If true paradise is what you're after, look no further than El Nido in the Philippines - there's a reason why I chose it as my first blog post! El Nido means "the nest" in Spanish, and once you set foot here you understand where the name comes from - it's a circular cove protected by rocky cliffs. In all, I stayed here for two months. Spotty wifi and routine daily power outages weren't enough to keep me from this little slice of heaven-on-earth (my place didn't have a generator, but most places midrange and up do).
On the island of Palawan, Bacuit Bay is accesible by a 5 hour bus from Puerto Princessa, where there are many flights coming from Manila. I believe you can also take a more pricey charter flight directly. Soon Puerto Princessa will have its own international airport, so when you factor in the national airport coming to El Nido as well, it becomes clear that the island of Palawan will be overrun with tourists in the next few years. Now is the time to see this tropical hideaway!
Palawan is a wild and scenic place - the stuff dreams are made of! El Nido has it all - you can go kayaking, island hopping, snorkeling, camping, or you can just simply RELAX in paradise. Short on time? Check out "tour A" for island hopping. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, because this tour has some beautiful scenery. If you have more time, I recommend getting away from the crowds and finding some peace and quiet of your own. If you rent a kayak you can easily head out to your own scenic island for a day - or even an overnight trip. Hammocks can be purchased in the town proper.
To date, there is no international ATM (how this is possible, I have NO idea), so bring plenty of CASH. The more expensive restaurants do take credit cards, but I believe they charge a fee. *It IS possible to get cash from the gas station at the pier-side of El Nido town. They will charge your credit or debit card and then give you your cash. I believe there is a 7% fee for this, but that is a small price to pay if you ask me. Just go early, because they can run out of cash!
In this poscard-perfect paradise you'll find crystal clear water which is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. As mentioned before, island hopping via "tour A" is your best bet on limited time, but if snorkeling is your focus, you might check out some other tours as well. Ask the guides and tour operators which one they recommend. I had actually never tried snorkeling before, and I was quite blown away when I tried it here! I found myself swimming next to sea turtles on a few different occasions - right in front of the place I was staying! The photo on the bottom right was taken during a kayaking trip to "Helicopter Island". From El Nido beach this is quite a journey, especially on a hot day like this one. The advantage of doing it on your own is that you can go in the late afternoon when all the island hoppers have left. It's cooler then of course, and you can have the beaches and snorkeling all to yourself!
Photography enthusiasts won't be disappointed - some of the most dazzling sunsets in the world can be found here in El Nido (though I had to be very patient while waiting for them). Look for a slightly cloudy day, because no clouds = boring sunset photos. However, also make sure it's not too cloudy. Basically, good luck!! Haha. I found the best spots for sunset were Corong Corong beach (near Roro bus terminal) and Las Cabanas beaches, the former which is about a 1.5km walk from the city center.
Corong Corong beach is much more of a locals area, and cheaper accomodations can be found here. Las Cabanas is further, so you can take an overpriced trike, or do what I did and rent your own motorbike for 100 pesos per hour. I found a place on the left just on the outskirts of town when walking to Corong Corong beach. Ask for Moses. The sunset in the main part of El Nido ("the nest") is actually blocked by rocky cliffs, but those cliffs are beautiful in their own right, so don't be too disappointed. You can also walk the beach all the way down past El Nido Corner restaurant and enjoy a peaceful sunset at Caalan as well. Great place to take photos!
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I was fortunate enough to meet some travelers in El Nido who wanted to head out to our very own island for overnight camping. All of us pitched in to pay some local fishermen to take us out and drop us off on the beach. Of course you will want to negotiate the price, as well as make sure they will come and get you the next day! You may not have cell service out there, and don't count on electricity.
We had a great Filipino host who helped us cook fresh fish right on the beach. We were lucky enough to have a "paddle board" with us as well. I took the board out late that night under the full moon. The water was so calm and clear, I could see the corals beneath me in the moonlight as I slipped silently through the water. It was a very surreal and peaceful experience. The board rental is a bit pricey for the budget-minded traveler, but well worth the experience if you ask me. Just be careful when paddling over the sharp coral. Boards can be rented from "Artcafe" in El Nido town.
I also wanted to explore El Nido on my own, so I went out on a solo kayaking / snorkeling trip a few days later. I decided to try and lay flat on my stomach on the kayak and keep my shoulders and face over the water, so that I could float effortlessly over the amazing reefs + and still have my face (and mask) in the water. I dubbed this "snorkelacking". It enabled me to see more of the deep-down reefs, while having the added bonus of not drowning (win!).
It worked amazingly well until I accidentally floated into a HUGE patch of jellyfish. I panicked and tried to push myself up on the kayak, which ended up flipping me into the water (with my backpack and flip flops on). No big deal, luckily I kept everything in tight ziplocks, and somehow managed to avoid the jellyfish (this time). Just so you know, the jellyfish are quite tiny and are hard to see. After coming out of the water tingling the first few times, I realized that I was swimming through them. It's not really painful at all, but if you just look for them near the surface as you snorkle, you can avoid being stung.
Later I came across some local squid fishermen, and proceeded to impress the living daylights out of them with exactly 2.5 words of
Tagalog. Haha. They invited me to have an early dinner with them, and after so generously repairing my flip-flop which has just broken, they cooked us fresh-caught squid and rice right
there on the beach. It was the best meal I'd had in the Philippines so far. See the photos below.
