The grand escape: 5 private islands in the Philippines

The grand escape: 5 private islands in the Philippines

Here’s a list of islands in the country you can rent to yourself, or share with other holiday makers but don’t feel like it.

Private islands have an aura of luxury and exclusivity that most destinations find hard to match. As an archipelago, we have a lot of them already unlocked by some of the country’s rich and famous.

In fact, some of our islands have become known throughout the world as some of the best, like one of the entries in this list. If you’re looking at satisfying that “luxury travel” item on your list, check out these private islands you can book for a truly luxurious experience.

Amanpulo, Cuyo, Palawan

Perhaps the most well-known of the islands on this list is the most luxurious of luxurious, Amanpulo. Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Amanpulo is actually situated on Pamalican Island, one of the islands in the Cuyo archipelago. You can do pretty much everything you’d like to do on a private island here: swim in the sea with waters so clear they glisten in the sunlight at high noon, snorkel, have a bit of water sports like kite surfing, and embark on sunset cruise.

You may encounter other guests on the island but the resort management has a way of making you feel you and your party are the only ones there.

Starts at Php73,407/night (USD1,405) | Aman.com

Banwa Private Island, Roxas, Palawan

One of the newer private islands the country has seen, Banwa is a place where you can find a luxurious and very private escape. You charter the whole island, meaning you can have it all to yourself. It’s about 500km from Manila, with San Vicente as its main entry point.

Banwaprivateisland.com to know more and to inquire about renting the island

Bamboo Private Islands, Coron, Palawan

This is one of those places that you definitely do not expect. Bamboo Private Islands is actually split into two: the Big Bamboo Island and the Small Bamboo Island. Both can be rented out, though the Small Bamboo Island is more popular, thanks to its location: you’re smack dab in the middle of Culion Bay, close to popular gems like Ditaytayan, Malcapuya, and Two Seasons Coron Island.

Starts at Php75,923/night for Small Bamboo Island
Bambooislands.ph. To get to Bamboo Island, take a SkyJet Airlines flight from Manila to Busuanga.

Brother Island, El Nido, Palawan

They’ve been called the Robinson Crusoe Island of the Philippines. Brother Island, located in the northern shores of El Nido, is one of the most popular islands that you can rent on Airbnb. It’s the only exclusive private island retreat in El Nido that offers snorkeling (a coral reef surrounds the island), a jungle and bamboo forest, and you’ll be staying in an ancestral house that was put up in 1991.

Starts at Php23,000/night, includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, airport pick-up and drop-off (El Nido), snorkeling gear, kayaks
Brotherisland.ph

Ariara, Linapacan, Palawan

Talk about luxury and privacy. Ariara Island, located about 256km southwest of Manila, is probably the must-visit on this list. You can rent out the whole island for two nights and have the utmost in privacy. Imagine having a 125-acre island to yourself, with your own white sand beach, your own coral reef to snorkel in, all of your meals prepared by a personal chef, a bevy of watersports equipment, and roundtrip transfers between El Nido or Coron, whichever airport you’re flying into.

Starts at Php93,600/night for the whole island, minimum of 2 nights
Ariaraisland.com. Take a SkyJet Airlines flight from Manila to Coron.

Featured photo of Inaladelan Island shown for context, taken by Harvey Tapan

Peace and quiet on private island, North Cay

Peace and quiet on private island, North Cay

Found: A place in the far end of Busuanga to rest when you feel like other islands are too crowded.

It’s a tiny island you can get to know within an afternoon. Perfect for those people-free selfies! Photo by Daniel Soriano

North Cay Nature Island is one of the lesser-known private islands. Located about an hour away from the town of Concepcion in Busuanga, Palawan (two-and-a-half to three if you’re coming from Coron), this little island gives you unobstructed views of Busuanga Bay’s fiery sunsets from its own viewdeck, a tiny bar of sorts where you can enjoy simple cocktails, and huts you can rent for as low as Php3,000/night. If day tours are more of your thing, it’s only Php200 per person to get in.

It has a small white sand beach that doubles as the island’s docking area, a spot that you’ll usually have to yourself because of how far this island is from Coron. The waters around it are good for snorkeling, especially the north side of the island.

