Why go now?
Taytay is beautiful at any time of the year. But more so during the summer, with days spent diving into cool waters and lazing about the beach all day. If you prefer active days, go kayaking, diving, or explore the forts and caves around the island.
Airswift has daily flights from Manila to El Nido. The trip takes about 55 minutes. Apulit Island Resort, the former Club Noah Isabelle, the only resort on Apulit Island located west of Taytay’s capital town of Poblacion, arranges all transfers for its guests from Lio airport to a 90-minute van ride to Taytay Town Port followed by a 50-minute boat transfer to Apulit Island itself. If you plan to explore the sights of Taytay you can hire a tricycle (a motorized bike with passenger side car) for P60 (about US$1) per hour (regular rates are P10 per person). Gulliver’s 24/7 Travel and Tours has van rentals for P12,000 for ten people for the route El Nido to Taytay.
Get your bearings
The municipality of Taytay in northeastern Palawan lies about 500kms southeast of Manila. Once the capital of Palawan during the Spanish period, Taytay was said to be a prosperous, thriving settlement of traders long before the Spanish arrived in 1662. The Augustinian recollect friars who came to Palawan to spread Christianity found prominent locals dressed in silk and supping from fancily designed plates and bowls from China and Borneo. Today, the Fuerza de Santa Isabel, a fort built to protect the townspeople from attacks of Moro pirates from Sulu, stands as a reminder of the Spanish period. Facing Taytay bay, it looms into view on the approach to Poblacion by boat.
Taytay comes from the word “talaytayan,” which means pieces of wood or bamboo arranged to form a bridge. These days Taytay is more known as Estrella del Norte or Star of the North because of its rich history and ecological diversity. The area has a healthy forest cover, swamp lands, islands and islets. The World Wildlife Fund has an office in Taytay tasked to protect the Irawaddy dolphins and the fauna endemic to the province.
Apulit Island Resort lies on the crook of a 40-hectare island that’s 120 meters long and a west beach that measures 350 meters. It is surrounded by a reef system measuring half a kilometer right in front of the main cove, 1.5 kilometers west and 2.9 kilometers east.
The resort has 30 water cottages lining its main coves, as well as 20 loft water cottages. Each cottage built on water has a veranda with a sweeping view of the bay. At night, a green spotlight lights up the water just below the cabana, showing colorful marine life.
All rooms are airconditioned. There is a ceiling fan if you prefer to keep your windows open. Room service is available and so is a luxurious in-room massage which can be arranged even at midnight.
Cottage rates range from about P28,000 to P30,000. For inquiries and reservations call +632 813 0000.
If you intend to stay overnight in Poblacion on the main island of Taytay – advisable if you are scheduled for a 5am start for some dolphin watching at Malampaya Sound – try Pem’s or Casa Rosa, two of the more popular accommodation in town. Pem’s Pension and Restaurant has airconditioned family rooms for P1,500 a day, good for four. The single-detached cottages are comfortable and basic, about P1,300 a day, good for two. For inquiries and reservations call Mr. Chan Lee De Luna at +63917 300 7660.
Explore the waters
The pier by Apulit Island Resort's Serena Bar, which separates the single-detached cabanas from the family duplexes, is a favorite snorkeling area as it teems with an astonishing variety of fish – from striped sergeant majors to brilliant clownfish to flashing groupers. They swim in tight groups close to the surface of the water mainly because they’ve been used to having bread and frozen fish flung at them during the resort’s regular fish-feeding activity. Puerto del Sol or West Beach, pocketed by boulders of sharp but brittle marble, is where Apulit island resort arranges lunch picnics or cocktails if the weather is good. Keen to island hop? Check out Pabellon Island, a magnificent block of spired limestone and caves located 20 minutes from the resort. It’s where hunters scale the island’s sheer face to gather the famous bird’s nests, an expensive delicacy made from the saliva of the balinsasayaw. Dock at a tiny cove, clamber up the rocks to get to a makeshift bamboo step, then dive into the cold waters of an indoor lagoon leading into a dark cave where you could, with the help of a water torch your guide usually provides, pillar-like formations on the walls.
