Calamian Islands villas in Palawan, Philippines

The idyllic Calamian islands sit at the northern tip of Palawan Province in the Philippines. Only an hour's flight, yet a world away from Manila, these islands have a fascinating history and, sitting at the convergence of the Sulu and South China seas, host an incredible abundance of marine life. The main island, Busuanga, has a small domestic airline terminal. Across the island on its southern tip is the town of Coron, with a colourful harbour where fishing and tour boats are moored. Aside from the large central market featuring the freshest seafood selections and a sprinkling of shops, guesthouses and restaurants, there is little to see in this tranquil town nestled at the base of lush green hills. Boat tours around the islands are a popular pastime. The nearby Calauit Island is home to an odd sight: sharing the island with native Palawan creatures are a number of African species including giraffes, zebras, impalas and gazelles running free through its lowland forests. Said to be a leftover pet project from the indulgent Ferdinand Marcos era, it is now a protected wildlife reserve run by the government. Coron Island features a clear and pristine inland lake, while other islands dotting the area have splendid white sand beaches and lush jungles with streams and hot springs.


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Philippines » Palawan » Calamian Islands

The magical Ariara Island is truly an exciting new frontier for luxury travel. It might sound clichéd, but Ariara really does have it all: an incredibly pristine hideaway location, superb craftsmanship, inventive design, fabulous cuisine and a team that is absolutely thrilled to serve and guide you every step of the way. Since we tend to be lulled into laziness in the tropics we were quite content, really, to simply curl up on a poolside sun lounger with a cold San Miguel brew in hand, but our hosts had other plans for us! In just one day we were given dive instruction by the PADI-certified dive master, then plunged into the sea just metres offshore at a colourful site full of exotic marine life. Later, we hiked up the island's inland trail to the hilltop and were treated to an amazing panoramic view. Then, after returning to the villa and cooling off, it was time to climb aboard the Karen Joy for an excursion to a nearby fishing village. Still, we made it back to Ariara in time for a sunset cocktail and a three-course dinner featuring fresh lapu lapu (red grouper). There's no need to do all this in one day, of course. One could easily spend weeks, even months here and have a new adventure each day – or simply do nothing but lie back and contemplate the changing colours of the jewel-toned sea.

And the food, oh the food! Among the rich and varied things we sampled were wonderful, exotic fruits – some picked off wild trees on the island, giant lobster, imported beef steak barbecued to absolute perfection, pastas and salads made with organic cheeses, herbs and vegetables, fabulous desserts including orange and basil sorbet and the local rice and coconut bico treat. Being a remote island, getting fresh food in (aside from seafood, which fishermen bring directly to shore daily) is a big undertaking, and coordinating it all is a chef on the island and a Swiss chef based in Manila who operates her own organic dairy farm and expertly sources the finest imported foods and wines. Ariara was six years in the making by a very resourceful, creative and passionate team. With its potent combination of ground-breaking standards of service and a wild, largely undiscovered marine wonderland, we believe that it won't be long before Ariara is the place that others in the super-villa business will be scrambling to imitate.

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