Finding 'paradise' in Sipalay, Philippines

The Philippines has escalated in popularity in recent years. When I first visited 20 (!) years ago, the average person didn’t know much about it. Even when I went again 10 years ago, people asked me where it was and didn’t know anything about the culture or what there was to see there.

But when I went this year, the airports were filled with tourists. Most travelers today have heard of the beauties of Palawan, Boracay and Bohol. The influx of tourists hasn’t gone unnoticed, though. Parts of Boracay have even been closed in order to try and let nature recover.


Being part Filipino, the reason I always go back is to see family. Usually I spend my days there doing everyday things, but once in a while we go to visit some of the favorite local spots. That’s how I discovered Sipalay.

The water is gorgeous, the views unbeatable and the people as kind as ever.

We stayed at the Perth Paradise Resort, and paradise was certainly an apt name for it. It’s in no way available to book online or to foreigners - you have to pay in cash or have a Filipino money order wired in advance. It’s also very difficult to find, and if you’re looking for a place with Western-style amenities, it isn’t for you. But it is clean, has some running water, and has the best view from a pool I’ve seen a while. You just need to be ready for the small hike to to top of the mountain.

Day 1: The resort with a view worth the hike

We started the day by renting a van to drive us the 3 hours to a different part of the island. Sipalay is gorgeous, but it feels nothing like a lot of other parts of the island I’d spent time in.

When we finally arrived and completed the check-in process, we took our bags up to the rooms and immediately jumped into the pool. We spent the majority of the afternoon there, just staring at the water.

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It’s not very often that I take “relaxing'“ vacations. You know, the ones that just involve lounging on beaches and enjoying good food. Usually I’m more the type who spends all day on their feet. The combination of humidity and that I’ve been to the Philippines a few times made just relaxing and enjoying some sun was the perfect way to spend a day.

For dinner we ordered from the floating restaurant that’s part of the resort. It was all traditional Filipino, which was fresh and tasty.

Sunsets in the Philippines during the summer are quite early since it’s basically right on the equator. It’s actually a good thing, since it cuts the heat of the day a bit and makes doing things outside a little more bearable. Plus, you’re always awake to see gorgeous sunsets like this:

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Day 2: When your fish is fresh off the boat…

While the view from the pool was overwhelmingly beautiful, the real highlight of the excursion came when we rented a boat the next day and explored the little islands and swam in the clear, warm blue water.

Part of the fun came from just being in a unique and special place, getting to experience this. It made me never want to go sit behind my desk again. Having my family there, family I hadn’t seen in so long, share that experience with me, made it even more spectacular.

I have traveled solo before, and I know there are a lot of special experiences and learning opportunities that come from doing so. There are also great reasons to not travel solo, too. Sharing great memories and experiences with others connects us with others. It’s great to be able to turn to someone else, in the moment and for ears afterward, and say “Isn’t this amazing?”

The salt content was more concentrated than normal, which allowed for some excellent floating in the water. We spent a good hour in the calm water right in the middle of the islands, swimming around the boat.

Once we got back to shore, we all quickly realized that we hadn’t eaten anything all day. When you’re next to the ocean, you can’t turn down fresh seafood. I came back from washing the salt off me to find a feast of fresh Yellowfin tuna steaks, rice, mangoes and more. I can’t really describe it except to say that there could not have been a more perfect way to spend a day. Even writing about it now, my mouth has started watering.

I used to not be a big fan of the “beach” vacation. I love seeing museums and significant historical sites, plus I’m not that big of a fan of getting in a swimsuit. My last couple trips have all ended up including a lot of time in swimsuits and seeing different beaches, and I have to admit that I’m coming around to them very quickly.

Most of my days are spent working inside — a change from how they used to be, hopping around all over the place and never having the same sort of workday twice. Transitioning into that sort of routine has made me grateful for any days I can spend soaking up the sun. Turns out my mix of mediterranean and southeast Asian skin really, really likes the sun.

The couple days I had in Sipalay were indubitably a highlight of my most recent Philippines trip. I hadn’t previously been to the Philippines during their summer months, and it was an even bigger shock than normal for my body that is acclimated to a more arid desert and cold winter. It was such a beautiful place, and it was completely free of the tourist traps and gimmicks that I’ve seen in a lot of other places. There are no malls, Western supermarkets or really big tourist spots. Instead, it feels like this small town that is lucky enough to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It truly was like experiencing a bit of hidden paradise.

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