After that I did some more snorkeling and came across a massive cuttlefish, and some giant sea turtles. Finished up by paddling out to sea to relax and watch the sunset over the islands, where eventually a couple in another kayak came out and did the same. We sat there, bobbing gently on the South China Sea...with an increasingly incredible fiery-orange and red sky before us. Soon the moonless night invited all the stars to come out and play, and with each stroke of the paddle home, a frenzy of glittering phosphorescent plankton said "hello". I tell you, El Nido is pure magic.
Another nearby paradise is "Nat-Nat beach", across the water from El Nido. I got my Filipino nickname here. I am a big fan of Nat King Cole, as well as being named Nathan, of course. My local friends took me out fishing for the day, and we stopped here to eat lunch and relax. There were no people here but us and a local caretaker who lives nearby. Sunset on the way home was incredible, and we (they) caught dinner, so that was nice. Haha. By the way, if you rent a kayak, make sure you inspect the paddle very carefully. On my solo trip, one end of the paddle broke off in the water!
I found a traditional Filipiino house called a "bahay kubo" right on El Nido beach. It's called "Jov's Inn", and can be found joining walls with Balikaw restaurant right on the main road at El Nido beach. Before you read too far though, just know that this place is much more of an "authentic" tradtional experience. That means by western standards it is PRIMITIVE. No AC, and no flush toilets. The smaller room facing the water has an attached bathroom, but the other two rooms do not (there is a common C.R.). If you are looking for a more traditional hotel or resort, read further down the page.
The simplicity of Jov's was very appealing to me for part of my stay, and the family running it were very nice and accommodating. They will invite you to eat with them, which is customary, but if you accept and are there for many days, try and contribute and/or cook something yourself as well. It's a great experience. People tend to come here and stay a LONG time, so keep checking in with them on availability. Peak season in El Nido should be late December - March, and prices and availability will reflect that. Below you can see the family and some new friends as well. As you'll notice, the view from my balcony could not be beat. What a place to work! Speaking of which, I recommend using a Globe Tattoo USB if you want decent wifi here. It gets a much better signal than any wifi I tried to use at various restaurants. Smart Bro doesn't work there, or at least not well. That's what I was told.
What a great view of paradise! As you can see in the photos, people come the bar / restaurant and enjoy the views for hours! The family who runs it are very nice. On recommendation, I tried both the teppanyaki chicken and the banana heart curry. Excellent! I loved having a cold fruit shake and working there on my computer during hot days (they have wifi). Tell Boyet at the bar that Natnat says hi!! Well, I will be back eventually anyhow. El Nido really puts a spell on you. Did I mention they have decent priced accommodations here as well? Book on Agoda HERE to reserve a room!
This peaceful oasis is away from El Nido, and near Corong Corong Beach. Travelers RAVE about it. They offer two private bungalows made of tradtional materials, and at a medium price range. Included is a small TV and private bathroom. You can dine here with a stunning ocean view.
Mobile: +63 918 355 2836
If luxury is what you're after, you'll find it here. A stunning property with lush gardens and an infinity pool overlooking the sea. High-end dining does not disappoint.
Due to demand, I recommend booking rooms in El Nido online...check out Agoda! It's always worked out great for me. Click below!
(*Update!* Sadly, I just received news that Balay Tubay is now closed.) This is a true hidden gem in tourist-ridden El Nido. Locals love this place, and the cover bands NEVER disappoint. They highlight the true versatility of Filipino musicians, with vocalists belting out everything from Queen to ACDC (and all VERY impressively, I might add). A great place for beers with friends and locals. Note all the colorful local handicrafts adorning the walls. Also check out Pukka Bar. Great spot for live music also, but with a lot more tourists.
Mainit na PandeSol po!! In my opinion this is the best bakery on the island of Palawan! Go in the morning for fresh hot bread (that'e the translation). Very cheap, and VERY delicious. If you happen to be celbrating a birthday party you can order a decent cake here as well. If you are a foreginer they will love it if you speak some Tagalog. Mah EEnut nah pahn-DEE-Sall (From an American's perspective).
I love this place. It's great to come here to escape the crowds in El Nido. It's nothing but a tiny shack by the water, but they serve the best (and cheapest) calamari, rice, and iced tea meal combo! I don't even LIKE iced tea, and it was GOOD. Seriously, can't be beat. The people working there were very nice, and again, the prices are almost too good to believe. If you think conditions are right for a great sunset, head to Las Cabanas IMMEDIATELY, as this place had the best sunset I saw during my 2 months stay (check one of the photos below). I sat in amazement on the beach as a very adventurous old Italian woman popped out of the water with her snorkeling mask on and sat next to me. She told me this was by far the best sunset she'd ever seen. The two of us just sat gazing out over the water in appreciation. It was quite an experience. Next time I visit I think I'll stay here. It's not as cheap as Corong Corong or a lot of places in El Nido town, but it is more clean, secluded, and the extra money seems to be worth it.
In closing, I do hope you enjoy this rugged paradise as much as I did! I am concerned about the strain put on the environment by the recent influx of tourists. Please be mindful to not step on any corals or leave any trash - do try to enjoy these islands responsibly! The city collects an "environmental fee" from all island hopping tourists, but there is concern about where that money actually goes. If you notice something "fishy", please speak up and report it! I hope the government realizes the importance of preserving El Nido's natural treasures. That way they will continue to draw tourists and be enjoyed for many years into the future.
Many more Philippines stories and travel photos to come...follow along by "liking" my FB page below!