El Nido, Palawan: Twice The Charm The Second Time Around

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El Nido, Palawan

With the abudnance of accolades received by Palawan, including being voted as the best island in the world, there is no wonder why many people are suddenly including it on their bucket lists. Palawan, however, is huge and finding a specific place that tickles your pickle can be a hard feat. With plenteous stops to choose from when traveling in this world-class destination, one that truly stands out from the rest is El Nido.

When I first visited El Nido in June 2013, it was love at first sight, island romance at its best. I easily forgot how I loved every other local destinations I have visited. From the moment I left, I eagerly planned my return. It took quite a while, but when I came back in November 2014, it was the same feeling – trapped in a special kind of exhilaration that is hard to explain. This place has a unique character, making it an easy choice when asked by other people about the best place to visit in the Philippines.

Because I loved El Nido so much, I am sharing with you our experience during our 5-day trip. We stayed at Entalula Beach Cottages and booked all of our tours from Discover El Nido.

Entalula Beach Cottages

We booked a room for 2,500 per night good for three persons. The room was small and it has a veranda. It is by the beach, which gives you a good view of Bacuit Bay. The booking also came with a free breakfast. If you are a heavy eater, you might want to consider eating outside as their breakfast comes in really small servings.

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A bad shot of Entalula. Forgot to take pics of the room. 😦

Nacpan Twin Beach

During my first time in El Nido, we failed to visit Nacpan Twin Beach because of the bad weather. When I came back, I made sure it is going to be part of our itinerary. We rented a van and paid 800 per head to take us to Nacpan, which is about half an hour away from the town proper. There, we were greeted with an almost empty beach. We walked towards a hill to snap a commanding shot of the beach.

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Priceless view of Nacpan Twin Beach

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From the other side

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El Nido Crew

Marimegmeg Beach

After spending a few hours in Nacpan and swimming with the playful waves, we headed to Marimegmeg Beach. This is where we tried their zip line and watched sunset. There are a couple of accommodations here but more expensive than the ones you’ll see from the town proper.

Scenic zip line. 500 pesos one-way. Once you reach the other end, you can walk going to Marimegmeg Beach,

Scenic zip line. 500 pesos one-way. Once you reach the other end, you can walk going to Marimegmeg Beach,

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

Tour A

If you ask anyone who has ever been to El Nido or even the tour operators, this is going to be one of the most highly recommended activities. The regular price of this package is 1,200 pesos per head. Since I have already booked with Discover El Nido before, they gave me a discount and we had it for only 1,000 pesos. Renting a kayak is also ideal for this tour. We did so and paid 700 for one kayak for the whole day.

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For this tour, we visited the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commandos Beach. We used the kayak we rented to enter the Small Lagoon. You can ditch it if you know how to swim and if you have the energy to do so. For the Big Lagoon, all you can do is take pictures and there is no swimming.  We also entered the Secret Lagoon, which can be reached upon entering a small hole. We had lunch at Shimizu Island and went kayaking around the area. Our last stop was Shimizu Island where we had ice cold bottles of beer to end the tour for that day.

 

Tour C

This is another activity that should not be missed when you are in El Nido. Instead of the normal 1,400 pesos for this tour, we paid 1,200 only from Discover E Nido. Again, this is because I have already booked with them before. Our first stop is the Matinloc Shrine, an abandoned shrine where you can have a picturesque view upon climbing a rock. We also visited Hidden Beach and Secret Beach, both were nothing but amazing. The last time I was in El Nido, we were not able to enter the Secret Beach because of the high tide. In this trip, we are lucky enough to finally be able to enter the lagoon. It is a bit of a challenge especially for non-swimmers since you need to enter a small hole first. We had lunch at Star Beach, where the boatmen once again showcased their plating skills through the sumptuous meal they prepared for us. The tour ended with a visit to Helicopter Island. During my last trip, we did snorkeling here. This trip, I was too tired and did not eve entertain the idea of wearing my snorkeling gear.

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El Nido, Palawan

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I first set foot in Palawan January 1st of this year, in which I stayed in Puerto Princesa. After a couple of days in the city, we have conceived the idea of visiting El Nido, which has been considered by many as the best beach in the country. Unfortunately, having constrained schedule and bad weather cancelled what would have been a trip to paradise.

A couple of months after, the trip to El Nido was finally made possible. It was around the second week of May when we booked for a June 15 – 19 flight. It was supposed to be a trip to Siargao, but we made some changes a couple of weeks before. Although I was initially excited for Siargao, which was supposed to be my first time anywhere in Mindanao, the thought of finally being able to see El Nido made me more excited. For this trip, I went with Madel, my girlfriend, and Brian, a friend we met during the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival last March. It was Brian’s first time to see the Philippines during the said festival and he liked it a lot, which made him decide to come back.

Accommodations at El Nido

You will have numerous choices when it comes to where to stay in this holiday destination. In our case, we chose not to make any bookings beforehand. When we got there, while looking for a place to stay, we received a call from Brian, informing as that we can share the room with him. For the first night, we paid Php900 for a room for three. It would have been a good deal, except for the leak on the roof.

On the next day, we looked for another place to stay and landed at Rico’s Cottages. Here, one night costs Php1,700 for a room good for three. The room was nice, although it does not have A/C. It has a terrace that overlooks the beautiful Bacuit Bay. This is a better deal that the former.

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From the terrace at Rico’s

After spending a night at Rico’s, we transferred to Ric Son’s. The room we had was Php1,700, which includes breakfast. The room has three large beds good for six, although there were only three of us. It has A/C, TV, and hot water. Another good deal!  It can get dark in the morning, when electricity runs out. Most of the time, however, they have the generator to provide convenience to their guests. Note that electricity in El Nido runs only from 2pm to 6am.

Getting Stuffed

Staying at the town proper, like in any other places, offers the benefit of being near numerous choices when you feel like getting stuffed. We tried a lot of restaurants along Bacuit Bay and loved most of them. If you like Italian food, Trattoria Altrov’e and Sei Nazioni are worth visiting. Both of these offer good ambiance and good food, although I personally prefer Altrov’e.

For breakfast, we ate twice at Ric Son’s, since our stay comes with complimentary breakfast. If only it was not free, I would have not had my second meal in that place. I cannot complain, however, since it is for free. We also tried La Chupetta, where I had their giant burger. It was only Php150, making it cheap considering its size. When it comes to taste, however, it is nowhere near being worth the price. The best place to eat breakfast would be at The Alternative. It is an inn with a restaurant that is beautifully set by the bay. The price of the food may be too expensive, making you spend PHP280 for a meal. Having al fresco breakfast in one of the spots that resemble a nest would be a good experience.

El Nido Boutique and Art Café is another dining establishment that is worth visiting. Like The Alternative, it offers a good view of the Bacuit Bay and limestone fronting the shore. They have good food, although not necessarily the best that you can have. It is also a good spot to have drinks with your friends, especially with the good live music playing on the background.

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Best spot to eat at The Alternative

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Tapsilog from The Alternative

We also had the chance to try Sea Slugs, which was one of the highly-rated restaurants in E Nido. While there were many who raved about their food, I found nothing exceptional about such. Maybe, it was just the wrong choice of food. Nonetheless, it is a good place still, which will allow you to enjoy reggae music from their live band.

Lagoons, Beaches, and Secrets

For our five-day trip to El Nido, one whole day was spent for Tour A and another day for Tour C, both of which were promising in terms of the experience they offer.

Tour A commenced with a visit of two of the famous lagoons of El Nido: the Small Lagoon and the Big Lagoon. Both of these lagoons offer extraordinary sight, picturesque at the most. The Small Lagoon requires effortful treading for those who do not know how to swim like me. At the Big Lagoon, on the other hand, there is no need to swim. It is just a running tour, giving you more than enough time to take pictures of the surrounding limestone and clear waters while aboard the outrigger boat.

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Big Lagoon

The next part of the tour is the Shimizu Island, where lunch is served. This is one of the best parts of the tour, especially because of the plating skills of our boatman who also acts as the chef for our group. Right after lunch, we went ahead and stopped by one of the snorkeling spots. We had the chance to swim with some fishes and enjoyed the crystal-clear water.

