Seasoned travellers to the Philippines will no doubt have traced their feet on the white sands of Boracay and dived into thrilling water sports in Cebu. And when it comes to luxury hotels, Manila is no stranger to the world of premium service and fine dining. But if you are longing for an exclusive, idyllic experience amid scenic beauty, then hopping onto a private plane in the capital will deliver you to the paradise that is Pamalican.
Home to more than 5,000 isles, the Philippines is celebrated for its beautiful beaches, sweet tropical fruits and fabulous resort islands providing blissful days of sun and surf. Many would rank the archipelagic province of Palawan as the best place in the country to fulfil these desires.
El Nido has been hailed as the jewel of Palawan, but as the travel-industry accolades accumulated, so did the tourists, and the once pristine resort has become crowded. So instead, bear east to an even more exquisite spot: the private island of Pamalican, better known as the location of Amanpulo.
Owned by Seven Seas Resorts and Leisure, and managed by Amanresorts – the brand behind some of the world’s most luxurious holiday retreats – Amanpulo opened in 1993 and over the decades has found favour with a host of A-list celebrities, Hollywood superstars and billionaires like Mariah Carey, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Beyoncé and Bill Gates.
Stepping onto the island hideaway elicits immediate royal treatment, but of course the trappings of paradise come at a cost. Amanpulo is also famous for being the most expensive private-island resort in the Philippines, with guests shelling out up to and beyond US$8,000 per night for a villa where simplicity spells luxury and the doors open wide to nature. It’s a high price to pay for days spent merely lounging around, but for those seeking an ultra-exclusive getaway from the busy outside world, then Amanpulo is the place to stay.
True to its moniker, this is ‘Peace Island’; aman is Sanskrit for peace, while pulo means island in Tagalog. It lies 360km south of Manila and is only accessible by private plane. Upon arrival at Manila airport, the jet-set are transferred by car to Amanpulo’s private lounge terminal to await a same-day connecting flight to the island. Plied with refreshments and snacks, they enjoy a glimpse of the exemplarily service and hospitality awaiting at their final destination. After 70 minutes of airtime, guests disembark to a heart-warming welcome before being ushered to their designated suite in a private golf cart, which is the main means of getting anywhere on the island – and we do mean anywhere.
Immersed in Nature
Set on the beachfront or secluded within the forest, accommodation at Amanpulo is within a standalone villa. The smaller of these are called casitas; inspired by traditional Filipino huts, dwellers may benefit from its plunge pool or magnificent hillside views. Those residing in more expansive luxury in their own villa have a private pool and dedicated staff. Fully immersed within the natural landscape of the island, accompanied by the gentle soundtrack of ocean waves, chirping birds and trees rustling in the wind, guests can bask in a cocoon of tranquillity and relaxation, hidden from prying eyes and curious onlookers.
Fruits of the Sea
Serving the freshest seasonal ingredients that the island has to offer, the resort’s four dining locations proffer an array of international flavours, from Filipino and Japanese to Italian and Mediterranean. Locally caught seafood and organically grown vegetables and herbs from the resort’s own farm and gardens take pride of place on menus, and gourmands are spoilt for choice by the quality and variety of dishes that they can discover throughout their stay.
Over at the Beachclub, umbrellas and sun loungers spill from an open-air pavilion and deck onto the white sand, while afloat on the Sulu Sea, the thatched-roofed floating Kawayan Bar, constructed of bamboo, provides all-day chilling on the water with a bespoke cocktail in hand.
Alternatively, there are several secluded spots for a picnic where the hills and ocean serve as the dining backdrop. The Gary’s Nest vantage point is one such example, offering the picture-perfect alfresco private picnic spot. For honeymooners and others so inclined, a one-of-a-kind romantic fine-dining experience can be arranged on the beach underneath a blanket of stars. Imagine a feast of grilled seafood or meats with generous selections of delicious sides, and a delectable sweet ending, around a bonfire. Hiring a private chef for the evening is another option for a personalised meal to remember.
Time slips happily by on the island with sedate aquatic adventures such as a fishing expedition or a sunset cruise, or scuba diving amid coral reefs teeming with marine life. But perhaps the most popular water-based activity is kite surfing on a crystal-clear lagoon of gentle waves and generous winds. Cutting-edge equipment from Naish and a team of accomplished kitesurfers and guides enable thrill-seekers of all abilities, including absolute beginners, to take to the water and the air.
Those who prefer to stay dry will find plentiful delights when circumnavigating the island or strolling along the powder-white beach. Pamalican island is a nesting site for both green and hawksbill turtles. If vacationing between December and March, you may spy turtle hatchlings hurtling across the sand and scattering into the ocean under the moonlight, an utterly awe-inspiring sight.
During the day, a bird-watching tour provides chance to commune with nature, while a varied assortment of other activities and sports includes tennis, cycling and a jungle obstacle course.
Top of the Hilot
After a long day in or beside the ocean, guests might find themselves hankering for repose away from the rush of the great outdoors. Located on the northern peak of the island, the resort’s gorgeous hilltop holistic wellness centre, Aman Spa, pampers with hilot, a soothing traditional Filipino massage that relaxes tension and rebalances internal energy by alternating hot and cold therapies using banana leaves and coconut oil.
Encompassing a pilates studio, a salon, a yoga and meditation pavilion, a hydrotherapy suite and more, the retreat provides comprehensive self-care services. Its resident wellness therapist and fitness specialists offer spa treatments targeted to guests’ differing needs. After all, relaxation and wellness go hand in hand with a place of peace – and Amanpulo is certainly that.
Text: Roberliza Eugenio; Photos: Aman Group S.a.r.l