El Nido, Palawan Island, the Philippines
El Nido is a municipality in the Philippines on the island of Palawan. Palawan is a destination island to many Philippine people, most that I met from Manila, as well as people from the U.S. and around the world. While I was there most of the tourists I came into contact with were young twenty-somethings from Manila. At the hostel where I stayed (Spin Designer Hostel) in addition to the twenty-somethings from Manila there were a lot of twenty-somethings from Europe and a few from the U.S. Maybe the older generations did not stay in town but rather spent the money to stay at the expensive resorts with their over-the-water bungalows. I don’t know. If I had the money I would have stayed at the resort also and missed out on walking around the town enjoying its culture. So I think staying at the hostel in town might be better. I’ll let you know someday after I’ve stayed in one of the more expensive resorts.
Spin Designer Hostel
The hostel was great; cheap, more expensive than other hostels in the area but very nice and much cheaper than a nice hotel room. The Spin Designer was convenient to walk around El Nido town, had a kitchen, common room, nice deck to hang out on and included breakfast. The staff was friendly and were so nice answering all my questions and taking care of anything extra I needed. The room was small and bare-walls-no-art basic, but was comfortable and had air-conditioning (it was oven-hot in the Philippines while I was there). And hot water in the shower! I enjoyed the included breakfasts with fruit,
cereal, some pastries, plenty of coffee, tea and juice, plus an omelet/pancake station providing me with some happily eaten mango banana pancakes. Once a week they would have a BBQ which cost extra but I remember being pleased with it even though I can’t remember what I ate except for the fried bananas with mango sauce and chocolate. It must have been the margarita(s) from the bar. The BBQ got rained out the first night it was scheduled so they held it the next night. Don’t worry, be happy.
The common area of the hostel was roomy with a couple of big couches, soft chairs, magazines, some musical instruments (a little kid that was staying there could really bang on the drums, LOL). I sat up there once or twice to get on the internet and it could get very hot even with the unique architecture with the walls made of bamboo poles with gaps between for the breeze to come through. And there was a small group of twenty-something girls who would claim the most comfortable spots in front of the best fans and then just stay there staring at their phones all day. I don’t know why anyone would travel to such a great place and then spend most of their time at their lodging, reading FB and painting their toenails. Crazy! Oh well, I was gone most the time exploring anyway so it was no big deal to me.
Northern Hope Island Tour
The island tour I went on took pretty much all of the one full day I was there. I went with six others on a boat tour going out to several of the islands and back, exploring Secret beach, Hidden beach, Secret Lagoon, etc… with what seemed like 10,000 other people, mostly twenty-somethings from Manila. Don’t get me wrong Secret Lagoon was beautiful! And the limestone cliffs rising from the sapphire blue water of the ocean there were amazing to see. I just wish there were fewer people and that I could stop and go where and when I wanted to and not stick to an established schedule. Next time (yes, I will go again) I will see how much it is to arrange a private tour boat and guide and arrange to leave earlier in the morning so there won’t be 10,000 twenty-somethings wearing life vests bobbing around in my pictures of the beautiful black cliffs and blue water.
The beach where they wanted to serve us the seafood, fruit and salad lunch that they “prepare” was full so our guide took us to a small beach that disappeared as the tide changed while they were setting out the table and lunch. I found a nice rock to sit on with my feet in the water. It was amusing to see some of our group sit in the sand, in the water, with their full plates of food (which was quite tasty). The twenty-somethings on my tour boat were all very nice and interestingly enough very curious about how old I was. At one point one of the guys asked (with his girlfriend chastising him for asking such a personal question). They were so surprised when I told them I was 55-years old! They told me they thought I was 40 max. Did I tell you that I really liked
Our guide was a hoot (I think that is a prerequisite for a good tour guide) and had us all take funny pictures on the front of the boat, and then took a nice picture of each of us on the front of the boat with our own cameras. He also let me do the entire tour without a life vest on once he watched how I handled myself in the water. I was the only one who rented fins and had a mask and snorkel also. It was a fun tour, I got terribly sunburned on the back of my legs (I was wearing a rash guard so my torso and arms were fine but I forgot to reapply sunscreen) and I got some keeper shots. What more could a photographer want?
Wandering Around El Nido Town
When not on my tour I wandered around town a bit down to the waterfront where the colorful tour boats line the beach, and in and out of the narrow streets trying to stay out of the way of motorcycles and tricycles. There were shops on every corner each with pretty much anything a person could need. I went in and out of them enjoying the atmosphere, talking to people and buying things. I had a conversation with a nice lady who invited me to a local celebration.
I also went to the fisherman’s village where the locals live. Some kids came out to talk to me, wanting to know my name, where I was from, how old I was (this was a strangely popular topic with others also), did I go on a tour? Then I asked them what their names were (too many to remember) but they took great pride in telling me the name of their dog (who was hiding behind the kids), Too-shy. I told them I thought Too-shy was a perfect name for their dog which made them giggle. Sometimes I wonder why I am a photographer, I got so caught up in talking to the kids I didn’t even think of taking their picture. Some photographer I am, they were very photogenic and the dog was also! I very much enjoyed wandering around, shopping and eating in the restaurants there.
Getting to El Nido
Getting to and from El Nido was fun also! There are two ways that people normally use to get there. The most common way is to fly from wherever you are to Puerto Princesa and then take a 5-6 hour bus/van ride to El Nido, or you can fly there from Manila. There is one airline that services the El Nido airport, and they go back and forth from Manila, AirSwift, formerly Island Transvoyager, Inc., which is the method I used to get to El Nido. AirSwift used to have their own terminal at the Manila airport but had to relocate to the domestic terminal (terminal 4). This is a great airline! They are hard to get hold of from the U.S. but they take good care of you when you’re there. They have their own corner of the domestic terminal for you to wait for your flight and provide water and a snack box! The airline uses ATR42 prop planes which are tight but comfortable and the flight is very short, barely an hour. When I go back I’ll fly with them again. This was a total good experience.
Leaving El Nido
Since I was going to Puerto Princesa when I left El Nido I decided to take the bus (the air-conditioned one) but the staff at the Spin Designer talked me into paying a few more dollars (really just a few) to take a private charter van. A private charter doesn’t mean that I was going to be the only one on the van, it means that you will be one passenger in a 10 passenger air-conditioned van. The van is faster than the bus because they don’t make stops to pick up more passengers. This is important as the drive takes anywhere from 4 to 10 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. I’m thinking to myself wait a minute, then a few miles down the road the driver sees a couple on the side of the road and he picks them up also!
At that point we were up to 14 people in our 10 passenger van, and a driver. Luckily when I got on I 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) with 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. 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. But the scenery was beautiful; looking out over the blue water to see multiple beautiful islands of the El Nido area rising out of the water, and going past banana farms and rice fields.
And I did get to my hotel in Puerto Princesa in a little over four hours and had another interesting adventure. And the driver dropped me off at my hotel. So convenient!
So that is the story of my adventure to El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. I really enjoy the people and the places in the Philippines and I enjoyed El Nido and hope to make it back sometime in the not too far future. I hope you get to go also. I’ll be attaching a link to my trip report to Tubbataha on board the Philippine Siren soon!