As the largest island in Bacuit Bay, Cadlao Island is an imposing presence that has become the popular landmark island being so close to town. Despite its proximity, it’s probably the least patronized of the 4 main island tours in El Nido. In my months of stay in El Nido town, taking my time off at the beach, I have always imagined what it is like to visit the island, to climb its peak which is the highest at 640 meters above sea level in El Nido or even visit its lagoon on the far west. I knew, one way or another I won’t leave El Nido without visiting this prominent island. So on the day before I left El Nido, my friend and I launched our kayak and set out for a day of expedition.
With an area spanning at least 10 square kilometers, Cadlao Island is really big and we were not expecting to cover all of it being novice kayakers we are. Our main goal was to reach the Cadlao Lagoon or Ubugon Cove found far west of the island. The sea conditions and weather looked promising. We made sure we had enough drinking water and snacks to fuel us throughout the day and dry bags to keep them. I had my camera encased in my Dicapac and snorkeling gears with me too. We took one green kayaks from APT Travels, where my friend works and launched from El Nido Town beach before the tour boats started.
The water was calm from our first launch but once we reached the open channel between the town and the island, the swells got a bit bigger but it wasn’t rough to be worried about. We just had to give way to passing boats on the way to their respective tours that morning. Excitement filled in as we were getting close to the first beach stop, Natnat Beach southeast of the island. At that time we were the only ones seen kayaking to the island. About 35 minutes or so, we finally docked on the beach.
There were a three guards posted on the beach living in a small hut with trees decorated with drifted bottles. It is a privately owned beach but people are free to visit but have to ask permission if they are staying overnight. It’s a lovely stretch of beach with decent opportunities for snorkeling. We marveled at the clarity of the water near the shore. I made sure I snorkeled and found some interesting collection of colorful brain corals there and a number of fishes. It was wonderful and probably one of the most underrated destinations in El Nido.
As soon as the crowd of foreign tourist who paddled their way to Natnat Beach thickened, we decided to move forward. We saw this very nice beach stretch with some structures after a few minutes of paddling. We decided to stop to see what’s there and as soon as we docked on shore a few dogs barked to greet us. They were not hostile so we decided to take a few posterity photos there. We saw some accommodations for overnighters but the caretaker was nowhere to be found, so we moved on.
Paddling past Pasandigan Beach
At this point, it gets a little challenging. The open sea has stronger swells and current that most of the time would drift us out of our route and direct us to the nearby Dimalucad Island (Helicopter Island) instead. What we did is to keep close to the shore. We decided not to dock at Pasandigan Beach despite its inviting long stretch of beach. We also noticed that jellyfishes started to make its presence felt here even near the surface. I wouldn’t want to be caught in these waters.
Lunch Stop at an Unnamed Cove
It was already way past 1pm when we reached this beach with a cottage but no one was there. At this point we started to feel exhausted and could feel the mid-day sun bearing down on us. We had our lunch of Siopao and some snacks to replenish our strength. It was a such a nice beach and we could see the back of Helicopter Island from there. We took a dip at the beach to cool down then continued our way. I turned some upbeat music from my phone to somehow egg us to keep going with the sound of the beat.
Finally the Cadlao Lagoon
We hugged the rugged coast to keep to our route and not drift further than we should. After 30 minutes of paddling, we finally reached the mouth of Cadlao Lagoon. We quickened our pace despite the stiffness from our arms and shoulders, hurried our way inside the lagoon. Tourist boats would pass by waving at us. I remember when I was on the tourist boat on my first visit in El Nido years ago, I saw a few foreigners kayaking on open seas and thought they were crazy hardcore bunch of adventurers and never thought we would be on the other end looking at those tour boats this time around.
The Cadlao Lagoon isn’t as picturesque as say the Big Lagoon in Miniloc Island, but it has its own isolated charm as not too many people go here. The limestone rocks by the still waters looks magnificent. The lagoon’s shallow waters was great for swimming. I was told snorkeling near the mouth entrance was better so I went there. As I was swimming near the mouth of the lagoon a foreigner called my attention. He pointed at something in front of me, I squinted my eyes under the water and saw what seemed like a coral and stone but looking at it longer I noticed it was floating. It was a cuttlefish but this one was huge about 2-3 feet long, the biggest I have seen so far in my lifetime. It was beautiful and scary at the same time, if the foreigner hadn’t signaled me I would have swum straight at it. I took my time taking photos of it then tried to go further to the lagoon entrance but noticed the increasing numbers of jellyfish so decided to head back to the lagoon beach.
Paddling back to Town
We were so tempted to ask one of the boatman there to just carry our kayak back with us to town. But my friend Beng, said she would get teased for not making it the whole way back on a kayak. Besides, we’re on a mission to end this the way we started and the weather and sea was cooperative to help us out. It was already mid afternoon and if we don’t start soon darkness may catch up on us on our way back.
We paddled with all we’ve got. We decided to continue until the Sunset Beach which we stopped by earlier on after Natnat Beach. I could feel the stiffness on my upper body and arms already but we had to continue. In the midst of it all I was still amazed by the beauty of El Nido. To be out there at the sea and seeing all the islands this close, gradually fading in gradation with the afternoon light, the towering limestones and the clear ocean water below us. I think kayaking is one of the best ways to see El Nido.
We rested at Sunset Beach and finally met the caretaker there who also offered to pull our kayak with his boat but we decided to continue paddling. Stopped by Natnat Beach again to catch our breath and see the other kayakers heading back to town before continuing on.
Sunset caught us in the middle of the sea on our way back to town. I could see the sun behind Cadlao Island bidding me farewell on my last day in El Nido. As we were about to reach the shore mixed feelings enveloped me. I was glad we made it back, it was one of my best expeditions by far traveling about 14km back and forth by kayak. But its sad that my 3 months stint in El Nido has ended. I would have wanted to stay longer as I have already made a few friends there, a place I could call a home and a town I have already got accustomed to. Staying in El Nido changed my way of travel. I think I’d want to stay in a place longer when I travel, like months instead of days. It got me to learn more about the place deeper. Oh I yearn the day that I could go back.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.