In the heart of El Nido, Palawan, Kalye Artisano is cultivating a hub of culture, nature, and community
The air is thick with the scent of crisp leaves and greenery. A gentle breeze carries the aroma of freshly warmed coffee beans. Sunlight filters through the foliage of a small papaya tree, casting shadows on an underbrush of Brazilian Spinach. Bamboo bikes lean on one corner while the sound of children laughing and playing echoes from The Earth School above. In front, sun-warmed wood sitting under a thatched roof blends with the surrounding nature.
This is Kalye Artisano in the Lio Tourism Estate in El Nido. The enclave of buildings carries artisanal retail shops, grassroots restaurants, a spa, and even an entire school. The collective practices a circular economy, “a network of human relationships designed to produce more inclusive and sustainable collective well-being.”
Kalye Artisano is the brainchild of Paloma Urquijo Zobel. With an unshakeable commitment to sustainability, she carries the official roles of Community Ideator and Creative Director.
The public open spaces are divided into two parts: Cogon leans towards retail made by artisans from around the Philippines, while Rattan caters to a versatile range of food and education. Nearby, rest is assured at Bahay Artisano, which welcomes guests for rentals. We explore just what the community has to share.
Artisanal Essentials at the Cogon
Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the Cogon section of Kalye Artisano rethinks traditional production models through retail by craftspeople from around the Philippines. The concept supports the environment through re-using, upcycling, local sourcing, and sharing resources and skills in efforts for increased sustainability in El Nido.
K-Art Collective takes from the most inspiring values of Filipino words that begin with the letter “K”, namely, Kamalayan (consciousness), Karunungan (wisdom), Kaibigan (friend), Kalikasan (nature, environment), and Kalinangan (culture). The shop holds a variety of zero-waste products like handmade soaps and organic oils. In support of independent artisans, they sell crafted bamboo combs, woven clothes, and baskets by the Batak and Palawan highlanders.
In the Hiligaynon dialect, Manggad translates to “treasures.” Founded by Bea Zobel, the shop focuses solely on crafts made by artisans from around the country. Store Manager Syao Lu tells us, “We have to source from as many places as we can.” The inventory ranges from traditional nito baskets by the Mangyan people in Mindoro, to the popular multi-colored banigs woven by the Palawano. The store is not without contemporary creations either, like the eye-catching designs of Piopio and indigenous-inspired jewelry by Natalya Lagdameo.
The crafts-couple of KA LIKHA Nuno and Pagasa, who call themselves Kaingud (a Hiligaynon word meaning companion), have contributed heavily to the organic growth of the Kalye Artisano infrastructure
With their “soul creations,” husband Nuno created the intuitive playground for Kalye Artisano while decking out the ATM in repurposed materials. Meanwhile, Pagasa forges brass jewelry like undulating brass rings or necklaces with “Ling-ling o” amulets, a traditional pendant from the Bontoc in the Cordillera region.
The other husband-and-wife-owned boutique Talindak features a range of Palawan souvenirs along with traditional crafts. Owner Dario contributes a wealth of paintings, from portraits of Apo Whang Od and renditions of John Lennon to traditional Filipino farming scenes and sea turtles. Dario also handles the majority of commercial printing of t-shirts, bags, and other fare on the island. Meanwhile, his wife Elsa manages the shop and offers her macrame products.
When you’re finished shopping, the line of stores in the Cogon complex connects intuitively to Thai Kitchen. The spot features authentic Thai food served on wooden platters with banana leaves. The menu ranges from classic Pad Thai chicken to green curry, tom yum, and of course, everyone’s favorite: Mango Sticky Rice. The seafood selections are a must-try, especially accompanied by honest-to-goodness Thai Milk Tea.
Also a part of the Cogon complex is The Living Library, which operates as an eco sari-sari store. The unattended shop in the native hut offers not just essentials like laundry detergent or shampoo, but organic treats like ground coconut and banana chips. Each item is kept in airtight containers, foregoing single-use plastic and encouraging re-use of old jars or bottles.
