We arrived on the sandy beach after walking a moderate distance from our anchored boat. Some visitors were headed straight for the Catholic shrine immediately to our front but we detoured to the left and up a flight of steps chiseled from the precipitous limestone outcrops. The steps were quite narrow and there was a line of people waiting for their turn at the view deck. After waiting for a few minutes we finally got to reach the vantage point for a breathtaking view.
The view deck at Matinloc Island lies on the western side of the island, in the same area as that of the Catholic shrine. Photos of the view here have become a sort of an icon for El Nido and our personal experience did not disappoint. Looking towards south from this viewpoint we could observe the gorgeous beaches and coral reef on this side of Matinloc, the Tapiutan Strait up ahead, Tapiutan Island on the right and more islands in the distance.
A visit to Matinloc Island is part of the day-long Tour C island-hopping package in El Nido, Palawan. There’s more to Matinloc than the viewpoint, however. Moving on from the shrine and viewpoint, our boat proceeded to another part of the island and then anchored just off a long line of tall karst cliffs. This was supposed to be the Secret Beach and sure enough there was no immediate beach in sight. To get there we had to swim from our boat through a narrow opening in the karst cliffs, all the while trying to be careful not to scrape ourselves against the jagged rocks amidst the assault of the waves.
Once we got inside the water suddenly became shallow – mainly because of the rock formations underwater that effectively elevated the sea floor by 6 to 10 feet. The water here is warm and unbelievably clear. We were about to regret leaving our mask and snorkel at the boat until we realized we could easily see the colorful fishes underneath. What we entered was actually a shallow lagoon completely fenced in by soaring karst cliffs. On the far end of the lagoon, opposite the narrow entrance opening, is a stretch of charming white sand beach among huge limestone outcrops – the Secret Beach itself. The scene was both stunning and eerily primordial.
Locals say the Secret Beach inspired Alex Garland to write the book The Beach (although the movie was shot in Thailand). What we do know is that Garland lived for six months in the Philippines, visiting El Nido including Secret Beach in the process, and incorporated much of that experience in his book. After spending some moments marveling at the landscape of Secret Beach however, it is difficult to see how this stunning scenery could fail to inspire an artist.
Unfortunately, because of the manner in reaching Secret Beach, we were not able to bring our camera and share pictures of the hidden wonder. (Time to get a waterproof camera?) It was the same for our next and final destination for Tour C: the Hidden Beach.
The Hidden Beach is also a part of elongated Miniloc Island but faces El Nido town in the east. A huge karst formation located a few meters offshore effectively blocks a view of this beach from an approaching boat, hence the name. But unlike Secret Beach, tour boats can enter the narrow passage between that karst formation and disgorge its passengers onto Secret Beach. When we arrived however, it was low tide and no boat could safely cut across the passageway. Our boat had to anchor a certain distance from shore and we ended up walking all the way to Hidden Beach.
One of our boat companions, a senior lady, had to go back not far from our boat after getting bitten by something in the water. That warned us to watch out for sea urchins and jellyfish. Sure enough we saw a lot of the latter in shallow water along our path to Hidden Beach. Some where the customary white, almost transparent variety but most were of a light red variety that, thankfully, were easy to spot and avoid because of their color. There were so many of them that Leo referred to our Hidden Beach episode as the Jellyfish Tour.
That didn’t prevent us from enjoying the gorgeous seafront that is Hidden Beach. The slightly curving white sand beach – almost like a cove – is surrounded by towering karst cliffs. Another passageway through more karst formations leads to the open sea to the east. The waters are shallow and very clear; we would have snorkeled here but for the jellyfish. Our boatmen later commented that the waters off Hidden Beach were unusually warm at this time of the year and thus attracted the sea creatures.
Hidden Beach was our last stop for the day and we were soon back at our boat for the long haul back to El Nido town. When asked which of the 4 tours they would recommend if one only has a limited amount of time in El Nido, most tour operators would say Tours A and C. Our Tour C experience lived up to the hype. Next in line: Tour A.