When I decided to move back home (to the Philippines), one of the places that I told myself to visit is Palawan. I saw photos from numerous travel bloggers around the world of showcasing the paradise- like islands of El Nido, Coron and Puerto Princesa, and I immediately told myself, I need to go there SOON!! Surely no one will argue why Conde Nast Traveler hailed it as one of the Best Islands In The World. With it’s turquoise waters, white sand beaches and towering limestone formations, it is a wonder waiting to be wandered.
There are a lot of cool places to stay in Palawan, but when I got the invitation by Ocean Vista Inn and Sealand Venture to explore El Nido, I didn’t hesitate and said YES I AM COMING right away. I booked a flight via Air Asia, flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa and my El Nido adventure was about to start.
It will only take an hour to fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa, but you need to take a van and travel for another 6 hours from Puerto Princesa Airport to the main town of El Nido. Our hotel (Ocean Vista Inn) planned a pick up for us, which connected us to an official transport van that drove us to El Nido.
We were so happy to land on a very sunny Puerto Princesa. You see, the night before our flight, it was raining hard in Manila and the forecast in Palawan was cloudy and heavy chance of rain. The bloggers ( Dada (http://pointandshootwanderlust.com/ and http://vienesloveslife.com/) I was traveling with and I were asked by the tour organizer (5 hours before our flight) if we still want to continue the trip or move it to another day, as most of the tours during the past few days were cancelled. Knowing the risk and thinking that we might regret our decision, still, we all voted to continue our planned trip.
In between the butt-flattening, 6-hour road trip, we stopped to get some breakfast and also the needed pee break. To be honest, this long drive ain’t very exciting. Good thing, I was still geared with the anticipation of the beautiful view of the El Nido beaches I’ve seen from Instagram.
We arrived at El Nido and I was amazed that it is already a proper town complete with a functioning ATM (yey we have food money!). On board a tricycle, we safely reached our hotel.
We stayed at Ocean Vista Inn, which is located along the main beach. It isn’t really a beachfront hotel as I was told initially because there is a vacant property in front of it, but the draw of the hotel is its easy access to the tour boats and also a stunning view of the ocean if you are staying on the second floor (I stayed on the ground floor —- I didn’t mind though).
For our first night, we decided to head down the main beach and look at some of the attractions around. The main beach in El Nido was a bit disappointing (yheap, I do hate saying this). It isn’t the crystal clear water that I was expecting, plus you can see boats everywhere, then combine it with tons of people crowding around. I guess this is the effect of tourism. When I told this to my travel blogger friends, their reply was, wait till you get to the islands. We will be island hopping from day 2 till day 4, and I CANT WAIT! Can it be tomorrow already? We ended the day with a slice of pizza from Tratoria Altrove (apparently very famous to tourists) —- and a very cloudy evening.
WAIT TILL YOU GET TO THE ISLANDS. These words kept on repeating in my head. Upon waking up, I saw a cloudy El Nido. While having breakfast, we were advised that only island Tour D was allowed because of the strong wind and big waves.
In El Nido, island tours are grouped in several clusters. They are called, Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D. The famous ones are Tours A and C and the least visited one is D. They were grouped as such because of their location. Tour C covers the farther islands while Tour D are the closer ones, which is the reason why on a strong current days, Tour D is a good/only option. In some cases, when all island tours are not allowed, in-land travel is the only option (this will be covered on another blog).
LET’S TRAVEL THE ISLANDS
From this point, I thought of ranking the island we visited 1-5 shells (5 being my super favorite).
Note: If I didn’t mention a specific island that was supposed to be part of the tour package, it only means that we were not able to visit it due to the weather condition and time constraint.
We sailed on (I am not sure if sailing is the correct term….but yeah I am sticking to it) to our first island hopping adventure. Tour D is known as the lesser popular island tour, to be honest at this point, I didn’t care, I am just glad that with the weather that we have we were even allowed to go out to the ocean. Note that, the days before our arrival, all island tours were cancelled and only land tours were allowed due to the weather condition – so YEY for Tour D.
