our home at the beach was the Amorita Resort, a gorgeous boutique hotel just a staircase away from the busy Alona Beach. With its stunning views out to sea and family-friendly facilities, it was the perfect place to ease ourselves into the Philippines life.
After a day of lazing by the infinity pool, on day two we injected a bit of action into our holiday and took to the ocean on a dolphin-watching and island-hopping tour.
As we were visiting Bohol during Holy Week, it was peak season and everywhere was heaving with tourists, including out at sea. But despite the heavy traffic, a pod of dolphins soon appeared. They break the surface and weave in and out of the boats, much to the kids’ delight.
The dolphins weave in and out of the boats, much to the kids’ delight.
With our spirits high from our dolphin encounter, we made our way to Balicasag Island, a marine sanctuary just a 30-minute boat ride from Alona Beach. Even with the crowds of people, it was hard not to be in awe of the visibility and the marine life here. But the highlight was definitely swimming with the turtles – dozens of turtles.
A major attraction in the Bohol countryside is the Chocolate Hills. Much to the disappointment of the children they are not actually made of chocolate. But they are consist of over 1,000 peaks stretching over 50kms and were a pretty impressive site.
But for us, the most exciting part was meeting the tarsiers. These cute primates with big bug eyes were allegedly the inspiration behind Yoda, ET and the Gremlins (before they turned evil) and are endemic to Bohol. With only around 700 left on the island, they are best spotted at the Tarsier Sanctuary. You can creep through the forest as conservationists point out the fluffy little animals hiding in the trees.
These cute primates with big blue eyes were allegedly the inspiration behind Yoda, ET and the Gremlins (before they turn evil).
Another fun stop for adrenaline junkies of all ages is the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park. My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with the bike zipline where you cycle 150ft up in the air. Of course, she chickened out as soon as she was strapped into her safety gear. And of course, my good-natured husband took the plunge on her behalf.
Our countryside tour ended with a lunchtime river cruise down the Loboc River, before we made our way to our next hotel – The Loboc River Resort. Although not nearly as luxurious as the Amorita Resort, we loved the laid-back feel of being right on the river. The rooms were accessed via wooden boardwalks through the trees and there is a tranquil little swimming pool overlooking the river. The kids loved feeding the ducks and chickens and taking a ride on the resident water buffalo.
On our last night in Bohol, we took to the Abatan River for one of the coolest experiences of our trip – a mangrove and firefly kayaking tour with Kayakasia Philippines. Here we found we had the entire river virtually to ourselves. With one adult and one child per kayak, we explored the mangroves searching for mudskippers and kingfishers.
As the deepening evening light turned to darkness, we drifted silently under the trees. We stared in awe, mesmerised by the synchronized blinking of the fireflies that made the whole tree move as one. A magical experience.
But if we thought we loved Bohol, we were in for a real treat when we arrived in El Nido. El Nido forms the northern tip of Palawan Island. Visiting here had been on my bucket list for nearly ten years. Little to say I was beyond excited when our little prop plane touched down on the tiny runway next to a white sandy beach.
From the airport we took a 30-minute boat ride to our home for the next four nights – Lagen Island, one of El Nido Resorts’ luxury eco-sanctuaries. Stepping off onto the Lagen Island jetty, I felt like walking onto a James Bond movie set. It is quite simply one of the most stunning resorts I have ever seen. The water villas are tucked under towering limestone cliffs, overlooking the crystal clear waters of the shallow lagoon.
Our days here were all about watersports. My six-year-old became quite proficient at stand-up paddle boarding and both kids got the hang of snorkelling. We explored the area of the resort boat, kayaking in Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, snorkelling with jackfish at sister resort Miniloc Island. Ending each day by hanging out at El Nido Resorts’ private beach clubs – where we literally had an entire beach (and beach bar) to ourselves one afternoon.
With limestone crops jutting out of crystal clear waters, incredible marine life and deserted, white sandy beaches, El Nido is my new favourite destination. If there is a heaven, I want it to be exactly like El Nido.
Ever wondered how to take Instagram-perfect snaps? Check out photographer Katie Vajda’s top tips on taking the perfect snaps here.