To discover the heady charms of the sultry Philippine capital, you'll need to navigate the chaos of mototaxi rides and a relentless nightlife scene—and eat a lot of garlic rice
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Francisco Guerrero
DAY THREE | Being a country of islands, the Philippines prides itself on its diverse landscapes, which range from sandy beaches to nubbly brown hills to terraced rice paddies. With the sun glinting on Manila Bay and a light breeze ruffling your robe, you feel it’s the perfect day to get a more complete picture of the archipelago. After a quick breakfast, you head to the airport, where you’ve booked a helicopter to ferry you to Bellarocca. Modeled after a Mediterranean paradise—all infinity pools and white arches revealing flashes of the Sibuyan Sea—this resort occupies its own tiny island just south of the island of Marinduque, which itself rests in a curve of Manila’s island, Luzon.
The helicopter wobbles itself airborne and arcs south over lakes, jungles and, finally, the sea before landing on Bellarocca’s helipad, across from the jade mountains of Marinduque. You are transported via golf cart to a villa named Valhalla, passing, along the way, another named Xanadu. The driver explains the two villas on the other side are dubbed Nirvana and Eden.
As the bellhop brings in your suitcase, you resist cracking a joke about the fruit that might be available in Eden, and open the curtains to reveal an eternity pool and private hot tub so idyllic you start giggling. Once alone, you run from window to door to chaise longue to hot tub. “Can anyone see me here?” you say. “How about here?” “Here?” The answer, every time, is no.
Eventually, with the help of a room service tray of mango juice and kinilaw na tanigue (a ceviche-like fish salad made with ginger, vinegar and calamansi lime), you calm down enough to call for a golf cart to the Aqua Sports Center, where you secure a jet ski. You spend the afternoon zipping around the island in the light chop, feeling as if you have the entire ocean to yourself.
You’ve been told that the view from the top of the island is worth a thousand movie sunsets, so you head up the 295 steps to the Viewing Deck, where stone tables perch at varying heights among the thick foliage. You stand in the center, marveling at the expanse of ocean and sky—broken only by the summery, velutinous mountains of Marinduque—that surrounds your lonely jungle.
At dinnertime, you walk down a few stairs to the Tea House, which offers, if anything, a more transcendent view. Over kare-kare (oxtail and tripe in a creamy peanut sauce) and a bottle of Australian red, you watch the sun dip into the sea like a fluorescent pearl. The sound of drumming drifts across the water. Your waitress tells you it’s the local people practicing for an upcoming festival, one of an apparently endless stream of celebrations involving parades, masks and body paint.
As in the rest of the Philippines, the island’s idyllic façade conceals layers you could spend a lifetime exploring. The waitress arrives with the dessert menu. “Do you know what you’d like?” You hand the menu back to her. “Surprise me.”
Hemispheres senior editor JACQUELINE DETWILER is only good at unlocking metaphorical puzzle boxes.