Tour D covers the islands closer to the main beach (port) compared to the other tours. Our first stop was the Cadlao Lagoon. To put this into perspective, this was my introduction to the lagoons of Palawan. It looks like a small fjord, where, instead of mountains, you are surrounded by huge limestone formations.
Because this was the only tour allowed, the lagoon became an instant boat docking area. It was jam-packed! To be fair, the view was still jaw dropping. I remember saying to my friend, if this is considered a not-popular spot, I can’t wait to see the popular ones. After this thought, we jumped and started snorkeling around. – SCORE: 3 SHELLS
Our next stop, which was also our lunch stop, is called the Paradise Beach. It is still part of the Cadlao Island (this island is considered as one of the biggest islands in El Nido). From a far, the long stretch of the shoreline looks very promising. With the same situation as the Cadlao Lagoon, most of the tour groups were also there to have their lunch (expect a crowded beach). When we stepped on the white sand beach, I instantly saw plastic bottles lying around the beach. It was a sad and disappointing site. I started questioning why is this allowed? And people lounge around like there was no trash surrounding them. Our guide explained that, Paradise Beach is a private beach, and everyday there are caretakers collecting the trash, but because of its location, the beach serves as a filter of trash floating from other islands, including the main land. So, although it was cleaned in the morning, trash will start to show up midday.
Setting aside our trash situation, our lunch was served fresh from our boat to the beach. It was literally grilled and cooked on the boat. We were served with fresh fruits, grilled pork, fish and stewed mussels in boodle fight style (yheap, to be eaten with our bare hands). – SCORE: 2 SHELLS
After lunch, we head on to explore other more islands, but because of the strong waves, we were not successful to dock.
Our last stop was the Bucal Beach where we dove and snorkeled. Aside from that, we also saw an ice cream vendor on a boat (yey for Selecta!). Having an ice cream on our boat with the view of the island seemed very natural hahaha. I can surely live like this. We didn’t really get on the beach, we just docked a few meters away where it is safe enough to dive and swim. – SCORE: 3 SHELLS
Woke up, jumped out of my bed and look outside the window. SUNNY!!!! I was happy to see that there were a few (white) clouds in sight. I went straight for breakfast and asked around if what tour was available for the day.
We were told that all tours are available! EUREEEEKA!! Because, we were not sure that for the next day we will have the same weather, we opted to go for the “BEST”. It was a toss between Tours A and C—–Tour C won the vote. YEY.
After yesterday’s tour, I have a very high expectation on what we will be experiencing for the day. With a new crew and a bigger boat, off we went and found ourselves looking at our first stop. HELICOPTER ISLAND.
Helicopter Island is probably the most recognizable island in El Nido because of its unique shape. You guessed it right, like a helicopter! Well, some people say it looks more like a whale ( I am one of them). I think, if I am not mistaken, in all tours, you will pass around this island, making it the icon it is now (you can even see it from the Marimegmeg beach).
We were the first tour group who docked in the island. It felt as if we own it and became our playground for the day! We started to go crazy over the clear waters and pristine white sand. – SCORE: 4 SHELLS (oh yeah!)
Our next stop is a place called the Hidden Beach. It is sort of a lagoon but with a proper beach for you to walk on to. The water in most parts are just chest high so it is fairly easy to swim around. We had a good enough time to experience the beach and snorkel. Because the water is shallow and the bottom is covered with white sand, the whole stretch of the hidden beach is covered with clear transparent water, you can even see the fish even if you are just standing. – SCORE: 3.75 SHELLS
Our lunch stop for the day was at the Talisay Beach. Compared to the Paradise Beach, this is a very intimate lunch. We have our own small pocket of sand to be our picnic spot.
