There’s a place in El Nido where you can run away from the crowded mass of poblacion and literally have the beach almost by yourself, enjoy a stunning view of sunrise, kayak ‘round a sandbar where a lone tree stood, see a life-sized replica of a traditional sea vessel, and immerse in a warm community of one of Palawan’s oldest cultural groups. It’s an almost two-hour ride from the town center, where the rocky trip takes you through hills and mini-valleys, past golden rice fields, up ridges where you can see a stunning view of the sea, and into a quiet town where a community of Cuyonons proudly thrives. For the solitude-seeker, here’s El Nido’s Sibaltan, a Palawan gem that makes diverting from your usual itinerary a pleasant risk.
Though the barangay already has a sizable tourism base, thanks to the establishment of the Balay Cuyonon Museum, Sibaltan as a prime tourist destination in El Nido is still pretty much an emerging idea. The place still seems to draw more foreign travelers who look for a break from the crowded poblacion of Bacuit, rather than the usual stream of tourists flocking to the world-famous town. In fact, one local, surprised when we asked him how to get to Sibaltan, asked us in undisguised amusement and confusion, “Ano ba gagawin niyo doon?! Mga dayuhan lang pumupunta dun. Dun kayo sa Nacpan!” Ay, how mistaken Kuya was—I, born and raised in Palawan—delightfully found paradise in Sibaltan.
A quiet beach, a sandbar with a lone tree, and an almost-crimson sunrise
Sibaltan’s beach is a calm stretch of white sand, perfect for the solitude-seeker who needs a break from loud music and random strangers. It is pretty much deserted where you’re mostly accompanied by only one or two fellow travelers, mostly foreigners.
Though we didn’t see the famous almost-crimson dawn because of the clouds, we were still rewarded with a spectacular yellow-blue streak of sunrise (still Instagram-perfect, yes bes). The morning scene was of dreamy quality, with a solitary boat breaking the horizon, and the occasional roar of a bangkang de-motor punctuating the quiet early-morning air.
A hundred or so meters from the shore is a sandbar, eye-catching from the distance because of a lone tree standing in the middle of it. Locals call it ‘Bobog Island’, after the name of the tree, and it’s a convenient ‘pit stop’ for a kayak race that you can launch with yourself or your travel buddy. Unlike kayaking in the famous lagoons downtown, we almost had the beach by ourselves in Sibaltan—no worrying about potentially dismembering another tourist with your oar (rejoice, clumsy ones!).
A tale of two museums
We find Sibaltan especially charming because it offers more than the white-sand-beach experience that El Nido is known for. The barangay prides itself with two museums that showcase the place’s Cuyono ancestry: Balay Cuyonon and Pangko.
Balay Cuyonon is a life-sized reproduction of a traditional Cuyonon house. The house is made mainly of hardwood and bamboo, with nipa for the roof, sawali for the walls, and kawayan for the floors. A tour inside shows you a collection of household items: wooden eating utensils, cooking stove and kitchenware, a countertop with sink, a large clay jar for storing water, sleeping items including a banig (mat), and several others.
The Pangko, which is a personal favorite, shows you a life-sized replica of the boats that Cuyonons used in trade and migration. Pangkos were used by the locals until the late 1950s when they were replaced with motor bancas, the batil and later by the much bigger lantsa. Knowledge of Pangko-boatmaking is almost facing obscurity so in 2014 a team of foreign and local researchers teamed up with some of the locals to build a replica of the traditional Cuyonon sea vessel. Today, the gigantic boat sits facing the beach and, together with a local, you can hop on board to explore it.
You can arrange for visits to the museums through Mr. Rico Cabiguen of the Sibaltan Heritage Council (see contact info: 0935 697 0729).
How to get there
There are three options to get to Sibaltan from the El Nido town center: bus, shuttle or tricycle. Since we were feeling extra-adventurous and I was keen to let my friend experience the local way of traveling, we took the bus on the way there. Fair warning: it’s your typical bus in rural areas. No aircon, open windows (yes, it gets dusty), and cargoes abound—you might end up sitting with chickens next to you in the aisle. The bus takes only a single trip per day. It leaves at around 11 a.m. from Bacuit Terminal and at 5 a.m. from Sibaltan, and the fare was around Php70. The trip took over an hour because of the occasional stops, but if you want a taste of local road trip, the bus was worth the slight discomfort.
Shuttles are also available for hiring, and we took one on our way back to poblacion. We were informed you can also hire a tricycle for around Php1,000 for a roundtrip, but we were not able to try this option.
Where to stay
There are several small resorts already operating in the area. Among Sibaltan’s claim to popularity are its ‘tent camps’ or little huts on the beach, which was obviously a hit among foreigners looking for an ‘off-the-grid’ experience. In fact, the driver of the shuttle van that we took on our way to El Nido enthusiastically endorsed camping in these tents in Sibaltan, particularly in ‘Tapik Beach’.
We were not able to try these ‘nipa huts’ because they were already booked when we got there, but we had a great stay at the bamboo-themed resort of Floresita’s, ran by the hospitable tandem of Myra Narrazid and Shiela Macado (contact info: 0917 507 9700). This duo will enthrall you with stories about Sibaltan and are patient enough to answer questions from first-time visitors like us.
Tons more of experience
We only had an overnight stay at Sibaltan so obviously, there were tons more of activities that we missed. Laying out all the little details, likewise, will require more than a few pages. In parting, here are some pro-tips: Bring insect repellants as mosquitoes or sandflies can frequent in some points of the day, particularly at nighttime. Also, pack some powerbanks as electricity is only available through certain schedules. Lastly, there’s a high point on the road to Sibaltan where you can see a stunning ridge-to-reef view of El Nido (read: the hills majestically rolling into the golden rice fields into the shore and into the blue expanse of the sea)—you can ask your driver to stop by so you can admire the scenery longer. You’re welcome.
About the author: Rose is a researcher who currently divides her time mainly between working as a research analyst in Metro Manila and as an editor of Palawan News. Firmly believing that Palaweños should actively promote the beauty of the province wherever they may be, Rose conceptualized #ExpPALAWAN with the team and is currently working to get more people on board. Feel free to shoot her some ideas through her email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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