Matinloc Island, El Nido, Philippines (with Map & Photos)

The towering gray karst cliffs surrounding me went ignored as I stood in the middle of a pocket of white beach on one edge of Matinloc Island. I was at the so called “Secret Beach,” the place that, according to legend, inspired author Alex Garland to write his novel The Beach when he stayed in El Nido (Philippines).

The Secret Beach is a piece of paradise concealed by the cliffs and is only accessible through a narrow crevice. One has to swim through this opening to reach this place, shining even under the shade created when the sun kisses the cliffs. I wanted to take it all in when I was there. It was beyond beautiful indeed but all I could think about was: “I should have brought a water-proof camera.”

Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines
Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines

Finding the Secret

Fifteen minutes earlier, the Poor Traveler and his six poor friends were feeling a little bit sleepy after our big, satisfying lunch at Talisay beach. Our boat was smoothly breaking the waves towards another white beach and the sound of the engine roaring and the waves slapping the side of the boat were creating a melody that was relaxing, hypnotic, almost sedating.

Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines
Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines

As if the previous islands and beaches we saw were not enough, the boat ride introduced us to more examples of beauty and wonder as the cliffs displayed all sorts of gray and the water danced, playing with all the colors in the blue to green spectrum. I was content. Fighting the drowsiness with all my might, I picked up my camera and took photos of the welcoming rocks.

Our boat stopped right where other boats seemed to have been lingering the past hour. Our boatman announced, “Secret Beach!”

“Where?” asked the curious friend. “Where’s the beach? It’s all water and cliffs here.”

“That’s why it’s called Secret Beach! It’s concealed,” answered the sarcastic friend.

“Well, if we’re going there. It won’t be secret anymore,” joked another sarcastic friend.

“So where do we go?” asked the impatient friend.

“There,” the boatman pointed in a hole in one of the cliffs.

Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines
Matinloc Island El Nido Philippines

“You have got to be kidding me!” exclaimed my cowardly friend. “So we will have to swim down and through that hole? I’m dead!”

“Will I even sink?” wondered my not-so-skinny friend.

While my friends were talking excitedly about the piece of heaven behind the cliff in front of us, I was just there thinking regretfully, “I should have brought a water-proof camera.” Poor me.

Into the Secret

Armed with goggles, flippers, a snorkel, and a life vest, we jumped off of the boat, swam to that karst cliff, and made it through the hole. The first to go was my friend Ces. I was second. It was a breeze for me, which was a surprise. I just swam straight through it. You have to be careful when you do it, though, because I could imagine how painful it would be if I stopped swimming right under the arc or if my back hit the “ceiling.” That could scrape a swimmer’s back pretty badly.

The difficult part for me was AFTER I got through the opening. While I was swimming, it suddenly got shallow. A big, big rock awaits right after the opening and the waves are so strong at this point that they could push the swimmer right onto that rock. It was really difficult trying to fight the waves.

Once I regained my composure, I made my way across the shallow water to the white shore. All the while, my face was buried in the water as I get blown away by what was underneath. It was a great snorkeling place. There were all sorts of colorful fishes and other marine life forms, enjoying the water and the spaces in between rocks and corals.

The Secret Beach

When I hit the beach, I immediately stood up and saw my friend Ces, the first to leave the boat, standing with a worried look on her face and a bloody wound on her right leg. Apparently, she hit the rock near the opening (the one I mentioned before) and it scraped her knee pretty badly. Regardless, she continued to explore the place with us. What a warrior!

The Secret Beach is not just a white strip of sand. There are rocks beautifully dotting the area, as if intentionally. Behind these giant rocks is more space. The place was like a round room surrounded by naturally hard walls and green ornaments. One of the first things that entered my head was: How nice it would be to have a private beach party here! And then I thought about Survivor and how it would provide a fantastic place for the Tribal Council.

For a moment, I sat on the beach and allowed myself to get drowned in fantasy and inspiration. I started thinking about stories and concepts for movies and short fiction. I started wondering how it would feel like to spend a few days here — just here. I would gladly do that as long as I have sufficient food and water. I wondered how this place was discovered, or who. So many things ran through my head as I looked up and stared at the cliffs blocking the light. And then it dawned on me again —- I should have brought a water-proof camera.

Matinloc Island Map