El Nido regularly tops ‘best of’ lists around the world. If you’ve never been to El Nido or seen photos, this may be a hard concept to grasp. I know it was for me when I first read about the top islands in the world and how The Philippines was home to three of them. The more I researched the more I read about El Nido, and the more photos I saw. It was the cliffs bordering crystal clear waters that sealed the deal for me. I knew I had to get to El Nido.
At TBEX (The Travel Blogger Conference that brought me to The Philippines in October) you couldn’t move an inch without hearing the words “Palawan,” “El Nido,” or “Coron.” When you tell a Filipino that you are visiting The Philippines for the first time they will uniformly tell you that you “have to visit Palawan.” For the uninitiated, Palawan is the island that is home to the seaside town of El Nido and, a bit farther offshore, the diver’s paradise island of Coron. The main airport on Palawan is in Puerto Princesa. It’s an oft-Googled query, “where should I visit in Palawan, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, or Coron?” I consulted many blog posts which compared the three and came to the conclusion that El Nido seemed more my style.
However, you are most likely going to fly into Puerto Princesa (unless you want to spend a few hundred more to fly directly to the small El Nido airport), so why not take advantage? The main attraction in Puerto Princesa is actually a two-hour drive away, the Puerto Princesa Underground river, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This day excursion was WELL worth a couple nights stopover in Puerto Princesa, and I highly recommend it.
On the third day in Palawan, I hopped on the 4-5 hour bus ride to El Nido. I will warn you that the journey is bumpy and terrifying at times, but ultimately worth it.
[See Also: The Motion Sickness Sufferer’s Guide To Travel]
It’s often the case when you travel in foreign countries that you have no idea what’s happening (especially on transit days) and this was no exception. We started the day on a relatively empty bus and had the naivete to assume that it would remain this way. Nope. By the end of the trip, the bus was packed to the gills with backpackers, Filipino tourists, and local Filipino families. They even added an extra seat at one point! Just remember our number one rule of anxiety-free travel: go with the flow and trust that everything is always working out for you!
[See Also: How To Travel With Anxiety]
To be honest, I think the thing I was most upset about was the fact that the most amazing sunset was occurring outside the window of our little van and I had no way to photograph it!
Luckily, the next morning we were greeted with this view, and all worries left the building:
That first morning we had the opportunity to go on Tour A! Those of you who have traveled to El Nido before will understand the terminology. If you don’t know the secret language yet, Tours A, B, C, and D refer to a variety of island hopping tours that take place in El Nido. There are a variety of blog posts all over the internet about which tour is better. The general consensus is that Tour A is a MUST. As Tour A was the only tour I went on, I agree!
Sealand Ventures, the tour company that operates from Ocean Vista Inn, picked us up after breakfast, around 9 AM. We shuttled on our little long tail boat amongst a variety of other tourists, boat hands, tour guide, and even our lunch for the day!
Tour A stops at all the ‘must see’ islands and attractions around El Nido. These include the big lagoon, small lagoon, “secret” lagoon, and even a beautiful beach where you can relax and soak up the sun. I have to admit that for this slow traveler, the tour went a bit fast. That’s the nature of a group tour, though, and I have learned to enjoy them for what they are instead of trying to force them into what I wish they would be! I still got to see some absolutely jaw-dropping sights.
The boat staff began cooking our lunch on the boat and the wafting smells of barbecue were downright irresistible. Luckily, we didn’t have much longer to wait and before I knew it the crew was dragging a table (that’s right, a full wooden table) to rest in the middle of our small boat. They then piled the table high with all sorts of barbecued delights. There’s nothing like enjoying a feast on a boat in the middle of crystal clear waters!
The last stop of the day was a sandy beach with a few different cabanas for relaxing in. The rain started coming down at this point in the day, so it was lucky we had the cabanas to take cover under! My two travel companions and I met an older man who was traveling by himself in The Philippines. He told us how he was in recovery from an illness and how he wanted to really live the last years of his life. I was incredibly inspired by his story and found myself thinking about it even after the tour ended.
In the end, I think that’s the lesson I took away most from my time in El Nido. You have to get out there and live your life. We only get one in this body, so let’s make it count! Places change faster than the blink of an eye. One day you’re sitting on an “undiscovered” beach and the next, it’s crowded with tourists. The undiscovered era of El Nido has passed, but it’s still worth a visit.
El Nido Details:
How To Get There:
There are many shuttle companies that operate the route from Puerto Princesa to Palawan. We went with the one our hostel in Puerto Princesa (Treehouse Hostel) set up for us, called Camarih Transportation. Some companies are definitely safer than others. I heard some horror stories about some of the companies (think: body count), so if you have an option I would choose Camarih.
Where To Stay:
There are many accommodation options, from homestay to hostel to luxury resort. I opted to stay at the Ocean Vista Inn which was right on the water in El Nido town. Almost everyone talks about how the internet in El Nido is absolutely terrible (which is true) but the internet at Ocean Vista was actually passably good! I was even able to stream a movie and some YouTube videos one night! Plus, they will arrange all of your tours for you with Sealand Ventures. A stay at Ocean Vista Inn is a good option for those of you traveling in pairs or as a couple, and want to stay close to the main part of town. I was traveling with fellow travel blogger Taylor of Taylor’s Tracks, so this was perfect for us!
What To Do:
Island hop, obviously! The four tours, (A, B, C, and D) each offer something a little different. Most people recommend A which covers all the basics, and D for a bit more adventure. You could also snorkel or scuba dive.
What To Eat:
I mainly ate at Artcafe, which I covered in my post about the food in The Philippines.
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
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My stay at Ocean Vista Inn was sponsored, meaning I received free accommodation in exchange for a mention on this website. Likewise, Sealand Ventures sponsored my island hopping tour. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review, so all opinions are entirely my own.