Our most recent visit to Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club strengthened our optimism that the future of luxury resort living starts here. The 40-hectare valley complex has The Pico Sands Hotel, Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club (a membership club), and condominium residences. It sits in one of 13 coastal coves in Hamilo Coast, and the first one to be developed. Hamilo has a total of 5,900 hectares with a 31-kilometer coastline.
We have visited Pico de Loro a number of occasions and even at those times, we found it impressive, well-designed, and impeccably landscaped, nothing old or gathering dust or rust. Its diverse attractions make for a bigger spread of activities to satisfy the different wants of its members and their guests, parts of it (yes, just parts) were offered to us each time to savor.
With so many choices to enjoy its huge property, Celine Arenillo, Cluster Communications Manager for Taal Vista and Pico de Loro, made us experience Pico de Loro’s Break Free Package.
Designed to “break free” from the mishmash of city streets, heavy workloads, stressful relationships, and, yes, even loneliness, the program allows a maximum of four persons (two adults and two kids) to enjoy three days and two nights of fun and sun, privacy, and creative cuisine.
Our first day started with lunch at Sun Coral Cafe in the Beach Club, overlooking the sea. A fruity menu of Hawaiian Chicken Kebab and Grilled Lime Salmon during lunch already put a message of an island chill kind of a place.
For us, it also provided an opportunity to interview Celine and get added information on our favorite place south of the Metro and how it fared under more than two years of the pandemic.
We were told that the hotel was closed on some days in compliance to Covid-19 health protocols, but the management is proud to impart that no staff was ever let go. In 2020 occupancy did not even reach 30 percent because of the lockdowns, but it was better in 2021 even if the occupancy did not reach 80 percent.
Pico de Loro has proudly stood its ground during the pandemic and remained unapologetically upscale and continued upgrading facilities and programs for members and guests. Some programs are trails for trekking, cove tours, mangrove tours, various indoor and outdoor sports, games, and sea adventure packages, themed dinners, culinary offerings for both adults and children, but the list doesn’t end there. We feature the Break Free Package here:
The cove tour through a sunset cruise with cocktails was a part of the Break Free itinerary that we eagerly looked forward to with childlike exuberance, and as soon as we were on the speedboat, our smiles never left our faces and it will show on the photos on our cellphones which we will treasure, letting the memories linger on.
No couple will not be seduced by a sunset cruise. The changing colors of the sky, the gentle lulling of the speedboat cruising the calm waters, the feel of the breeze in our hair, the view of the seascape.
The seascape provides you an excitement felt by seafarers on a voyage of discovery. Each rock formation has an image of its own—elephant trunk rock, bat cave, broken island, turtle rock, among others. Hamilo Coast has 13 coves with their own shapes and individual attractions and we managed to visit, of course, the main Pico de Loro, Santelmo (little Boracay), Papaya cove is where the community of Hamilo stays, including most of the staff. Uninhabited coves are Subli, Etayo (marine reserve, snorkeling), Dorado (where this type of fish abounds), Balibago, Baybayin, Pantungan, Neela, Limbones, Bucanita, and Arkaya.
Cruising was also spiced by some interesting side stories from our boatman Arthur, our butlers Fernan and Arvel.
We were pleased to discover the pristine waters that abound with various marine life because of established sanctuaries. The cruise was both a learning experience and visually gratifying while enjoying the charcuterie and wine as part of the package.
And then, as the smell of saltwater permeates, it is enhanced by a good bottle of wine in time for sunset; and, over a pink sunset background, you toast to the good life.
Romantic Dinner for Two
We wished for additional minutes for the sun to stay on the horizon but Arthur turned the speedboat towards the beach, and both of us sighed to the end of our sailing odyssey stirring our thoughts to what awaits us at the beach.
Being led to the white cabana or “dome”, a few giggles escaped our mouths as the set-up looked like it is meant for couples to fall-in-love, stay-in-love, or fall-in-love again. I understand that these are also offered to families but as we were a couple, the program could suit us more.
I remembered us having had a similar scene many years back, and I knew that the food will team up with the ambience to work its magic for a romantic evening.
A stunning set-up of lamps lining a path towards the dome, the white table adorned with a centerpiece of braided palm leaves and flowering plants did make for the beginning of an enchanting evening.
The food didn’t disappoint as we liked the all-seafood menu from the Grilled Marinated Shrimp in Mango Salsa, then the sweet Corn Chowder soup with mussels to the Baked Mahi-Mahi flllet with coconut crust. A perfect evening to forget city life and remember how it is to be in love even for a day or two. That capped the carpe diem moments.
Breakfast was served al fresco by the beach. We started with the standard spread of fruits, yogurt, breads and coffee. Then we moved on to our pre-ordered choices of Filipino breakfast (beef tapa and fried daing na bangus), bacon and pancakes, knowing that a hearty breakfast is needed for our next activity. Breakfast by the beach is a stimulant for most, and we spent an hour or so relishing the awakening of our senses- sight, taste, and smell.
