El Nido, Palawan A word of caution: This place is bound to challenge one’s threshold levels – from the average city dweller to the seasoned backpacker. The rule of thumb is: The more you dare, the more you will be rewarded.
It’s not a place to go searching for city comforts. For instance, power supply is limited with scheduled power interruptions. Chances are you won’t get served a glass of ice during these times. There are NO ATM machines, and very few establishments accept credit cards. (Still valid as of March 2015)
Obviously, I’m not talking about the posh El Nido Resorts experience – the one people are most familiar with. For the longest time, El Nido has been closely associated with luxurious travel. But for the past couple of years, we’ve slowly been given backdoor access. Nowadays, this once sleepy town bustles with intrepid travelers.
Despite the increasing buzz in tourism and economic activity, the provincial feel still lingers. And if you decide to wander off farther, there are definitely more stones to unturn and sights yet to be seen. All you need is a little sense of adventure.
FLY via Puerto Princesa Whether it’s Cebu Pacific or Air Asia, you can book round trip flights (no check-in) for just a thousand pesos! It’s all about the timing. TIP: MNL-PP (earliest flight), PP-MNL (last flight)
6-hour land travel PP-El Nido A choice between bus (RORO) or van (Eulen Joy). Click on the links for reservation, route schedules, and contact details. TIP: There are usually two stop overs. First one is in Roxas (3rd hour), and the second one in Taytay (30 mins to an hour after).
When to go Palawan is generally spared from severe weather disturbances. However, since most activities are water-based, calmer seas are preferred. Thus, best to avoid habagat season (southwest monsoon months of June to September), when incoming swells, despite sunny weather, are in the mood to literally rock your boat.
Poblacion (El Nido town proper) The main hub for all tourist activity is a 5-minute tricycle ride away from the bus/van terminal. Once you’re in, everything else is walkable.
This is where majority of the accommodations are located, and practically everything you’ll be needing for the duration of your stay can be sourced here. An abundance of local grocery stores, restaurants, bars with live bands, tour operators, bike rentals, souvenir shops, internet cafes, and a few clothing boutiques line the streets of this small town, while the beach area serves as the loading and drop-off site for island hopping tours.
TIP: Ride like a local. Regular tricycle fare is just Php 10 per person. If you don’t want to get charged a higher fare for a special trip, avoid getting on tricycles parked along the main streets.
Where to stay There are no other luxury resorts except for the famed El Nido resorts tucked away in one of the islands in Bacuit bay. Inland, at best, there are 2-star accommodations. The rest are inns, B&B’s, cottages, and hostels. Depending on the kind of traveler you are, this can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Poblacion, where all the action happens! (+) pretty laid-back despite it being the hub, widest selection in terms of accommodation type and food/restaurant choices, convenience and accessibility, great view of Bacuit bay for beachfront accommodations (-) beach area is used as the hub for island hopping operations
TIP: For the backpacker: Tay Miloy’s Inn (no-fuss fan rooms @ Php 500/night for 2 pax – comfy enough and insect-free beds, shared bath – always clean but toilet is bucket flush, has a nice veranda to hang out at, free wifi) Option for large groups: Marikit Pensionne (loft for 8-10 persons, room for 4-6 persons – both are airconditioned) Beachfront: Rico’s Cottages (spacious fan & aircon rooms available, all rooms have a veranda with a great view of Bacuit Bay) *All three I can personally recommend.
Elsewhere, sunset views and quieter beachfronts Corong-corong and Calaan beaches are alternatives for those searching for a more secluded escape and a relatively better beachfront. Both are located a few minutes outside of Poblacion, so some convenience and accessibility (most especially when it comes to food) will definitely be sacrificed. Personally, I find both beaches just ok – not enough to give up the perks of staying in the main town area.
TIP: If a nice beachfront is really a must, then just go all the way, 3kms south of the main town, to Marimegmeg beach, where the beach is actually worth all the trouble.
Ada of Adaphobic Travels has compiled this awesome directory of accommodations in El Nido. Her blog helped me a lot in planning my previous El Nido trips. One of the best resources on anything El Nido. Thank you, Ada!
What to do
Island hopping is El Nido’s main event. There are 4 tours to choose from, all offered by the many tour operators in El Nido. As for me, I always go with Spur Travel. One tour is good for a day’s itinerary. Tours are inclusive of lunch, but not including rental for snorkeling equipment. A one-time Eco-Tourism Development Fee of Php 200 shall also be collected by the tour operator. Best to book trips a day in advance, but on-the-day last minute bookings are usually still entertained.
- Crowd favorites are Tours A & C.
- If you like your feet and/or have low tolerance for pain, might as well bring reef shoes, aquasocks, or booties esp for Tour C.
- Also for Tour C, it might be worth your while to check wave forecasts (during Habagat/Amihan seasons) before booking it just to make sure you don’t strike out on the tour highlights because of rough seas. (If you click on this link, what you’d want is the darkest blue reading for Bacuit Bay)
- Prepare for jellyfish sightings when visiting during the summer months.
- Private tours and custom tours also offered.
- Bring your own water supply… Bring your sense of adventure….
- ….And …and … an underwater camera!
Inland attractions are equally stunning but are generally harder to get to. The reward for taking upon the road less traveled is having the place all to yourself. The best beaches in El Nido are not found in any of the islands of Bacuit Bay, but somewhere up north – in Nacpan, Calitang, and Duli.
TIP: Beaches are gorgeous, but notorious for nik-nik or sand flies. Bring a citronella spray, else you’ll be itching your way back to the city.
Other attractions include surfing (yes, you can surf here!) and climbing up Mt. Taraw. A few operators offer overnight camping trips to one of the islands in Bacuit Bay, aptly marketed as Robinson Crusoe tours.
TIP: The ULTIMATE TOUR (of the Robinson Crusoe kind) is the one by TAO Expeditions – a 5-day boat expedition of remote islands from El Nido to Coron.
Where to eat and hang out
Lots of choices! If on a budget, there are eateries and street food. For restaurants, meals cost anywhere between Php 150-350/person – usually big servings. You can also opt to buy seafood from the market, and just have it cooked by someone (in our case, it was our boatman). For entertainment: Pukka Bar’s got a good reggae band, while Art Cafe and Sea Slugs are your go-to places for acoustic gigs.
TIP: My must-not-miss restaurants: Trattoria Altrov’é for pizza-pasta and Squidos for seafood dishes.
I made two sample itineraries – for those who want to travel leisurely, and for those who want to attempt a weekend warrior feat. Budget estimates included. You can access the file here.
So there. That’s about all the useful information I can give. The rest, you have to figure out on your own… And that’s the exciting part!
As you go, please be mindful and leave no trace. This beauty is ours to protect. Let the place change us and not the other way around.
So be well on your way. I wish you sunny skies and gentle seas. This wonder awaits!