It is also a good place to snorkel and swim around. For those who are tired of swimming, there is a small recessed area under the limestone, which can provide an ample amount of shade to sleep under. I did both haha (sign of old age) – SCORE: 3.5 SHELLS
We were supposed to go to a place called the Secret Beach, but because of the strong waves, it was impossible to us to make our way through the said spot. So for our last stop, we went directly to the Matinloc Shrine. An abandoned shrine, which is also called as the Shrine of Our Lady Matinloc. From a far, when we first passed by the island, the view of the abandoned building on an island can give shivers to almost anyone (I had). We paid 100 php in order for us to access the shrine and go up the steps to have a view of the Tapiutan Straight from a high vantage point.
As we explored the abandoned shrine, I can imagine how grandeur the place looked like when it was first constructed. This is a prime spot, island property at its best. Now being abandoned (but still privately owned), it does give a bit of a creepy vibe for those who ever glance at it.—- oh the imagination, how you are playing at me right now!
The main attraction here is the step going to the top of the limestone which will give you a good view of the whole Matinloc Island and also the Tapiutan Strait. The view was breathtaking. Good thing there are already clear steps built along the path. However, the place is still surrounded with sharp edged lime formations so 100% precaution is needed. One mistake and you already know what’s next.
We also got to snorkel around near the pantoon and saw some clown fish just near the shore. – SCORE: 3.5 SHELLS.
So we ended day 3 on a high and 2 island tours done already! Hoping that the next day, we will have another clear and beautiful weather.
With another beautiful weather, Tour A became our choice for our last day of island hopping. There’s always a debate between tours A and C on which is the best island tour to get if you only have one day in El Nido. I’ll say, let’s keep it a draw (although I have my recommendation at the end of this blog).
Our first stop was the Seven Commandos Beach. It was named after the Japanese soldiers that got stranded in the island. This is still part of the main island of El Nido but can only be accessed by boats (as far as I know there are still no road networks from the mainland to this beach).
Among the beaches we’ve been to, this is the most developed one. Complete with nipa hut cottages and a refreshment station. You can even hop on a swing and take the plunge (owned by a local, I thought it was free but after swinging I was asked for a tip…^^). – SCORE: 3 SHELLS
One of the highlights of a tour around El Nido, and I think the most famous stop is the Big Lagoon. If you Google El Nido, most likely 70% of the images are from the Big Lagoon. This is also the spot featured in the movie Borne Identity.
The water in the lagoon is a mix of salt and fresh water, making the color deep aqua blue. Although I was tempted to jump, we were advised not to swim, as it is not allowed ( I am not sure why, I think because it is deep and the under current is strong?). You can however, hop on a kayak and paddle your way around the lagoon.
We entered the lagoon on a perfect time. Again, we were the only ones there. I moved my way at the tip of the both (cliché as it may sound, but this is recommendable) It felt as if everything turned into a slow-motion movie. The view was jaw dropping. I know , after 2 days of hopping from one island to another, we’ve been to numerous almost-similar-landscape, but there is something about this lagoon that felt so peaceful.
Peace and quiet broke though when the people on our boat started pushing people (me) aside just to take a (sort –of) artsy photo at the tip of the boat. –SCORE: 5 SHELLS
Shimizu Beach became our choice island for our lunch stop. Although we arrived first, it wasn’t that long when 2 other boats docked and set-up their lunch buffet. If I haven’t been to the Talisay beach the other day (for lunch), I can say that this one is a good place to rest and have a picnic by the beach, but all I can think of was our peaceful secluded lunch stop yesterday. Although you can also snorkel and swim around, the boats passing by and docking made it dangerous. If you really want to swim, the best option is to stay away from the shore and enjoy the view of the beautiful underwater life a few meters from the beach, although on a strong current days, you can easily find yourself near the open waters and can be a priority meal for sharks—-ok just kidding, there are not sharks here, but I guess you got the idea right? -SCORE: 3 SHELLS
Last and probably the best way to end our island hopping spree was a visit to the small lagoon. The small lagoon is known as the ideal kayak spot in all of the islands in El Nido. The moment our boat reached the (invisible) perimeter of the lagoon, we were welcomed by several kayak operators offering the best kayak deals. Because we came here to kayak, we decided to rent one and split the cost between 2 of my blogger friends. A kayak costs 300 php for rental (not really sure if this is per hour but we surely used it more than that).
