I must warn you. This is NOT a guide to El Nido (although it includes a few tips). There are enough bloggers who have written guides about this place. This is my story about how I felt about Archipelago El Nido. In a few words: it blew me away. Why? Read on.
About 1,5 year ago I read on on fellow travellers - Sabrina's and Nathan's - blogs, about this place called El Nido in Palawan island. The pictures looked surreal and the bloggers raved about it. Simply put, I became obsessed with it. Sitting in a cubicle of my office job, picking up phone calls from angry users, I dreamed that one day I would come to this piece of paradise and experience it for myself.
That day finally came and I arrived in Palawan with my partner. We had an overnight flight from Bangkok to Manila, then had to wait in the airport for like 6 hours for our next connecting flight in the morning. By the time we got to Puerto Princesa airport in Palawan, we were exhausted. And that was not the end. We had 6-hour journey on a mini van ahead of us. The ride was so shaky and crazy it felt like being in an ambulance, and it made me feel car sick. I'll spare you the details on that one. We were just approaching El Nido when the sun was setting down and it looked so gorgeous from behind the hills I almost wanted to cry, and I was possibly the most exhausted person in the island at the time.
We checked into our hotel - Relucio Travelers Pension - and collapsed in bed soon after.
The following morning we woke up to this view (from the pension's terrace):
I was so happy! Finally I was there, in the place I had dreamed of! The water was crystal clear, with all shades of blue and green. The islands of rocky hills we coming out everywhere you looked.
So the following days we just did what you do in a paradise: relaxed. We would visit local beaches to see the sunsets. The first one we went to was Coron Coron beach. We had to walk through an area of local houses, and then found a stretch of sand to sit on. As the afternoon passed by, the tide of water went further and further from the land. By the sunset time, it was about 50m away from the original coastline.
We stayed at Coron Coron beach for a while, just admiring the ever changing colours the sky was offering. Then we took the tricycle back to the town.
Please note: tricycle in El Nido up until 8pm costs 15 Pesos per person within the town, after 8pm it's a fixed rate of 50 Pesos for a ride within the town. Outside of town the price depends on the distance. Coron Coron beach cost us 50 pesos (a little over 1$) for a 1 way ride. Las Cabanas beach (about it in a moment) was 150 pesos (a little over 3$) for a 1 way ride.
Every year prices in El Nido seem to be higher and higher. The place has become quite touristy (in the end of the day, fellow bloggers have done a good job as ambassadors! ;)) and the locals suffer from higher prices as well. I mean, it's still relatively cheap in comparison to most places in Europe, but more expensive than in other places in the Philippines, even in Palawan island itself.
One of the must things to do while in EL Nido is to do island hopping. The archipelago is surrounded by bigger and smaller islands, lagoons and places to dive and snorkel. We chose tour A (they also have B, C and D). In 2015, in lower season, we paid 1100 Pesos (abut 24$). Travelling on a budget of less than 20$ per day, we think twice before we jump in to spend money. But the trip was well worth it, and it included a delicious lunch with fresh fish, rice, fruit, as well as towels and snorkelling equipment.
I am NOT a strong swimmer. I can't go long distances and do not feel comfortable in open waters, when my feet don't touch the ground. The other issue I have is lack of oxygen under the water. I took me like 20 swimming lessons last spring to overcome the fear of going to depth of 4m and back. We got to our first stop, and like 4m away from the beach I could see the coral reef and colourful fish. And suddenly I forgot all about my fear of putting my face into water, and I snorkelled just fine on the surface, in silent amazement and admiration for nature.
That day was just so fabulous. I have never seen anything like that before. Rocks, lagoons, water in all shades of blue and green. I was stunned. We also did snorkelling in a bit deeper water, and there were hundreds of fish literally surrounding us. Unfortunately I do not have any underwater photos. I broke my waterproof camera on the 2nd night of our trip, in Bangkok. It fell of the stairs as I walked with it to our bedroom. Too bad. It was rather a cheap one, but can't afford to buy a new one. Either way, pictures do not make a justice of this place, it's magical.
One friendly advice: Use a lot of sunscreen, and keep reapplying it throughout the day. As my skin is naturally so fair I look like Casper the ghost for most of the year, I obsessively kept putting sunblock on it every time we got out of the water. And I was fine. My partner has a darker skin, as his origins are Asian. He only used the sunscreen at the beginnings of our trip, and then suffered for the next couple of days.
Below is the lagoon where we sat and had our lunch, onboard a boat. Possibly the best lunch view I've had ever!
On one of the days we went to Las Cabanas beach. I took well over hundred photos in 1 afternoon. Although more commercialised and popular, the place was still stunning. Fish and lagoon just meters away from the shore. Cononut plan trees all along the beach. The colours of water and sky just blowing you away. Just see below!
We also had a lunch at the beach, in one of the beach restaurants (I think it was Orange Beach resort, or something like that). While the lunch was being prepared, I just jumped into the water to cool myself down. The day was hot!
