Wish I could say its good to be back home, but this cold London weather is just a massive downer! Having returned from the long awaited trip to the Philippines, I am already starting to plan my next escape to the paradise that is El Nido. You’d better grab a hot beverage and get comfortable as this is going to be a long read. Hope you enjoy! Oh, and do click on the pictures to view them larger. You’ll thank me later.
Getting to the Philippines
Flying out from London, you have a number of options in terms of routes to the Philippines, both direct and with connecting flights. The bigger airlines, such as KLM, Air France and Cathay Pacific choose to use their homes – Schipol, Charles de Gaulle and Hong Kong respectively – for connecting, whereas the Philippine national carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), have recently reopened their direct Manila – London route.
When planning my trip, I figured I would not enjoy a direct 15 hour flight and chose to fly with Emirates, with a three hour stopover in Dubai. This turned out to be an excellent plan. Being almost half way through my journey, it allowed me to stretch my legs and enjoy the many amenities Dubai International has to offer.
Having arrived in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, getting through immigration and customs was a breeze. Getting out of the airport, though, took a bit longer, even with the late night traffic.
A word of advice: make sure you have plenty of time when travelling around Manila, especially if you’re due to catch a flight. The city has recently been voted as having the worst traffic in the world. A simple, unexpected fender bender along your route could add hours to your journey.
El Nido, Palawan
The Philippine island of Palawan has been voted the best island in the world by Condé Nast Traveler readers two years in a row. Trust me, this is no fluke. It is absolutely gorgeous!
El Nido is a small town in the northern part of Palawan. To get there, you have two viable options:
- flying to Puerto Princesa International (PPS) and taking a six hour coach (van) transfer to El Nido or
- taking a direct, one hour flight from Manila to El Nido’s Lio Airport (ENI).
My friend and I chose the latter. The round trip costs around P10,900 (GBP 150 / USD 230 / EUR 210) per person. Island Transvoyager, Inc. (ITI), now operating as AirSWIFT, is the only airline currently allowed to operate the Manila – El Nido or Cebu – El Nido routes. Book your tickets directly with the airline – you won’t find them on Kayak or Expedia. When booking your accommodation in El Nido, your hotel will usually be happy to assist with the flights as well.
The town proper is very small, but offers a variety of bars and restaurants (many of them right on the beach) for you to enjoy. Everything has a local feel to it, with no chain shops or restaurants in sight. Very refreshing!
At this point, I would like to address two misconceptions other blogs and websites have highlighted:
- as of Oct 2015, there IS an ATM in El Nido, so you don’t need to worry about running out of cash
- as of Nov 2014, there IS electricity around the clock in El Nido town. This used to be only available between 2 pm and 6 am.
Accommodation in El Nido
There are already plenty of hotels, hostels, guesthouses and resorts in El Nido for you to choose from. Depending on your budget, you can choose a room in the town proper from as little as P500 (GBP 7 / USD 15) per night, or go for the luxury resort experience on a private island at P22,000 (GBP 300 / USD 465) per night, or something in between.
As mentioned in a previous post, we booked our seven night stay with El Nido Cove Resort, a four star resort approx. 10 km north of the town proper, 4 km from El Nido Airport. A tricycle ride to town takes about 25 minutes and costs PHP 200 per way.
The resort’s staff were very friendly, offering a choice of activities at the resort such as kayaking, or the many island hopping tours. With only about a dozen rooms, the resort was tranquility central even when fully booked. As this was not peak season, there were only a few guests for the majority of our stay. It was absolute bliss. You had the well maintained pool all to yourself.
The rooms were very clean and equipped with powerful air conditioning units. There were no TVs in the rooms (pending installation of the antenna cable) which was actually a good thing. It forced us to spend our precious time outside. Also, there was no Wi-Fi available in the rooms, only in the Lobby area and the Terrace. A minor inconvenience, which will most likely soon be addressed.
According to the staff, El Nido Cove have big plans for the future. They are preparing a massive expansion in the next 12 months. An additional 200 (!) rooms will be added. I hope they will be able to maintain the level of service and personal touch with over ten times the current capacity. (Special thanks to Richelle (?) and the rest of the staff for taking such good care of us!)
Things to do in El Nido
Snorkelling and island hopping tours are by far the most popular activities in El Nido. With crystal clear waters and a number of small islands scattered around northern Palawan, this is absolutely the thing to do. There are four different island tours, A though D, all visiting different islands, hidden-away beaches and the best snorkelling spots.
My friend and I chose ‘Tour C’. This six-hour tour took us around four beautiful spots: the Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, the Secret Beach and Helicopter Island. At a very affordable price of P1,400 (GBP 20 / USD 30), the tour comes with a delicious lunch prepared by the tour guides, snorkelling gear and a day you’ll never forget.
Please note: The (P200 per person, payable with all Tours) Eco-Tourism Development Fee was established in 2008 in an attempt to fund the expenses of environmental maintenance and protection. The Fee is also used to develop environmental protection projects which aim to limit the impact of tourism on the environment.
Here are a few tips for your consideration when going on one of these tours:
- Bring plenty of sunscreen. You’ll need to reapply it every chance you get. Trust me and my crispy, burnt legs on this.
- You will get wet so dress accordingly. Many of the stops will require you to swim to shore. If you are a non-swimmer, the tour guides will literally drag your floating a** to shore. Good thing too – you wouldn’t want to miss the breathtaking scenery.
- Bring a dry bag or at the very least a sealable plastic bag for your valuables. You’d hate to lose your iPhone or worse, your DSLR, into the blue waters (has been known to happen a lot).
An alternative to the island hopping tours is Tour E, an inland tour covering the breathtaking beaches of Nacpan and Calitang as well as the Nagkalit-Kalit Falls and Makinit Hotsprings.
Instead of a full-blown tour, we decided to just head out to Nacpan Beach for a few hours. This was a good 30 minute tricycle ride away from the resort. Past lush rice fields, at the end of a rough dirt road lies an absolutely stunning beach that stretches on forever:
You could also rent a scooter or a motorbike from El Nido town and drive up to Nacpan Beach for the day. At the beach you will find a small restaurant and a stall selling drinks (e.g. a can of Coke was P50 / £0.70 / $1.10) and snacks. Make sure you leave nothing behind and use the bins provided to discard your trash!
Finally, my top reasons to visit El Nido right now
I must stress the urgency here. There is a lot of development going on in El Nido and I fear, unless the local authorities take extra care, this gorgeous, unspoilt paradise will turn into a trash-riddled, overpriced tourist trap. Go now, before it’s too late!
- The true “away from everything” experience
- Many islands to explore, all with pristine beaches
- Not (yet) overcrowded with tourists
- Very affordable accommodation and dining.
So what are you waiting for? Go. Now.
PS. Let me know if you have any questions or would like further recommendations for travel to the Philippines.