Operating fully unattended, the shop promotes a sense of honesty, which has worked so far to date.
When island life turns to island fever, Rattan offers repose in the form of Eve Salon. Open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the self-care haven offers complete nail services, waxing, and even full body massages with prior arrangements. With incredibly comfy ergonomic chairs, updated nail-drying tech, and skilled beauty technicians, the quiet retreat on the island promises to bring some of the luxuries of city life to your vacation’s doorstep.
A Collective of Cuisine and Holistic Education at Rattan
Made from vine-like palms, rattan is a natural material that can be woven into a variety of beautiful things. This same flexibility applies to the versatile range of activities that can be done inside the Rattan building. You can indulge in an eclectic range of cuisines or even study.
David Esteban and his wife Dona Tumacder-Esteban founded The Earth School with a vision to impart a love of learning in an environment close to nature. Nearby, the children are made to handle permaculture farms, growing vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, and kamote. With an international standard of education, the school follows a model of project-based learning: the children work creatively, creating movies or theatre plays, while exercising active mindfulness in yoga, open-water swimming, and even the Afro-Brazilian practice capoeira.
With students from pre-school to Grade 12, children are immersed in the natural environment, and older students complete their requirements through world-standard education that incorporates practical lessons like mathematics and coding. Recently, The Earth School students met with the students from the town in communication with the local government, opening up their welcoming community.
The nurturing teaching environment of The Earth School pushes young students to step out of their comfort zones, all the while making the next generation aware of their responsibilities to the earth.
If you’re wandering the underbelly of The Earth School, you might find a few parents grabbing cups of joe at Islas Makinas while waiting to pick up their kids. This is the source of the coffee scent wafting through Kalye Artisano. Many of the baristas have traded in their traditional careers for the island life like Joaqs, a licensed architect. Martin Dulalas, a registered nurse, also led us through the finer points of sensory training, cupping with coffee from Lick (Lost Islands Center for Kape). The lesson in beans is available upon special request.
The coffee shop also collaborates with Lamoro Hill Bakery, sought-after for their naturally leavened bread which ranges from flakey croissants to beautiful sourdough. We met one of the co-owners and masterbakers Yana Argano. As warm as the dough she rolls, she tells us how the bakery brings their bread directly to the community in Kalye Artisano.
Head to the front of the Rattan building to find a combination of both New Deli and Ay Papito! Both have commissaries which have expanded to Manila. Founded by Leon Araneta, owner of Kashmir, New Deli features the yummiest samosas and mutton burgers, to other Indian food finds. Meanwhile Ay Papito! presents traditional Mexican flare, with specialties like rolled flautas (tortillas with meat) as well as mouth-watering birrias. Keep an eye out for the bright yellow jeep of Ay Papito! chilling on Lio beach.
Walking outside to the pocket garden at the center of Kalye Artisano, you’ll find the charming Charlie’s Kubo. The small hut offers freshly baked goods from the well-known luxury resort of its namesake. Perfect for a morning or afternoon snack, the delicacies include slightly heavier croissants, chocolate chip banana bread, brownies, and ube crinkles.
Proudly made in the Philippines, Kalye Artisano is just five minutes away from the sea, the mangroves, the farms, and the mountains. The hidden gem in the center of El Nido seems almost utopic. If only life could always be this way, making space for natural living and local industries to flourish.
Moving through both the Rattan, Cogon, and Bahay Artisano, the residents always take time to offer a smile and a nod. As someone passing through with the LIFESTYLE.INQ team, I am reminded of the idealism of circular economy mentioned by Paul Torday in his novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,
“It would be so good to settle down and become part of somewhere again, instead of constantly passing through.”
Founded with intention, the welcoming collective shows the best way that life can be, as Kalye Artisano makes a model of nature, culture, and community.