The kayak we rented can fit 3 people but ideally has a comfortable capacity for 2. We paddled our way from our boat to the small lagoon…left..right..paddle (repeat). The entry point of the lagoon is a small arch opening from the surrounding limestone. There was a bit of a line entering the arch, caused by all the kayaks trying to make their way (and you need to maneuver perfectly in order to get inside—believe it or not, not everyone is a master in kayak paddling). Inside the lagoon, you will feel that you just entered a theater. BEAUTIFUL!! I can imagine a concert happening here soon. Like the Big Lagoon, everything started to move in slow motion. People laughing, people chatting, people paddling, everything in such slow paces.
Aside from kayaking, I had a chance to try to stand up paddle as our boat guide, borrowed the only stand up paddle board in the lagoon (at that time) and he was kind enough to lend it to me. It was my first time to stand up paddle (SUP) and the first few tries, I really had a hard time balancing. Let’s say, I became the attraction inside the lagoon (fell several times and in a not- so-glamorous way). I didn’t mind though, cause the water was refreshing (also a mix of fresh and salt water — making it a bit harder to float though). Once I mastered the art of SUP, I felt like the president of the small lagoon, towering everyone around me. Haha. I paddled my way back to our boat and now being solo on the board made me appreciate my surrounding more. – SCORE: 5 SHELLS
SOME TIPS WHEN TRAVELING TO EL NIDO
Tour A was done and it was also our indication that our island tours were over. The past 3 days of island hopping were amazing but at the same time tiring. In my opinion if you are planning to explore El Nido, it should be done in a long span of time (maybe a week or weeks). If you have a chance, don’t cramp it in 3 or 4 days. Try to give at least 1 day break in between tours. There was a time when I wasn’t paying attention anymore as the scene can become repetitive, good thing, tours C and A offer something exciting and new.
If you ask me, which tour should you try if you only have 1 day to explore the islands, I’ll go with TOUR A. As it offers you more jaw dropping views and a wider range of activities in and under water. However, there is an option to hire a private boat and choose your own island stops. I can say that, choose from my 3.75 to 5 shell score haha.
To prepare, the important things to bring are the following: Aside from your beach ootds, camera, and money of course, you should also keep in mind to pack:
Sunblock as you will be under the sun not only on the beach but also during your boat ride.
Dry Bag – you will be wet all the time and on a boat that will surely have splashes of water inside. A lot of people regretted not getting this and ended up having their gadgets wet. So spare yourself some extra expenses and bring a dry bag.
Underwater Camera/Action Cam – I always have my Go Pro with me. I still have a Go Pro 3+ and I am happy with it. You’ll definitely have a lot of underwater adventures and for sure you want to capture some it right? J
No Umbrella Please! PLEASE! (unless your doctor says so). But please, don’t be afraid to get tanned up. PLEASE.
El Nido didn’t disappoint. Even with a bad weather, it is still a beautiful sight. But do yourself a favor, plan your trip on a beautiful sunny weather. No wonder it is considered as one of the world’s best islands. As someone who experienced it already, one can just hope that the government will do the necessary measures on how this important resource can be protected. We don’t want it to be the next B____cay. ^^
As mentioned at the begining, we also explored the mainland. It offers beautiful stretch beaches and a trek to one of El Nido’s famous waterfalls. I will be blogging about it soon. Watch out for it. ^^
TO KNOW MORE ON HOW YOU CAN CONTACT
OCEAN VISTA INN AND SEALAND VENTURE
CHECK OUT THE LINKS BELOW:
Ocean Vista Inn & Sealand Ventures
Address: Serena st. Brgy. Buena Suerte Zone II, El Nido Palawan 5313
Contact Numbers: 0906-4674944 / 0919-6088077