It has been five years since I visited El Nido for the first time. Until now, I can still remember its quiet beauty and calming atmosphere. So much so, I always recommend this amazing paradise to friends and acquaintances who ask about places to visit in the Philippines.
This place reminds me of three things: One, it’s like a mini-Philippines thanks to its cluster of islets, 45 in total, populated by warm and friendly people; two, this is where I fell in love with my Dutch husband (the photographer of this story); three, our love story, in retrospect, started my journey to Europe.
El Nido lies at the northeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. In recent years, it has been cited as one of the most beautiful beaches by international media outfits including CNN and Conde Nast.
The island’s powdery, white sand; turquoise blue waters and secret coves draw many beach goers especially Koreans and Japanese to its shores. On a good day, you can have the beach all to yourself or your loved ones. The beach can be a bit crowded sometimes. But you are still promised a relaxing sojourn by the beach, away from all the stresses of everyday life including your mobile phones and laptops.
We will never forget the beautiful sunset at Corong-corong beach, a secluded area not usually visited by tourists. That was where we spent the day exchanging opinions on life’s profound questions and drinking vodka to muster the courage to propose (at least for my husband). Or the next day when we went swimming with the sharks while I was still numb and drunk from the vodka of the night before.
These were the days when we didn’t have smart phones and our main source of joy was nature and the tranquility she brings. Writing this article might not be able to give justice to the beauty of El Nido but I hope this will show you even a glimpse of what could be enjoyed and experienced there.
El Nido is a typical, rural town that thrives mainly on fishing. Everyone here speaks English, or at least try to. The locales always have a ready smile especially when they’re talking with foreigners. And contrary to popular belief, El Nido is not that expensive a destination. In fact, apart from the highly commercialized resorts in the area, there are a number of affordable accommodations to choose from.
Things to Do
El Nido offers several activities to last you up to two weeks without getting bored. Because we only stayed for five days, we only managed to do the usual tours. But if you have more time to spend, we suggest that you make the most out of your trip.
There are three basic island hopping tours around Bacuit Bay called Tour A, B and C which go around the islets of Small and Big Lagoons, 7 Commando
Beach, Secret and Hidden Beach and Helicopter Island. A tour can cost from €34 to €120 per person if you are renting a boat for two people. For groups of four to six, it will be more economical to hire a boat that can take you around Bacuit Archipelago for one whole day. Doing the latter allows you to have a say of where you want to go.
Don’t book at the first restaurant you find offering you tour packages. Chances are they are more expensive and time limited. Walk around a bit and do your own survey of other tour operators. Be sure to bargain for as low as you can. You might need to reserve snorkeling gears like fins, masks and goggles a day before your tour. Each cost approximately €1,50 each.
We were lucky to have found Mang Edgar, our boatman who offered swimming with the sharks, an activity which is not usually included in tour packages. Those who are interested in kayaking around the islets can avail of kayak rentals that roughly cost €12 for the whole day. You can also opt to rent kayaks for half a day at half the price.
Fishing and windsurfing gears are available starting at €120 per person. El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe can arrange the said activities plus rock climbing among others. You can reach them at (+63 2) 920 446 9135 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dining in El Nido
El Nido offers good food and drinks at pocket-friendly prices. Our favourite French restaurant is called Squidos, a modest-looking hut made of bamboo with a thatched roof located on the main street. Tourists can have their fill of a small selection of typical French staples. The owner/ manager/waitress is a Filipina married to a French guy who is also the chef.
We loved their chocolate crepe,a twopiece crepe topped with a generous serving of chocolate syrup, for less than €1.
Beside the office of the Boat Association is Aplaya, a budget-friendly Filipino restaurant offering fresh seafood and a nice view of the sea. We had a whole tuna, good for three persons, for €3. Since it is located right on the beachfront, you sometimes have to move your table farther up during high tide if you don’t want your feet to get soaked. If you need assistance, the friendly staff at the restaurant is always ready to help.
For those who can’t start a day without their caffeine fix, The Coffee Shop serves the best espresso on the island for roughly half a euro. Sit by the table outside the cafe and watch the town wake up while you enjoy your coffee and the cool breeze from the ocean.
Since we didn’t have much time to spare, we decided to stay at the first hotel suggested by our English friend Maz Murphy, the Four Seasons Hotel.
French restaurant Squidos is a favorite among foreign tourists. Sunset at Corong-Corong beach. The name sounds expensive but we only paid a little less than €40 for an air-conditioned room with a double bed, a balcony with the view of the sea, free wi-fi and breakfast of your choice to boot.
There are other accommodations with beachfront views that are available for almost the same price. It is best to scout the place first to get a better bargain. There’s also the Korean-owned El Nido Beach Hotel. Room rates there start from €52.
There are regular bus trips going to El Nido from San Jose Terminal, near the New Public Market off the National Highway, in Puerto Princesa. Remember to wake up very early in the morning because the first bus leaves at 6am while the last bus leaves at 7:30am. It’s
better to reserve your seat a day or two so you are assured of good seats. Bus fare is about €4 per person. There are also air-conditioned vans that charges €10/person. The trip is eight hours long so be prepared for a long, bumpy, rocky and adventurous ride.
Those coming from other parts of Palawan like Taytay, Sabang or Port Barton, there are boats you can hire to go to El Nido for €35 per person. But
we don’t recommend this for three reasons: First, you are sure to get wet during the boat ride; second, you will miss the great sights along the way; and third, there’s nothing like the adventure of going through rough roads to reach El Nido. Believe me, you wouldn’t regret taking the bus.
If you prefer flying, there are private planes that can take you directly to the island. SEAIR has regular flights from Manila.
*Prices may have changed.