Everytime we think of El Nido, we expect 5 star paradise resorts nestled in islands of pristine turquois waters, powdery white sand beaches, cozy cottages & welcome drinks. All that & an exorbitant price for utopia. But as always, paradise shouldn't be as pricey. Even more for an in between Club Med & backbacker's tavern traveler like me. And where my being kuripot* has riled up my husband into madness. Staying in the mainland was really a great choice. I could actually live there. Cadlao Island, my favorite, except for the jellyfish that day
Our Palawan trip was only organized through online information. Since I always travel ahead of my husband, it gives us ample time to book plane tickets a little in advance to avail domestic promo flights. One website that helped me a lot in having an overview of El Nido, its facts & activities is El Nido Boutique & Art Café, where we likewise bought tons of souvenir shirts. Plus like most of the resorts have valuable information for travelers, El Nido Boutique & Art Café can offer more service (transportation, money exchange, etc).
Like all paradise, reaching it is always the hard part. Although chartered flights from SEAIR & ITI have schedules every week for El Nido, the fare is just a tad too steep - 6Kphp/person/one way - a total of 12Kphp for a roundtrip. 200€! So we took a PAL flight to Puerto Princesa with the dreary 7 hour shuttle ride to El Nido for 2,650php & SEAIR to return to reality. Fort Wally Shuttle Service* can pick you right up at the airport. I highly recommend a private shuttle if you're traveling with 4 or more. If you have the time to go around the airport or bus terminal looking for 2 more travelers, it'll save you 7 tormenting hours. The shuttle was just 3 more persons squeezed in a 12 pax capacity plus 3 huge boxes that are considered at a price of 1 person. Doing a 7 hour travel in this condition (and the airconditioning needed freon), was difficult. Out of curiousity, the driver offered us 4Kphp for a private shuttle. Below, El Nido's airport & SEAIR's plane
The Philippines is such an unpredictable country so be sure to add extra days in your pre & post travels. Our flight home was delayed for about 5 hours due to overloading (passenger & luggage). Our flight was more of westerners (robust Russian men at 90kg) as opposed to the other flight composed of only asians. If we took the other airline, our flight would have been on time. A lot of the other passengers have connecting flights & like us, we didn't want to give up our seats. In the end, to finally take off, we gave up our luggage that were as promised to be delivered the same day to the hotel. And a note to travelers with motion sickness, planes for El Nido are small like 15 seater. It flies low so windows are open. I popped one & a half of Bonamine pills & I flew, literally & figuratively, the hour & a half flight to Manila.
It was difficult to find resorts in El Nido online especially the ones with photos. So booking from France was easy & practical with Golden Monkey Cottages. I fell in love with their kubo* & the view from it. What I liked most about it is the homey feel of their resort, the reasonable rates & the warm reception of the owners. It is in the quiet part of town, a 15 minute nature walk to the mainland. Although they don't really have a restaurant or bar, they have a breakfast menu served on your terrace & a special of the day cooked by the owners. That's homecooking! We loved Rose's sweet & sour Lapu Lapu plus they can pack your luch for a day trip. Although they can be a bit of a walk to go to the mainland & back especially at nights when you want to see a bit of the nightlife, you'll be happy not to hear any tricyles roaring, or the guy who's belting out in the karaoke bar while you sleep. If you prefer more of the barrio life & since it's a bit difficult to find a resort online, you can absolutely try the Golden Monkey Resort for a few nights & move to the mainland. Below, our kubo for a week & its view from the terrace on the hammock
One anecdote for this trip, when we arrived from our crippling shuttle ride, I've forgotten to note Rose's mobile number for our pick up at the terminal. Even if I said it was a 7 hour shuttle ride, in the Philippines that means around 8 or 9 so we arrived after sunset, were pretty beat up & desperatley wanted a nice drink. So I asked everyone to wait for me while I go find the resort. Asking locals on the way, I thought it wouldn't be as hard until I reached a point where there were no lights at all. Yes there, the man repeated so I walked, almost to a jog in the dark & was relieved to find the same resort I saw on the photo. But no, the girl said it's after the cemetery. The what?! Cemetery!? A provincial cemetery?! In the dark of night?! I continued jogging, trying not to peek, past the cemetery & I had to ask maybe three more locals for directions. It could have been more but there was a part where there were just rice fields, some animal sounds & the moon. I was commended for my bravery & the next day, we all bought flashlights.
