I wasn’t sure what to expect from El Nido. I’d heard so many say that it’s amazing, and others say it’s nothing special. It’s just one of those places you have to go and see yourself I guess, and after having been there, I definitely fall into the ‘it’s amazing’ group.
Getting there can be a pain if on a budget, but if money is no object then you can fly directly into El Nido and take a 50 peso ($1) tricycle taxi ride to any hotel of your choice. We (my girlfriend and I) are frugal travelers, and found a great deal on round trip tickets using Philippine Air flying into Puerto Princessa. Geographically, Puerto Princessa is in the middle east side of the elongated island, and from there you can jump to just about any part of the island, though most flock northward to Port Barton, El Nido, and further north, Coron. There are two ways to El Nido from PP: Van or bus. The van service is touted as faster (which is true, about 4-5 hours) and more comfortable due to A/C (not true as they cram 12+ people inside these things and drive like maniacs). Vans were advertised as 600-700 pesos while the bus fare was fixed at 370 pesos. Not a huge monetary upgrade, but frugality won over again and we hopped the bus which took about 6 1/2 hours total. Longer though it may be, you can really stretch your legs out, not to mention the bus’ A/C system was working quite well. Both services take the same road, so overall comfort is limited due to windy bumpy roads and, much to my dismay from living in China, overly obnoxious horns. In fact, the bus we were on was a good ol Higer, the exact same bus that horn happy Chinese drivers frequently drive back in mainland China.
El Nido is a quaint little town, with an economy of tourism and fishing. The town itself is nothing amazing. It sits in a quiet little bay where the sunset can’t be seen, and with a beach not worth swimming in. However, the adventures surrounding El Nido are what people come for.
We booked a hostel in advance, but the reality is there are many hostels and small hotels that had vacancies even during peak season. The problem is most of them are simply not online to book. With that said, I’d still highly recommend the place we stayed: El Gordo’s Guesthouse. Off the beaten path in the fishing village side of town, it overlooks the town of El Nido across the bay. They have basic rooms and a small dorm, all reasonably priced. El Gordo’s is certainly impossible to find without a taxi, but when you find it you’ll love it. Everyone else there is local, so if culture is your thing then stay there! We met some great kids on the fishing pier that showed us how to catch ’em!
The best thing about El Gordo’s is that they are adventureÂ outfitters as well, and they can tell you everything you can possibly do in and around El Nido. Gordo and his wife are lovely hosts and showed us how to get to some amazing secluded beaches such as the picture below:
This beach shall remain nameless to protect its anonymity. But let’s just say it’s about 2km long, and during the 6 hours we were there, we only saw a few locals walk up briefly, and two other guys who arrived as we were leaving. Granted the trip there was quite tumultuous, in that it took nearly 2 hours to go 25km, but every inch of the drive was beautiful and to this day we still can’t stop talking about it. There is only one small guesthouse on the beach, and they happily served us a few San Miguel’s and some fresh sea bass which was worth about 10x what we paid for it. My recommendation? Talk with Gordo, rent a motorbike (700 pesos), and head up there early in the morning!
Aside from the secluded beach exploring that consumed 2 of our 4 days there, El Nido is also famous for its island hopping tours and inland waterfall hikes. We did both of them, also both worthwhile, but a little touristy. All the Island tours are the same, the price is fixed, just as it is for renting motorbikes, so don’t worry about haggling. In fact, I was utterly shocked at the lack of people trying to cheat me, Mr. Whitey Tourist.Â I’ve actually read that there is no police station or police officers in El Nido. Why? Because people are just so friendly and honest. So much so that I often found my skepticism weighing heavily on my conscience. But low and behold, never once did we get cheated, or did anyone even attempt to cheat us there!
We took one day and did Island Tour A, which was nice though it rained a lot. You’ll see the bluest waters you’ve ever seen, and there’s some great snorkeling spots, along with a fresh seafood lunch included all for a price tag of about $25. The other day we took a several hour hike to see and swim in one of the waterfalls. These hikes technically are supposed to be with a guide, and we did hire one (150 peso/person), but others go it alone. I HIGHLY recommend the guide and not getting lost in the jungle trails of Palawan.
After 4 days of amazing-ness, we had to depart via a 6am bus to Port Barton via Rojas. Even at 5:30am in the pitch black and finally finding a lone taxi, the driver still didn’t cheat us! Just charged us the fixed 50 peso price (however I gave him 100 peso when we got out in appreciation).Â El Nido really is a little slice of heaven.
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