Photo: Carrie Kellenberger
We take it for granted here in Hong Kong that the perfect tropical holiday is always just a couple hours away from the city, easily accessed through innumerable budget airlines. But nothing lasts forever, and many once-unspoilt beaches have gradually transformed into overcrowded tourist traps with little regard for preservation.
Then there’s Palawan – a major island province in the Philippines that stretches from the South China Sea in the north to Borneo at its most southern point. With more than 1,750 islets and atolls dotted around the main island’s edges, Palawan boast a plethora of private escapes.
Many of its archipelagos are still unexplored, and all retain their natural charm, with ample government regulations ensuring the region doesn’t turn into the next Boracay.
Here, we feature Palawan’s five best private islands – small, exclusive spots with few signs of civilisation, save for a resort or two. More importantly, all offer the kind of genuine unspoilt paradise every true traveller dreams of.
Few can afford it, but Pamalican is arguably the ideal Palawan private island. Once a humble coconut plantation, the island was bought in the early ‘90s by the renowned Aman Resorts, which converted it into a playground for the luxury set. The Amanpulo is a veritable mini-utopia, with untouched beaches surrounding its length and ample nature to explore.
There are ocean-facing restaurants, beach clubs, tennis courts and even a bar in the middle of the sea. Those who’d prefer to explore beyond the resort’s borders are given numerous opportunities to do so, with island-hopping, fishing tours and deep-sea diving around the many nearby reefs offered, as well as nature walks introducing Pamalican’s indigenous birds and turtles.
How to get there: Flights only via Manila or London, details at here.
El Nido in the north of Palawan is one of the most visited escapes in the province, but the six-hour drive it takes to reach it weeds out all those annoying day-trippers. Those seeking a true escape from the hoards should, however, journey a little farther, to Lagen Island.
Stunning sunset views, incredible cocktails and other highlights of the renowned area are still at your doorstep, but all within a secluded spot where hardly anyone will disturb you.
The island’s only hotel is from the El Nido Resorts luxury chain. Staying at one of their properties gives you access to the area’s only airport, meaning you’ll escape the tiring drive up. Their Lagen estate is arguably their finest, with 50 well-appointed rooms and a number of guided eco-tours available to those looking to explore.
How to get there: Fly direct to El Nido Airport and then take a short 15-minute boat ride to Lagen. Details here.
NoaNoa is one of the harder private islands to reach in Palawan, with a minimum four-hour drive awaiting you after landing at the main airport. But what the 170-acre island lacks in ease of access it more than makes up for in exclusivity, with NoaNoa being pretty much as “private”as inhabited islands get here.
Guests book out the entire island and its accompanying resort estate for a minimum of three nights, inviting along up to 11 friends to relish this incredibly select escape. Everything is included in the price, with the resort offering such activities as scuba diving and island hopping, alongside the top-notch bars, spas and restaurants.
How to get there: A four-hour drive from the airport, followed by a 30-minute boat ride to the island. Details here.
Most islands on this list request, nay, require, you to wear some form of clothing while outdoors. Not Friday’s – the opposite, in fact, is true. Located 15 minutes from one of northern El Nido’s main beaches, the small but serene islet is owned by Girl Friday, a senior British woman with a unique lifestyle.
Friday is a nudist – or as she likes to call it, “clothes-optional” kind of gal – who invites guests to embrace the strangely freeing hippie aesthetic in a Robinson Crusoe-like setting.
There’s nothing really sexual about it – or not much, at least. You’ll share the island with just a few guests who are expected to follow a handful of naturalism rules, including no drinking, no smoking and the consumption of only healthy foods.
Visitors must fill out a questionnaire to gain entrance, and men who want the full Friday experience (this is where it gets a bit creepy) can become one of her “Robinson Lovers”, and devote not only their bodies, but a sizeable amount of money to Friday’s cause.
How to get there: A six-hour drive from the airport north to El Nido, then hire a local boat from Coron Coron beach. Details here (be warned: NSFW).
Dos Palmas’ history might be slightly tarnished – infamous as the setting of a tragic 2001 hostage crisis where members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group kidnapped and killed five tourists – but its endurance as a travel destination is testament to the area’s safety in recent years, and the island still holds a unique advantage over many others.
Dos Palmas is located in Honda Bay, just a short hour-long journey from the main airport at Puerto Princesa, which means you’ll sidestep the long journeys it takes to reach most of Palawan’s other private escapes.
Endless white-sand beaches and clear skies are characteristic of this part of Palawan. The island’s only resort, its namesake Dos Palmas, offers ample recreational activities, including diving, kayaking and endless land sports, as well as a swimming pool for those days when you’re just done with sand.
How to get there: A 30-minute drive from airport to the port, then a 30-minute boat ride to Dos Palmas. Details here.
Find your own private island
What makes Palawan so unique isn’t just its sheer number of islands, but the fact that so many are still unexplored. Tao Expeditions has tapped into many a visitor’s thirst for discovery, with rough-and-ready itineraries that see only the most adventurous of travellers journeying on three or five-day treks across some of the hundreds of largely uncharted islands.
And if you have the means, one of these islands could actually be yours; numerous companies specialise in Philippine private island sales, including Private Islands Online. And with prices starting low as HKD4 million (you can’t even buy a decent Hong Kong flat for that), it’ll certainly be a tempting prospect for some.