Get there. SkyJet Airlines has 21 flights to Busuanga weekly. Hire a boat from either Concepcion or Coron to take you to North Cay Nature Island. Boat rentals go from between Php2,000 to Php3,000 per boat.

5 must-see sea creatures

5 must-see sea creatures

Marine biologist Miguel Azcuna curates of underwater species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

The Philippines is an archipelago. This means it’s made up of groups of islands surrounded by a vast expanse of water, ergo, a rich diversity of marine life. Diving is the best way to see the beauty that our water holds.

We spoke to a marine biologist, Dr. Miguel Azcuna from Batangas State University, to know which marine species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

Nudibranchs

Photo by Lisbeth Jensen

Where to find them: Anilao, Batangas

The name rolls off the tongue, right? These are the cute, colorful, shell-less mollusks (scallops, clams, snails, cuttlefish) you see in those island hopping package pamphlets that offer snorkeling. They love seawater and some have been referred to as sea slugs.

Thresher sharks

Thresher
A thresher shark at Monad Shoal near Malapascua Island. Photo by Klaus Stiefel

Where to find them: Malapascua Island, Cebu

“Thresher sharks are unique in that they use their unusually long tails to catch their prey,” says Dr. Azcuna. This particular species have found a home in the waters off of Malapascua Island in Cebu, known for its magnificent and quiet beaches. They are often found in Monad Shoal and pose no threat to humans. Be at the site early, like around 4am to 5am, for better chances of sighting.

Orcas

Where to find them: Tañon Strait, between the islands of Cebu and Negros

Dr. Azcuna says they rarely pass by the Philippines but they do swim from time to time. “These apex predators prefer cooler tropical waters and can (in very rare cases) be seen in Tañon Strait between June and October.” The last time orcas were seen in Philippines waters, it was 2018.

Sea Turtles

Photo from Inaladelan Island

Where to find them: Apo Island, Negros Oriental

Yes, there’s more than one place to find the humble pawikan. They can usually be found nesting in the waters of Palawan (for instance, just offshore of Club Paradise), but for a better chance of spotting one, Dr. Azcuna recommends Apo Island. You’ll usually see them grazing on seagrass.

Freshwater Jellyfish

Where to find them: Sohoton Cove, Siargao

You may be asking yourself this: “Why would you recommend seeing jellyfish as a once-in-a-lifetime activity?” Well, these jellyfish are ones you can actually swim with and not be extremely worried. Dr. Azcuna says the jellyfish that swim in Sohoton’s jellyfish pond are stingless “because they have no need for stings in freshwater.” Go early in the day to avoid the crowd.

Who is Dr. Miguel Azcuna?

Miguel Azcuna is a marine biologist who specializes in Bioprospecting for New Medicine, particularly from marine sponges. He holds a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, where he majored in Marine Biotechnology.

He was a part of the team from UP MSI’s Bolinao Marine Laboratory that donated giant clams to Camiguin’s Giant Clam Sanctuary.

He is currently an associate professor at the Batangas State University – ARASOF Nasugbu Campus and a member of the research staff at the Verde Island Passage Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences (VIP CORALS).

Glamp in style at Nacpan Beach Glamping, El Nido

Glamp in style at Nacpan Beach Glamping, El Nido

Top tier camping facility Nacpan Beach Glamping opened its doors in one of El Nido’s quieter areas, Nacpan, about an hour’s ride from the main town—a thumbs up to those wanting to camp but with creature comforts at bay.

Isn’t it grand?

In a one-hectare land now sits nine luxe tents surrounded by palm trees and shrubbery, mere steps away from what The Daily Telegraph has described as one of the “29 dreamiest beaches on Earth.” Nine more tents are set to open in October.

Here’s how it looks from the outside.

The tents made from canvas with heavy-duty cotton built to withstand the El Nido weather, come with a zipped mesh and PVC windows, and view of either the beach or the mountains. The interiors are set in earthen tones furnished with queen bed set on top of a native-style sisal rug, has thoughtful touches like a Japanese pendant light, and airconditioning, which you don’t really need if you’re breathing pristine sea breeze.

This is how it looks inside.

