We arrived in El Nido at almost midnight. And just like the rest of the group, I was so tired and sleepy from a 6-hour ride from Puerto Princesa; all I wanted was to go to sleep immediately. So, except for the glowing signages and flickering neon lights from establishments, I barely noticed my surrounding when I stepped out of the van during our arrival.
The morning after, however, was a different story.
When I went upstairs (on the 3rd level of the hotel where we stayed) to take my breakfast, I was surprised with what I saw: the breathtaking picturesque of El Nido right before my eyes. Hmmm..I thought the hotel was pretty clever in putting the dining hall on the 3rd level as it gave guests a nice vantage point to see the place in a beautiful panoramic scale.
“This is El Nido. What a lovely place,” the words I uttered.
EL NIDO IN A NUTSHELL
A first class municipality in the Province of Palawan, El Nido is located 238 km northeast of Puerto Princesa, the province’s capital. It has a total area of about 923 km^2 and is inhabited by a total of 41,606 people (2015 census).
El Nido is popular for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs, limestone cliffs, breathtaking lagoons, and of course, its crystal clear, turquoise water. No wonder why its natural beauty has made it to the top of several lists of travel destinations in the world, recognized by popular travel websites today. In fact, it is currently ranked #4 in Conde Nast Traveler’s list of “20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World.”
Palawan also topped the list of the world’s best islands in 2017 by Travel+Leisure website.
Needless to say, El Nido should be one of the items included on the bucketlist of those who love nature, fun, and extreme adventure.
HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO, PALAWAN
There are a number of ways to get to El Nido. Leading local airlines have daily flights to Palawan from the Philippine capital, Manila and other major cities in the country. You can choose from three possible options:
- Direct Flights. Tourists can go directly to El Nido via Lio Airport by flying AirSwift, which is the local airline owned by Ayala Capital Corporation. The drawback is, ticket prices are usually high with this airline..
- Via Coron. You can reach El Nido via Coron by flying from the country’s capital, Manila (or from any major cities in the country) to Busuanga (Coron’s Airport). Again, leading airlines, including the budget carrier Cebu Pacific, have direct flights from major cities in the Philippines to this airport.There are ferry boats that take passengers from Coron to El Nido (and vice versa) daily. The trip takes about 8 hours. Also, you will set aside some thousands for the boat tickets if you choose this route.
- Via Puerto Princesa. This is, by far, my route of choice to reach El Nido. For one, it is a lot easier to find ideal flight schedules and cheap tickets. For another, leading airlines have daily flight schedules to Puerto Princesa International Airport from major cities in the Philippines. From the airport, you can take a shuttle van ride to El Nido. The trip takes about 6 hours and will cost you 600 pesos, one way.
GETTING AROUND EL NIDO
When you visit El Nido, you are likely to spend most of your time roaming around the coastal community (facing the Bacuit Bay) and hopping from one island to another. The center of tourism (and by that I mean the place where most tourists go or hangout) is pretty small so getting around should be pretty easy.
Like Boracay, El Nido is a vibrant community. It is a convergence of locals, tourists, and businesses. You can find lots of items for sale – from food to souvenir products; from swimming gear to various wearables. The place becomes even more vibrant as the day ends and neon lights from bars and restaurants begin to glow at night.
Apart from items for sale, you can also find different services, including massage, t-shirt printing, and tattooing.
So, when you roam around, here are several options you can choose from :
- By foot. If you have plenty of time, the best way, in my opinion, for you to roam around is by foot. This way, you can have a clearer view of the places/stores/bars/restos that you pass by. Getting around by foot also gives you an I-am-a-tourist feel. In fact, lots of tourists (be it local or foreign) prefer to roam around by foot.
- Thru scooter rental. This is another good option you can take to roam around just easily. There are those who offer scooter rental at reasonable prices; all you need to do is pay the rental fee and the fuel. With that, you can roam around without having to worry about fare, which could be pretty expensive most especially if you are the only passenger.
- Tricycle. If you are roaming around El Nido with a group, this could be your best choice. Your driver can double as a tourist guide (for free), which means he can suggest which place is the best – for food trip, shopping, or bar hopping.
THINGS TO DO IN EL NIDO
There are lots of fun activities you can try during your El Nido tour and these are usually included in tour packages that you can avail even at the place of your accommodation. So, getting around to experience the fun and sand should not that difficult. Depending on the package you choose, you can experience the following:
Get enchanted at the Secret Lagoon. Visiting El Nido is enchanting. Every place you go offers a breathtaking view (e.g. rock formations, landscape) that, usually, are seen only on postcards and fantasy books. If you are looking for a place that is comparable to places you that give enchanting feels, swimming through the hole of Secret Lagoon delivers that.
Flex your “sleepy” muscles by kayaking at Small and Big Lagoons
These are perhaps the most popular places in El Nido for kayaking. You should not be suprised if you find many having the same activity in these areas, particularly the “beginners”. The question you might have in mind right now is: Between the two, which one is better for kayaking? Well, I can’t give a perfect answer as I was not able to try in both (just tried it at the Small Lagoon). But here’s the thing: if you want a more enclosed place (in fact, you also need to go through a small hole to get inside) when kayaking, then go for the Small Lagoon; if you want a wider space, the choose the Big Lagoon. Or better yet, try kayaking at both. Please note, however, that while going there is usually included in tour packages, you will still need to prepare separate payments for kayak rentals. Also, the two lagoons are in two separate areas so you still need a boat ride to transfer from one lagoon to another.
Experience a more sense of exclusivity inside the Hidden Beach. This place is a strip of white-sand beach dotted with unique rock formations and shrubs, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs, which separate the place from the rest of the sea. Protected from strong winds and waves from the outside, the water inside is calmer and tranquil. You can just lie on the beach inside, relax, and, indeed, feel a sense of serenity.
Climb up on the Matinloc Shrine
Who would have thought that in the middle of this seemingly virgin paradise a man-made structure has been built. This abandoned shrine to the Virgin Mary, though no longer in use for religious activities a long time ago, still provides a glimpse of the past – the way of life of the early inhabitant of El Nido. Not only that, up above the shrine, the place offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the channels between and among the clusters of islands iiandn El Nido and the greater El Nido itself.
Note: While visiting the shrine is included in tour packages, you will still need to pay for the entrance fee. Prepare a hundred pesos from your own pocket.
Snorkel your way through the crystal clear waters of Shimizu Island. Well, you can snorkel practically at any destinations included in your island tour packages, but this one was my personal favorite spot. Crystal clear water, more wonderful corals, even more breathtaking landscapes meet your eyes. Unique rock formations, enhanced by clinging plants and shrubs budding through the slits and holes of limestone cliffs, provides an amazing backdrop for the strip of white sand beach of the island. This island is also the favorite place of many tourists for lunch by the beach stopover.
WHERE TO EAT IN EL NIDO
First and foremost, I’d like to say that you do not to worry about your breakfast as usually, this is taken care of by the place where you stay (i.e included in the package). You do not need to worry for your lunch either as your boatmen take care of it during your island tours. That means, when it comes to food, you are going to think only about where to eat for dinner. And, like I said, El Nido is a vibrant community of business establishments; you will find a chain of restaurants, food stalls, convenience stores just easy.
I won’t recommend specific restaurants (except for the one I tried). What I would suggest is that, as you roam around for dinner) do not fail to checkout the chain of restaurants along the shore. You can find lot of delicious meals there, plus you are treated with a relaxing sound of waves, and of course, fresh night air.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
There are lots of accommodations in El Nido, so there should be no problem finding a place to stay in this beautiful destination. However, it is recommended still that you book ahead of your visit as prices tend to rise (or accommodations get fully-booked immediately) most especially in the peak season, which is said to be from December through May.
During our El Nido travel, we stayed at Milan Grace Inn for a number of reasons: For one, they gave us the most favorable tour packages. For another, location-wise, the place gave us an advantage as it’s just along the shore. In fact, you can see the Bacuit Bay without any obstruction from this hotel. And, It’s just a about 3-5 minutes walk from the wharf where island hopping activities begin.