5 Private Island Resorts in the Philippines
They don't call the Philippines an archipelago for nothing. There are way more stunning, secluded islands, coves and beaches than we've had time to overdevelop. Thank goodness. So, peruse this list of our favorite slices of personal paradises, then put in for those vacation days. Privacy and time—the ultimate luxuries. By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI. Photographed by FRANCISCO GUERRERO.
Published on Oct 8, 2015
1. Balesin Island Club
They say no man is an island, but I'd hazard a guess that every one wants one. In a country like the Philippines, where you have 7,107 to choose from, it isn't that difficult to find one that is actually for sale. But while retail prices can be in fact quite reasonable, the extra financial as well as logistical tolls add up. Is there fresh water? What about electricity? Sort those issues out, but then every rainy season you're worried a giant typhoon will sweep in and blow all your effort and affection to smithereens.
Enter Balesin, a unique, privateisland resort that is incredibly accessible. The 25-minute flight on a private plane leaving from a private hangar smack in the center of Manila means it's quicker to get to the island than to drive an hour south of the capital to popular weekend destination Tagaytay. A friend of mine who owns a membership explained to me that it was like having maintenance-free beach houses in Bali, Costa del Sol, Mykonos, Phuket, St-Tropez and Tuscany. That's right: it's a seaside Epcot Center of sorts for adults (far less cheesy than it sounds!) with only 300 villas and two-bedroom suites grouped into international villages on 500 wondrous hectares. The privilege of privacy—honestly, I've been kicking myself for not getting in on the ground floor ever since my first visit.
A private transport for the jet set.
That day, it felt like I barely got settled into my seat, comfortable with my headphones and magazine, when the captain announced that we were about to land. A tropical welcome awaited us upon touchdown with its customary flower necklaces and fresh coconut juice. Buggies lined up to give tours around the world.
Yes, as strange and mainland China as it may seem, the villages are less theme-park reproductions and more inspired development. Absolutely no detail was overlooked and not one tree was out of place. Or, on Mykonos, in place, for that whole village is void of tropical coconut trees. There, the signature Greek white and blue structures are surrounded by large rocks and stunning bougainvillea perched on a small cliff overlooking the vast expanse of ocean. Over on Costa del Sol, instead of overgrown balmy vegetation there is the slightly arid landscape punctured by tiled fountains reminiscent of southern Spain. And, the shady, tree-lined beaches at Phuket, with its ornately decorated wooden villas, are perfect for a relaxing, dreamy escape. Each village comes not just with the ambience of its inspiration but with a corresponding restaurant. Moules frites at St-Tropez? Spaghetti alle vongole and wood-fire oven pizzas at Toscana? Sundowners and satay at Bali? That probably sums up the bulk of my intended itinerary here…
Sun-kissed dining in St-Tropez.
My holiday was planned around mealtimes and cocktail hours—and while I was nibbling on a tasty skewer during the first of what was to become many happy hour sessions at the beautiful Nusa Dua bar overlooking the fuchsia sea, I had a moment of clarity: The diversity of food and drink was just one signal of the breadth of options on the island designed to maximize repeat visitors' investments and minimize any inkling of ennui.
The choices are in fact quite dizzying: You can go horseback riding on the beach, indulge in the spa, dive, fish for your own meal, karaoke. Heck, you can even let out your inner Legolas and try your hand at archery. Still, I sincerely am more than happy just reading a book, swinging in a hammock, enjoying the salty breeze, because the truth is that the most powerful selling point of Balesin is the stunning natural setting.
Only one-tenth of the island is developed, planned as it was with sustainability and respect for nature in mind. One has to drive a good 20 minutes, winding through untouched forests and untrimmed flora, to get from one village to another.
Adventurous spirits might pack a picnic lunch and, towel and hat in hand, disappear to a secluded cove. There are more than seven kilometers of white-sand beachfront, so it's no sweat to find a few square meters to call your own. The development was so well considered that despite the extremely high occupancy one Valentine's weekend, we often found ourselves dining alone in restaurants, only bumping into people Sunday afternoon in the hangar on our way home. "Oh, I didn't know you were here too!" is a common exclamation at the end of a holiday.
At the Balesin Village beachfront, on Luisa: Two Chic Manila blouse and pants.
As our initial tour came to a close, the friendly guide asked if we'd like to see her favorite place, and took us to the southernmost tip of the island. The buggy climbed up the hill and the island narrowed to a point where on one side stood the Pacific and on the other Lamon Bay. We were waved in by the watchman, who had a big toothy grin. The mid-afternoon sun warmed our skin, long unkempt grass danced in the ocean wind, softly framing the small, charmingly beat-up guardhouse. A rickety bamboo hut with equally rickety benches stood glowing against the light and sparkling water. "I love coming here and just staring out to sea," our guide said. "In the early morning, you can watch the sunrise and there are often turtles that come up to the surface. Then you can come back later in the day and enjoy an unobstructed view of the sunset." She sighed and so did I. Lucky watchman, I thought to myself. He had the best spot on the island… and didn't have to pay a cent.
Balesin Island Club; +63 2 846 6205; contact the resort for a preview visit, membership fees and accommodation rates.
