You know you’re on to a good thing when you step out of the private fast craft in hundred-degree heat to the ladies room, and it’s stylishly air-conditioned. Then you walk out, and realize that the sea is on both sides. Oh yes, this is an island. The isolation is soothing, if you ignore the 80 support staff that caters to the lucky guests.
Five years ago, I first heard about this island development from a friend. It was a brave decision by Kuwaiti businessman Dr. Hamad Al Tuwaijri and his wife, Louisa, to start a big project, where each nail and mortar had to be ferried or air dropped to this remote location, which is part of a cluster of tiny islands surrounding Busuanga Island in northern part of Palawan. “The resort was literally built by hand without employing any machine in order to preserve the existing corals and marine life to avoid any impact on the environment,” Dr. Tuwaijri shares. It took four years to build and was set for a grand launch in October 2013 when super typhoon Yolanda hit the country. Undaunted, the owner saw the bright possibility of their favorite vacation get-away of the Maldives in the thin sliver of what was known as Dicilingan Island. His instinct proved him right as Palawan consistently ranked as one of the World’s Best 10 Islands to Visit by several prestigious travel publications.
The Tuwaijris have investments in Lebanon, Oman, Kuwait and Maldives, mainly in construction and real estate.
Dr. Tuwaijri saw the potential in Asia, particularly in the Philippines. He was first introduced to its culture and tradition by his best friend who worked with him for over 20 years before he passed away, his engineer, Rudy Maghirang. He flew around scouting for places in the Philippines and fell in love with the scenic beauty and unparalleled serenity of Palawan.
The powerful typhoon devastated the resort’s crown jewels–the 40 water villas on stilts that encircle its eastern seaboard. They are currently under reconstruction and should be fully operational in a few months. In the meantime, the unaffected 14 large beach huts onshore are just as luxurious, with the white beach a step down from the room, or the remaining 24 water villas on the western side that overlook the neighboring islands. The resort also has a family suite and the presidential suite, each with two bedrooms.
Travelers of all kinds–old or young, pleasure seekers or back-packers, visit Palawan for its unspoiled beauty and abundant sea life. Stunning vistas at sunrise and sunset do not disappoint here. In Huma Island Resort, they are best enjoyed at the centrally-positioned Rudy’s Bar–named in honor of the owner’s aforementioned best friend–over a steaming cup of coffee or a cool glass of bubbly. As a start to our three-day holiday, we did exactly that with chilled champagne on hand, after a brisk check-in one windy afternoon. The amiable bartender was like a familiar friend and before we knew it, it was time for dinner. To allow guests to enjoy its entire cuisine offering, the resort rotates among its six restaurants on weekdays. That night, it was at their Italian outlet, Al Dente, that juts out into the water. With its expansive al fresco dining deck, complemented by an extensive wine cellar, this is the place to linger for a long dinner on a moonlit evening.
Whisked to our room on a golf cart, we found the accommodations as expected–a well-appointed bedroom (iPod speakers, complimentary slippers, beach tote), a huge bathroom and a walled-in back garden with a Jacuzzi and open-air shower, and a large private deck. A few steps down from our private deck is the beach, as secluded as Brooke Shield’s Blue Lagoon, with water warm enough to wade in on a breezy evening.
The following morning was a bustle of activity as guests chose their own pleasure. And since you’re in Palawan, you must have an island-hopping experience. At Huma, there are several options, including a trek to an inland lake. Preferring a more sedate activity, we chose the 45-minute boat trip to nearby Black Island. The uninhabited island, with three caves and a Japanese sunken ship on its shores, is both foreboding and mysterious; but it boasts of the finest white sand and excellent snorkeling. Excursions from the resort include a picnic basket and cold towels, with a butler at your beck and call.
The day ended with cocktails, as usual at Rudy’s Bar, followed by dinner just a short flight up the stairs at the resort’s Lebanese outlet, the Al Fairuz. The pride of the resort, it needs to be said that the restaurant’s Middle Eastern offerings have the personal nod of the Tuwaijri couple. Succulent lamb, shawarma and the day’s fresh catch are cooked in spices that can only come from the souks.
Waking up to a hot cup of coffee and fresh papaya, we faced the classic dilemma of a pleasure seeker. What to do next? It would be a shame not to spend a full day at the resort, so it was an easy choice to just lounge in our private deck being served daiquiris and listening to bossa nova all day while watching some teenagers paddling by in kayaks.
Dinner on our last night was at the seafood and grill restaurant, On The Harbour, where cravings for lobster are fully sated. The chef approached our table and told us what the local fishermen brought in that day. Fresh caught flounder, perfectly grilled New Zealand steak and a bottle of chardonnay finished off another perfect evening.
Leaving the following day was sweet and sad. As Travel + Leisure magazine wrote when its readers voted Palawan as the number one island in the world to visit, “it’s a reminder that sometimes, the greater the distance traveled, the greater the rewards.” Being in the Philippines, Palawan is in our backyard; and if you haven’t visited any of its islands, you should. Huma Island Resort would be a good starting point. (by Eva Gullas)
HOW TO GET THERE
Just an hour away from Manila by air, Busuanga, Palawan is accessible daily via Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights from Manila.
1.5 hour land transfer from Busuanga airport to Sagrada followed by a 30-minute boat ride to the resort