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Philippines

Polaroid of the week: A picture-perfect lagoon near El Nido, Philippines

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polaroid of the week philippines bacuit archipelago el nido palawanIt wasn’t even intentional, but when my boat left the bay in which the little town of El Nido sits and drove out into the archipelago it dawned on me that I had saved the best for last. El Nido was the last stop on my Philippines trip, and as our little boat was getting closer to the massive limestone karst cliffs that are prominent on all the islets out here, I couldn’t stop thinking how lucky I was to be able to see this little piece of heaven.

El Nido and the Bacuit Archipelago are often named as the last unspoiled paradise on earth, and as we were passing deserted, immaculate beaches, steered through lagoons with crystal clear emerald green water, stopped the boat to swim through narrow holes in the towering limestone walls which turned out to be entrances to hidden beaches and lagoons, snorkeled with colorful tropical fish and ‘hopped’ from one uninhabited island to the next, I could see why people are so smitten by this truly awe-inspiring wonder of nature.

The archipelago, consisting of 45 limestone outcrops pierced with steep karst cliffs and lined with dozens of palm-fringed beaches is best explored on an island hopping tour like the one I was on, which can be booked everywhere around El Nido town. There are four different boat tours which include various islands, allowing you to snorkel in hidden lagoons, explore beautiful caves and visit secret beaches, or just take in the magnificence of this serene setting from the boat. But not to snorkel would mean missing out on the incredible underwater world here, which has more than 800 different species of fish and over 100 species of coral.

I was lucky enough to go on two island hopping trips during my stay in El Nido, but I wish I could have gone on all four – I could’ve sailed through the archipelago for weeks and never gotten bored of just looking at the breathtaking beauty of this chain of lush green isles which all look like they are the picture-perfect Robinson Crusoe-like retreat. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my island hopping trip in the Philippines – Palawan turned out to be the most impressive ‘grand finale’ to an absolute dream trip.

Think I am exaggerating with my gushing over this heaven on earth? Then check out these photos in an article named ‘Palawan, the most beautiful island in the world, is sheer perfection.

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Chocolate Hills Of Bohol, Philippines

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polaroid of the week philippines bohol chocolate hillsI came to Bohol for exactly two reasons: tarsiers and chocolate hills. Bohol was the only island in the Philippines that I wasn’t drawn to for its beaches, but for nature and wildlife. Tarsiers are some of the smallest primates in the world, and can easily fit in your palm, that’s how tiny they are! In my opinion, they look like little gremlins, with big heads and big round eyes, and I had been dying to ‘meet’ one ever since I’d seen a picture of one of these rare creatures. They are, similar to sloths, both cute and ugly at the same time.

The other thing I came to Bohol for, the Chocolate Hills, took a bit more effort to see (including a wild ride through the fields on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle), but it was well worth it. I couldn’t believe the sight of hundreds of cone-shaped hills sticking out of the ground as far as the eye could see! In total, there are over 1,300 of these hills spread out over 50sq km (20 sq miles), all between 100 and 165 feet (30 and 50 meters) high. The hills are made of limestone and covered with grass, and because they are seen as a ‘superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance’, they have been submitted for UNESCO World Heritage status as Natural Monument.

Because nobody can really explain how these hills were created, local folklore has several legends about the formation of the hills. One says they are tears of a heartbroken giant. Another one says that there were two giants, fighting each other, throwing huge rocks at each other – which are the chocolate hills. Two other legends indicate that these are in fact feces left behind by giants!

While I wasn’t sure why these lush green hills were named after chocolate (other than that they reminded me of Hershey’s Kisses, would you agree?), I later learned that this is because they are brownish, chocolate-colored during the dry season when the green grass dries up.

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