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Lunch at Shimizu Island

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Shimizu Island

One of my most awaited spots for this tour is the Secret Lagoon, where we proceed after few minutes of snorkeling. To get inside the lagoon, you need to pass through a small hole. You need to observe extra caution since the waves are big, the hole is small, and you might get scraped if you slipped.

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Entrance to the Secret Lagoon

The last part of the tour is the Seven Commandos. We were excited for this because we were informed that they have a small bar at the beach. By the time we got there, we had some beer. Instead of swimming, we just stayed by the shore and enjoyed our drinks.

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Seven Commandos

We were supposed to do Tour C on the next day, but the bad weather made it impossible. This made us do the said tour the day after. Although the weather was fine by the time we did the tour, the wind and water were still kind of crazy, which did not allow us to go to the Secret Beach. This is the most talked-about part of Tour C, which, unfortunately, we did not have the chance to see. Instead, we went to Cadlao Lagoon as a replacement to the latter.

The Hidden Beach is one of the destinations for this tour. To get inside the beach, you will generally have two options. First, you can swim around the surrounding rock formations. Second, you can enter the small hole. We chose to enter the small hole, just for the sake of experiencing such, which is also supposed to be the same thing that you will do to enter the Secret Beach.

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Heading to Hidden Beach

We had lunch at Star Beach. Like in the case of Tour A, the plating skill of our boatman was also impressive. It was raining by the time we had lunch, which made it impossible for us to swim and explore what the water has to offer.

The next stop for the tour is the Matinloc Shrine. This is an abandoned religious site, with stories that will make you wonder if it has been made to the sake of promoting religion, or for the purpose of sustaining a corporate affair. At one part of the tour, we needed to climb a steep rock and by the time we reached the top, we were greeted with an exceptional view of the surroundings.

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Matinloc

The best spot for this tour would be the Helicopter Island, which was named that way because of the way it looks like. We braved the stubborn waves to see what lies beneath the water. It offers a good site for snorkeling, unlike other places we’ve been during the trip, wherein most of the corals were dead. For someone who does not know how to swim like me, this is another challenge that is worth the struggle.

To make island hopping more fun, I suggest that you look for a cooler and fill it with ice and cans of beer. It’s only at Seven Commandos where there is a bar. Bring a lot and share it with the people you will meet on the boat.

On Drinking and Meeting Other People

El Nido is no Boracay when it comes to nightlife, but almost the same as Puerto Galera. You’ll find a couple of places along the beach with reggae music playing, which is the most common amongst all the places we’ve visited. Some of the places that you should check out are Sea Slugs and Pukka Bar. If you want to meet locals, head to Asylum. Careful, however. I heard from people I met in El Nido that this place turns out to be kinda like a whore-house some days. When we went there, it was revved up with loud music and there was a mix of local and foreign crow being wild on the floor. I did not like this place. Apart from being crowded, people were really weird and I just cannot figure out what was going that time.

One night, Brian and I were drinking at Pukka. We then saw Alonso, who used to stay next to our cottage. We joined him for a bottle. After minutes of chatting, we ended up with a group of other foreign people, 10 maybe. We went drinking til almost morning by the shore of Bacuit Bay. One time, I was drinking alone at Pukka. When it started raining, we all had to go inside so that we will not be wet. Since it got crowded, it became easier to make friends. There, I drank with a couple of other people. Some of them we met during our few days stay, and some I met for the first time. It was really nice making new friends, people you’ll be drinking with only for a night and you do not care whether or not you’ll see them the next day.

While El Nido is not replete in terms of nightlife destinations, it is still satisfying. It has that laid-back kind of nights that will not send you sleeping the whole day, giving you more time to explore what it has to offer.

Expenses 

This is one of the holidays that I enjoyed without spending too much. For the entire 5 days, it would be safe to say that I spent about 12,000, which was mostly on food and beer. El Nido, after all, is not an expensive destination, unless of course you will choose to stay on one of their well-known high-end resorts. They have hostels along Bacuit Bay and a wide array of other choices when it comes to cheap accommodations.

P.S.: Sorry for the lack of pictures. We did not have the camera most of the time.