Map of El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected AreaLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
If you've read my review on the T-list site Coron, the stunningly pristine karst landscapes and seascapes, and abode of the native Tagbanwa in northern Palawan, you might've noticed that I recommended an inscription together with fellow T-list site El Nido without having gone there. Well, now I have! I just came from El Nido a few days ago (probably over a week ago by the time this is published), and it's been an epic adventure. And I think I confirmed the recommendation I made prior to the visit. The stunningly pristine karst landscapes and seascapes, and abode of the native Tagbanwa in northern Palawan, that is El Nido too. Even the name "El Nido" derives from the birds' nests used to make soup. This, too, is a cultural landscape of sorts, and while not a declared and protected ancestral land like Coron, still contains the heritage value of the native Tagbanwa, their birds' nest culture, and as Boj says, the addition of archaeological heritage in Dewil Valley. That's not all that's lacking in the nominations: they fail to cite and defend the OUV of the karst landscapes! Once again referring to sites I haven't been to yet (as of 2020), it seems to be generally believed that El Nido and Coron are of comparable value of places like Ha Long Bay or Guilin in terms of karst formations. And I'll personally testify both have been kept quite pristine, unlike many reports of Ha Long Bay that I've heard. Unlike Coron, though, the El Nido Protected Area seems to be almost the entire, if not indeed the entire, municipality of El Nido and a few barangays of Taytay. That's a lot of land, especially inhabited land, to be under national protection and preservation, which brings up the question of whether developed land in the area should be included in the WHS, if it ever does be. And while the islands and even mainland beaches like Nacpan are intact ecosystems with few signs of pollution and human interference, the Poblacion and Corong Corong beaches seem a bit too polluted for an enjoyable swim. And there is, as Kyle points out, the issue of the resorts, like Miniloc, Lagen, and Lio, which I stayed in. While they don't feel like living in the wild, I personally don't think they impact the environment as negatively as the town does, and so shouldn't be as big an issue. Overall integrity of the landscapes and seascapes are preserved. All that being said, this combined site could probably justify inscription under as many as 7 criteria. The poor explanations on the website for 2 criteria just leave so much to be desired...
Anyway, on to the experience. Flights enter through the Lio Airport, and flying in already gives you a good look of what wonders are to come. Landing, you'll instantly notice the imposing Cadlao Peak across the water. It reminded me so much of the Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro, but even greater in scale and made of limestone. It's a peak you won't get tired of seeing every day. If you're like my family, you'll decide to stay in a hotel in nearby Lio Beach which is much more of a paradise than the rather dusty Poblacion, but it's mostly higher-end hotels, and it's a slight inconvenience to have to get to town early in the morning for island hopping tours. Food, meanwhile, is just expensive everywhere, but Poblacion does have the occasional budget choice. Island hopping tours, by the way, are the highlights to the El Nido experience for most tourists. 4 general itineraries are offered by most tour agencies. I was able to do Tours A and C during my short trip, though I hear Tour B is also a must, with the sandbar Snake Island, the towering Pinagbuyutan Island, and some caves of great archaeological value. Just like in Coron, the boatmen/guides are extremely commendable, they assist you every step of the way, and even prepare scrumptious island lunches for you. The difference here, though, is that, at least in my experience, you wait on the beach in front of the crowd of pump boats for about an hour before having to wade through the murky waist-deep water to the boat. Not the best start to a tour, but I guess everyone here is just used to it now. I also visited Nacpan Beach the day before, and it's one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, 4 kilometers of white sand lined by vivid blue sea. It's more or less an hour away from the town center, and really worth a visit. There's also the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls you'll pass en route. We opted out just because waterfalls are a bit commonplace here in the Philippines, and we wanted to get some lunch instead of trekking 30 minutes to see a waterfall, but given different circumstances, I would've loved to take a look at it. Now onto the boat tours! Tour A took in attractions around Miniloc Island: Small, Big, and Secret Lagoons, Shimizu Island for lunch, and 7 Commando Beach. Nowadays, it seems Small Lagoon is now transferred to Tour D, but that day I was able to have a private tour with some family friends, so we included Small Lagoon for an additional fee. Tour C, the next day, was on a normal tour with a diverse group of tourists. Indeed, we had people of Cambodian, Portuguese, Greek, and even Eritrean origin on that little boat, and that's just a microcosm of the ethnic diversity here in El Nido. My first time ever finding Ukrainian food in the Philippines was in this little town! Anyway, Tour C went to sites in the farther group of islands around Matinloc Island like Helicopter Island, Secret and Hidden Beaches, Talisay Beach for lunch, and Matinloc Shrine. My personal favorites were Big Lagoon and pretty much all of Tour C, so yeah, Tour C was probably the more enjoyable tour for me. Maybe it's just because our pump boat shut off in the middle of the sea and delayed us over an hour, though. Snorkeling opportunities are much greater in Tour C as well. With its rich marine life, I would also agree with Boj's proposal for an inscription with Malampaya Sound also in Taytay.
