This rustic resort in Batangas is the perfect place to get off the grid
I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a high school batch mate’s post: two plunge pools on a grassy lawn overlooking the glorious sunset. Without missing a beat, I checked the location and found myself daydreaming about that idyllic place. It would take two more years before I actually made the trip with my husband to Lilom Resort in Anilao, Batangas.
Since then, we’ve made a few more trips to this quaint hideaway, staying for three or four days at a time. I guess it’s safe to say that Lilom has become one of our go-to destinations whenever we crave for an escape. In fact, we already have a daily routine—a welcome change from the intense pace of city life.
In Lilom, getting out of bed just as the rest of the world is stirring is always a good idea.
The gentle lapping of waves greets us a good morning as my husband and I groggily push open the sliding doors at the foot of our four-post bed. We take two rattan chairs and sit by the edge of the small garden in front of our cottage. We make ourselves comfortable, taking in the unfolding scenery before us: the gray skies slowly fading into soft pink, orange, and blue; the sun climbing in the east while the moon fades from view; a few divers already gearing up for an early-morning dive; beach dogs lazily scouring the shoreline; and the still-receding tides revealing the sea’s treasures.
As soon as we’re wide awake, my husband and I make our way to the beach. Most of the resort’s guests are still asleep, while the staff is already up and about preparing breakfast and cleaning the resort.
With thick slippers protecting our feet from the rocky shore, we head over to the shallow waters. It’s low tide, so the exposed hard corals are teeming with creatures trapped in crevices. I see a curious spectacle anywhere I turn my head.
There’s a fat, cobalt blue starfish clinging to a boulder; a pair of blue-black, spiky sea cucumbers as still as rocks; a white crab, no bigger than an inch, plays hide and seek in pale-white, soft coral flowers. As we walk farther along the shore, we see a solitary marine flatworm gracefully gliding in a puddle of water, looking for a way out back to the open sea. There’s also a handful of sea urchins tucked away in tight nooks, their needle-sharp spines slowly waving in the air. Then there’s this teeny, tiny octopus, which a local boy eagerly showed to us. (He returned it to the waters right after.)
Among these marvelous marine animals is our favorite: a colorful nudibranch, about an inch long, clinging to the edge of a coral slightly submerged underwater. Its deep blue-and-orange hues play up such a pretty contrast, prompting my husband to call it a “sea butterfly.” It has always been my dream to see one, so I’m glad I didn’t have to get PADI-certified to make my dream come true. (Yes, I know seeing nudibranchs underwater is a much better experience versus merely ogling them in ankle-deep waters, but I’ll take whatever I can.)
An hour isn’t enough to get to know the wonders the low tide reveals. But as soon as the water comes back in, we know it’s time to go and head for breakfast.
Almost all of the guests are already up and about. Fortunately, the resort doesn’t feel crowded even if all seven cottages are fully occupied.
The open-air dining area, with its wrought-iron batibot chairs and tables covered in printed cloths, is spacious. Before the pandemic hit, the resort served all meals buffet style. For safety reasons, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all included in the rates, are now served ala carte. Asking for second servings is still welcome, which is a good thing because we can never have enough of those banana pancakes slathered with muscovado butter (good ol’ maple syrup has got nothing on it).
For something heavier, there’s the Pinoy breakfast staple: rice, which goes well with savory sausages and scrambled eggs. Seasonal fruits, like sweet mangoes and pineapple, round up our first meal of the day.
And since Lilom is in Batangas, strong kapeng barako is overflowing. (This coffee variety is made with liberica beans cultivated in the province.) My husband and I always ask for a serving, which comes piping hot in a French press big enough for two or three cups.
After filling our bellies with carbs, it’s time to hit the hammock.
Lilom is the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. I can stare at the calm sea waters for hours and just be. WiFi is available only in the dining area to encourage guests to unplug from the always-online lifestyle. There are also no TVs, so there’s nothing to distract from the sun, sea, and shade.
The owners, avid divers themselves, intended for their rustic resort to be just that. Blessed with marvelous underwater sights, it comes as no surprise that Anilao is a scuba diving hotspot. As this recreational sport can be quite frenetic, they decided that Lilom should be an antidote to all the dive preparations and activities. They opened this haven to the public in 2012, deliberately going for a more relaxed vibe with Mother Nature in the spotlight.
Lunch is served right on the dot. We have the option to dine either in our respective cottages or in the dining area. Me and my husband choose the latter.
Lilom serves mostly Filipino fare. Those with special preferences can specify their choice upon booking so the staff can prepare accordingly. What the resort doesn’t serve is exotic seafood like shellfish, as the entire area is protected. Fish like bangus or tanigue does make an appearance in the menu; so does grilled squid, depending on availability. Nevertheless, the table is always complete with servings of meat, rice, and vegetables. Dessert comes in the form of fresh fruits or, sometimes, cake.
