Despite traveling to the Philippines many times over the years, I had never gone to Mindanao — in no small part because my wife wouldn’t let me. Parts of the region were once considered quite dangerous, but I was bound for an island off the mainland: Siargao.
Siargao is a drop of tropical paradise that stands out even among the beautiful islands of the Philippines, a hideaway for luxury travelers and surfers.
I was quite surprised by the longish flight from Manila to Siragao, at around two hours and fifteen minutes. Regular travelers to the Philippines will know that small planes are the main way to hop between the many islands of the nation, but it was an education in the sheer size of this tropical republic.
Upon arrival I was greeted by a Jeepney, the perennial symbol of Filipino travel. This one, however, was different that the workaday silver junks roaming the streets, because this Jeepney came from the plushest resort on the island — if not the whole of the eastern islands: Nay Palad Hideaway.
Previously Dedon Island Resort, Nay Palad is at the southeastern tip of Siargao, found between the crystal waters of the pacific and six square kilometers of mangrove forests and natural waterways.
Other than Malaysia, I had never seen so many palm trees on the drive to the island in the comfortable seating of the luxury Jeepney, eventually arriving at the resort itself. This resort is high-end in the extreme.
The villas here have beach access to the shallow nearby waters but the king of the villas is the Perlah Villa, featuring two master bedrooms and a double bedroom as well as an indoor lounge. With a private outdoor pool and a movie projector, this would be the ideal base for an adventurous family.
The beach is narrow, clean, and empty, though its shallow nature precludes it from being a swimming beach. At low tide, you can walk out into the sand for nearly a hundred yards.
The grounds of Nay Palad are fittingly lush and tropical, and the theme of the resort is very much that of “barefoot luxury.” Travelers are told to kick off their shoes and not put them back on until they leave.
Adding to this no-fuss concept is the matter of Nay Palad being an all-inclusive resort; some travelers might blanche at the price tag at first, but you can’t put a price tag on being able to eat, drink, and indulge at will without worrying about signing for anything.
Also of note at Nay Palad are the destination dinners. Every evening is a new dining experience: the beach, the garden, the dining room, and all of this comes with exceptional, friendly service.
But, even with all this luxury, it’s important to get out of the resort. Just outside, as mentioned, is six kilometers of mangrove forest, an ideal opportunity for paddle boarding, drone photography, and sunsets.
Instead, I headed for Sohoton Cove. This was unlike anything I had ever seen in the Philippines, rather more like something to be found in Raja Ampat in the Philippines. The gumdrop limestones and bright blue water make for excellent photography.
I shared my boat with a couple that one might expect from the company at Nay Palad, with one member of the party having been on the reality television show Survivor, twice. My Osmo could have used some survival skills, as my first use of it happened sans protective casing, and the camera died before getting to use it on the underwater world of Sohoton Cove.
One of the most memorable experiences was that of swimming through a cave to a lagoon. You put on your snorkel and swim toward and opening. There is a man there who will hold your head under the water as you swim through to keep you from cutting yourself on the shark limestone. It is, to put it mildly, a little off putting.
At the end of that pat though is an exhilarating 15-foot jump into the clear waters below.
Afterward we visited a few more islands, of which Siragao has many — Guyam Island, the Daku Island, and more. It is said there is a nearby area where the (harmless) jellyfish gather in a way not dissimilar to that of Palau, but alas it was not the right season.
The next day would take me to Cloud 9, a legendary surfing destination that features a right-breaking reef wave known for its perfect barrel. It’s a great way to learn to surf, but even non-surfers can enjoy the multi-story wooden watchtower. The hippyish surfing culture is on full display in the wild nightlife in the nearby surfer bars and restaurants — a world away from the five-star treatment at Nay Palad.
What impressed me most with Nay Palad Hideaway and Siargao was the solitude. It’s a bit further afield than most travel in the Philippines. I walked for nearly an hour along the resort’s beach and didn’t see a soul.