Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Stunning Destination: The Maldives

WHITE-SAND BEACHES, WORLD-CLASS surf breaks, stunning reefs, diverse marine life, and a plethora of luxury resorts with drool-worthy overwater bungalows—the Maldives loom large in the popular imagination as a once-in-a-lifetime destination at the edge of the world.
Literally jaw dropping scenery, wake me up pls..
Being part of the 3rd world country made it close to impossible for setting foot on places such as The Maldives. Thanks to promo fares and the perseverance to make it all happen.

There is a gloomy side to this sunny destination, though. Prevailing climate change concerns posit that the country's low-lying atolls and their reefs might not be around for much longer due to rising sea levels. All that added a sense of urgency to my travels, and let it be a catalyst for your own plans as well.

Everyone of us is well aware that going to Maldives can really break your bank (my perception remained to be true even up until now) but this doesn't mean that you will limit your horizon because of this. I know what you're thinking, I get that same crazy reaction before and after my trip. Believe it or not, Maldives is only as expensive as you defined it to be.

I have decided to make a choice to realize that dream and tick one of the places I really wanted to see. What made it even more special, I did it on  my birthday. I will forever be grateful to my travel buddies (coolest gals I've ever met too)

The Maldives Crew (forever grateful to these bunch of coolits)
Nao, Boss Joel, Lora, Yours Truly, Simple

I know you will ask me, how did I get to Maldives. For PH folks, there are 3 cheaper options for us (that I knew). Either you fly to Male (Maldives) via Kuala Lumpur or Thailand (AirAsia) or Fly via Singapore (Scoot Air) both are budget friendly airlines that will take you to Paradise.

Tourism is relatively new to Maldives. The first resort opened in 1973 and for thirty years, the only way to visit as a tourist was via these expensive resorts. In 2009, the Maldivian Government allowed locals  to open their own guesthouses and restaurants to tourists. Now, tourist can visit and stay in local island they choose to. Suddenly, homestays, hotels, and guesthouses have started popping up everywhere!

It was a momentous shift in policy that finally allowed locals a piece of the economic tourist pie.

Here's how we did it.
Day 0 - Fly from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Day 1 - Stayed overnight to explore Kuala Lumpur and Fly out to Maldives
Day 2 - Arrival at 9PM at Velana Airport. Stayed Overnight in Hulhumale (this is the closest place to the airport. Don't get confused with Male City, the capital of Maldives as this is another island .
Day 3 - Overnight stay Fihalhohi Island Resort. This is the best option we have  (not really cheap as staying in private islands are really expensive).
Day 4 - Overnight Stay in Gulhi Island
Day 5 to 8 - 3 nights in Maafushi (most accessible and tourist friendly island)
Day 9 - Overnight Stay in Male City
Day 10 - Fly out of Maldives via Singapore to the Philippines

We originally planned to explore at least 1 north atoll island but the timing isn't good so we extended our stay in Maafushi.

How much?
Let's say, I got my tickets on promo rates. I booked my PH to KL for only P899 and then my KL to Male for only P2,900.  Just do the Math.  As for the rest of my companion since they got their flight tickets on later dates safest budget to get one way flights to Maldives starts at P12,000.00 give or take.

Finding Cheap Accommodation:

The first thing to note is that there aren’t any super cheap options for accommodation. You won’t find dorm rooms in the Maldives, or a crappy $5 a night bungalow on the beach like you would in Southeast Asia.
There are still plenty of budget guesthouse though and of good value. For $30-60 a night, you’ll receive a clean, modern, and spacious room with air conditioning, a hot shower, free breakfasts and reliable WiFi Connection. The rooms are seriously nice too.

Here's a list of hotels/guesthouses we stayed in Public Islands:
Hulhumale Island - UI Inn
Gulhi Island - Hibiscus Holidays
Maafushi Island - Sunrise Beach and Spa
Male City - Marble Hotel

Finding Cheap Transport:

The cheapest way to travel between the islands is using the local ferry. We spend no more than US$2 using the public ferry. There are also speedboats at US$25 crossing the public islands.  Avoid the seaplanes if you’re travelling on a budget — these will usually cost around $500 return for a 20 minute journey.