Food at Nacpan Beach Glamping is part of the stay you pay for and you get it from the Nacpan Sunmai Restaurant located right beside the campsite. It features an international menu with local favorites like sisig and grilled tanigue mixed with Japanese katsu, Italian pizza, and smoothie bowls. Other exciting stay inclusions guests get to experience are a one-hour sunset sail, and origami classes using coconut leaves.

Visit between December and May and you may get the chance to see turtle hatchlings being released.

The basics
Php7,500 per night for two; however, a tent can fit up to four
Nacpanbeachglamping.com
Tel: +63956 234 0162

Get there. SkyJet Airlines (skyjetairlines.com) has regular flights from San Vicente, Palawan where a van can take you to El Nido. Get off at Discover El Nido office on Amboy Street in El Nido town and hop on the Nacpan Shuttle Service.

Where in the world is San Vicente?

Where in the world is San Vicente?

You can say San Vicente is the Philippines’ last frontier’s last frontier. If this doesn’t sound right, this report will.

Palawan’s open secret might probably be the best thing to ever happen to local tourism, and it’s not hard to see why: sustainable tourism practices are at the heart of what drives the once sleepy fishing town of San Vicente.

The teeny spotlight lit on San Vicente’s two attractions: Long Beach and Port Barton. But the fact is there are more to the town than lounging around these breathtaking shores.

Cove hop on Boayan Island

Boayan Island, the largest island off the coast of San Vicente, boasts some of the most pristine beaches in the province. Most of the beaches on Boayan are within private property, but island hoppers can stop by it. Coves like Kalipay, Evergreen, and Kambingan are great if you want a beach to yourself.

Daplac Cove is for those who want to be away from the crowd. Photo by Harvey Tapan

Ask your boatman to bring you to Daplac Cove, one of the more pristine beaches on Boayan Island. It’s a 300-meter cove with powdery white sand that’s a host to a few sea turtles and if the conditions are right you may spot them in your visit.
Boayan Island is about 30 minutes by boat from the San Vicente Port. St. Vincent Travel and Tours has this in their tours.

Photo Op at Bato ni Ningning

Introducing Bato ni Ningning. Photo by Harvey Tapan

Bato ni Ningning, named after a drama series that aired on local TV in 2015, gives you a view of Erawan Beach as well as a near-360-degree view of the surrounding area.

Stand atop the rock and bust out your selfie stick to get Erawan Beach in the photo, or go down a bit from the top of the hill and have a cleaner shot of the beach.
Bato ni Ningning is a 45-minute drive from the airport, and best reached on a motorbike. Bike rental is around Php600 (USD12) per bike. Entrance to Bato ni Ningning is Php20 per person.

Bar hop in Port Barton

The crowd in San Vicente will always gravitate towards Port Barton. It’s the first area of San Vicente to be explored by tourists and a welcome alternative to those who have been to El Nido.

Two of the top bars in Port Barton are Moon Bar and Mojitos Restobar. Mojitos was once named as Palawan’s best resto-bar on TripAdvisor and is known for its nine variations on the classic mojito. Moon Bar alternately is a beachfront bar that serves smoothies, beer, wines, and cocktails with a view of San Vicente’s cotton candy-colored sunset. It’s hard to miss since it looks like a gigantic two-storey beach hut.
Drinks at Moon Bar start at Php200. Moon Bar is a five-minute walk from the center of Port Barton.

Chase waterfalls

It’s not as tall as other waterfalls in the country, but Pamoayan Falls is quite scenic. Photo by Harvey Tapan

To date, there are only two waterfalls known to people who have been to San Vicente: Bigaho and Pamoayan. Bigaho Falls, a 10-minute walk from the beach where your boat will dock, is pretty accessible and often the final stop on your Port Barton Island Hopping tour. It has a small pool at the bottom of the falls for taking a leisurely dip.

Pamoayan Falls, 10 minutes by motorbike on paved and dirt roads from Port Barton beach, calls the adventurous. From the entrance, it’s a five-minute trek including wading on a creek to get to the waterfall. Compared to Bigaho, Pamoayan is more majestic in terms of size and features. Its dipping pool is larger than Bigaho too.
Bigaho and Pamoayan both have a sari-sari store where you can buy snacks and drinks, and where there’s a donation box for those who wish to donate cash.

