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Mangenguey Island
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Reviewed April 15, 2012

Paradise vs Hell

Me and my two friends were anticipating our stay at Mangenguey Island during our whole trip to the Philippines. We had previously booked three nights but throughout the journey we kept imagining the Paradise we had made it to be in our heads and decided to book an extra night, arriving a night early. But as many things in life, it didn't turned out to be what we expected at all.


Paradise
We arrived in Coron at the end of the day and got picked up be a lovely couple, Mr. and Mrs. Portuquez. The 2 1/2 hour boat trip to Mangenguey Island at night by (nearly) full moon was something to remember, I would even dare to say magical. Arriving at the island and seeing our cottages beautifully illuminated, a bright spot in the middle of the dark ocean, was mystical and put our expectations way up high. I was ready to state that this was the most amazing experience of my life so far.

Regarding the island itself, I was't wrong at all. The beach is small but beautiful, clean white sand, tons of beautiful seashells and corals, amazing flora, pure, crystal clear water and beautiful reefs and corals that make you want to snorkel around the island forever. Hanging from the coconut trees were plenty of hammocks where you could enjoy your siesta.

The cottages and the main house are decorated magnificently and are a proof of exquisite taste.


Hell
But that's about it. I have to say that this island would be a Paradise if you could swap the management entirely. Without Helena and her staff, this place would be a very enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, we were about to discover that we had landed on Passive-Aggressive Island, run by a tyrant.

Upon our arrival, barely giving us enough time to breathe and settle in, we where handed over the waivers (as mentioned before in other reviews). I was still feeling shaky from the boat ride and tried to fill it out the best I could, but Helena's manager Erica was pressuring me to be quick, as dinner was waiting for us. I told her I wanted to read through the waiver, as I'm not comfortable signing something I haven't read thoroughly, but she kept saying it was a standard form and I rushed through it. Apparently, as I was later told be one of my friends, I stated in that form, by default, that I was married (!)

Me and my friends then rushed for dinner, nicely set up close to the beach in front of the main house.

[On a general note, all meals could have been more easily enjoyed if the staff actually let you take your time and appreciate the food, and would not frown upon you being a slow eater. I am on holidays and paying good money to stay somewhere secluded and peaceful, so if I want to take an hour to chew on my meat, I will.]

After that meal, I went to my room and though I could relax on my porch for a while. Erica stopped by to give me my signed register form back. I asked her if it was aloud to smoke out on the porch and her reply just made me tremble: she sad it was possible, but that they had guard dogs that were released every night at 11 o'clock. It was 11.30 when we had this conversation, and she had failed to warn me? I found out the next morning that my friends, staying in the room above me, hadn't even been warned, which could have been extremely dangerous.

Considering that the island is quite isolated, I understand the need of having some sort of protection system. But warning the guests about this system is equally important, as it can endanger you if you're not aware of it. The reason I was extremely upset about this is the following: apparently the dogs only respond well to Helena herself and their trainer (I presume at least), which ultimately means they are only a protection for Helena, not for the guests. I was told that if I was to run into one of the dogs during the night, I should freeze in the position I was in and let them smell me (!) to make sure I was no danger to the island (!). Considering we are talking about an animal that, no matter how well trained it might be, has a will of his one, who guarantees me that it won't consider me a danger, even if I'm not? Furthermore, some people are actually afraid of dogs or have adverse reactions when in panic, so if anyone would to freak out when spotting one of the dogs, it is pretty accurate to say that that situation might not have ended that well. And, in that case, that person might as well bleed out on the beach, as you have no means of contacting the staff (no phone in the room, no direct phone number to the management, no indications of where Helena or anyone of the staff is residing, nothing). Personally I think that if the solution for a guests safety is the dog to sniff you, they should introduce you to the animals upon your arrival, for them to know you're not a threat and for you to feel more comfortable around them.

[of course I encountered one of the dogs about 10 minutes later. I was standing on my porch when he came out of the dark and started barking at me, whilst circling my porch. First I tried the freezing method (as recommended by the staff), but after a while I felt ridiculous and started walking backwards into my room, slowly and never losing eye contact with the beast, until I felt safe].

The following morning me and one of my friends got to know Helena at breakfast. Although her taste is truly impeccable, I have to say that her presence is rather austere and that she can be quite rude at times. She lacks all kind of charisma or charm, which we were not expecting considering the venue. Rather than a strong, feisty spanish lady, she has a cold and uninteresting tyrannic presence. Her whole staff seems terrified of her all the time and has developed a very annoying passive-aggressive way of communicating, pretending that everything is fine at all costs, maybe to avoid retaliation? It makes you feel you're in a B series horror movie, a poor Grindhouse remake that lacks all humour and has a boring plot.

