For me, it was El Nido, which left most beautiful memories from our Philippines trip. Here is my list of the “most”s and “best”s about El Nido Palawan.
Best weather: the day we took a boat tour to explore the nearby islands. You remember, we were at the end of the rainy season and were caught by a hurricane flying by. So it was raining cats and dogs (almost) every single day. Nevertheless, we can boast that the only completely sunny day we spent the best way possible, on a boat, with great funny people, swimming in the crystal clear azure water and watching beautiful fish. I can definitely recommend the company, which organized the tour, Cashem Travel & Tours, Hama St. Brgy Masagana El Nido, Palawan. The owner’s name is Gilbert Gustilo Rodriguez, his contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0919-835-2452, 0935-3829-889.
This tour’s name was Tour A (1000-1200 PHP). There is always an offer for the tours A and C – they are most popular. Tours B and D are rarer. You can book a combination tour as well. What I’m trying to say, there is plenty of tours and most of them are wonderful and you see many beautiful islands and lagoons. Don’t hesitate too long, negotiate as far as you can and book one to explore the surroundings – there is not much to do in the village itself.
The tour A included the Big lagoon, the Small lagoon, the Hidden lagoon, 2 beaches (Ilig Ilig and one unknown) and decent time for snorkeling. Necessarily, you have to pay 200 PHP environmental tax to be able to enter the marine park. The ticket is valid for 10 days, so you can take as much tours as you want.
Most unordinary drink: Avocado milk shake. Seriously, I couldn’t think of mixing them. However, it tasted fairly good! Wanna try – search for the little blue booth on the first pedestrian line from the beach. The juices (they have not only avocado, indeed) start from 70 PHP.
Best lunch – during our boat trip, of course! Our crew grilled fish, chicken, squid and vegetables, made salads, sauce, cooked rice. Everything from very fresh ingredients and with a lot of good mood.
Best spontaneous idea: hire a kayak and row to the closest island. We negotiated two kayaks for 300 PHP (usually, 1 kayak for a day costs 6oo PHP) 3 hours before the sunset (keep in mind, the sun goes down pretty early and pretty quickly). A drybag is a must! My advice: take off all clothes except your swimsuit and pack them away (otherwise, they will be completely wet by the end of the trip). We visited Nat Nat Beach and got to know its only inhabitant, a young smiley Filipino. Another easy-to-reach beach is Paradise Beach. Ilig Ilig Beach is also around the corner.
The most beautiful view from the windows of the aircraft: at the plane from El Nido airport with Air Swift: when you take off, you fly quite low over multiple small islands. The airport itself deserves the rank of the cutest airport I’ve ever been to. We were brought with a tricycle directly to the security check, were offered complimentary (local Philipine) snacks and drinks and when we departed on a ”chicken bus” to the plane, a group of Filipino girls were singing for us and waving goodbye…
There are two airports on the Palawan island: in Puerto Princesa and in El Nido. Only one air carrier flies from El Nido to Manila and to Cebu – Air Swift (tiny aircrafts for 50 people max). If you aim to El Nido, this is the best option, though there are only 2 flights a day and they are usually more expensive. Budget flights are offered by multiple airlines to Puerto Princesa. To reach El Nido from there you have to take a van for 400-600 PHP and undertake a five hours trip. Beware: there is a big chance you start only when the van is full, even if they pick you up at 7. We spent good two hours driving around, waiting, driving to a non-existing hotel to pick up “the very last passengers” and without meeting anyone driving back… My advice would be to go directly to the airport and take the van that is almost full.
The liveliest bar – Pukka bar – is located on the beach (Calle Hama Street, Barangay Buena Suerte, El Nido, 5313 Palawan, Philippines). Many young people come for drinks there in the evening (beer 70 PHP, cocktails 200 PHP) and to listen to the live music.
Best choice you can make for a dinner – eat at a local family restaurant (some of them have tables directly on the beach). Usually, those restaurants have a big stand full of fresh seafood and you select from the fish, squids, shells, shrimps, lobster those you want for the dinner. Additionally, you choose the sauce, the vegetable and rice side dish. And the way all of these is cooked. Cocktails are delicious (I was faithful to Pina Colada) and cheap (100 PHP). In opposite, Art Café with good references disappointed us – the service is poor and the meal is less tasty than in the family restaurants. However, the interior was nice.
Best active way of spending your time: rent a scooter (400 PHP/ day, 300 PHP/ half a day) and drive to Nactan Beach. The trip takes about 40-50 minutes one way. When we were riding through the villages of the locals, the children were waving to us and happily giving “hi-fives”. However, during the rainy season the last kilometers of the road get very slippery and earthen. If it starts raining you are in trouble. Especially if your flight is in 3 hours. When we finally reached Nactan beach and looked at the sea, it became clear: it is going to rain. We asked the local, how long would it rain. Three hours. The realization came immediately: no time for swimming or chilling, we had to drive as quickly as we can back to the asphalted road. As you can imagine, the way back was the most extreme ride during our trip.
We were lucky to be caught by the rain exactly at the moment we drove to the hard road. “Lucky to be caught by the rain”, ha-ha, but that could have been indeed much much worse.
After driving in the rain (whatever, we are already completely wet) for twenty minutes, we have seen a local shop on the way and decided to have a coffee there. This shop was a gateway to the waterfalls. We had about one hour in our reserve and decided to undertake this trip, which should have lasted exactly one hour – 30 minutes each way. We didn’t take into consideration the fact that during the rain everything slows down and the road takes not 30 but 50 minutes, gets slippery and you have to cross six rivers, some of them reach up to your waist. Unfortunately, we had to turn around without seeing the waterfalls (we only heard them, they were very close, but the time was limited because of the flight). My lesson learned from this most hardcore trip: wear stable shoes, flip-flops or sandals is a no go. Change to bikini before the trip. Get a stick and don’t forget your water-proof bag!
Our El Nido story has a happy end: we came back in time, returned the scooter and timely took a tricycle to the airport to say buy to the singing girls (do you still remember?) and to this incredible island. And something tells me that this wasn’t our last trip to Palawan.