A Day in LiO: El Nido’s Newest Eco-Tourism Estate
Having been to El Nido, Palawan around four times in the past six years has shown how quickly the landscape has changed, and from my recent visits in the past few months, it’s becoming apparent that these changes aren’t stopping any time soon.
One of the changes in El Nido’s landscape is LiO Tourism Estate, Ayala Land Inc.’s first tourism estate located 7km north of El Nido Town Proper. Ayala Land subsidiary Ten Knots Philippines, Inc. (the very same developers of El Nido Resorts) are the acting developers of this “ecologically-sustainable tourism destination”, which aims to put well planned infrastructure within the estate’s bountiful natural landscape.
A visit to LiO proved timely over Independence Day weekend, just in time for the LiO Beach Festival, which organizers touted as “a celebration of music and arts for the environment”.
Arriving on a rainy Saturday evening after a 6-hr van trip from Puerto Princesa City meant making the most of Sunday at LiO, to see what it had to offer.
Getting to LiO
A quick 15-minute shuttle van ride took us from the Ten Knots office in El Nido Town’s Calle Real to LiO Estate’s Casa Kalaw Hotel.
LiO Beach Fest had given out special discounted rates (direct round trip flights via AirSwift were at a discounted rate of 30% off, while Casa Kalaw, Balai Adlao, and Hotel Covo were offering rate bundles for hotel+flights+passes) for guests who wanted to attend the festival.
If we had flown in with AirSwift, then we would’ve landed at Lio Airport, just 5 minutes away from LiO. It was the last day of the festival and after taking a few steps out of Kalaw Café we found the beach: quiet, with the overcast sky hanging just high enough to let the sun thru.
Festival-goers had evidently partied their hearts out (under a tent, of course) to the musical acts from the previous night, which meant organizers planned for things to start a little later that day. This meant more time to enjoy the sun and almost-empty beach.
Despite the lack of people, there was much to do on the beach, with small stalls and booths waiting for curious passers-by.
Speedboats from Skipper Charters were also on hand to provide half-day tours at P1,900, while outrigger boats could easily be seen from the shore, waiting for tour groups to leave for their island hopping tours.
We’d gone on these tours before, so we were content to lie on the beach, but not after slathering on some SPF and spraying on some DEET-laden insect repellent.
The reason: LiO’s sands may be fine and its waters clear yet its shores are also home to tiny-yet-mighty sand mites (niknik), and its evident from the many warnings around LiO’s beachfront that insect repellant (or coconut oil!) is a must when you venture out to gather some rays, to avoid returning home with a back (or worse, body) full of bites.
These mites (and the occasional hermit crab), being the primary residents of the LiO coast, are a sign of the management’s conscious effort to conserve El Nido’s fragile environment, and to encourage it’s guests observe the “Leave No Trace” philosophy and practice that goes with being one with the outdoors. Surrounded by sand, sea, mangrove forest, and limestone, its great to know that the developers know a thing or two about sustainable developments.
Time flew and soon it was time for lunch. A few steps took us to the Shops@LiO for some much-needed grub and gulps. First stop: Pukka Beach Bar.
Stationed beside El Nido Grill with décor reminiscent of a Jamaican joint, Pukka Beach Bar was a great place to people-watch (and munch).
We then moved on to Pair-a-Dice (say it quickly and you’ll get the pun) Burger Bar, sat by the balcony and watched more people start flocking toward the equipment rental shack, to rent bamboo bikes, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), and kayaks for the hour.
Pair-a-Dice was out of rum, which meant going directly downstairs to order drinks from Manille Beach Bar, named after Destileria Limtuaco’s eponymous Calamansi liqueur. The cocktails are tasty and inventive, and use much of the Destileria’s wide-ranging alcoholic spirits.
The day’s acts were set to start shortly before sunset, and since there’s only so much day-drinking that you can do before your body turns on itself, we went back to the beach for a final swim.
LiO’s waters are so clear you can see your feet while being knee-deep in water. While its not comparable to the unreal clarity of Boracay’s waters on a good, lumot-less day, LiO’s waters were calm enough for a leisurely kayak or SUP sesh (or a dip).
LiO Beach Festival
LiO Beach Fest’s first iteration is thanks to the creative direction of VUE (Volume Unit Entertainment), the very same event producers and music promoters who’d organized Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival over the past seven years in Puerto Galera, Mindoro.
Dressed with a massive event tent with food, drink, and water on each side, the event space looked professional as can be, and there’s much to be said about the local and international acts that performed over the weekend.
We heard percussion beats from the water, and they seemed to be coming from the concert tent. Plans of waiting for the sunset were abandoned, and we set off to watch the first act of the day.
On the path to the venue are several themed art installations by different artists.
We made out way into the venue, following the sound of a lone conga drum, and into the concert space.
We were there ahead of the crowd and got front row views (the venue was lined with the comfiest Coleman camping chairs), and started bobbing heads and stomping feet to the rousing percussive beats of The Hernandez Bros, armed with drums, maracas, and the aforementioned conga drum.
The Hernandez Bros’ (L) set was immediately followed by CRWN’s (R) more subdued electronic music.
Soon after we watched CRWN spin his beats to trippy, undulating visuals on the stage screen from behind him, creating an almost hypnotic atmosphere that was perfectly timed with the sunset.
The night soon arrived and so did the last few acts of the festival, namely, funk masters Apartel, world music beats from Kawangis ng Tribu, and last but not the least, reggae rhythms from Jeck Pilpil & Peacepipe to end the night.
Needless to say, despite the low-pressure area that briefly hovered over Palawan at the start of that weekend, once the weather cooperated, the LiO Beach Fest proved successful in the end.
With environmentally conscious people at the helm of this master planned development, there’s absolutely no doubt that that LiO will be a solid boost to the growing tourism industry in El Nido.