Cerulean sky and turquoise sea merge at Amanpulo, a whisper-quiet private island retreat in the in the Sulu Sea accessible only by a private plane.
Loosely modelled after native bahay kubo dwellings with an open-plan, twin-roofed design, Amanpulo’s Casitas offer direct beach access via sandy footpaths, magnificent views of the turquoise sea from the hillside, or seclusion within the forest canopy. Broad wooden decks, hammocks in secluded bowers and pebble-washed walls are just some of the traditional island elements included. Two Casitas have private plunge pools.
Just steps from the beach in secluded settings along Pamalican’s shore, Amanpulo’s Villas offer consummate privacy. Designed for seamless indoor-to-outdoor living, each one is arranged around an expansive swimming pool with outdoor lounging and dining areas, and one, two or four separate bedroom pavilions. A club car per bedroom invites independent exploration of the island.
Whether it is sailing or scuba diving, windsurfing or simply frolicking in the water, Amanpulo offers an abundance of aquatic activities, all available to novices and experts alike. On land, tennis courts and bicycles are complemented by nature walks, which take in the lush indigenous plants as well as the dozens of bird species that make seasonal homes on the island and the nesting sites of green and hawksbill sea turtles. At night, an astronomical refracting telescope helps get up close to the stars.
Locally-caught seafood and island-grown vegetables and herbs take prominence on Amanpulo’s menu. Served across venues from the Clubhouse Restaurant and Beach Club to private salas and beach barbecues, dishes can be centred around ingredients that guests pick themselves from the island’s organic garden.
Amanpulo is a place of peace, where relaxation and wellness go hand in hand. The large spa is set on a hillside above the treetops with far-reaching views to the turquoise waters. Designed as a tranquil sanctuary, the connected pavilions are made from native wood with seashell-lined ceilings and are interspersed with outdoor relaxation salas.
Pamalican Island, Philippines 🇵🇭
The tiny island of Pamilacan, about 23km east of Balicasag, is cetacean central, home to whales and dolphins. Since the 1992 ban on capturing these creatures, Pamilacanons, descendants of three generations of whalers, have had to find other ways to earn a living.
No fewer than three community-based outfits organise expeditions and employ former whalers. All use old converted whaling boats and local crews. The trip includes a full day on the water and transfers from Baclayon (on Bohol) or Panglao; Whale sightings are relatively rare, but the best time for spotting them is from February to July; dolphins are common year-round.
The Philippines is defined by its emerald rice fields, teeming mega-cities, graffiti-splashed jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes, bug-eyed tarsiers, fuzzy water buffalo and smiling, happy-go-lucky people.
Islands & Beaches
With more than 7000 islands, the Philippines is a beach bum’s delight. There’s an island to suit every taste, from marooned slicks of sand in the middle of the ocean to sprawling mega-islands like Luzon and Mindanao. Sun worshippers and divers should head straight to the Visayas, where island-hopping opportunities abound and the perfect beach takes many forms. More adventurous travellers can pitch a tent on a deserted stretch of coastline and play solo Survivor for a few days.
We’ve all had it happen: your trip to paradise is ruined by day after day of torrential monsoon rain (in the Philippines that paradise is often Palawan). There are a couple of simple ways to avoid this. One, study the climate charts. The western parts of the the country get hammered by rain at the peak of the southwest monsoon (July to September), so go east during this time (unless there’s a typhoon brewing). Two, stay flexible. Dispense with advance bookings so you can migrate to fairer climes if need be.
The Philippines is a land apart from mainland Southeast Asia – not only geographically but also spiritually and culturally. The country’s overwhelming Catholicism, the result of 350 years of Spanish rule, is its most obvious enigma. Vestiges of the Spanish era include exuberant town fiestas (festivals), unique Spanish-Filipino colonial architecture and centuries-old stone churches. Malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English betray the influence of Spain’s colonial successor, the Americans. Yet despite these outside influences, the country remains very much its own unique entity. The people are, simply, Filipinos – and proud of it. Welcoming, warm and relentlessly upbeat, it is they who captivate and ultimately ensnare visitors.
The Philippines isn’t just about finding an isolated beach and getting catatonic. From kayaking to kiteboarding to canyoning to spelunking, the Philippines can capably raise any adrenaline junkie’s pulse. While surfers are just catching on to the tasty (if fickle) waves that form on both coasts, divers have long been enamoured of the country’s underwater charms. Freshwater pursuits include rafting and wakeboarding. Back on terra firma, trekking can be done just about anywhere, while rock climbing is gaining popularity. And the Philippines is also, unofficially, the zipline capital of the world.