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Every year, we move around during the summer time to see the different Philippine islands. April and May are the months when the seas are calm and the weather is hot, which makes it ideal for us to visit the countryâ€™s best islands. This has been an annual event for our family to bond together. Most of my children have learned how to scuba dive through the years, except for our youngest. Last year, our trip took us to Cebu, Cabilao, Bohol, Balicasag, and Oslob. This time, our locally-made dive boat named after my daughter Bella took us to Coron, Busuanga, a place which we last visited seven years ago. But this time, we included the Calamianes islands in our itinerary.
We have three other groups joining us in this yearâ€™s trip. First-timer Lizette Cojuanco managed well in staying at sea in a liveaboard dive boat together with her dive expert husband Mikey and their son, who enjoyed the underwater experience and the majestic scenery of the islands. We met up with Philip and Sandy Romualdez and Dennis and Tessa Prieto-Valdes in one of the islands, and they had the same feelings about the beauty and potential of Coron and Calamianes. At night, the stars appeared so close to the water. It is quite an experience to see the beauty of how God created things, which we do not get to see back home. Being away from the office to go to these islands is now possible since cell sites are available there, but you might want to bring a Globe and a Smart phone, plus the old reliable Blackberry for email. These allowed me to stay in touch with the real world back home.
Travelling to Busuanga now is much easier because of the new planes of Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific. The flight of the new jet-propelled planes is very short; in about 45 minutes, we already started to descend. Actually, the wait on the runway is longer than the actual flight. The last time that I was in Busuanga, there was no airport. I remember that the planes used to land on just a grass landing strip with hard sand. This time, the Busuanga airport is now open with proper facilities, a concrete runway, and a decent terminal. The van that picked us up from the airport took us through the mangroves of Maricaban which was a very beautiful sight. We then headed straight to our dive boat which was docked at Club Paradise.
This is proof that tourism is the Philippinesâ€™ next big thing. Modern airports and better infrastructures pave the way for entrepreneurs to start a business. The road to Coron is now paved and this opened a lot of opportunities for negosyantes â€” from van rentals, tour operators, and banca operators. This place will be the next big tourist destination because of the emerging hotels and resorts that are already open for business or are soon to open, such as Two Seasons, Huma Resort in Horse Island, and Regency of Boracay which positioned itself along the best beach in Malcapuya island. On top of that, there are also many boutique resorts there like Mangenguey which is owned by Helena Caratela (Azabacheâ€™s former owner), and Puerto del Sol owned by Mike Batchelor. It has a good yacht club that is located close to many resorts.
Coron and the Calamianes islands have great potential, but what can hinder this is the uncontrolled proliferation of pearl farms. There are so many pearl farms here that produce the best south sea pearls for export, but too many pearl farms can cover the good beaches and block the passage of sea vessels. The pearl farm operators must ensure access to beaches and safe passage of vessels by lighting the farms properly at night, and the color of its buoys should be changed from black to orange or red to keep the water vessels from bumping their ropes and nets. Also, the governor should insure that pearl farms place the nets properly to allow safe passage of vessels.
We had the chance to visit Ariara Island Resort that is located along the Linapacan Islands. This private island resort is beautiful. It has a unique character with seven nice cottages on it, but you will have to rent the whole island. Visitors can also experience feeding sharks there. The Ariara shore is home to about 20 baby sharks, which you get to feed when the water gets knee-deep. To get there, you need to cross the Linapacan Strait, which could be rough at times. But Ariara is a place that is worth the trip. The service is great, starting with Peter and Jim who provided us with great Pinoy hospitality despite being foreigners.
We visited another resort named Two Seasons. Its owners created a pretty good resort located along Bulalacao Island. They are located along a good beach, they serve good food, and they have nice villas as well. The only drawback is the price, which is quite expensive. This is something that the owners need to revisit in order for them to be competitive with the El Nido resorts of Ayala, and Shang of Boracay. Leasing an island in the Linapancan or Calamianes islands can be tricky as they had to deal with the Tagbanua tribe who are the indigenous people of the area. But I am told that the process is much clearer now, and many resorts have opened there with the help of the local government.
My top resort choices from Coron Busuanga, Calamianes islands, and Linapacan are Two Seasons, Mangenguey, Punta del Sol, Club Paradise and Ariara. Most of the resorts produce their own power and desalinated water. The beaches are quite good, and the waters are pristine without any trace of algae. The sand in their beaches is white: it is not as powdery as Boracay, but it is close. Tourists can choose from many islands and sand bars to visit. Palawan also offers something for animal safari fans. They can try visiting Calauit where the zebras and giraffes roam around. Feeding the giraffes was really the best experience.
Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez is on the right track. Many of our locals, especially from the islands, will benefit if our tourism picks up and comes close to the level of Thailand. Yes, it is definitely more fun to be in the Philippines as we have the best beaches and tourist spots in the world. I highly recommend supporting our local tourism industry by visiting our own undiscovered treasures.