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Meow Reviews, Philippines

On one breath – Freediving in El Nido

August 4, 2015

“You are getting good at this!” Florent Bevalot, my instructor declares as soon as I hit the surface. After two days instruction, I have descended to 18 meters under water without air, somewhere around the back of Entalula Island in Bacuit Bay. I am a long way from anywhere should something go wrong, yet I feel surprisingly safe in Florent’s hands. Freediving is gaining worldwide popularity among people from all walks. This form of diving relies on the person’s ability to hold their breath underwater instead of using air tanks. It’s also one of the least intrusive and most sustainable ways to explore marine life, which is much needed in Bacuit Bay.

Learning to chill at the bottom

Accessible from El Nido, Bacuit Bay is a UNESCO protected marine reserve at the northern point of Palawan Island in the Philippines. As tourism rapidly expands, the bay, an area of over 460 square kilometers, faces huge challenges to protect the 800 species of fish and hundreds of unique corals found beneath its waters. Palawan Divers have ignited local action to clean up the reef and recently added freediving to their suite of activities.

Florent Bevalot - Palawan Divers Freedive instructor

I’ll admit that this would not usually be my first choice of activity. I never felt at ease during my brief fling with scuba. I find the whole thing rather uncomfortable. I suck the air down and flail around like a drowning dugong trying to balance and swim. But if I were going to freedive anywhere in the world, it would be in Bacuit Bay. On a good day the visibility can be 30 meters down. You also have a high chance of running into a turtle. This all sounds appealing, and after a long conversation with Jerome Pesnel, Palawan Divers manager, I am convinced. We start day one by practicing pranayama breathing. This technique is used by freedivers to control their breath, by inhaling and exhaling in equal efforts. This brings the body and mind to a relaxed state. It’s no surprise that yoga and freediving are often taught hand in hand. I tell Florent I feel more like going to sleep at the end of this, rather than descending to the bottom of the sea. Florent assures me that this is the feeling I should experience before freediving, to slow my heart rate and relax.

Pre diving breathing on the deck

We practice ‘breathing up’ on the surface, to again relax once in the water and expel stale air from the lungs. After making a dive plan with Florent, I take one last breath and descend down the rope headfirst, with the assistance of weights around my hips. Immediately my ears hurt. I panic, and with large fins I kick quickly to the surface in a fluster. Florent calmly reminds me that I have to equalise.“Go down slowly” he advises, adding that I should “chill out for a bit” when my ears hurt. (I’m not convinced about ‘chilling’ under the sea with no air, but Florent asks me ever so nicely, that I am willing to give it a try.) My ears start to ease over the next two days and before I know it, I’ve made it to five then 10, then 18 meters, surprising myself with each dive. Once I shut my mind off I learn to enjoy the silence. The eeriness of descending into the cold dark water with nothing but a rope, feels (surprisingly) so natural.

Florent has me covered all the way to the top

I have a long way to go to reach the world record of 128 meters but one thing is certain – I am hooked.

On return from El Nido I find myself longing to return to the depths of the sea.

No air. No tanks. Just me.

Travel information

It takes a bit of planning to reach Bacuit Bay. Here are some things you should consider;

Air Asia X has flights from Manila to Puerto Princesa in Palawan

Palawan daytripper has daily transfers to El Nido town

Palawan Divers offers freediving, sailing and scuba courses in Bacuit Bay to suit all abilities, under qualified instructors

You don’t have to be a daredevil to learn to freedive, just bring an open mind and the willingness to learn!

(As with starting any new sport, check before travelling with your doctor if freediving is safe for you.)


* This is a repost of my article for The Australia Times August Travel Magazine 

*Images are by James Mills

*We travelled as guests of Palawan Divers 


Daily Life, Philippines, Travel: Beach Series

The Boracay Blog

May 17, 2015

I have been on a lot of beach holidays; Mexico, Thailand and Croatia to name a few. They are my favorite places in the world and even though we live near the beach in Sydney, a holiday is just not a holiday without the beach. I have decided to start a beach series to give you all my tips on these destinations! We were lucky enough to head to Boracay this year for a friend’s wedding and try somewhere new, so this is the first of my beach series posts! Enjoy!

