Stunning, stunning, stunning. Surely one of the little secrets of South-East Asia, the Bacuit Archipelago is relatively little-known but oh-so-very beautiful.

If you want to see big limestone cliffs there are of course the more famous Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or even Krabi in Thailand, and objectively speaking these are impressive locations for sure. But the islands of the Bacuit Archipelago left a much stronger impression on me, perhaps because it feels far less spoiled.

UPDATE: I recently posted this longer guide to visiting Palawan.

UPDATE 2: El Nido has become much more popular and crowded in the last 5 years. It’s still just as beautiful, just don’t expect the same kind of serenity that I experienced in 2013. 

I couldn’t help but feel completely at peace while visiting the islands near islands near El Nido, Palawan, which were free from the tourist hordes found elsewhere. Replete with beautiful inlets, secret beaches, lagoons and caves, they are fascinating places to explore.

From the beach on El Nido you can get a little boat and choose between four standardized island hopping packages. It’s tour A and C that most people rave about. You’ll be taken in a small group on a traditional banka catamaran-style boat from island to island, and at lunchtime your boatmen will grill fresh fish on a BBQ while you can enjoy one of the narrow beaches.

Our guides making us some delicious lunch

The highlight for me by far is a place called Secret Beach. You will have to jump off the banka into the sea and swim towards a craggy cliffside that goes up about 10 meters. Look closely and you will see a small hole hidden from view which you can swim through, and once you emerge on the other side you will discover a ‘secret’ beach entirely surrounded by pointy rocks as tall as buildings. Put on a snorkeling mask and you will see wonderful corals with countless fishes below… look back up and you are back in this rockface cathedral. Simply incredible.

Of all the places zealously described by travel guides as a “tropical paradise”, I think this one well and truly deserves it.

The mysterious entrance to the ‘secret beach’

No, this is not someone getting sick. A local fisherman is looking for potential catch.

The waters are amazing for snorkeling with huge schools of fish everywhere

El Nido and its surrounding islands were my favorite places in the Philippines.