Finding Cheap Food: 

Food will set you back around $5-10 per meal, but with most guesthouses offering an enormous free breakfast, you can skip lunch to cut cost.  You can’t complain about spending $5 a day on food!

In general, the smaller the island, the less food options there are, and you’ll likely be eating at your guesthouse for most meals. In Gulhi, there were only three or four restaurants which serves pretty much the same food at the same rates.

For a busy island, such as Maafushi, there were plenty of food options. There are maybe a dozen restaurants on the island, all offering reasonably priced dinners. We paid around $5-10 a meal with 4-5 viand options — and lots of fish based meals!

This is the longest stay I had in a country. Typically, I would stay a max of 4 days, but of course, this is Maldives. This is a different story. Had I given longer time and more bucks to spend, I'd rather stay here for at least 2 weeks to get a feel of what the different islands has to offer. I'd love to explore the North Atolls but with the limited time I had, I maximized it. Explored several islands as much as I can. Splitting the nine day visit into several parts, some public and private islands.

The Happy Smile of Finally landing at Velana International Airport
We arrived at Velana Airport past 9 in the evening local time (Male is 3 hrs behind from PH). We arranged an airport transfer from the airport to hotel for $15 one way. There are also local buses that can take you to Hulhumale proper and would cost you at most $2.  Welcome drink was served while we are waiting for the staff to process our check in

Some of my companions preferred to rest while the three of us went out to have dinner. We grab a bite at the nearest restaurant that serves pasta and seafood and some local dishes and paired it with mocktails.
Mongolian & Nasi Goreng Sea Food
Maldives is a 100% Muslim country and alcoholic beverages in Public islands are prohibited. Time to get healthy, I guess.
Birthday Salubong with Nao & Boss Joel

I had my well deserved rest past 12 midnight. Hurray it's 23 (it's my Birthday)

Day 2:
The following day, we managed to wake up early and explored Hulhumale's Public Beach. It's some few meters walk from UI Inn. As the sun comes out of the Horizon, I can't help but smile and pinch myself. Hey, you are already in Maldives. 

We had a great view of the Sunrise and had some chitchat and photoshoot while talking about what's in store for us in the Private Island we are about to visit.

The kid will always be in us
Maybe considered a public beach but the fine sand can resemble the ones I have seen in Bantayan Island in Cebu.

Enjoying the first heat of the Sun in Maldives

We had a Maldivian Buffet Breakfast (c/o our Hotel) before leaving the island. It was exactly 8 in the morning when the car picked us up to go back to the airport and then take a speedboat to Fihalhohi Island Resort.

Separate Blog about the Private Island Resort Experience:
Life on the High End | The Fihalhohi Island Resort Experience

To Male or not to Male?
Male is the Capital City of Maldives. I finally visited Male as the concluding island for this trip. Of course, the trip to Maldives won't be complete without stepping into its major city.  After several days of being caressed by the passing sea breeze of the island life, stepping into its capital was literal jolt  back to reality.  The City is bustling with people that materialised around every possible quiet corner, filling even the smallest space with noise  and the air with heat.  Definitely not my cup of tea, but if you're a culture-vulture  and want to visit  a museum, then this island is recommended. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Stunning Destinations: The Maldives (Private Resort Experience)

Life on the High End

It’s a well-known fact that good health and happiness can be bolstered by treating yourself to the finer things in life.  In this case, a trip to the Maldives private resort is a good choice. 

The Maldives is a haven for all luxurious resorts, sky is the limit in spending as they say. Choices ranges from three star to even five star island resorts.  They say further atolls have even more beautiful and luxurious water bungalows.

