It’s amazing how few people knew of El Nido; given the amazing sceneries, clear blue waters and green karst formation which rivals Philippine’s own gem Boracay (which is overhyped in my opinion).
And it’s not like it’s a bad thing. Four years has it been since I started this backpacking journey; four continents, twenty-five countries and a vast of eye-opening experiences, yet El Nido remains one of the best hidden paradise there is, and nothing quite come close to it, yet.
THE UNTOUCHED PARADISE
Voted as the world’s best island (source here) El Nido boasts idyllic beaches and blue waters – and it certainly does not disappoint! The name El Nido comes from word nido, which means nest in Spanish due to the abundant swiftlet nests found in the crevices of the limestone cliffs. I spent a week in El Nido, and a week was not enough despite me not wanting to leave this slice of paradise while still having a flight to catch to Cebu the following week.
HOW TO GET THERE
Situated on the island of Palawan, the only way to access El Nido was via Manila. Despite Palawan being the neighbouring island to Borneo, there is no direct ferries or boats between Borneo and Palawan. This adds to the cost of flying to Manila first before taking on the connecting flight to either Puerto Princessa, Coron and El Nido itself.
A direct flight to El Nido would be the easiest, but also the most expensive due to limited flights by Air Swift. Alternatively you can either fly to Puerto Princessa and then take the 6 hours van ride or an 8 hour bus to get to El Nido. Coron is also a possibility, where you can hop on the 8 hour ferry / boat ride to El Nido. This would of course be the most uncomfortable option, as the boat ride can be unpleasant (or worse, cancelled on a bad weather) but at least you’ll get to see both the gems of Palawan. Air Asia and Cebu Pacific Air regularly flies to Puerto Princessa, and there is also a ferry service by 2GO between Manila and Coron.
WHAT TO DO IN EL NIDO
As of now, most of the attraction in El Nido are heavily regulated by tours. I’m not exactly a fan of tours, but it’s a personal preference anyway (like the tourist vs. traveler kind of debate).
But for some reason in El Nido I didn’t mind. Sure, you’ll feel like a sheep (like you know, following around) but I was having such a great time being amazed by how clear the water is, and it didn’t bother me that much.
1. GO ON AN ISLAND HOPPING TOUR
There are four main island hopping tours in El Nido, aptly named as tour A, B, C and D. Each one of the El Nido tours will cover specific part of the islands surrounding El Nido. For example Tour A caters more towards the lagoons, while Tour C offers more of the island experiences, beaches and snorkeling spots. You can find more information about the tours here, and don’t worry about booking in advance! I booked mine directly with the hostel, but you can find a lot of tour operators in El Nido offering the same thing at the same price.
Tour A and tour C was the most recommended route to take in El Nido, and if I were to choose only one tour I would definitely go for tour C as it provides more of a beach experience to your heart’s content. There is also a combination of both A & C, but from what I heard from it’s pretty rushed. While the lagoons in tour A were really exciting, the Mantiloc Shrine in Tour C takes the cake for the best view I had in my entire life, check out the pictures below!
You are definitely free to swim and snorkel, as well as to kayak and paddle board as you like (for a fee of course). Most of the tour operators also provides a luxurious spread of lunch buffet. After a long day in sea and the sun a good meal was very much welcome.
2. GO DIVING IN EL NIDO
I also had the opportunity to dive in El Nido, which was a decision I did not take lightly as a two days dive definitely put a dent on my wallet – but it was all worth it. To date it was one the best dive I’ve ever had, probably one of the most memorable because it was here where I met my first turtle – after all that dives in Thailand and Malaysia!
South Miniloc was definitely the best spot I’ve ever dive. I’ve met other divers who encountered the elusive whale shark on the same week – but I wasn’t so lucky! If it took me ages to spot a turtle who knows how long it’ll take till God decides to land a whale shark on me. It’s okay, I’ll just keep on diving 😉
3. HEAD TO NACPAN BEACH
A few tricycle rides from the centre of El Nido lies the Nacpan beach, famed for the twin beach on both sides of the cape. The ride to Nacpan however was a little unpleasant, as the journey was filled with muddy portholes and bumpy roads and my bums were progressively sore by the time we arrived at the beach.
Here I spent my entire afternoon taking naps between sunbathing and a dip in the ocean, which explains the nearly roasted complexion I had towards the end of my trip but it was nice. The beach is always nice.
Also a quick note of an advice, be sure to arrange a transport back with your tricycle driver as it is a pretty remote location and you do not want to be stranded after sun down.
El Nido in general was a really good find, and I’m glad I made it here before it gets too mainstream. It is still slightly more expensive though, compared to the rest of the Philippines. The lack of ATM facilities in El Nido may put one in a tight situation, so proper budget planning is a must as most only accept cash. I will update once more with a budget breakdown of my trip to El Nido, so watch this space but until then safe travels!
Disclaimer : All photos were taken, shot and solely own by me. Please request for permission if needed.