Quimbaludan or Isla Blanca is distinctive for its white crescent shaped sandbar that swirls on one side of the tiny one-hectare island and ends in a small patch of mangroves. Great for picnics, swimming and snorkeling, and an overnight stay or a romantic dinner (arrange with the resort).
Apulit Island Resort itself has a host of activities for free — kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, snorkeling lessons, fishing, a 10-minute introductory fun dive for non-divers or a 30-minute acclimatization dive for licensed divers at the resort’s house reef. You can also climb up the majestic limestone cliff on the island, enjoy the view of the cove and the marine life below, and rappel 60 meters down from Apulit’s cross.
Diving, caving and a romantic dinner
The resort has 11 dive sites suitable for open water, experienced or advanced divers with an astonishing variety of marine life. The Gooseneck site, five minutes away by boat, is a slope reef that teems with snapper, fusilier, damsel, grouper, turtles, stingrays and jacks. The West Nabat site 20 to 30 minutes away offer divers nine varieties of corals and 15 varieties of fish. Apulit Island Resort provides dive guides suitable to one’s experience.
And being in Taytay you have to explore the caves. There is a spectacular warren of caves at the eastern or rear side of the resort. Accessible by boat only when the waters are calm, the Searle Cave is a maze of towering caverns lit by generators ferried to the site especially for visitors. There are stalactites, stalagmites, dramatic undulations and pocked surfaces islanders call coffee crumble. The main upper chamber has been the site of corporate award ceremonies, and perhaps because of its acoustics, a concert by a chamber orchestra.
There’s another cave just beyond the bend of the island resort that’s become the site of many romantic dinners and proposals. From a watery cove, a narrow bamboo bridge leads to a snug second cavern called Bird’s Hollow where a young tree clings to a jagged far wall and shoots its leaves to the open sky above. It’s where the resort sets up a formal table for romantic dinners lit by dozens of candles.
Keep an eye out for animal life and marine life close to the shores
You can regularly spot squirrels scampering across walkways or climbing up trees at the resort. There are geese and ducks, sea eagles, herons, crows, and on occasion rabbits, skunks or apatot, hedgerows, anteaters, porcupines and gentle mousedeer chewing on grass. Sometimes seen close to the resort's cottages on stilts are baby black tip sharks.
For those who want to catch the Irawaddy dolphins at play, ask the resort to arrange a trip to Malampaya Sound. Be prepared to be up by 4 am because it’s a 50-minute boat ride from Club Noah to the pier in Poblacion, Taytay, and another 20 minutes by land to Agpay. The dolphins often gambol from 6 to 7 am.
A freshwater lake in Barangay New Guinlo also harbors the Philippine pond turtle New Guinlo. It’s the site of the rehabilitation project of the species, but the turtle is endemic in all of Palawan.
Stop by the fort
On the main town of Taytay, 50 minutes away by boat from Apulit Island Resort, is Fort Isabel, a quadrilateral fuerza built with bastions and garitas on each corner, a must visit not only to get a sense of the history of the town but more so to catch a panoramic view of the bay. Part of the fort’s crumbling face shows the shells and corals it was made from more than 300 years ago. The stone walkway leading to the fort are made from the same material. A modern chapel with a translucent ceiling has also been built inside the fort.
Older than the fort is the Sta. Monica parish church built in 1663, which is a three-minute walk from the fort. The church is still in use today, but little remains of its historic past.
At the town market there are the usual fruit and vegetables and yes, the popular dried fish and squid.
Airswift has daily flights from Manila to El Nido, Palawan, with fares at about P6,344. Gulliver’s 24/7 Travel and Tours has Taytay tour packages and van rentals. For more information call +6348 434 8649.
Originally published in InFlight Traveller December 2007 to January 2008. Updated May 2016