Spend the afternoon (or the night) at Inaladelan Island

It’s quite the experience staying at an island for a night. Photo by Harvey Tapan

It’s a tongue-twister of a name, but Inaladelan Island (or German Island) is one of the best islands to spend a night on in San Vicente. It has tents, a 300-meter white-sand beach on one side, a small bar that serves cocktails, and a small pavilion where you can have your lunch. You’ll love the trees giving you shelter when it’s a tad too sunny. Inaladelan is often a lunch stop for island hopping tours, but we recommend actually spending a night here for you to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Less than a kilometer from its shore is where you’ll find what people visit San Vicente for: sea turtles. There’s a huge patch of seagrass below the waves that sea turtles love to graze in, and they’re more than happy to let people snorkel or swim with them while they feed. Note: This phenomenon is year-round.
Overnight stays at Inaladelan are at Php2,500 per person (minimum of two) with roundtrip transfers from either Port Barton or San Vicente, a camping tent with foam bed and pillows, dinner, and breakfast. Book at Inaladelanisland.com

Explore Port Barton’s reefs

Port Barton is home to some of the more thriving coral reefs in Palawan. The islands in Port Barton Bay like Inaladelan and Exotic have some of the clearest waters, making them a playground for snorkelers.

Some of the more popular reefs are Twin Reef and Wide Reef. Twin Reef is a shallow dive (less than 15 feet) and home to large table corals and schools of fish. It’s a small area that’s easily explored even by those who don’t dare dive beneath the waves. Wide Reef is a wider reef area, hence the name, and deeper than Twin Reef, with similar coral formations and species of fish. If you’re looking for larger schools of fish, have your boatman take you to Small Lagoon Reef, located close to Exotic Island; for and to Fantastic Reef, close to Double Island, for a look-see of green corals.
Snorkeling in Port Barton Bay is a part of the tours provided by St. Vincent Travel and Tours.

Laze on Long Beach and forget time exists

This one you can do at any of the beaches you’ll visit, but Long Beach gives you the best opportunity to enjoy a legitimately long walk on the beach or do nothing at all.

This is only halfway. Let that sink in for a second. Photo by Harvey Tapan

Long Beach is a 14.7-kilometer, cream-colored sandy beach that has got one of the most colorful sunsets you’d evert see. There aren’t many establishments on Long Beach yet, which means a visit this early will give you a good chance of taking those beach photos without people and manmade structures in the background.
Put on loads of insect repellent before you and within your visit to keep you from being bit by sand flies.

Watch sea turtle hatchlings go to the sea

Another unique way of enjoying a stay in San Vicente joining the locals and taking part in releasing sea turtle hatchlings on Long Beach.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Photo from Club Agutaya/Dixie Mariñas

Backed by a municipal ordinance, the residents (especially school kids) and officials of the three barangays that share Long Beach walk on their portion of the beach either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to look for sea turtle nests. Tourists can join in on the fun by simply walking with them or visiting Club Agutaya, where they release hatchlings within 24 hours of finding them. Turtle hatching season is from October to April.
Register for free at Club Agutaya’s front desk when you visit San Vicente to join locals in looking for sea turtle nests.

Visit Dumaran Island

It’s not exactly on every tour operator’s itinerary and it’s not exactly in San Vicente, but Dumaran Island is the definition of an unknown tourist destination in Palawan. The island is three hours away from San Vicente and will have you take dirt roads and a boat ride to get to it. It’s not a touristy place, with no proper resorts, restaurants, and other tourist establishments but it does have spots you can check out like Isla Pugon, Encantasia Island, Renambacan Island, Maruyug-ruyog Island, Calampuan Island, and the Dumaran Spanish Fort.
Tours at Dumaran Island can be arranged with either the local tourism office or Isla Pugod Eco Resort (@DumaranPalawanDiscoveryOfficialPage on Facebook).

The basics
Get there: SkyJet Airlines flies direct from Manila to San Vicente four times weekly. Motorbikes are the preferred way of getting around San Vicente, with rentals priced around Php600 (USD12) per bike.

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