Later on that evening we admired yet another spectacular sunset.
Days passed by, as we either chilled at the local beach (just walk downstairs from the pension where we stayed!) or chilled out in the terrace of our guest house. The view there was awesome all the time, at every time of the day. The internet speed was not spectacular and there was a power cut in entire town a couple of times. But that's the price you pay for being at the end of the World ;) We booked our place with Agoda, which I highly recommend. The guest house had shared bathrooms, but the rooms were clean and nice enough. The owner - Marylin - was a friendly person and assisted us with our needs.
Trying local food became our (not so) new hobby. Almost every morning we'd get local bread or pastries from the Midtown Bakery. We also tried the French pancakes from the cafe at the end of that street (head toward the beach). We also ate delicious mussels in white wine in a restaurant just a few meters away from our guest house. They go great with banana chips! Our favourite Filipino beer became the Red Horse.
Below you can see sunset in Las Cabanas beach.
On the last day in El Nido we were sitting at the local beach when we witnessed something that really struck me. Two boys, one of age maybe 7-8, the other one about 5 years old. Both were selling sticky rice with something, carrying mini fridge with them each and a bottle with something that looked like a sauce, in plastic bottles. They had an argument and the older one took the bottle with sauce away from the younger one. The younger one started moaning and crying, but as he was smaller and weaker, he couldn't get the bottle back from his friend / brother. At some point the older boy got really agitated and kicked the shins of the younger one. The little boy just burst into tears and went into uncontrollable sobs. The older one left the beach. The situation made me upset. Those two boys, given the age, shouldn't have been selling food to tourists in the first place. From one hand, I am an outsider, and should not get involved, just observe. My heart was crying with the younger boy though. I looked at the older one and shook my head in disapproval to what he did. Me and my partner decided to leave the beach, but as we walked a few meters away, I heard the little one sobbing. We turned back and walked up to him. I stroke his hair and spoke to him in English. He was too shy to look at me. He curled up in sitting position and did not dare raise his head up. As I was talking to him, I felt tears rolling down my own cheeks. I wanted to do something but I felt so helpless. I didn't even know if the boy understood me. So I just sat next to him, stroking his hair, for a while, until he stopped sobbing and calmed down. Then we got up started walking away. When I turned around, I saw the child lift his head and looked in our direction. What was his future going to be like?
"Children may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember the way you made them feel."
Our last evening we sat and admired colours of the sky. I kept thinking of the little boy from the beach.You cannot see the actual sunset in El Nido town, as it is covered by the rocks, but it still has its own charm.
The following day we made our way back to Puerto Princesa, where the airport was located. We took RoRo bus, which was just normal sized bus and a bit less shaky. We discovered in a hard way (during downpour) that the window on our side leaked. On the other hand, we had a joy of riding a bus with locals who brought such interesting things onboard as a live chicken!
In Puerto Princesa, we were supposed to stay with a girl from couchsurfing. We had arranged it well over a month before, and she agreed to host us. I contacted her a few times while in El Nido - via email and text, but had no response. I thought that maybe she was busy and forgot to reply, so we decided to go and turn up at her place anyway. I've stayed with hosts from couchsurfing organisation all over the World before and never had any issues. When we got to the district where the girl was supposed to live, we tried calling her, the tricycle driver spoke to her (In Tagalog) and said that she wasn't in town. I didn't want to believe that. We didn't know exactly where the girl's house was, and the tricycle driver tried to convince us to go with him and find a hotel. At the same time, a local grocers shop lady turned out of the blue and asked if she could help us. As she was trying to call the girl from her mobile, the tricycle driver wanted to charge us double than what we had agreed for (60 pesos each, not for the ride). We just got our luggage off, paid him the pre-agreed price and told him to go. And there we were, in the middle of a locals area, sitting in front of a local store while the lady tried reaching our host. She even sent one of her sons to go and find the couchsurfers house! Eventually, we got a text back from the couchsurfer stating that she was out of town as she had a family emergency. Oh well...
The shop lady, as she called herself - mother Olive - took care of us. We got on a pickup of her son's car with our luggage and they drove us around town until we found a guesthouse to stay for an affordable price. She didn't take a penny from us. As she put it - "The Lord will pay me".
I gave her a postcard from Krakow, Poland which she said she'd treasure. As one of her sons was actually a tricycle driver himself, we arranged for him to come and pick us up to the airport on the following morning. And, of course, we paid him for his service. So off we ant, for our next adventure, to another Philippine island- Cebu and Siargao.
Palawan blew me away. I left a piece of my heart in there.
Thank you for reading.
Hello stranger! My name is Bogna, but you can call me Boogie. I come from Poland, but have lived in a few different countries, including UK and USA. In the past I have been a summer camp counsellor, special needs teacher, cruise ship photographer and IT Support. I am the author of BoogiePlanet.com This website is all about the experiences I encounter in different cultures and the World I see through my lens. You can help me fulfill my dream to be a travel photographer and perhaps to inspire you to travel by liking my page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter.