Scattered in the South China Sea lies the archipelago of El Nido – a tropical paradise that’s home to some of the most incredible islands in the world. There are secret beaches, crystal clear lagoons, coral reefs and tiny islands you wish you were stranded on. While most of them are uninhabited, there are a small handful of private islands owned by luxury resorts that have redefined paradise.
One of these are El Nido Resorts – a group of four sustainable island resorts in El Nido that have been developed to sit in harmony with the beautiful natural landscapes. Each island is unique, but one thing they all have in common is the awards they have won and best hotel lists they have graced since opening. We were lucky enough to spend an idyllic two nights on Miniloc Island, the most rustic of all four resorts.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Miniloc Island, is the dramatic landscape of the island. The resort is tucked in a picturesque cove surrounded by huge limestone cliffs. What I loved about actual resort was how understated it was – when you have an island as beautiful as Miniloc, there’s no need for excessive luxury. The 50 cottages are thatched-roofed and furnished with indigenous Filipino materials. The floors are wooden and walls are covered in woven bamboo slats, locally known as sawali. We stayed in a dreamy water cottage that was small, but authentic. Each water cottage is built on stilts – there’s no direct access to the ocean, but sitting on the balcony listening to the water gently lap below is one of the most relaxing things to do on the island.
Like any good vacay, when you’re staying on Miniloc Island, your days will revolve around meal times. Miniloc Island is all-inclusive, so your nightly room rate includes breakfast, lunch and dinner at the resort’s beachfront restaurant – it’s gourmet buffet style dining with lots of fresh local seafood to feast on. If you’re after something more intimate, Miniloc Island also offers private dinners – we had ours on the beach under the stars with the sand between our toes. But if you’re after something even more special, you can organise to have dinner in one of the nearby lagoons.
Another daily ritual on Miniloc Island is the sunset cruise. Miniloc Island’s southeast facing position means that you can’t see the sun setting directly over the ocean. So every evening at dusk, Miniloc Island’s boats are on standby to take guests out into Bacuit Bay to watch the sun melt into the South China Sea.
While the island is incredibly beautiful and a destination in itself, the best thing about Miniloc is how close it is to some of El Nido’s most popular attractions like the Big and Small Lagoons, and Snake Island. The lagoons are so close, you can kayak to them in the morning before sunrise and have the clear aqua water to yourself before the tourist boats get there at around 9am.
When you’re staying on Miniloc Island, you also have the opportunity to visit the neighbouring Lagen Island. So on a rainy day we headed over for lunch and a swim in the luxurious beachfront pool. Lagen Island may be slightly more luxurious than Miniloc Island, but it still has that authentic laidback vibe that the eco-resorts are famous for.
On the way over to Lagen Island, we ended up on Dibuluan Island by chance where we discovered an amazingly dreamy sandbar. We shared our boat ride out to Lagen Island with some other Miniloc Island guests – they were heading to the beach club on the island and it was on the way. Day trips out to this island are super exclusive and only reserved for long-term guests at Miniloc Island. So we were stoked to be offered a quick pit stop on this picturesque island before heading onto Lagen.
When we weren’t snorkelling the reef off the beach right near our cottage, watching the sunset over the ocean and sipping cocktails on the balcony of our bungalow, we squeezed in a few fashion shoots featuring my favourite Aussie label Spell & The Gypsy Collective. The dreamy sheer curtains, palm-thatched roofs and lush tropical gardens provided the perfect backdrop for my beachy Spell pieces. Read more.
A water cottage like the one we stayed in is around AUD$890 per night for two – but that’s all-inclusive, so all your meals and non-motorised water sports are included. Details here.
Along with Miniloc Island, El Nido Resorts also have three other private island eco-resorts:
Lagen is nestled between a lush four-hectare tropical forest and a calm, shallow lagoon – it’s super private and as tranquil as it gets. Details here.
Located in Taytay (Northern Palawan) the Apulit resort is set within a pristine cove of white-sand beach lined with coconut trees. Details here.
This is El Nido Resort’s most luxurious property in their eco-island collection. The resort is located in front of a pristine beach and against a backdrop of tropical forest, and offers breath-taking views of both the sunrise and the sunset. Details here.
How to get there:
The best way to get to El Nido on Palawan Island in the Philippines is to fly to Manila. From Manila you can get a direct flight to El Nido that takes around one hour. The flights from Manila to El Nido are through AirSWIFT and they book out fast, so make sure you don’t leave it until the last minute or you could find yourself on a bus that takes up to 12 hours. Once you arrive at El Nido Airport, El Nido Resorts will whisk you by private boat to Miniloc Island. Details here.
- Cameras: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 70D and the GoPro HERO4 Silver Edition.
- Lenses: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM.