April 6, 2015

El Nido, Palawan: A Quick Guide to Paradise

There is nothing more homey than a town like El Nido and its heartwarming people.  Of all the trips I've had in 2014, I could probably say that this trip is my most favorite.  Here is a quick guide to planning your trip to paradise, that is El Nido, Palawan:

Paradise is inexpensive as you may otherwise think

How do you get to El Nido, Palawan?

Check out promo airfares from Cebu Pacific or Air Asia.  I was able to score a Php 2,000 roundtrip flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  Book with your chosen hotel so that they can arrange your pickup from the Puerto Princesa airport to El Nido.  Roundtrip costs Php 1,100.

Where to stay?

There are so many hotels/inns that are available for every traveler. Whether you have the money to book at prestige resorts like El Nido Resorts, or just the right budget for travel inns like Nido Bay Inn, you can never run out of choices for accommodations.

View from our inn

The Red Backpacker's tip: For budget travelers, like me, I highly recommend Nido Bay Inn. For Php 1,500 per night, you get a fully-furnished beachfront room (with free meditating sound of the waves), private bathroom with shower and bidet, air conditioner, cable television, and most important, FREE BREAKFAST. Just look for Ms. Sheila at +63.927.560.8535, +63.998.987.2995 or visit their website at www.elnidoinn.com

Our room at Nido Bay Inn

Fresh Buko (c/o our driver/tour guide, Kuya Gerry) to match our complimentary breakfast

Where to eat?

El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe.  While Art Cafe's dishes can be a bit pricey (average of Php 200-400 per head), what makes this place special is the relaxing ambience.  If you're lucky, you can get to watch their live band playing old school hits or even reggae. :)

Leave your slippers before heading up

Sea Slug's Beach Bar and Restaurant.  If you want to dine facing the beach, then this one's for you.  Their food is good and enough for 2 people.  There are only a few bands playing in the island, so if you're lucky enough to catch them here, you're in for a high (of good vibes). :)

Sea Slug's

Where to book your tours?

No itinerary yet?  No problem.  As soon as we arrived at the terminal, we were picked up by this tricycle driver (that would later be our private tour guide thanks to our hotel).  He brought us to Nido Bay Inn and offered us his services.  We call him Kuya Gerry.  This honest-to-goodness man will get you your money's worth.

Kuya Gerry of GEA Tours

Aside from his day job as a tricycle driver, he also owns a newly-built boat that you can use for the island tours. Since we did not have plans then, he offered us a sweet deal of combining 2 tour packages (A & C) at a decent price.

What islands are included in Kuya Gerry's package?

a. Helicopter Island - Use of snorkels and goggles are FREE. And, it's a must. This is where you first see beautiful corals and school of fish.

View from Helicopter Island
b. Hidden Beach - Between limestones lies a hidden beach with white sand and clear waters.

Hidden Beach
c. Matinloc Shrine - Built in the 80s, the government spent millions to renovate this place only to be abandoned years later.

Matinloc Shrine
This was our stopover for lunch.  The photo on the top of this blog post was also taken from this island.

Our tour guide, Kuya Mark, preparing our delicious island lunch
The Red Backpacker's tip: Another group tour stayed in this island for lunch. From what I've observed, they were a group of not less than 20, and others did not get a chance to try the other dishes that were prepared by their tour guides because they were too many. One advantage that a private tour can offer is making sure you have (more than) enough to eat.

d. Secret Lagoon - We skipped the Secret Beach because the entrance was packed with boats so we're guessing the place was also filled with tourists. So, we headed on to another secret destination without the crowd.

Entrance to the Secret Lagoon
You enter the secret lagoon through a small hole. If you're successful, you're welcomed by a small pool of water (not too deep) surrounded by stalactites shaped like an upside-down alligator, and the subtle Last Supper, hidden inside the shade.

Inside the Secret Lagoon
e. Shimizu Island - What makes this island unique is the Japanese-looking tree that stands out among the lush green trees, and its autumn leaves scattered along the sand.

View of Shimizu Island from the boat
We had the whole island to ourselves!
f. Big Lagoon - Encompassing Matinloc Island is this lagoon where you explore by boat. More rock formations that resemble the likes of Batman and Mother Mary's praying form watch you from above.

My travel buddy, Monica of The Boho Travels
g. Small Lagoon - Unlike the big lagoon, this little one can only be accessed by swimming through the entrance or by kayak. I failed to take a picture of it because we had so much fun swimming and floating inside the lagoon (oops).

h. Seven Commando - They named the beach after the shipwreck 7 Commando. One of the survivors left the ship's name on a stone.  Unfortunately, the stone was taken out, no thanks to vandalism.

The Red Backpacker's Tip: If you're looking for a grand sunset, forget Las Cabanas and watch it here... along with a bottle of beer.

Sunset from Seven Commando Beach
Chill with the island's best friend
The distance of each island is just minutes apart. But, If you're not a fan of boat rides, Kuya Gerry also offers inland tours including the beautiful Nacpan Beach.

Peace and Quiet at Nacpan Beach
It is an hour away from the town and can be accessed via tricycle/motorcycle/van. The road is rough and I hope the government does something about it. But, once you get there, you will soon realize that the effort is worth it.

For special rates for the island and inland tours, you may contact Kuya Gerry of GEA Tours at +63.909.237.2609

Are the locals friendly?

They're awesome. When it comes to customer service, these people won't let you down. Plus, their genuine smiles will make your day. During our stay, these people did their best to make our trip comfortable. For me, this totally adds up to the beauty of El Nido.

More of The Red Backpacker's Tips

Make sure you have enough cash because there is NO ATM in El Nido. Or, ask your driver if you can stop by any ATM in Puerto Princesa.

Monica (of The Boho Travels) and I came here in November. The rain was unpredictable and we didn't bring our umbrellas or raincoats. So, don't forget to include that in your backpack as well.

Also, if you don't have a Go Pro or other water proof camera, get yourself a water-resistant bag and case. I brought my Rubberducky and an Overboard waterproof pouch (given by my good friend, Angge). I was able to shoot underwater without fearing having a leakage.

Loving my summer paraphernalia!

I have seen Coron, explored Puerto Princesa, and recharged in El Nido. These provinces are different from each other but, all in all, they have one thing in common: These islands remind you of what makes the Philippines a beautiful place. They are beautiful not only because of its natural resources and breathtaking views, but because of the warmth of the people. Palawan will always be memorable. El Nido will always be paradise.

If you need more convincing booking a flight and packing your bags to Palawan, check out this 3-minute video I made during our 5-day stay in El Nido: