El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Escape from the ordinary beach towns
El Nido has to be one of the most laid back, beautiful places in South East Asia. It is definitely a key spot for backpackers, or at least those fortunate enough to find their way to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. For those willing to spend a little time here, there are many hidden treasures found in and around the small coastal town.
The first thing I noticed when getting into town was the breathtaking cliffs that enclose the town while opening up to the sea. Though I didn’t partake, I’m sure this would be a rock-climbers paradise. The porous walls were incredibly magnificent and add an feeling of comfort and security from the outside world.
For lovers of the ocean (or simply if you like pretty things), I would highly suggest taking one of the island hopping tours. Of course it’s touristy, but there’s a reason it became popular. It’s amazing. #Fact. There are many people who offer the same itineraries, so ask around and see who is being suggested by the locals. The prices often won’t vary, and don’t be shocked if you have to pay an extra “National Park” fee on the beach before boarding the boat. It’s not a scam.. well, it kind of is, but it’s a legitimate one. The islands that you can visit are simply stunning. With caves, swimming in isolated lagoons, pinnacles, cliffs, snorkelling coral reefs, a delicious BBQ on the beach, and more jam-packed into the day – this was one of my highlights in the Philippines.
Now if you’d really like to get away from the crowds, often the best way to do this, especially in South East Asia, is to rent a scooter for a day or two. They’re really just like riding a bike, but you must be smart about it. No matter how good a driver you might be – that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Go slow, wear a brain bucket (helmet), and stay safe. One of the many differences in the Phils to the rest of SE Asia is the fact that they drive on the right hand side. Please ride safely and at your own discretion. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
There are many beaches and small fishing towns a very short scooter ride from El Nido. I went to a nearby beach not 20 mins away by scooter with a friend to enjoy a beer and watch the sunset. Another group of friends took off for the day with a local and went to an isolated beach with good a decent break for a day of surfing. For a sleepy fishing town, there’s definitely no shortage of things to do while here – but it also makes a perfect spot to just stop and relax if you want. With gorgeous sunsets, a breathtaking mountainous backdrop over an ocean’s bay, nestled in sheer cliffs… I could easily find myself returning to El Nido again and again.
There’s a few ways to get to El Nido. Most people arriving to Palawan come through Puerto Princessa. Buses are easily arranged, often from the comfort of your own hotel. P.P. is roughly an 8 hour bus ride from El Nido – but Holy Roads Batman. Most of the journey is driven on roads that have so many potholes, the moon’s surface would look flat in comparison. It’s definitely a bumpy ride. You can also take a ferry up the coast, or down from the neighbouring island of Coron. This said, I tried getting to Coron by ferry, and ended up waiting more than a week every day being told “Maybe the ferry will run tomorrow”, though that day never came. Inclement weather was the culprit, though it was quite frustrating not knowing a day out. Additionally, there’ a small airport in El Nido. It’s owned and operated by one of the budget airlines in the Phils… but this monopoly has made any flights to and from there EXTREMELY expensive. I found tickets to and from El Nido seemed to often be about double what you’d pay from Puerto Princessa. It’s undoubtedly the fastest route, but that comes with a price.
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There are plenty of restaurants in El Nido to get your feed at. Sadly, as with most of the rest of the Philippines, I found it quite hard to get a good local dish from the canteens there. It seemed most ‘local’ places would cook their food in the morning and just let it sit out at room temperature all day. I like to consider myself daring with international dishes.. usually. However, I don’t think playing with things like e.coli or salmonella really qualify as adventurous dining. I ended up sticking it out paying tourist prices to eat at tourist restaurants. That being said, the quality of food at El Nido’s touristy restaurants was fantastic… and safe! One of my favourite spots was a French restaurant called La Salangane, which makes delicious French dishes. The bonus: they also make their own fruit infused rum in barrels behind the bar. At 80 pesos (approx $2 USD) a shot, it’s easy to get wrapped up trying several of the tasty mixes with some post-dinner mingling and dancing. My most visited restaurant had to be Sea Slugs, which is located right on the beach, with live music, local and western dishes (all at western prices however – but a good way to try some Filipino dishes), and decent service.
There’s plenty of accommodation to choose from while staying in El Nido. This ranges from budget backpackers spots (such as the french run La Banane, located right on the beach, with nice and helpful staff… AND right next to the Sea Slug! yum!), to private bungalows, right up to high-end resorts. It really depends what YOU want while there. I was good with the backpacker hostel, as I was there for El Nido, and not necessarily pampering myself with luxury (the location is naturally luxurious enough, in my opinion!).
The difficulty in getting here surely helps filter out the number of people visiting this little piece of paradise. This is helping keep it from completely booming into another Borocay – though that day may come faster that you think. I saw many new highways being built, and the world does seem to catch up eventually. So my suggestion to you – don’t delay! Go to El Nido today!! Get there before the hordes of tourists do.
Have you been to El Nido in the Philippine Islands? What was your favourite thing to do while there? If you haven’t been yet, what would be your first activity you’d want to do while there?