For this trip, we chose Fihalhohi Island Resort.  It is rated three star among all the list of island resort and is on the lower end of the price spectrum, costing at least US$300 per night, which, while not super budget, is a lot cheaper that other resorts. Apart from having the cheapest return transfer from either Male or Airport at $140 US per person.

When we arrived at Velana Airport, we approached the kiosk of Fihalholhi Resort and they assisted us going to the boat. It was just a 45 minutes speedboat ride to Paradise.

Fihalhohi Resort, I am ready for you
When we arrived at the resort, all I wanted to do is relax and feel the moment. I wanted to feel that I am really on vacation, aside from celebrating my birthday and life in general. Life on the island was easy. In a private resort bubble, you don't have to worry about getting around, meals, or what to do.
The Board Walk leading to Paradise (such a sight to behold)

Waiting to be Checked In (c) Simple
I can only take vacation life for a day or two before I get bored.  The high life was I thought it would be - relaxing opulence - but I was itching to see  the real Maldives, life on local islands, and talk to a few people.

After we settled our things, we had lunch took some photos of  the resort. Believe me it's really stunning in most angles. Partying and drinking alcoholic beverages is permitted in private islands. Fihalhohi Island Resort have four bars/dining areas to accommodate its guests. When we entered the resort, we were taken to the Fisherman's Bar.
The Fisherman's Bar
It's lavishly furnished with Bamboo Sofas and surrounding are bars to cater to different needs. There is also a very romantic deck situated towards the ocean, it’s the perfect place to have a cocktail or a mocktail.The Fisherman’s Bar is the main bar of the resort. Overlooking the ocean, this vibrant Maldives bar is perfect for relaxing after a day in the sun. Live bands Traditional Boduberu and the resort’s DJ make appearances throughout the week, and the energetic dance floor becomes the centre of activity and attraction once the sun goes down.

The Perfect Place to Lounge after a long day

The staff was super friendly and accommodating. Meals served are wide choices of food in a buffet style, and they are seriously delicious.

Resorts in the country are geared towards families or couples, there were very few group travelers  or non couples. There wasn't a lot of guest interaction but since everyone there is on a vacation, I'm not surprised.
Lost in Fihalhohi? lol (c) Nao
The Palm Groove Restaurant is where all the dining happens from Breakfast to Dinner. Serving sumptuous, buffet-style breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, this breezy Maldives restaurant perfectly captures the island spirit with alluring Indian Ocean views through expansive windows. A full continental European, English breakfast is available at the breakfast buffet and a wide variety of Continental, Asian and Maldivian curry cuisine is served at lunch and for dinner. 

The Palm Groove Restaurant
The Blue Lagoon bar is located near the water villas and offers snacks such as Burgers, Pizza, Salads. They also offer lunch and dinner of your choice and the highlight is the Hi - tea buffet at the heart of Surf Cafe.
A nice area to Lounge near the Blue Lagoon Bar

Saturday, April 7, 2018

See you in Cuyo Palawan

The Cuyo Archipelago (also known as Cuyo Island) is a group of about 45 islands lying to the northeast of the Philippines and part of the Province of Palawan. It is rich in history and culture, unexploited islands and islets decorated with white sand beaches, and built by waves and strong winds.

This silent island measures about 57 square kilometers and is divided into two municipalities: Cuyo and Magsaysay. 

Cuyo is more than just the movie "Ploning." It has a distinct and appealing charm on its own. Due to its remote location, the island appears to be less attractive to tourist which is also a blessing in disguise for it has maintained and preserved its beauty.

The dream  of setting foot on this beautiful, less touristed island has finally been realized. We left Iloilo City on board M/V Milagrosa on a Holy Thursday past 7 in the evening.
MV Milagrosa
Cruising the Sulu Sea at a maximum speed of 8knots/hour, we are set to arrive at around 8 in the morning in Cuyo Island but we got a glimpse of the island from afar past 9 in the morning of Good Friday.