Our private island
With the sound of crashing waves, the smell of salt air and the feel of sand between your toes, island and beach getaways are popular, and what more having your own island exclusively for four hours (a day in the island is divided into the morning and afternoon slots). Add to that, swimming in crystal clear waters and walking over its powdery white sand that’s cool to your feet and that you can dust off your body and you will remember the most beautiful beach in the world. Boracay; but, just an hour and a half away from Manila and 15 minutes away from Pico de Loro by speedboat, is Santelmo Island, our daytime itinerary on our second day.
Calm waters made us engage in fish-feeding just before reaching the shores of Santelmo, whose waters are a marine sanctuary. Colorful fishes abound here, as well as “taklobos” ( giant clams).
Santelmo island (taken from St. Elmo’s Fire) has the most beautiful cove at Hamilo Coast. It has a shoreline of 250-meter pristine powdery white sand, a reason why it is the banner destination in the Break Free tour. There is a forest which allows you a lot of shade and bird watching (if you’re into that). On a rocky part of the island a few meters away, there is a view deck that you can reach after climbing steps to watch the marine sanctuary where, at a given time, black tip reef sharks can be seen.
The tour grants you a welcome by your own butler who will take care of all your needs while on the island, including, but not limited to, holding an umbrella for you, taking photos, and answering queries.
Simple facilities are sun beds, a couple of bamboo huts including one to warm and prepare your food that is brought from Pico de Loro, hammocks, mats with pillows, and a restroom; but, all these will take just a cumulative thirty minutes of your attention because we guarantee you will be swimming in the chest-deep waters for the length of time you’re there.
So, we viewed lunch as an unnecessary recess until the food was laid on a rustic table set up out before us by our butler Fernan, prepared by Jeric of the resort’s F&B — mango and eggplant salad with tomatoes, onion and fish paste, buttered shrimps, chicken inasal, pancit bami, all in a big native plate for each of us. This brought us good memories of pre-pandemic family beach outings.
Snorkeling (bring your own gear) can be arranged. Our pilot, Jojo, is actually a free-diver (maximum 2 minutes, 60 feet) who can accompany guests on snorkeling, diving even free-diving as he has accompanied renowned entities like the World Wildlife Fund.
Jojo is one of the veteran employees of Pico de Loro, bringing with him his 25-year expertise as a former fisherman from Batangas. He, along with many from nearby barangays are grateful for being offered sustainable jobs and his adventures were supported by personal accounts from both Jeric and Fernan as well. Their interesting stories accompanied us all the way back to Pico.
Awaken the Senses massage at Rain Spa
A day in the beach is best heightened with a massage or spa treatment and we got this after some hours of rest and sleep that underlined the message “awaken the senses”.
Allow me to make a statement with confidence after all the spa treatments I have had in many facilities all over the country and abroad. While many drool over just the mention of a spa treatment especially if its given as an incentive, I am one of the few who actually wishes that it does well to my physical and mental well-being.
There are things that should be given importance in a spa treatment: training of attendant, aroma and quality of essences and oil used, demeanor, music, room temperature, clean floor, toilet, slippers, towels, even the tea given must be the right taste and temperature.
All these considered, I would give my time at the spa an above average grade, a needed cooling down after a hectic activity under the sun.
Dinner was scheduled at the al fresco Spanish Steps of the Pico Restaurant a but we had to move inside when it rained. Pico de Loro dining is never a hassle whatever the weather is. There are plenty of places to eat and their menu dishes are always available. This time, we were treated to delicious croquetas, gambas, paella and salpicao—a spread that echoed an authenticity worthy of its name.
The morning of our last day, we felt that we have refilled ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and, yes, nutritionally; but, Pico de Loro ensures that there’s something new to do rather than starting your day with just a breakfast buffet.
Last in our itinerary was an early morning trek, a 5-kilometer uphill walk towards the Papaya Cove Marina. It is actually an optional activity and one can choose to walk coming back for a total of ten kilometers, or ride back on a shuttle that follows its participants. This is just one of several options of the Break Free package. Other choices are sports and recreation activities.
We actually brought jogging gear but we woke up late so we settled for our own traditional activity every time we stay at the hotel: walking around the big lagoon, listening to bird calls, identifying plants, and waiting for the swans to drift by.
Breakfast was buffet-style of Filipino favorites at the lagoon al fresco. A table was set under the white cabana for us overlooking the lagoon with a waitstaff standing by to serve as our butler. Again, catching up on industry news was on our agenda with Celine so we didn’t notice the time, and then it was time to check out.
We are fortunate that many of our coverages do not disappoint. The Philippines is blest with endless natural attractions enhanced by further developments and we assure our readers that we will share our experiences as we visit them. This is another well-spent three days in the future of luxury resort living that is Pico de Loro. We shall return.