On remote, reef-fringed Pamalican Island, Amanpulo boutique hotel in the Philippines offers Crusoe luxe, with snow-white beaches, crystal-clear seas, pristine diving and endless watersports. After a tough day on the beach, recoup in the spa, then retire to your airy casita deck. The 'peaceful island' delivers on the elusive fantasy of getting away from it all.
Leave at 8am for 9.30am flight connections; 1pm for 2.30pm flights (not flexible due to flight departure schedule). Check-in, 9am in low season (June–October); 2.30pm in high season (November–May).
Double rooms from £948.72 ($1,320), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast and resort activities (non-motorised boats, tennis, gym and daily group classes). A minimum three-night stay often applies. Return flight transfers are charged extra – US$495 per adult; US$295 per child (2– 11 years).
In your room you’ll find your own island survival kit, including a straw beach bag, hat and fan, which you’re welcome to keep as a memento of your Amanpulo adventure.
At the hotel
Spa, PADI dive centre, marine sports, tennis courts, playground, golf cart for each casita, library with CDs and DVDs, boutique, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen satellite TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock, minibar, coffee-machine.
Our favourite rooms
Inspired by native bahay kubo dwellings, all rooms have timber frames and pitched roofs with rustic island styling. Mermaids and mermen will love the 29 Beach Casitas, as you can saunter straight onto the sandy beach and into the waves. Or for dreamy Sulu Sea views, opt for a Deluxe Hillside Casita. The two- and four-bedroom Villas offer opulent, airy living and dining pavilions, with private pools and a cook, ideal for families or friends.
Bordered by vibrant bougainvillea trellises, the 30-metre, aqua-tiled swimming pool stretches out in front of the Clubhouse. Bask on your umbrella-shaded sun-bed or one of the three open-air salas where comfy mattresses reign supreme.
If all that beach-flopping has left you with sunlounger sores, intimate Amanpulo Spa offers local Cuyonin healing treatments.
An underwater camera for snapping freaky fish. Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe for castaway inspiration. A rash shirt for snorkelling without burning.
Casitas and Villas can take three adults, or two adults and two children (under-5s go free; there's a daily $10 charge for breakfast, or $30 half-board) for under-12s. Beds for over-12s and adults cost $180 (plus a 10 per cent service charge a night).
Welcome: baby cots and extra beds or day-beds for up to two under-12s can be provided for free; it's US$180 a night (excluding a service charge) for a third child. Babysitting with hotel staff can be arranged from US$6 an hour, with 48 hours’ notice.
Children old enough to swim and enjoy the wide range of watersports and kids' club activities.
The two- or four-bedroom villas work well for families, with a living/dining pavilion, outdoor lounge, private pool, and a handy cook and maid.
Family-friendly Amanpulo's kids' activity coordinator hosts a range of indoor and outdoor distractions, including arts and crafts, movie nights, tree-planting and organic gardening. Older kids will enjoy the resort's active mix of tennis, nature walks, cycling, swimming, snorkelling, marine sports (such as windsurfing, kayaking and sailing) and dive centre (for kids aged eight or over only). Little ones will love watching turtles hatch in season.
There isn't a dedicated children's pool, but the main pool sports inflatables, floats and arm-bands.
Children are welcome in the hotel's Clubhouse restaurant which offers a kids' menu, and at the Beach and Lagoon Clubs. Lunch at the Windsurf Hut is bound to be a hit, with pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven and consumed on the sand.
Babysitting is available for PHP300 (about US$6) an hour with hotel staff given 48-hours' notice.
No need to pack
Baby cots and high chairs are provided for free.
Day-beds are available (up to two in some rooms) free of charge for up to two under-12s; for a third child, there's an extra charge of US$180 a night (plus a 10 per cent service charge).
The hotel is involved in turtle conservation and supports the surrounding island communities through the Andres Soriano Foundation. Food is locally sourced, with organic and homegrown produce where possible, and most staff are local.
Any pew at the Beach or Nama Restaurant will deliver mesmerising sea views, or crank up the romance with a private picnic or barbecue in your casita, on the sand or on a neighbouring isle.
From beach casual to Ab Fab kaftan chic, depending which eatery you plump for. This is the place fashion designers have in mind when they dream up their resort collections.
Choices, choices… The poolside Restaurant at the Clubhouse serves up flavoursome Filipino and international cuisine, with views out to the pool. Settle indoors amid coconut-shell tables, Cebu rattan chairs and local lawan wood columns, or head outside to the terrace for informal dining. For just-caught seafood and tasty Spanish tapas by the sea, make for the chilled-out, open-air Beach Club pavilion, where loungers and shaded seats face the sand (the huevos rancheros are delicious). Alternatively, Nama Restaurant specialises in Japanese cuisine. Don't miss Pizza at the Windsurf Hut, where thin-crust pizza are whipped up in a wood-fired oven for munching by the waves. The chocolate and strawberry one rocks.
Fancy some star-gazing with your sangria? At the Lobby Bar in a corner of the Clubhouse knowledgable staff can point out the constellations while you peer through the terrace telescope. Enjoy an apéritif at the marble-topped bar or an after-dinner liqueur with a cigar on the terrace, often accompanied by live music by local guitarists or harpists (guitars are big news in the Philippines). There's also the floating Kawayan pontoon bar if you don't mind swimming out to enjoy your liquid refreshment.
Breakfast is served from 6am–11am, lunch from noon–3pm, and dinner from 6pm–9pm. The bar shuts up shop at 11pm.
Available 24-hours, offering global and Filipino fare.
Amanpulo is the only resort on the private, uninhabited island of Pamalican, part of the Quiniluban group of Cuyo Islands in Palawan province, 360 kilometres south-west of capital Manila.
The island has its own airstrip and is only accessible by plane. Fly into the Philippines' capital's Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (www.manila-airport.net), where you can pick up the super-scenic 70-minute flight to the island (not included in rates; 20kg weight limit a passenger, including hand luggage). Enjoy panoramic views as you wing your way there on the 19-seat twin-engine plane.
There are usually two daily scheduled flights in and out of Pamilican Island from and to Manila, but those wanting more flexibility can ask the resort about private charter flights.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take your pick from swimming, snorkelling and world-class dive sites clustered around the myriad reefs ringing Pamalican Island, with a PADI dive school able to teach beginners from age eight or guide experienced divers. Clear water, colourful coral and abundant marine life make the Sulu Sea a dream to explore (look out for tiny cleaner shrimps and large sea turtles). Sailing, fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, Schiller water bikes and more are on offer at the Seasports and Windsurf Huts, with non-motorised watersports largely free during the day.
If romance, rather than action, floats your boat, embark on one of Amanpulo's cruises, with sunset, moonlight and starlight options, as well as island-hopping jaunts to neighbouring isles. If you've swum to your heart's content in the pool, then why not splash your way out to the Kawayan pontoon bar, a bamboo platform raft where bartenders dish up cocktails. On land, tennis, walks, daily group classes – including circuit training, Pilates and jungle runs – and a gym await.
If even that sounds like hard work, then Amanpulo Spa is for you (parents, leave your progeny in the well-tended Kids' Club, while you take a break). Treatments using local island herbs and plants are our top tip, such as the 90-minute Hilot Kaayo body massage, which starts with a seven-herb soak, before your therapist uses a banana leaf to identify areas of imbalance in need of kneading.
Amanpulo is the only resort on pristine Pamalican Island, and there are no other cafés, restaurants or businesses here. Luckily, the hotel's ample dining options should keep your palette tickled.