We finally disembarked at 10 in the morning.  The long white sand of Capusan Beach greeted and it was truly a treat to my eyes after that long travel. I said to myself, "Well, this is more than worthy."
Capusan Beach as Seen from the Port
We had lunch at the restaurant in our Place (La Premiera) and took our much needed rest before we start exploring.

Day 1 (Friday)

Our first stop is to Trek Mt Aguado. It's some 3kms from the town proper and located in Brgy Balaguen. At 4 in the afternoon, we found ourselves way up Mt Aguado. Just in time for Good Friday as this Mountain features life-size Stations of the Way of the Cross constructed from the foot to the peak of the mountain. It is said that Cuyonon, visitors and tourists make their Annual Pilgrimage to Mt Aguado as part of their penitential rites during the Holy Week particularly on Holy Thursday.
On Top of Mt Aguado
From the foot, you will never get lost as there is a trail leading to the top. Upon reaching the summit, you are afforded some nice views over the island of Cuyo. hey are not 360 degree panoramic views, as you have to peer through the tree line, but they are nice enough.
View from Mt Aguado
After the climb we explored the town. The Good Friday procession is about to start when we passed by to watch the sunset.
Town's Preparing for the Procession
Waiting for Sunset
Our First Glimpse of Cuyo's Sunset
Day 2 (Saturday)

Our Black Saturday started with a splash at Cuyo's Public Beach: Capusan Beach Resort. Been wanting to swim here upon laying eyes on its white sand and clean water from the boat.
Enjoying the Heat and Sun at Capusan Beach
Cuyo Island is also a place to do Kite Surfing. We found some locals and foreign Kite Surfers doing their thing.
Kite Surfing
After some good splash at the White Beach, we rested a bit and started our inland exploration that day. It was 4 in the afternoon when we started our way going to Anino Beach Resort. It's another resort that caters kite surfers. Travel time from the town center takes about 30-45 minutes. Bumpy and dusty roads is inevitable but the serene place will give you the rest and peace of mind you needed.
View overlooking the Great Ocean

Not an Ideal Beach to Swim but beautiful enough to find solace
Some 10 minutes and few kilometers away from Anino Resort, we went to Kuta Beach.  (forgot to take a picture though)

We also visited the St Augustine Church and Fort in Cuyo. The town is a typical Spanish era set up where a church, a school, a plaza and a market is located next or adjacent to each other.

Day 3 (Sunday)

It's Easter Sunday! Yey! This means, today is our Island Hopping day. We are set to explore the islands in the northern section. Our target is Cocoro, Tagauayan and Siparay Islands.

It was a cloudy and windy day when we started sailing the open sea and you can only imagine what's next. The waves weren't that sail-friendly that time but we have survived it.

After an hour and a half we reached Cocoro Island. This is a big inhabited island and part of the Municipality of Magsaysay. It boasts a cream-colored sand beach, not really a white sand but somewhat more of a dirty white in color.

 The island doesn’t have a modern resort but there are some open cottages near the community.  This also features a saltwater lagoon where one can swim but be careful with sea urchins though.

We had lunch here and off we go to the next island destination which is Tagauyan Island.  It's another 30-minute boat ride from Cocoro Island.  There are no resorts as well but there is a community living on the other side of the island.

The island has a few hundred meters of white-sand beach. There’s also a marine sanctuary in the island where you can swim and snorkel but there’s a part in the island where the current is a bit strong.

There are other islands in Magsaysay but weren’t able to explore them since we were on a tight schedule and the waves are a bit rough that day. We content ourselves with the two beautiful islands and sail back to the mainland at 4 in the afternoon.

Day 4 (Monday)

It's time to go home, but wait, there's more.  We line up at Milagrosa Shipping Lines office early in the morning to find out that the boat is in its full capacity upon leaving Puerto Princesa City and have few slots left for Cuyo's residents/tourists.  To make the story short, we weren't able to board the boat that day. A series of unfortunate events came one after the other. The regular schedule of the boat will not be followed that week as they have to cater passengers going back to Puerto Princesa from Cuyo.  We will be able to get ourselves on board on Friday (that's 4 days away from today, sigh)  So guys, prepare for things like this to happen.

