Enjoying El Nido – The long road up
If you are telling someone you are visiting the Philippines, they will most likely ask you if you are planning to go to Palawan island, or to El Nido to be exact.
We have been coming to the Philippines since 2012, and every time we wanted to go to El Nido. To see the beautiful landscape, the beaches and the archipelago which is said to be one of the best in the Philippines. So when we took our holiday from… you know, beach-life, we did not have to think twice where to go (although, our bucket list here in the Philippines is starting to get loooooong…)
Getting to El Nido is not for the weak
El Nido is not the easiest spot to get to. Located on the northern part of Palawan, you can either fly to Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan), and from there take a bus or a van up to El Nido. This ride will take you about 5-6 hours, and our word of advice to you is this: do not go for the cheapest option!
Well, up to you of course.
There are decent buses going (with wifi & aircon), and the local buses, which take god knows how long (you might share your space with chickens and goats). We opted for comfort and speed, and went with a company called Daytripper Palawan. They came to pick us up from the airport, the aircon van had plenty of space and we even got a welcome snack and water! We paid 900php / person for this luxury, but it was worth it! Good customer service from start to finish.
The road up to El Nido is very curvy the entire way, so bring padding if you want to sleep, bring extra clothes because the aircon is set to COLD, and if you suffer from motion sickness, brace yourself! The van stops half way at a nice restaurant, where you can eat and stretch your legs.
On our way back to Puerto Princesa we went cheap, and paid 500php / person for a van. And as usual, you get what you pay for. Space was gone (I could not have my legs straight and I’m ‘only’ 168cm), luggage traveled on the roof (which is normal here, but still) and we stopped in a place where toilets were quite rough to say the least. For 5 hours of agony I would have paid the extra 400php for the upgrade.
Flying to town or take a boat
You can also fly to El Nido. Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) flies daily from Manila to El Nido airport. Travel time is approximately 55 minutes. Alternatively you can fly to Coron, and take a ferry down to El Nido.
The best of El Nido is outside of town
The town of El Nido is surprisingly crowded. The few main streets are built back-to-back with hotels and shops, and the beach is not the best El Nido has to offer. If you want peace and quiet (meaning no roosters at 4am and no heavy traffic starting at 5am) opt for a hotel or resort not directly in town.
The best part of El Nido is definitely the nature from the sea. If you take one of the standardized island tours (they have A, B, C and D), again you get what you pay for. You can sit with 15 others and fight to enter the ‘hidden lagoons’ or you can pay more and get a private boat. We were with the 4 of us, took a private boat and paid 1200php / person for the whole day (including lunch).
In El Nido you also need to purchase a 200 php environmental permit for access to most touristic “attractions”. It is valid for 10 days and covers island tours, diving and other outdoor activity. Most tourist establishments can arrange this for you.
When arranging an island tour, opt to leave early, as most tours leave at 9am and it gets crowded pretty quickly. We actually ended up skipping spots just because we did not feel like huddling over 25 other tourists in bright life vests to get to ‘hidden beaches.’ So the boat crew took us to few quiet beaches off the official Tour A, and we got to enjoy lunch and snorkeling in private! This was truly worth it! Gorgeous snorkeling spots just off the beach, freshly grilled fish served as lunch, and nobody else in sight.
We stayed at a small place called Sei Naziones, which was cozy but very noisy… There are plenty of new and modern hotels that have just been built up. It’s also worth it to just go there and walk around to find your spot, at least you will see the surroundings and can determine the noise level yourself.
Best of the best
Another great way to discover the seas is by diving, but that will be a post on its own… As is the actually ‘hidden’ beaches away from town.