Getting to El Nido
I was booked on a trip to Tubbataha in June 2016. and decided to go to El Nido just before. El Nido is a beautiful area in the north of Palawan Island in the Philippines known for its multiple limestone islands rising sharply from blue, blue water. There are three options to get to and from El Nido. One of them is to fly. I flew to El Nido on AirSwift, a small local airline. The flight was about an hour. It was expensive but the airline has excellent service and I recommend going that way. The other two options to get to El Nido are to fly to Puerto Princesa and take a bus (up to 10 hours one way) or a van (up to 5 hours one way). To leave El Nido one can either fly back to Manila and continue on from there or take a bus or van to Puerto Princesa and continue on from there.
Leaving El Nido
Since I was going to Puerto Princesa to board a dive boat when I left El Nido I decided to take a bus (an air-conditioned one) as it was cheaper. But when I asked the staff at the Spin Designer to book a space for me in one of the buses they talked me into paying a few more dollars to take a private van. That doesn’t mean I was going to be the only one on the van, it means that I was going to be one passenger in a 10 passenger air-conditioned van (if you’re lucky as I found out). The van is faster than the bus because they don’t make as many stops to pick up more passengers. This is important as the drive takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours! Two stops are made; one for potty and one for lunch. My van with 10 passengers took off and within half-an-hour stopped for the “potty” stop (they don’t really call it that but that’s what it is). At that point we took on a few more passengers. Now we’re at 12 passengers in a 10 passenger van. I’m thinking to myself wait a minute; what happened to the more comfortable van option. Then, a few miles down the road the driver sees a couple on the side of the road and he picks them up also!
So there we were, 14 people in our 10 passenger van and a driver. I had no idea where my luggage was including my unlocked carryon bag. I did have my camera backpack, and a small bag with iPad, iPhone, wallet, and passport with me. Luckily when I got on I had picked a seat in the row behind the driver next to the door and this row was the only one that did not get extra people squished in. I felt really bad (not bad enough to trade though) for one gentleman who had to be 6’2” stuffed into the back of the van with very little leg room. He was part of the couple that had been picked up on the road. And even with the air-conditioner going full blast it was hot in that van! The two twenty-something girls from Manila sitting next to me said that this was standard procedure. So just an FYI, if you take the van make sure to sit in the front seat or second row. All other seats get stuffed with people beyond their capacity.
At that point I was wishing I had taken the bus where I would have had one seat allotted just to me with my luggage down below and carryon above or under my seat. Sure it would have taken longer with more stops. But the scenery was beautiful; after climbing up the hill out of El Nido there is a view looking back out over the blue water to see the multiple beautiful islands of the El Nido area rising out of the water. The lunch stop was at a roadside restaurant in a pretty spot with a pond and green hills around, with a colorful tent roof. As we continued on we drove past banana farms, rice fields and other farms. There was road construction in some areas, but most of the road was quite good.
In the end it took a little over 4 hours to get to my hotel in Puerto Princesa and I had another interesting travel adventure to tell about my Philippines trip. And the driver dropped me off at my hotel, what a deal!