El Nido, Palawan: Philippines’s Best-Kept Travel Secret

March 18, 2015  •  2 Comments

-by Vlad-

After our quick stay in Puerto Princesa, we boarded a van at 5am for the 5+ hr ride north to the town of El Nido. After being stuck in the back of a cramped van for our underground river tour, I was happy to be the first ones to be picked up so we could strategically pick our seats. Directly behind the driver seemed like there was a bit more room, but sitting there turned out to be a big mistake. We were stuck below the air conditioning vent for the entire ride. Unfortunately, Edyta got a nasty cold from it, which put a damper to the first half of our visit.

El Nido is located in the northern most point of the island of Palawan. Our 'hotel', Island Front, had more of a hostel feel to it, with a few common areas for food and drinks, as well as bamboo walls, which separated the non-soundproof rooms. It was these common areas where we met a variety of travelers from, among other places, Australia, Germany, and even Poland. The town of El Nido was very different than Boracay, with a far less developed tourist industry. While the basic feel to it might turn some off, we got used to it and embraced the authentic and still fairly undeveloped atmosphere. The fire poi shows at night were replaced by local bands playing everything from Sinatra to Oasis with a touch of reggae.

The island of Palawan was named 2013's #1 World's Best Island by Travel + Leisure magazine. A big part of what draws tourists to this part of the Philippines is the beautiful limestone islands that surround Palawan. We booked a tour that took us to explore these amazing structures that shot up from the ocean. One stop brought us to a secret lagoon (how secret can it be if it's advertised on the tour?) where visitors had to climb through a narrow rock opening to an undisturbed lagoon. Unfortunately the waves were too big to safely bring our camera. A fresh lunch of pork, chicken, fruit, and of course, rice, was served to us and our two other companions from Germany. One of them Tjark, was a 19 year old who we befriended and hung out with a few more times.

On a day when Edyta was feeling sick and recovering from a fever, I booked a scuba tour (nice husband right?). Locals in Boracay told me the diving here was amazing, and I was not disappointed. Although the waters were a little choppy to start, the visibility was fantastic underwater. While I enjoy snorkeling very much, there's something tranquil about being weightless and deep underwater with a wide array of fish, giant turtles and vibrant coral all around you.

Edyta started to feel better towards the end of our stay so we explored the area by taking long walks to different beaches, sunset kayak rides and exploring the little town. We even found a great beachfront restaurant, La Plage, owned by a French couple and dined there three times. The food was a lovely fusion of French and Filipino cuisine, with the menu changing daily depending on available local ingredients. 

Sadly, this marks the near end of the international portion of our world tour. We've had a lot of time to reflect on the places we've seen, people we've met, sights seen, food tasted, and culture experienced. It has been a blessing experience and I am most thankful for the opportunity to have done something like this with my wife. 

Next stop, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

It took about 5.5h to drive north from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. While most of the route is on a nicely paved highway, part of it was still under construction. No doubt, this is to accommodate the anticipated rise in visitors to El Nido in the near future.   Our funky hotel with bamboo walls. 

The view of our hotel from the water.

El Nido, Palawan, the PhilippinesEl Nido, Palawan, the PhilippinesEl Nido, Palawan, the Philippines

Beach in front of the hotel.  Relaxing in the hammock.  During low tide we were able to see lots of starfish. These guys camouflage pretty well.   Here's some Philippine peso.  Tricycles continued being the most popular means of transportation.  Pimped out tricycle in the PhilippinesPimped out tricycle in the PhilippinesPimped out tricycle in the Philippines It was really fun riding in them.  Local huts.  At this, and many other waterfront restaurants, you picked the fish you wanted before they threw it on the grill. Heading out to our boat for the day's island hopping tour. Don't mind the clouds, it turned out to be a bright and sunny day.  The super blue water with limestone islands were abundant in Palawan. We sailed a similar boat to those in this photo.  Crystal clear water begging to be swam in. Pulling up to the first island where we did a bit of snorkeling...with jellyfish. Although not of the deadly kind, we experienced small jellyfish stings that were more annoying than painful. The pain lasted 3-5 minutes. We even got stung on our mouths. We also saw the most beautiful large bright blue starfish there. 

El Nido Island Hopping tourEl Nido Island Hopping tourEl Nido Island Hopping tour

Edyta enjoyed various shells we found on the beach. However, we could not bring any of them with us as souvenirs as their removal from the country is strictly prohibited. 

  One if the 5 island stops on our tour. The giant limestone formations provided an epic backdrop.

Few other boats arrived at the same time as us so we shared the island with other tourist. Everyone was amazed by the beautiful nature.  We must have taken a hundred photos of this island.  Getting some fresh coconut water for about $1.50. 

We were also able to buy some Filipino beer from these guys. Our reward for a hard day of touring. Cheers!  Relaxing. 

The sand was very fine and light.  There was also plenty of broken coral reef and shells. 

Edyta before walking into a secret lagoon (see people walking on the right). We had to leave our camera in a safe spot before entering it.  One more glimpse of the beautiful water and impressive limestone.  This beach was really spectacular. 

Our new friend Tjark from Germany. We hang out with him few more times during our stay, exchanged travel stories and even helped him out when he got food poisoning. Tjark was only 19. It seems like we befriend the youngest travelers :-).  And here's another friend we met at the beach.  This was the last stop. So long Philippines! Thank you for a wonderful stay! 





Vlad, your feet actually don't look disgusting in that hammock picture...I'm shocked.
Looks great! The coconut water is kind of expensive. Was that a premium location? Jellyfish swimming sounds scary. They intimidate me and terrify me. Where they big jellyfish? El Nido looks like a great spot to travel to. Zoya went there this month and loved it. They did a camping/island hopping trip for a few days which sounded cool. Welcome back to the states!
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