On the bright side though, we have more time to explore the island which I have learned to love. It's simplicity is very appealing to me.

Day 5 (Tuesday) 

We opted to check out Cuyo's Airport which serves Air Juan and other private planes going in and out of the island. It's a 30 minute ride from the town center and located within the boundaries of Barangay Lucbuan and Emilod in the town of Magsaysay.

Next stop is Aceros Park which they call "Little Baguio." but It's named after Baguio because of the cool temperature when you walk on a concrete steps under the canopy of trees.  It;s a quaint spot shaded by many trees and thickets. There were concrete pools of spring water where locals bathed, washed their clothes and collected fresh water from.

Aceros Park aka Little Baguio
Day 6 (Wednesday)

Taking a break from exploring, we just spend the day lounging in Capusan Beach and watch another romantic sunset that day.

Day 7 (Thursday)

It's another Island hopping day. This time we are exploring the southern Islands: Bisucay, Pandan and Bararing.

Bisucay is a 30 minute boatride from the mainland. You will be greeted by emerald green water on one side of the island but that part wasn't swim friendly because of the strong current.

Swimming in Bisucay Island
 On the other side, you will see a fishing port where water is calm and still and you will be able to swim and see fishes from the shallows.
Bisucay Island Port
We grilled the fish we bought so we can have our lunch to the next island stop. We are still doubtful if we will be able to reach Pandan Island but when the boat started its engine the boatman gave a 'Go' signal upon seeing the waves.

We had lunch in this part of the island after almost 2 hrs of boat ride.  This island  doesn't have shadesat all except for this one. We content ourselves with the shade it gave and fill in our tummies with a great lunch.
This Tree gave us the shade we needed to have lunch
This side of the island isn't ideal for swimming though because of the strong waves, but I had to admit, this is one hell of an island. The water is so clean plus the great weather on that day make it picturesque.

The other side of the island though has still water where one can swim but be careful as the rocks can either be slippery or pointed.

Our next and last stop is Bararing Island. It's almost an hr boat ride from Pandan Island.   It's a rocky islet off the coast of mainland Cuyo and can be seen even on foggy days.
Bararing Island

Day 8 (Friday)

Time to go home, finally.  This town is as beautiful as I imagined it to be. From a tourism perspective, it has many challenges, but the potential is there - island hopping, beach camping, mountain biking, snorkelling (although it may take some time to regenerate the corals), and of course, kiteboarding.
One last glance

How to get to Cuyo:
From any parts of the Philippines you may fly in either to Iloilo City or Puerto Princesa City. From there you can catch a boat going Cuyo Island or fly via 9-seater plane (Air Juan)

Sea Travel Time: (based on what I've heard)
Puerto Princesa to Cuyo via Montenegro is 16 hrs (longer travel time if it's Milagrosa because it's smaller and slower) 
Iloilo to Cuyo via Montenegro is 11 hrs (longer travel time if it's Milagrosa)

Things to Remember:
  • Best Time to Visit Cuyo is Summer (March -  June)
  • There are lots of accommodations around Cuyo town that can accommodate groups of tourists at budget friendly rates. Fan Room starts at P200 
  • Mobile Signal (especially SMART) is available around the island but limited to call and text only (intermittent cellular data signal) 
  • Credit Cards are not accepted, bring EXTRA Cash
  • NO ATM Machine available but there are stores/banks that has POS terminals which you can get cash for a minimum charge.
  • There is an airport in Cuyo Island that serves Air Juan but fares are very expensive (Iloilo to Cuyo vv, Coron to Cuyo vv and Puerto Princesa to Cuyo vv)
  • Be READY to get STRANDED (lol)
  • Don't forget to ENJOY, EAT a lot of sea foods, and most importantly, ALWAYS 'Leave No Trace'
I will be back to experience more of this beautiful and charming island. Thank you Cuyo for an awesome summer experience.