2. Ariara Island
CALAMIAN ARCHIPELAGO, PALAWAN
This is the luxe life. The brainchild of a British couple who say they live for exotic adventures without the restrictive and confining feel of resorts and hotels, Ariara is an all-ornothing private island with the requisite dense emerald jungles, turquoise waters and white sands. The ultimate indulgence here? Whether you want a romantic escape for two or a raucous beach party with 18 friends, the eight villas, cottages and suites are book one, get them all. That goes not just for the contemporary tropical, artisan-highlighted accommodations, in which you can hop into large handcarved marble baths from Romblon, duck under thatched roofs made out of nipa fibers, and wrap yourself in textiles from tribal weavers. It also applies to the bounty of big-kid toys at your disposal. Jetskiing in the late afternoon? Discovering deserted islands on the 30-meter trimaran? Taking the 12-meter dive boat out to explore coral reefs and World War II? From spa treatments to yoga to curating each vintage from the wine cellar to your personal preference—and the menu of the private chef—every desire is met, surpassed, often even anticipated, by the friendly and efficient staff.
Each of the eight rooms boasts uninterrupted westerly seascapes at Ariara Island. Courtesy of Ariara Island.
Ariaraisland.com; seven-night stays from US$40,040 for groups of six to eight people, to US$59,850 for groups of 15-18 people.
3. The Lambingan Villa
SANGAT ISLAND, CORON, PALAWAN
Does it count as "private" if you're surrounded by simians? Well, if it comes with your own cave-waterfall shower, we say, definitely. Sangat Island is a pristine nature reserve owned by British-climate refugee Andy Pownall, but the true rulers of this roost are the mischievous monkeys that scamper freely about—and among the exotic birds such as the Palawan hornbill and endangered Tabon who live in the magnificent jungle overlooking the small strip of ivory sand dotted with large conch shells. Lambingan Villa is accessible only via a rickety bridge that snakes through jagged rocks and into a cave before thrusting you out onto its secluded beach. The rustic, threestory villa is somewhat spartan and has no air-conditioning, but it harnesses nature to provide the perks, from that waterfall shower to the cool, ocean breeze. Take a kayak and explore the island's hidden lagoons, jump into a school of rainbow-colored fish or unwind in the secret hot-spring pool. Simplicity and freshness reign with tasty (though, note, limited) offerings such as a grilled catch of the day and sautéed vegetables from the owners' lovingly tended garden. Unplug and melt into the island's languid time. Soon you'll contemplate just burning that bridge and staying tucked up with the monkeys.
Fish, plus monkeys and birds, are the nearest neighbors from Sangat Island, Palawan.
Sangat.com.ph; low-season doubles from US$155 per person per night, including three buffet meals daily, complimentary tea or coffee, and airport transfers.
4. The Malipano Villas
MALIPANO ISLAND, PEARL FARM, DAVAO
Planning a destination wedding, family reunion or other intimate celebration? Pearl Farm's seven Malipano Villas have you covered. Perched on stilts and on the rocks of the speck of land across the bay from the main resort, these spacious threestory, three- and four-bedroom villas were built in the traditional Maranao and Samal styles with bamboo accents and picturesque pointed roofs meant to look like the iconic native Philippine hat, the salakot. With its own beachfront and a large open-air veranda, the spot is made for cocktail parties and barbecues overlooking the sea. Just dial up the main resort for all your catering and concierge needs: For entertainment, there are the usual offerings of aqua sports, but perhaps you'd like to sprinkle in a dose of culture with a guided field trip to the weaving center where women from the Mandaya tribe work on lavish hand woven textiles and artisanal housewares. Back home for happy hour, be sure to order their succulent morsels of fresh tuna kinilaw—a local version of ceviche made with fresh green chilies, ginger and coconut milk—the heat tempered by frosty San Miguel beers. Whatever you fancy, take over this cluster of cottages and rule it like a festive tribe.
Stilted glory. Courtesy of Pearl Farm Resort.
Pearlfarmresort.com; three-bedroom villas for up to six people from P40,941 per night, four-bedroom villas for up to seven people from P44,398 per night.
5. Dedon Island
Call it the kingmaker. Nestled in thick mangroves and among flying lemurs and monitor lizards on surfers' paradise Siargao, the whimsical architectural gem that is Dedon Island is designed to be your personal sand castle-away-from-home. Okay, so technically there are nine vaultedceilinged, playful niche-filled, luxury villas here, but at this self-described "outdoor living lab" on four hectares, in which the coconut-leaf roofs blend seamlessly and sustainably with the emerald tree canopy, you'll hardly notice—and you definitely won't hear—the other barefoot guests. A flat rate per person per night ensures ease akin to residency; this island is your oyster; your wish is its command. Indulge in multiple massages per day, bounce in the domed trampolines visit the local market… boat rides and surf lessons and picnics on deserted isles, and did we mention so many cocktails at the handwoven circular bar? Feel like expanding the menu? Wander through their organic garden and pick your own vegetables, then pop into the kitchen to have the chef assist you in satisfying your craving. At Dedon Island there are no checks and no billing statements, just the sheer joy of pure vacation abandon without having to worry about adding up costs upon departure… That is if you can bear to give up Poseidon's trident and go back to civilian life.
Siargao is a surfing mecca.
Dedon Island; doubles from P25,100 per adult per night, P12,550 for children under 18 years old, and free for kids under 10.