After traveling for 2-3 years in various places in the country, I’ve been to a couple of places that are well loved and popular but just don’t resonate with me. Here is that list.
I’d been meaning to write about this for a long time but didn’t because I didn’t want to offend anyone (*cough* tourism offices) and also because I felt guilty about not enjoying myself as much as I would expect to. I know that’s a funny thing to worry about, but hey, try to live in the Philippines where people will cry war at any opinion that’s less than all praise and glory.
In my experience, expectations play a big role on how we react. Sometimes I read and browse too much that when I finally visit a bucket list item, it just doesn’t live up to the idea in my mind. There’s also circumstances… I know I enjoy trips better when (1) the weather is fine, even though most Filipinos avoid the sun, (2) there are less tourists around.
So without further ado, here’s my list of Philippine destinations that most people love and I don’t.
El Nido, Palawan
Growing up, I’d always believed that El Nido is exclusive for the rich or those celebrating a special occasion. If I remember correctly, my older brother stayed here for honeymoon. It’s also often cited in “Best of” lists in international travel magazines and websites. Heck, just last year, it was in TripAdvisor’s list of Top Destinations on the Rise.
I expected to be swept off my feet. I expected world-class beaches and lagoons worthy of being featured in magazine’s front pages.
So you can imagine my disappointment when El Nido didn’t seem all that, except perhaps for the occasional wonder such as the snorkeling area in Matinloc Shrine. I was especially looking forward to the Big Lagoon, but it turned out our boat would only make one short sweep inside while us guests take photos. There were so many of us in the tour boat that we had to wait to take turns posing in front.
Food experience was also a disappointment. None of the restaurants we tried were good. I liked that the buffet during island hopping tours consists of seafood, but to be honest the dishes are a bit bland. Everything is grilled or boiled. (I have to mention I also had food poisoning here.)
Nacpan Beach in El Nido is nice though.
What I suggest instead:
Coron in Palawan is a much better destination in terms of *everything.* In fact, if you’ve been to Coron first before visiting El Nido, you might have less-than-favorable reviews of the latter as well. If you’re into beaches, Balabac in the south also have awesome beaches.
Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
Kalanggaman Island in Leyte is famous for its long sandbar. The sand is white, yes, but coarse. Overall it looks great when captured with long-monopod cameras or drones. It’s one of those places that look so much better in photos than it does in reality.
We went here during Holy Week, and honestly this is a huge factor for me not enjoying this island as much. As anyone in the Philippines know, during Holy Week every known beaches is jam-packed with families and vacationers. There’s a daily capping in Kalanggaman Island, but as a backpacker who’d been to some of the most secluded places in the country, the number of visitors is still too much than I’m used to. We couldn’t get a decent photo of the sandbar because it was always crowded, from early morning to sunset. Hali woke up at about 4AM to wait for sunrise in the sandbar and found there’s already about 15 or more people in there, rooted in the spot. The crowd only got larger as the sun rose.
The good thing about Kalanggaman Island is that, unlike other tourist attractions in the Philippines, it was immediately handled by an LGU before any environmental damage could be done. As I said before, it’s a prime example of sustainable tourism.
We might have enjoyed it better if we’d gone here before it was a famous commercial tourist attraction (about 2 years ago, at least) or in some other days, weekdays preferably.
What I suggest instead:
If you’re looking for an island where you can camp overnight, Sambawan Island in Biliran is more captivating and less crowded.
Seco Island, Antique
Seco Island is another item on the list that looks good when captured using a drone. In real life, it looks ordinary.
Most of the shore is covered in seaweeds. There’s a nice sandbar at one end of the island, where the water is a cool blue. But the sand is peppered with mossy stones and the water is perpetually low.
I think Seco Island’s charm is its remoteness. It’s 2 hours away from Malalison Island in Culasi or the jump-off point in Tibiao. Getting here can also be a challenge. We were temporarily held back by a sea storm on the way, so we arrived an hour later than expected.
I appreciated how we saw dolphins and bioluminescence during our boat travel — that’s what I’ll remember most about Seco Island.
P.S. Credits to Kuya Brahma for reminding me that this island in Panay is better known as a kitesurfing destination, especially to foreign tourists. It’s only recently that it’s being promoted by local millennials as an Instagram spot, which I think isn’t a good promotional move.
What I suggest instead:
Antique has a diverse list of things to do and places more accessible, perhaps more worthwhile to visit. Here’s a list of things to do in Antique as a sample.
Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo
Cabugao Gamay in Islas de Gigantes is my “Ito na yun?” island.
When we visited here in 2015, I was uncertain whether I liked it or not. You can even tell that about the way I phrase my words when I wrote about our island hopping experience in Gigantes, which was leaning more on a (cautious) positive tone. I mean, it’s difficult not to like it especially after seeing hundreds of photos of it online, with the inviting blues and greens.
Hali has been here back in 2014, and he was extremely positive about this experience. This was several months before the sudden surge of popularity of Islas de Gigantes. You can see much nicer photos of Cabugao Gamay in Hali’s previous visit here.
I can’t, however, discount that feeling of disappointment when our boat was preparing to dock to Cabugao Gamay. I thought we were visiting Antonia Island or some other island, but Hali affirmed that we were indeed Cabugao Gamay. It’s so small and… “Ito na yun?”
It also didn’t help that there had been a typhoon during our visit in Iloilo. I guess it didn’t draw out the best colors of the water around the islands. We rushed to visit Tangke Lagoon before the waves got too rough and ended up wading around ankle-deep brackish water.
The thing about not liking a popular tourist attraction is that it’s difficult to voice it out. Everyone just seems to love Cabugao Gamay, at least in social media. Later on, I caught up with a friend a we chatted about our travels for the last year. It was surprising to me that we have similar views on Cabugao Gamay, which she’d visited on a perfect weather (unlike us), as well as Kalanggaman Island, which she’d risked a boat ride for.
Still, I’ll gladly visit Islas de Gigantes again if I get the chance. (Or maybe not.)
What I suggest instead:
I enjoyed my time in Guimaras more than our island hopping stint in Iloilo. That province has a feel-good vibes, and it seems there’s a lot of resorts there worth seeing. I’ve noted down Magic Island Resort, Nature’s Eye Resort and the Floating Cottage for possible future trips.
So, in summary…
When I first mentioned this list to Hali, he was surprised. The thing is, between the two of us, I’m the pickier one. He said if he’d have his own list, it would include Sagada.
I also have a lot of travels where I was taken in surprise, awed, rendered speechless or just happy. Most of these are places where I had none or minimal expectations or when I did little research as possible. I’m happy to say that most of our travels fall under this. I realize that when I expect less, I give a chance for the world to sneak behind my back and surprise me.
What are some popular places in the Philippines that aren’t really up to your liking?