Here is the low down if you are considering a trip to Boracay.

The beach – THE BEACH is white beach. This is the one in all the photos that you see of Boracay. And it is beautiful. Perfect, thin white sandcrystal clear water and enough space that you can find a quiet space to while away your time. White Beach is a long stretch divided into Stations one to four. Station one is quieter, with three and four being quite busy. Station two is the area known as D’Mall, a hideous kind of shopping precinct on the beach. There are other beaches on the island but I will get to them later on.

Getting there and away – Like all beautiful places, Boracay is hard to get to. The best way to get there is to take an  Air Asia flight to Kalibo from Kuala Lumper, then connect to Boracay Island with a bus and a boat. There is a closer airport called Caticlan, which is easier to get to, and as a result, much more congested and hectic! (I always prefer to fly with Air Asia on my travels.)

Airport transfer

Airport transfer

Accommodation – Unlike Thailand, accommodation on Boracay can be a little more pricey, but bargains can still be found. Frendz resort has some of the only remaining bungalows on the beach and hostel rooms at a cheap price for those travelling with a group. At the other end of the scale The District Boracay is a beachfront resort with all the trimmings, a pool,  three different options for food, beach chairs and a roof top bar for sunset drinks and dinner. The pool provided a nice oasis from the beach, and at most of the time we had it all to ourselves. The view from the roof and the sunset cocktails is a must, even if you’re not staying there. You can’t get any closer to the beach – the feature photo at the top is when you walk out of the hotel!

Sunset from The District rooftop bar

Sunset from The District

To get away from the hustle and bustle of white beach for a few days we headed to Argonauta Boracay, a beautiful villa on the hill between Baling Hai and Pukka Beach. A few days here and we felt like we were leaving our friends rather than a place we had paid to stay at. The villa has a stunning garden and here you will have the sunset view all to yourself.

Argonauta Boracay

Argonauta Villa

Food – The first night we ate at Mammitas on the beach, and had some beautiful seafood. While it was nice it was not super cheap, so for the next few days we opted for some cheaper alternatives. Smoke resto in D’Mall had some great stuffed shrimp and curried fish for half the price of the food on the beach. I also had a lazy breakfast after yoga at Lemon in D’ Mall. Boracay is a popular spot for Koreans so you will also find a plethora of Korean food at cheap prices. Star Lounge at The District has fabulous seafood also and we had a lovely meal served on the terrace.

Bars –  Every day is a drinking day (must lose weight on return to Sydney) and every afternoon is happy hour on Boracay.  Bom Bom in Station Two bar has two for one cocktails and some decent chilled out tunes played by a local guitarist, if your not after a crazy night out. Diniwid Beach is north on the island on the way to Pukka and has a couple of awesome places. Wahine bar has bean bags on the sand and reminded me of a few places on Koh Tao. I liked the vibe of this beach and the sunset view of people paddbleboarding and sailing was nice. It was more chilled out than Station 2 and I would probably like to stay at Diniwid  Beach if I returned.

The Ginger Hunk jumping in

The Ginger Hunk jumping in

More beaches and activities – If you can do it in the water you can find it on Boracay. Parasailing, Kitesurfing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, it’s all available. You can dive here too although I hear this can be hit and miss. One of the best days we had was taking a boat trip to snorkel at Crocodile island followed by cliff jumping. Baling Hai beach is a private beach on the north side of the island, where you pay 500 pesos and you can spend it at the bar. I felt like I was a cast away on my own little island, you can swim out to pontoons and enjoy the bay to yourself.

Baling Hai Beach

Baling Hai Beach

Budget – you can do it on the cheap, but we spent about $100 AUD for both of us, including massage, some activities and food and drink. You can do it cheaper but activities will cost you more than they would in Thailand, and you can always bargain down the price. A stand up paddleboard was half the price the hotel offered when I went to book it myself.

Ashleigh XXX 

We always fly AirAsia to get to our holiday destinations! 

Love beach holidays and great travel? 

Check out the rest of our Travel Beach Series.








The Koh Tao Blog 

AirAsia Business Review 

Four Reasons to go East in Bali

The Tulum Blog

Ciao for now, as we are off to El Nido for the second leg of our adventure!

Ashleigh XXX