Some days we just stay at the beach near the resort but most days of our stay, we go on island hopping. It's not so much just as hopping from island to island but there are also some adventures. Island hopping is normally presented in groups. Our resort recommended Mang Pitong* the boatman. He is a local living near the resort. Not only that we were happy to give business to the locals, we were much satisfied by Mang Pitong's services. He'd know the islands like the back of his hand. Usually, the day trip is around 600 - 700php per person including lunch (drinks not included). Left, the small patch of beach near the resort, below, Mang Pitong & lunch on our own little beach
The islands of El Nido are amazingly beautiful. We had quite some difficulty with the sun coming out (the amihan or habagat came in late this year) & the waters are a bit chilly but we were never deprived of that scorching Philippine sun. Tha taraw, or the limestone cliffs are the home of the swiftlets, the birds known for their nests as the nido soup and the yucca plants that sit magnificently on them. The yucca plants (and other plants) thrive on the water gathered by the limestone that can last for months. The state of the plants can signal the lack of rainfall. It is amazing to see plants growing abundantly on rocks without soil. Boat rides are mostly an hour & half to two and I've always liked bancas. If you think island hopping is like a hop on & off, you'll be surprised. Below, the smallest taraw island
I have always wanted to kayak in the big & small lagoons but since the mainland is around a 45mins banca ride, I think I'll end up being pulled on the way back. Arriving on the mini lagoon, the bancas cannot go any nearer that you'll have to jump off & swim to it like most of the other islands like the Hidden Beach & the Secret Beach. I have scars by being a weak swimmer (even with a life vest!) & the Secret Beach is the most difficult to swim to. By secret it is located inside one of the taraw islands only accessible by a small hole in deep waters save for a few meters above water when the waves roll out. It was wonderful! It has a small strip of white sands & a mini pool. To go out, you must literally go with the flow of the waves. Unforgettable. On snorkeling, and probably diving, I would say the Visayas is the still the best for that. Below, the small hole to The Secret Beach
Food & cocktails are reasonable & restaurants are everywhere. I was disappointed to have forgotten to try the local nido soup but I was spoiled with seafood. One restaurant who serves the best food is El Nido Corner owned by a Filipina/Danish couple. Although they were the most expensive & having tried the other restaurants, we kept coming back to them. Thanks Divina for the stuffed pusit recipe. A delice! It's a quiet place to eat but if you want more action, the other restaurants with bars have bands & sometimes the fire dancers pass by for entertainment while you eat. It's also worth a trip to the mainland's market & stores. Below, El Nido Corner restaurant & their yummy stuffed squid, sorry for the blurred photo
There are so many stories to tell about our El Nido trip but it's more about sharing the experience on how this paradise is reached. But the most important thing is not to forget your sunblock, Off lotion & Tiger Balm. Our first trip to Palawan, I was feasted by nik-nik or sand mites & I have such an allergic reaction to it. Sunblock can protect you from it while on the beach & Off lotion while you're in the mainland. They're also in the trees & plants. Tiger balm will comfort the bites. Another valuable tip is to either bring a waterproof camera or a Pelican waterproof case for your camera. As mentioned, some of the islands would need a swim to reach it. But don't make my same mistake of bringing defective extra batteries. Below, my nik-nik bites & my pelican
It's probably nice to try the 5 star resorts on their private islands. Like the Big Lagoon is just beside one so kayaking to go there is doable for me but I like diversity & being around the locals. To walk in the bayan* & eating fishballs in the street. If you like to just relax & laze by the beach then the private islands will be for you. We would also like to thank our friends, Yulia & Jacky for sharing the experience with us. The Kalibo Ati-atihan & El Nido were likewise the first for us. Hope they collected wonderful memories of the Philippines. Thanks for the photos, guys!
We're more & more convinced that Palawan would be the location of our dream beach house. We're one step closer to it but I hope that by the time we move there, we won't be too old.
*kuripot - stingy
* Fort Wally Shuttle - 0920.9815702, 0917.2762875 or Fortwallytransport@yahoo.com
*kubo - bamboo cottage
*Mang Pitong - 0921.6205364
*bayan - town's centre