Expectation can be a terrible thing. For weeks Mr Smith and I have been counting down to our Philippine weekend jaunt. Fantasising about tropical downtime has kept us afloat during Hong Kong’s chilly winter. As we board the private jet that is whisking us off to Amanpulo, our luxury escape on Pamalican Island, I start to fear that nothing could match my inflated expectations. Yet the moment the sea transitions from undulating expanses of dull blue to vibrant turquoise edging onto white sand, it dawns on me that any disappointment is going to arise from returning to normal life. It feels as though we’ve been granted VIP access to this privileged private isle. Mr Smith and I don’t need to exchange words – our jaws drop in unison and mouths remain wide open for the duration of our stay.
Aging gracefully seems to be Amanpulo’s mantra. Built almost 20 years ago, the hotel hasn’t attempted to modernise itself unnecessarily. Rather than relying on modern gadgets and trumped-up design, the setting, service and quality speak for themselves. While the rooms feel more rustic than ritzy, this pared-back charm allows the beauty of the island to stand out rather than be overshadowed.
Sprinkled across the island is a seductive range of facilities, but instead of lingering in the library or seeking out the spa, we make a beeline for our Beach Casita, gloriously separate from anyone and anything else on a secluded stretch of beach. Our giant villa is simply styled with dark wood furniture and crisp white cushions. The sprawling bedroom leads through to a bathroom of the same size, where a pair of straw hats urge us to head along the path, past our two-person hammock, down towards the sea. As I scan the horizon, toes ensconced in cashmere-soft sand, Mr Smith dons his new hat and declares himself the modern-day Robinson Crusoe.
From this private patch, there’s not a soul in sight, allowing for hours of sun-kissed book reading and sea-swaddled embraces. Rather than feeling hauntingly empty, the lack of human interaction (continued in the spa and restaurants) heightens the romance of our stay.
As we’re drawn into this laid-back way of living, however, paradise decides to spit up some romantic hurdles. A real chore is choosing how to navigate between the sprawling restaurants, hilltop spa with panoramic views, pavilion-lined pool and our homey casita.
Mr Smith’s preference lies in scooting along the interior paths (flanked by reclining lizards and coconut trees) in our golf buggy, whereas I’d rather amble around on bicycles or walk barefoot along the deserted beach.
Occasionally interrupted by gourmet meals and mojitos, my scheduled relaxation is also compromised by my desire to satiate Mr Smith’s restless energy and accompany him kayaking and snorkelling. Mealtimes fortunately provide a lull in decision-making as we resolve to sample all the culinary treats on offer. We spend an eveningdeconstructing a crab overlooking the sea at the Lagoon Club, enjoy a lazy lunch grazing on tapas at the Beach Club, and linger over breakfast and fresh coffee in the shade of the elevated Club House restaurant, surveying the pool and island beyond.
After two days of self-imposed lethargy and replacing our everyday woes with inane island dilemmas (caipiroska or Cosmopolitan?), we approach our final evening keen to preserve our love-struck sentiments. Strolling barefoot down to the beach from our casita, we stumble upon a candlelit table for two, surrounded by bamboo torches and wicker lanterns flickering across the sand. Despite not letting me drive the golf buggy and causing me to blister my fingers kayaking, Mr Smith is positively back in my good books for arranging this. He glows, not only from sunburn but brownie-point-earning.
As a guitarist serenades us, I realise only one thing could elevate this picture-perfect evening: a proposal. Unfortunately for me, mine had come 12 months too early… Finally, induced by cocktails and wine, I fall asleep on our hammock, snoring contentedly and leaving Mr Smith to remember why he doesn’t spoil me as often anymore.
Before leaving the next day, I force us to slowly circumnavigate the island, allowing Amanpulo’s charm to seep into my memory. Paradise this idyllic should only be experienced once – stay too long and real life becomes unbearable. As we step back onto the private jet and glide from our VIP island and back to reality, I start to wonder if the whole weekend had been a dream. Could such secluded perfection really exist? Would God create such a paradise and only grant access to so few? Then I remember, God didn’t create this haven, Aman did.