Some things to note! Small Lagoon, my very first boat tour destination, reminded me of the Twin Lagoon in Coron a lot. You had to enter through a small passage through the rock to find the hidden wonderland inside. The differences here were 1) we entered via kayak instead of swimming through in Coron, and 2) the water was a vivid Gatorade blue instead of the deep clear water in Twin Lagoon. We went to Secret Lagoon next, and the approach is really quite rocky, and I scraped my knee trying to navigate my way through the rocks. This isn't the only place you'll have to be careful in, though. The "secret" is accessed through a tiny opening that requires you to crawl or sit down while a line of people wait to exit from inside. The inside is a tiny murky pool, jokingly referred to by our guide as being 10% urine, and it's no world-class spot, but I found the towering limestone cliffs totally surrounding it really cool. Shimizu Island has some great views of Miniloc behind its own beautiful limestone cliffs, as well a large shallow area by the beach that's home to a few fun fish. One little guy even started following my hand around! As I implied earlier, Big Lagoon is far and beyond the highlight of Tour A. It's huge, almost like a fjord, with areas of shallow and deep water, all surrounded by the dramatically shaped limestone cliffs. The picture here is a view of the top of a cliff here, in all its jagged glory. It was here that I noticed the really interesting fauna that thrives in this seemingly harsh and barren environment, against the pull of gravity. In fact, all of the forest area I saw in El Nido had this special look to them. They look like no other forest I've seen in the Philippines, though maybe I just wasn't paying much attention to fauna in Coron. The plant species are just different, they look different, and I'd infer they're definitely of a very different set of species from other areas in the region. I guess this is the so-called karst forest, and it's more enchanting than I ever imagined. Now back on the mainland, 7 Commando Beach is a beach inaccessible by road from the town. It's on the outer side of the rocky peninsula jutting out of the town, and that means it's much more pristine than other mainland beaches. It's really picturesque, and it's got the optimal sand for sand castles, sunbathing, and beach basketball. The next day, the first stop was Helicopter Island, nicknamed as such because it looks like a partly submerged helicopter - without the rotor of course. The waves here were crazy strong, but the cluster of coral several meters offshore makes for great snorkeling. Now onto Matinloc Island, the seas here are extremely violent. You will get wet, as will your phone or money if they aren't in waterproof containers, and if you're prone to seasickness, this tour might not be the one for you. First stop here was Hidden Beach, with another treacherous approach with sharp rocks and huge waves pushing you around. It's worth it, though, as you'll end up in this little shallow channel between the cliffs. It's incredibly scenic, and even more so when you round the corner and find the real hidden beach. After braving turbulent seas, we rounded the tip of Matinloc Island, and the view of the strait between Matinloc and Tapiutan Islands, wow! The cliffs on either side seemed more jagged than ever, but also covered in bright green plants of all shapes. In front was a beach bounded by jagged outcroppings, backed by a few smooth mountains on another island. After some trouble for our free-diving boatmen to recover a lost anchor, we stopped at Talisay Beach on Tapiutan Island for lunch. Once again, spectacular towering cliffs speckled with green. And in the water, I saw a sea snake! Then on to Secret Beach. This was probably the most tiring part for most people, as it was a long swim from our boat to the small entrance that some assisting men pull you across into the little lagoon inside. The cool thing about this lagoon, though, is there's the beach at the end, and there's a living reef with loads of fish. Finally, we stopped at Matinloc Shrine, where you pay 100 pesos to climb up to the most famous viewpoint in El Nido. The view of the scenic strait from up here reveals not just the scale of the mountainous islands, but the intricacy of the underwater reefs. Speaking of which, the reefs right off the dock here are probably the best snorkeling grounds in El Nido, and while I only got to wade here for a couple of minutes, I saw more fish here than anywhere else on the trip.
El Nido is undoubtedly a special place. It's of outstanding natural heritage, and with Coron, represents the unique culture of the Tagbanwa. And of course, it's an utterly beautiful landscape and seascape, with its exceptional karst formations and associated biodiversity, as well as rich underwater ecosystems. Further, it forms a coherent zone of OUV with other properties in Northern Palawan. Therefore, I believe it should be inscribed along with Coron and Malampaya Sound as a mixed WHS.
The property is one of the largest marine protected area in the Philippines. In terms of World Heritage inscription "dreams," it is nominated under (ix) and (x), but I feel the inclusion of El Nido's cultural assets will further enhance its heritage values. 1) Archaeological diggings in Ille Cave, Dewil Valley (eastern portion of El Nido) reveals first report of human cremation burial ritual in Southeast Asia; 2) within the many limestone formations are home to balinsasayaw (Palawan swiftlets), whose nests are highly valued for medicine and culinary arts; and 3) some of El Nido is home to the Tagbanwa indigenous tribe.
While I am on the subject matter of "enhancement," the inscription of El Nido-Taytay MRPA should also go hand in hand with the (possible) inclusion of a nearby key biodiversity area - the Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape, home of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
The archipalego's around El Nido and Taytay are certainly of "outstanding universal value." Bacuit bay is an incredible panorama of pristine islands, teeming with biodiversity. Snorkeling anywhere in Bacuit bay and its countless islands is a rewarding experience. The islands around Taytay are also exquisite, though far less developed than El Nido, this is both a positive and negative. I loved every second I spent in the El Nido - Taytay area. Palawan is truly a paradise. The only factor that may or may not prevent this site from being inscribed is the Resorts. They certainly boast of their "green" credentials, but it is difficult to know how much is fact and fiction. Incredible place, at least the equavilant of Ha Long Bay, and from what I have heard far better preserved. Hopefully, it will not suffer the same fate.
I imagine the creation of a nomination dossier would take an enormous amount of effort and would be quite expensive. The research involved, categorizing the various islands, the creation of buffer zones and appropriate boundaries, while navigating around or cooperating with certain resorts might prevent this tentative site from reaching inscription.
I hope one day to return, Palawan is special. The landscapes of Palawan are very much like those surreal travel magazine cover photos that look too perfect for real life. In Palawan, the coastal areas are stunning and the people kind.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
2015 Name change
From "El Nido Marine Reserve" to "El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area"
2006 Added to Tentative List
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