Arguably the most beautiful island of the Philippines is the north western paradise of Palawan, in particular, the little town of El Nido. Although there is a trend throughout the Philippines of clear water, beautiful beaches and epic sunsets. El Nido and its surrounding areas take it to a new level. Initially planning to stay 4 nights I extended that to 8 for all the reasons below… El Nido is a must do.
Getting to El Nido can be done a couple of ways and it all depends on your budget and how you would like to go about it. Firstly, you can catch a flight from wherever you are to Port of Princessa which is the main city in Palawan. From there you will need to get a bus or some form of overland transport to El Nido itself. Buses are only a few hundred pesos and will take 3-5 hours dependant on traffic and usual S.E.A circumstances. Another way you can do it is fly direct (a more expensive but time-saving option)
Flying into El Nido
Not many people know about this as it’s only one plane company that does it. Air Swift, their website and the entire process are quite a mystery. The website is Filipino and operates in peso which can be an issue if you are booking the flights outside of your home country. If booking with your credit or debit card some banks tend to put a block on certain transactions as it’s a foreign website. Keep this in mind. If you have this problem use your travel card and if you don’t have one you may have to email them. Otherwise you can use PayPal, or got to a local travel agency which will include the typical commission, but well worth it in my opinion.
Now, this option may seem like a hassle but trust me… it’s well worth it. When you arrive at the airport to depart you get a complimentary snack and drink. I would have to say it was some of the best airline food I have ever had. The staff are extra friendly and everywhere you seem to go there is a red carpet laid out for you literally.
The plane itself is a small propeller plane but very new and clean. The flight itself to El Nido is short only 1 hour from Cebu but it’s an amazing flight. You are flying over all the beautiful Filipino islands. When you land in El Nido itself you land basically on the beach. As you walk into the airport you are greeted with singing locals which remind me of the Cook Islands. Now you are in the heart of El Nido and you don’t have to worry about a 5-hour bus ride. Just grab a tricycle for a 5 minute ride to the main town area.
Heading north of the township for about an hour you will find a series of 3 waterfalls. Before I get into the waterfalls let me put a little emphasis on the drive. You have the entire road to yourself, going through farmland, local villages and climbing over mountains. For parts of it, you can see no form of civilization as far as the eye can see. It’s a truly awesome feeling and one of the reasons why I travel for moments like this.
The waterfalls itself consists of 3 tiers. All of which are walking distance and again very exclusive. As you walk up their all slightly similar but the best pool for swimming is by far the top one. You can access the first 2 by yourself but need a guide to reach the 3rd. We simply paid a couple of local boys 100 pesos, they took us up and left us to it. The walk is a steep but not difficult, just a little plug for the local community which is fine. A lot of work has gone into the steps etc.
Dolli is a hidden gem, less ‘discovered’ than Naccapan but no less beautiful. The drive is more like an hour from the township of El Nido. Some navigation down a few dirt roads is required to get there. The beach is so secluded that you are literally sharing the beach with a few other people and at times have the entire beach to yourself. The sand is slightly more golden as opposed to the white beaches of Naccapan. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. If you want to put in an extra half hour drive you can have an entire beach to yourself.
Naccapan is rated among one of the world’s best beaches. It doesn’t take long to figure out why! The best way to get there is by far going into downtown El Nido and hiring a scooter or motorbike. Motorbikes are a tad more expensive compared to scooters. You can pick a scooter up for the day for around 400 pesos and a motorbike maybe 600 pesos. If you are not competent then you can also get a bicycle. The ride will take you around half an hour from the main town.
The long white sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see, lined with palm trees. The beach is not overpopulated and easy enough to find your own space. This would also have to be one of the most pleasant beaches for swimming. There is next to zero waves and a completely sandy bottom. Definitely a welcome change from dodging sea urchins in other areas.
Accommodation is everywhere, it all depends on your needs and wants. You can stay at world class resorts overlooking the beachfront right down to budget hostels. You can stay in the town or out of town, depending on your preference. I found a hostel about 2 km out of town and honestly one of the best and fun hostels I have stayed at to date.
Outpost is located right on the beach and offers clean air-conditioned rooms, epic bathroom facilities and a backpacker vibe like no other. Slightly more expensive than other hostels around but the experience certainly makes up for it. Every night you get to witness the most beautiful sunset with a complimentary shot and the night stems from there.
Apart from the facilities and vibe they provide. They also have a fully functioning kitchen with epic food (food is not the Philippines strong point). So this was a very welcoming sight. They also run their own boat tours. This is the best option by far in my opinion even if you are not staying at Outpost. The boat is full of backpackers in your demographic and on your vibe. It also avoids all the other tours and takes you to places when you can have an experience all to yourself.
Boat tours are a must do when in El Nido, taking you from island to island, lagoon to lagoon. Honestly the best way to experience the scenery that draws people to El Nido. Massive limestone cliffs scaling out of the water, clear blue water and beaches as far as the eye can see. On the tour, you get complimentary lunch, rum and good times. You hop around from island to island, park up, swim, play games, and have some decent food that Outpost put on.
El Nido is hands down one of my top 5 places I have been in the world. If the above doesn’t get you pumped to visit I’m not sure what will. Put it on your list now and get there. The Philippines is still a slightly untraveled destination as oppose to the rest of SEA. Get in before the tourists descend because they will. This was my last place in the Philippines, on to the next yeeow!