One of the things most praised about Mangenguey is the food. Me and my friends have spanish friends, have been to Spain several times and have eaten in a lot of good Spanish restaurants. One of the key things about Spanish cuisine is the quality of the fresh, local ingredients. Although all the dishes served during our stay where nicely cooked and where, as a concept, great, they lacked quality big time. We didn't have any fresh fish or seafood, which, considering we're living on an island, is very disappointing. At all meals I had the feeling that the dish could have been amazing, but that something went wrong along the way. I wasn't able to finish a single one of my meals, neither could one of my friends, as he started feeling ill the moment he got there. We later figured out way, as my other friend (his wife) had food poisoning and got seriously ill from it on our last day on the island. Before I go into detail, I have to say that is is extremely strange that anyone would think that keeping a catalan diet on a remote island in the Philippines is sustainable. Now I understand why they charge a fortune for the poor quality food - it takes a long time to get there and requires a lot of effort to be kept, so the guests pay for the hosts eccentricity, getting mid to low range quality meals served in exchange. Furthermore, the Philippines are still a paradise and people living there should make an effort to preserve the islands and the environment. Just thinking of the carbon footprint of this 'luxury diet' makes me feel guilty and sick.

Another note on the meals is that they are strictly scheduled. It is like you've landed at boot camp and Helena is everyones instructor. There is no time frame option for food intake (unless you're happy to eat snacks all day), meals are served 9am, 2pm and 8pm sharp. The dinner is served in the main house, where everyone sits together like a big happy family (B series horror movie strikes again). But, against what we have expected, that does not include the host or the staff. The guests sit around the big table and are forced to engage in conversations whilst the staff stands around and observes. Not relaxing at all I must say. Luckily we had nice people staying on the island while we were there, so the conversations where actually pleasant, but the whole environment seemed forced and fake. All Helena was interested in was the food, asking if it was good or not. We did not dare to make any bad remarks - she is one scary lady! Ah, and by the way, I do think they must turn of the freezer during night, every day they would serve re-frosted ice cream after lunch.

By the time my friend got seriously ill from the food, me and her husband did asked the staff if we could have some special food for her as she was sick and not able to eat any of the regular meals. As a result, we Helena confronted us visibly upset that we where questioning the quality of her food and told us she had a tropical virus (?). Considering that I didn't feel that well after the first couple of meals, my friend had been ill for two days prior to his wife getting really ill and one of the other guests mentioning she wasn't feeling well either on her last day, I seriously doubt that that was the case. Also, we did not approach her in any accusing way, we actually just thought that things like this frequently happen when flying to more exotic destinations and that it could have happened to anyone anywhere in the Philippines - sometimes you just don't tolerate a different diet that well.

I think this episode was the cherry on to of a very high and unstable cake, as Helena never again engaged in any conversation with us nor came by to see if my friend was feeling better. I ran into her on our last night, tried to joke around and talk to her, but she dismissed me with a very sarcastic laugh, didn't even look at me and just said - hope your friend is feeling better, enjoy your dinner - and walked away. We never saw her again as she didn't bother saying goodbye (as she did to one other guest that left the night before). For someone who is trying to have a familiar and cosy ambient on the island this behaviour seems rather cool and uninterested. Only one of the staff members, Joseph, asked me once if she was feeling better and came by the room to check on my friend (but only because he had to come by to tell me and her husband that we could not have dinner in the room with her). Erica, one of the management staff members, only met us the morning we left, as she was away from the island. No medical assistance was offered to us at any time, which is incredible upsetting considering Helena thought my friend had a contagious virus (!).

We had to spend two nights and one day asking everyone to please be so kind and provide for some crackers, bananas and coca-cola, feeling completely ignored. Me and her husband took turns at running down to the main house and asking for special food or to have our meals in the room with her, as she was getting really weak and had difficulties in getting out of the bed at all. Every time I asked for something I felt like I was demanding something completely unreasonable and often had to go down to the kitchen and ask two or three more times, as the orders where often ignored. At some point we where told they where out of coca-cola, but I had been sitting on my porch half an hour earlier and saw one of the staff members arrive in a boat with a new stock of waters and coca-colas.

Over all, the service is poor and does not live up to a 4 or 5 star hotel standards at all. Even at very simple hotels you get free water, here you had to chase someone overtime you where thirsty. Everyone seems unhappy, terrified all the time. Although they are quite worried about security and safety (if you go in the water alone, you can be sure that there is a guy standing camouflaged behind a coconut tree to watch over you), it is OUTRAGEOUS that you're not warned previously, as it constitutes a huge invasion of privacy. Not to mention that you can't entirely enjoy the island whenever you want, as the dogs make sure that you only step out of your 'cage' when the schedule allows you to.

