A burning blue: The best thing I did in El Nido

Sunset in El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines

There’s a place, just outside of the main town, where you’ll see something that will make your heart will catch in your chest.

I heard about it first from the guesthouse owner. It was the first place she recommended to me when I arrived in El Nido, a tiny fishing town on the Filipino island Palawan. ‘Hire a trike and go out to Las Cabanas for the sunset one day, and take your friends.’

Yeah, sunsets, ok, whatever. It felt like a tired filler suggestion from a guidebook, so we weren’t worried about missing our chance to see it – after all, it was bound to happen a few more times.

Instead, we went snorkelling, hopping on boats for tours around the archipelago, swimming in green lagoons and listening to the birdsong of the jungle. I met a jungle boy, a personification of the island in dark skin and dark hair, with one of those lean summer bodies made for climbing coconut trees and diving through waves. But in the group we were travelling with, there was never a moment alone. When the lot of us weren’t exploring the islands of the Bacuit Archipelago, we spent days just circumnavigating the same two main streets, from cafe to beach to massage to fruit shake to nap to dinner to party and back again.

El Nido is just one of those little beach towns that lends itself to repetition.

Walking to Las Cabanas in El Nido

Adequately distracted by the rest of the island’s offerings, we didn’t get around to Las Cabanas until our very last night. At the last moment, we hired a few trikes to take us there, just a ten minute drive away, which dropped us off at a nondescript curve in the road. It wasn’t until the driver pointed that we saw a thin dirt track running into the jungle.

Down the path, we walked through the trees, over two tiny rivers crossed by tiny plank bridges, past cows lowing between coconut trees, mired in an expanse of green island jungle until – suddenly – the trees opened around us and spit us right back out onto the beach.

And the expanse of the Bacuit Archipelago lay waiting before us.

Palm trees in a sunset, the Philippines

Limestone islands, rising abruptly from the water, were scattered in the distance. While we’d been in the forest, the sun had deepened enough to change the colours around us to technicolour versions of themselves – the sand was now dark gold, the trees glowing green, and the water and sky an electric blue.

I was starting to think the guesthouse owner was onto something, here.

Sunset on the Bacuit Archipelago, the Philippines

To our left were a few huts in the trees, part of the resort for which the beach takes its name, so we walked past the first bend, then the second, until we were away from the few other people on the beach. We stopped where the bay opened fully, left our bags under a few coconut trees and waded out into the water. It was shallow, just up to our calves, and we walked until the shore shrunk to a strip and the expanse of the bay opened around us like a jaw.

From there, we waited.

Watching the sunset in El Nido, the Philippines

The sun began to hit the horizon. It was just about that time. As the fringes of the clouds began to catch the last few rays of light, a slow glow of orange spread over the islands in the horizon, and the sea turned to silver beneath our feet.

In the distance, casting ripples, a man in the silhouette of a long dugout canoe was paddling home.

I think we spoke. But I can’t for the life of me remember what we said.

Sunset in El Nido, Palawan

Suddenly, faster than we could notice, the sun finally disappeared behind the cliffs on the horizon, and night arrived with the force of a lightning bolt. Gone were the hazy tones of orange and pink over the landscape, replaced instead with a deep, arresting blue. That blue soaked into everything – the water, the clouds, the island silhouettes. There was a vibrancy in that blue, an urgency.

It wanted us to shut up, stand still, and just watch.

Sunset in El Nido, Palawan

We stood there for a long, long time. And even when the first person turned back, and then the second, I couldn’t quite find the will to move my feet.

One person waited for me. The jungle boy. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was taking a picture of me, watching those colours. And when I finally turned around, he was there. The others had gone.

I smiled. I think they knew not to wait up for us.

It was the last night. And the whole island was glowing.

Watching the sunset in El Nido, Palawan

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21 Responses to A burning blue: The best thing I did in El Nido

  1. Laura 30 July, 2013 at 04:22 #

    Wow, those blues are really gorgeous – and jungle boy sounds like the perfect person to share them with!

    • Naomi Alyssa 31 July, 2013 at 16:35 #

      Indeed…and that was even before the full night sky came out, with a lightning show over the water in the distance! The Philippines are a bit of paradise.

  2. Tyrhone 30 July, 2013 at 08:55 #

    Sounds lovely, but as a chronic anopheliphobia sufferer I have to ask, mosquitoes?

    • Naomi Alyssa 31 July, 2013 at 16:36 #

      HA! No, not that I remember…but once the stars came out, so did a mass of fireflies!

  3. Brenna 31 July, 2013 at 01:40 #

    Beautiful post as always, Naomi; I love your way with words. I was in El Nido three years ago but I didn’t visit Las Cabanas – I didn’t even hear about it. All the more reason to go back…

    • Naomi Alyssa 31 July, 2013 at 16:38 #

      I’d love to go back, too! A friend of mine went out to Coron and had a real adventure in the wilderness…next time ;)

  4. Alana - Paper Planes 31 July, 2013 at 10:50 #

    I like the double entendre in the title… ;)

  5. Amanda 31 July, 2013 at 23:15 #

    Beautifully written. And the sunset looks/sounds amazing! Those blues truly are stunning.

  6. Tom 1 August, 2013 at 20:34 #

    Wow, real paradise, I just love it. I visited once Lakshadweep Islands which were a bit similiar, I’d love to go back to a place like this! Amazing photos!

    • Naomi Alyssa 10 August, 2013 at 14:32 #

      Whoa…never heard of the Lakshadweep Islands before. They sound like an alluring mystery………….!

  7. Michael-Try The World 2 August, 2013 at 04:47 #

    Wow what awesome pictures. They almost look unreal! Nothing better than watching the sunset on a secluded beach in paradise. Lucky you!

    • Naomi Alyssa 10 August, 2013 at 14:34 #

      It’s one of those days you can never, ever forget. And is a complete testament to why travel is life! ;)

  8. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) 5 August, 2013 at 09:49 #

    I wish that our guesthouse owner in El Nido had told us about this place as you photos are absolutely gorgeous! Then again, the Bacuit archipelago is pretty stunning no matter which way you look! We spent a night camping on a private island while we were there and that was pretty awesome, too; definitely one of the prettiest places we’ve been!

    • Naomi Alyssa 10 August, 2013 at 14:36 #

      Truth – I met another traveller who hired a boat to take him and his friends out to a deserted island for a night in the same area and they had a crazy beautiful experience camping under the full moon. You guys kick ass! ;)

  9. Rob 12 August, 2013 at 07:52 #

    Those beaches look so inviting!

    • Naomi Alyssa 14 August, 2013 at 18:47 #

      They were, and deserted, save for us. The Philippines are kind of the perfect island fantasy!

  10. Jack Kent 21 August, 2013 at 12:45 #

    This is such a beautiful post. With all the beautiful photos you have, this place is so amazing. I really love the blue sky and the beach. El Nido is perfect for vacation with friends and honeymoon for the newly weds.
    This is a must see place to visit with the best sunset that is very beautiful to watch.

  11. Kelly Rogers 16 April, 2014 at 11:42 #

    I like the pics. And I like the water. But I like the way you described this place even better. It made me want to go to El Nido. I’ve been to Boracay but not Palawan. You’ve given me ideas. Thanks.

  12. the paper boat sailor 8 October, 2014 at 20:19 #

    Palawan was my choice too, for which I bumped the more popular Boracay islands. It was quieter in Palawan, looked just as gorgeous and retained a more local flavour than the places buzzing with tourists.
    Your photos are making me nostalgic :)

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