If you can only visit one place in El Nido, Palawan this will have to be the one. Miniloc Island, located in the center of the Bacuit archipelago off El Nido town, is a towering karst landscape filled with attractive white sand beaches and hidden lagoons and surrounded by crystal-clear waters teeming with diverse marine life. To see this island and its lagoons in particular, we got on a Tour A package boat along with 17 other passengers.
Our boat made it to Miniloc in just about 20 minutes. First stop on our itinerary for the day was the Small Lagoon, a karst-enclosed lagoon reachable only through a narrow opening in the surrounding limestone walls. Visitors can only get inside either through swimming or by kayaking; the narrow passageway is also just big enough for one kayak. Kayaks are available for rent at stations near the opening.
As our boat anchored a distance away from the opening we could more or less see what was in store for us. The water was a rich turquoise green in color with the now-familiar limestone outcrops rising from the sea like sentinels guarding the lagoon. Lush vegetation peppered the karst formations – a small miracle with the El Nino phenomenon prevailing over much of the country this year.
The view once you get inside the Small Lagoon is somewhat similar to the Secret Beach of Matinloc with striking karst formations surrounding the lagoon, and even shielding parts of it from the sun. The difference is the much deeper turquoise waters of the lagoon that enabled several kayakers to leave their craft and take a dip. We explored it briefly; there is a part that is as deep as 30 meters and a tiny recess at the end of the lagoon that turned out to be a small cave. Our only frustration with the Small Lagoon is not being able to bring a DSLR inside to take pictures. It is not easy to describe the allure of places like this if one is limited to words.
It would have been fun to stay inside the Small Lagoon a little longer but being part of a tour group we had to scurry back to our boat for the trip to our next destination: the Secret Lagoon.
By now it was obvious to us that El Nido’s Bacuit archipelago jealously guards many of its beautiful gems, hiding them behind imposing obstacles. The Secret Lagoon is no exception, although the beach where our boat docked made no attempt to conceal its beauty.
Unlike smaller boats that can dock right on the beach, our bigger boat had to dock a little further out to avoid scraping its bottom on the coral-filled seabed. From there it was a combination of swimming and wading to get to the beach and on to another small opening among the limestone rocks to finally get inside the Secret Lagoon. We had our masks and snorkels with us so we got to sample the marine life on the way there.
The opening to Secret Lagoon is even smaller than that of the Secret Beach in Matinloc. We had to sit in front of the opening, one person at a time, and haul ourselves sideways to get inside. Fortunately it was low tide or that opening would have been submerged and we would have to swim to get through. Once inside the view is surreal with very shallow water all-around and with the surrounding karst formations looming ominously over us. Swiftlets darted in and out of the lagoon, homing in on their nests among the crevices in the rocks. El Nido’s name actually comes from the nests of these birds, highly valued as the main ingredient of bird’s nest soup.
We proceeded to Shimizu Island for lunch after Secret Lagoon but returned to Miniloc for the Big Lagoon. This time there are no narrow openings. During high tide and with a smaller boat it would have been a cinch to enter the Big Lagoon. It’s actually more of a long, narrow strait lined on both sides by imposing limestone cliffs. White sand, crystal-clear water and lush, verdant vegetation growing on the karst formations add to the stunning view.
It was low tide when we arrived here and while some boats can dock at the entrance to Big Lagoon, allowing its passengers to explore the nearer section of the lagoon on foot, our big boat (which was good for 25 people or more) had to dock a bit too far. That’s probably because the entrance to the lagoon was already full of other outriggers and also because our boat would scrape the bottom of the coral-filled sea bed if it attempted to get any nearer. Too tired to swim or paddle a kayak to get there – the waves were a bit strong by this time – we decided to just stay on the boat; only 2 couples from our tour group decided to go. Two kayaks actually overturned near our boat but everyone were in life jackets so it wasn’t really a problem.
Wiser by now, we thought we should just go back to El Nido in the near future and to make sure we’ll be in a boat that can explore the inside of Big Lagoon. Still, our tour of Miniloc Island and its fabled lagoons rank up there as one of the best travel experiences we’ve had.