As we devour the spread before us, other guests are either checking out or checking in. Those who come from the short trek downhill, the salty sea breeze whipping their hair, are welcomed with ice-cold glasses of calamansi juice while waiting to be ushered into their rooms.
With bellies full, we ask for more coffee to be served at our cottage. Our post-lunch agenda: lounge some more with books in hand.
There are no technological distractions, except for my mobile phone that I try not to look at. But the view before me often pulls my attention away from the page I’m reading. I find myself staring into the sea sparkling in the mid-day sun, almost forgetting the book cradled on my lap.
The French pressed coffee arrives just in time to jolt me back into focus. A few sips are enough to keep me turning page after page, that is, until the waves start lulling me to sleep.
It’s futile to resist the lullaby of nature. Having a hammock right on the small balcony of our cottage is a sure-fire way to spend the rest of the mid-afternoon dozing off to the sound of the waves. For some odd reason, though, I can never make myself comfortable in it. I end up heading to bed, to my husband’s relief. That wicker hammock, he declares, has his name on it.
Most, if not all, of Lilom’s cottages have the same hammock. The seven nipa huts have names inspired by the locale: Butanding, Kubo, Tuko, Pawikan, Paraw, and Capiz. Only one is named after a terrestrial creature: Satcho, a dog who used to make itself at home in the spacious cottage with an unobstructed view of the sea. This perk easily endeared us to Satcho’s House, so much so that we’d forgo a trip if it’s no longer available. “Satcho or nothing” has been our Lilom mantra.
What Lilom lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for hospitable staff and great views. Sure, there are no mini bars or in-room fridge, but I can simply ask the staff to please store a beverage or two in the resort’s refrigerator. And because Lilom practically supplies everything our tummies could ever need—from full-board meals to free-flowing mineral water and coffee or tea—there’s really no use for individual fridges. Beer and colas can also be bought from the small sari-sari store on site, something the resort encourages as a means to help the staff earn a little extra income.
It’s merienda time, just two hours after lunch. We’re given a choice for our afternoon beverage: coffee or tsokolate-e. Suman goes well with a mug of rich, hot chocolate—the perfect dip for those tubes of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk. Turon (banana slices in spring roll wrappers, fried and coated in caramelized brown sugar) is best paired with coffee. Some days, there’s ginataang bilo-bilo—glutinous rice balls, tapioca pearls, plantains, ube chunks, and sweet potatoes cooked in creamy coconut milk. It’s a divine snack especially on rainy afternoons.
As the sun slowly descends into the horizon, we change into our swimwear. Time to hit the waters!
We generously slather on sunblock before slipping into our aqua socks—must-haves in navigating the waters filled with rocks and corals. Lugging our masks and snorkels, we make a beeline for the life vests, which are available for free on a first-come, first-serve basis.
My husband and I aren’t good swimmers, so we’re thankful that we don’t have to wade into deep waters just to experience the abundant marine life of Batangas. All we need to do is dunk our heads in and the generous sea opens up to us.
A school of tiny fish quickly darts away as I struggle to get some stable footing, careful not to step onto the live corals and the numerous sea cucumbers snuggled in between the rocks. Me and my husband excitedly call each other’s attention whenever one of us spots an interesting sea creature. The late-afternoon current makes it more challenging to find our balance, but we carry on, mesmerized by the wonders below us.
As we take in the glorious sunset, still soaking in our swim clothes, still lazy to take a shower to wash off the salt from our skin, one of the staff walks up to our balcony to hand us a tray of later-afternoon treats: a pitcher of mojito, good for four glasses, plus crostini and salsa. My husband and I clink our glasses together as we watch the sun make its final descent. Silhouetted against the fading golden light are small boats cutting through the waters and a few parasailers catching the cool breeze.
The lull of the waves still linger in our bodies as we head off to the dining area for dinner. Our round table is filled with meat and vegetable dishes. There’s rice, of course, and a plate of fresh fruits to wash away all the savory flavors.
The resort settles into a comfortable silence, except for hushed conversations over a few bottles of beer. There are no drunk guests—not from our resort or the neighboring ones—belting their lungs out from karaoke; that’s one activity strictly forbidden in this stretch of the beach.
Me and my husband park ourselves on our small balcony, soft music floating from our portable speaker. Every once in a while, we pause from munching on a bag of chips when the topic of our conversation gets either too serious or hilarious.
On late December nights, we see a couple of lights not far from the shore. One of the staff tells us that regular guests of other resorts (or was it the resort owners themselves, I don’t quite recall) have made it their tradition to go night diving to welcome the new year. I imagine how completely different the waters are in the dark, with only dive lights illuminating its secrets.
My husband and I linger for several more minutes outside, listening to the crickets singing and the soft footfalls of the handful of cats that have made the resort their playground. Before long, we gladly surrender to sleep, looking forward to another day of doing practically nothing.
Visit Lilom’s website here.