I good go on with bad remarks about Helena (I do not include her husband, as we didn't meet him because he was away in the USA) and her management, but I just got back from this trip to hell and feel extremely tired. In the end, all I need is some holidays from my holidays.

But the one thing I can not stop distressing is the panic one can feel if you're to get ill on this island. We felt completely alone and I am glad that there where three of us to handle all of it. I don not want to imagine what a person would feel like alone in this situation. The first night my friend felt ill, her husband wanted to come down to my room to get some medicine from me (at that point I did not know that she was feeling that bad). She had to suffer through the whole ordeal without medicine, because he was unable to come down because it was after 11pm and dogs had already been released. Again, there was no way of contacting the staff to ask them to provide for some medicine.

Although I was able to enjoy the beauty of the island and relax at times, when I was lying on the porch reading a book or dosing off, or whilst swimming and snorkelling, those moments where shadowed by all the bad things that happened along the way.

The environment that this island was supposed to have is the one of a couple that had invited you over as friends, making you feel at home and welcomed. What I felt was that my ship happened to sink close to the island and that they were forced to rescue me, and where now very annoyed about my presence there.

Bottom line: I DO NOT RECOMMEND anyone to stay at this island. I am sure that there are other paradisiac destinations one can travel to and relax, whilst still feeling free and able to enjoy the experience. This island is not worth the long travel.

  • Stayed: April 2012, travelled with friends
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49  Thank sarah_griesler
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
HelenaMangenguey, Owner at Mangenguey Island, responded to this reviewResponded April 18, 2012

Is always sad to get a bad review because we always try very hard to do the very BEST to INSURE a PERFECT STAY FOR ALL OUR GUESTS....But alas sometimes that seams impossible!!!!
I cough try to reply to the comments but I wont, I will let OUR RECORD SPEAK BY IT SELF INSTEAD.
Gracias, Helena of Mangenguey

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed April 8, 2012

We had the Crimson room which we agreed was one of the best for isolation and views. We were the only guests there as they were doing their maintenance and so it was a lucky bonus for us as it was indeed very quiet, private and just what we needed.

The food served was amazing although my personal taste found the dishes too salty for my liking. We enjoyed our breakfasts - fresh fruit platter, pastries, fresh coconut juice and good coffee!!

Activities. The weather wasn't great during our stay. It was meant to be the hottest month of the year but we were unlucky. We did manage to have a few snorkeling sessions, quick boat trip. The host Richard also invited us on a trekking trip which we managed to do when the rain stopped. We would recommend discussing the nature of the activity with Richard to fully ascertain the "risks" involved in advance.

The length of the boat journey to the island has been mentioned in previous reviews.

The island is isolated, which is part of the attraction, but the areas that are accessible are quite limited. So to put a definition on privacy - if you want a private swim in the evening or walk around the beach on your own, you can't expect that it'll be a complete isolated privateness as these areas are accessible by staff and everyone else.

We did not see much of our hosts during our stay and we anticipate this is because we were the only visitors on the island, which worked to our advantage. The staff did look after us very well at all times.

Overall, our stay at Manganguey provided us with a relaxing respite which is exactly what we sought, however at $400 per night including food, it is a bit steep in the context of the facilities that are available.

  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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5  Thank Babydoll_Nexa
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed March 31, 2012

Had the chance to visit this talked-about resort last December 2011 with family for my brother's engagement. Prior to the trip, we were building up bright images in our heads based on what we read about in tripadvisor and also from the resort's website.

I had imagined a magnificent arrival at the resort with an expansive and glimmering white beach waiting to greet our party. But rain dampened our arrival, the beach looked small, and the jetty split the beach in half. Probably my fault to have expected otherwise.

Upon arrival we were greeted by hotel staff. No uniforms. Hmmm. It is also true that the first thing that they do is to ask you to sign waiver forms. Maybe standard procedure for insurance purposes but it does not make one feel a warm welcome.

Upon initial survey of the island it suddenly struck me - This was not the place I had expected. The beach was small, and I would later find out that the slope of the beach was steep and one would get into deep water even if he/she was near the shore. The cottages were just above average, the pathways that connected the beach to the main house was just a dirt path - no landscaping, the room interiors were very basic. The main house was very nice though, and features suites on the second floor that would make much nicer accommodations for the extra price.

I immediately found out the reason for the imbalance - the website and the reviews had created incredible thoughts of the resort experience in my mind. Poetic words, fantastic photography and graphics and the over-the-top selling of the island experience cast a spell on me.

Just when I thought I had ruined the suggested trip for my family, lunch was served at the main house. After that, things started to turn around as we met the other guests, enjoyed wine and cheese by the beach and took dips in the water. Come dinner time we were amazed at the quality of the Catalana cuisine that Helena had prepared. Fantastic! Food tasted great and came in plentiful servings. This would be our dining experience for the rest of the trip -and would be the resort's brightest area.

About our room, the Rosa II: The look and feel of the bed, cabinet, study table, bathroom, tv made one feel that this was more of a family house rather than a resort. Although one wouldn't want to watch tv in this place the tv in our room didn't work anyway (Richard tried his best to fix it though). The Crimson and Azur cottages are better as they have better location and a nice porch with pillows for enjoying wine and cheese.

Other activities such as hiking around the island (courtesy of the very hospitable Richard), snorkeling, and afternoons with the family helped carry my rating for this resort from the negative to the positive.

All in all, this was still a great resort experience, BUT only because of who we were with, the fantastic food and the activities on the island. I also realized that I wouldn't have any disappointments had I NOT MADE THE MISTAKE of thinking that this resort was run by a corporation rather than a couple who have opened up their private resort home. Had I assumed correctly, my expectations of the island experience would have been adjusted.

About Helena: It is true that some people would view her as abrasive and unapproachable. But if you read about her then you would understand that Helena is an artist, and has her peculiar way about things. But I do not offer any apologies in her behalf as I still think that it should be the host who bends over for their guests and not the other way around. But that cooking! Only an artist could cook like that. Richard on the other hand was very entertaining, and was always helpful and attentive.

I would recommend this resort to anyone who wants a quiet, family-run, home-style resort experience and not to someone who expects corporate design and structure. I would happily return to Mangenguey with family for a relaxing homey weekend anytime.

Room Tip: Get the Crimson and Azur rooms if you want beachfront location with a great porch.
  • Stayed: December 2011, travelled with family
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7  Thank TheEuge
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed March 18, 2012

It is truly private.. For those who prefer intimate and private experience.. Food prepared for vegetarians were great but could have been better if there was more to choose from or variety.. Wonderful hosts with inspiring stories to share..

Room Tip: Book early!! Try to get a room by the beach
  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank PinayExplorer
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed March 18, 2012

Truly paradise.

If you're looking for isolation, romance, and adventure - this place delivers, and then some. White sand beaches where you can be completely alone, spectacular reefs, amazing views, and memories for a lifetime.

We stayed in the Crimson and it's the most popular for a reason. The bamboo floors and balcony were my favorite features. Nobody was in the Azur below us, so we weren't bothered by any noise (and didn't have to worry about treading lightly). The water pressure in the shower was low, but when you consider the location the fact that there is running fresh water at all is impressive. If something like that would ruin your day then you should probably look elsewhere. We saw all the other rooms available and we definitely liked the Crimson best. The suites in the main house were very fancy - hardwood floors and really nice full bathrooms. The Rosa cottages are sort of set back to the side of the main house and don't have as nice of a view as the others, in my opinion. However, the mud brick construction keeps them very cool and comfortable on the inside.

The food was fantastic. All our meals were served on small tables about 15 feet from the water in front of the main house. Breakfast was my favorite - a coconut with a straw in it, a huge plate of fruit, and a basket of bread/pastry. All the dishes were really well executed and I could only muster one minor complaint if I really tried (that I've already forgotten about). In my book, the food they served ranks just below any 5-star restaurant I've been to.

All the staff were very polite, friendly, and "hands-off" - which was fine by us.

From the negative reviews, you need to know what to expect if you want to stay here. It is not a "luxury" resort, but what they do manage to provide in such a remote location is fantastic. I would especially recommend this for the more adventurous couple. The rooms aren't totally private because of the openings and whatnot, but there was never anyone around. Nobody ever bothered us. We spent our days there snorkeling, kayaking, rock climbing, and swimming. But we also got in plenty of lounging, reading, and napping in various spots around the island. You might have to deal with the occasional bug or wildlife, but that's just part of the experience.

There were a few construction projects going on the island and quite a few workers, but none of it was a nuisance. We were the only couple the first night on the island, and two more showed up over the next two days. We got to dinner early in the evenings hoping to mingle with the other guests over cocktails, but the other couples didn't seem interested. Oh well. We wouldn't have minded sharing a table with the other guests, but we ate separately for all the meals.

Richard was a wealth of good advice and tips for where to go and what to do around the island. He would have taken us around personally, but he was hard at work fixing the desalinator (which they got working just before we showed up). We got along just fine with just his info though. Also, he was good company and makes a darn good cocktail. Helena was nice as well and you could tell she was hard at work behind the scenes making sure everything met her vision of utopia.

Transportation was arranged for us by the island - a van was waiting at the airport to take us to the boat. It was a 30 min van ride and 1.5 hr boat ride. Getting there was half the fun.

We loved every second of our time there and we rank it as the best trip we've ever taken.

  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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5  Thank MarkyMark50
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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