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Travel Tips: El Nido, Palawan, Philippines – Best Island in the World

Updated on November 12, 2016
A tour operator summons you to visit El Nido
A tour operator summons you to visit El Nido
The banca –€“ local tour guides used for island hopping around El Nido
The banca –€“ local tour guides used for island hopping around El Nido | Source

The Island of Palawan in western Philippines hasn't disappointed the expectations of its visitors when it was voted as the best Island in the world in 2015. Its pristine waters, soft white sand and marvellous world-class diving sites have attracted celebrities around the world and hosted stars such as Brad Pitt. It has also ticket boxes for the perfect setting of fine movies such as 'The Bourne Legacy', 'The Beach' and 'James Bond'. In 2016, Palawan has lived up to its name and once again voted as the best Island in the world to visit and play by the readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine.

But where exactly in Palawan can you experience such 'wonderful daydream island' and 'last frontier' ideas? Is it expensive to get there? How do you go about getting there. After growing up in the Philippines and visiting major tourist places of my mother land, I must say that I am very proud of this little place and can truly vouch for its natural and superb qualities as a place to enjoy by everyone. Here are my tips.

Welcome to El Nido – one of the great places of Palawan Island to visit. This little city in the north of the Island beacons the natural beauty of the whole Philippine archipelago. Visit it while it is still seemingly untapped and unspoilt. Backpackers from Europe and America have just begun to explore its wonderful sights following recent entries in Lonely Planet and travel guides, and seeing them flock by numbers at the dining and beer houses at night in Aplaya, the main spot of El Nido, in early 2016 excited me yet worried me a little, knowing that tourism may lose its track in keeping the natural beauty of the place in return for money. I hope not.

How to get to El Nido? There's a private airport in El Nido, but the price may not be suitable for the commoner. What many people do is book through the local airline of the Philippines – Cebu Pacific Air. Leave Manila airport for Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan for around USD42.00, one way. Travel time is one hour. Catch Cherry bus from Puerto Princesa to El Nido for around $USD10.00. Travel time is around 4 hours. Vans are also available but should collect similar fare, unless you want to pay for the whole van yourself. It is best to travel with the crowd as it can make the whole trip a lot more enjoyable. Buses and vans to El Nido are available at Puerto Princesa Airport or at the city. What we did was stayed at Puerto Princesa for a night and wandered through its night market, bustling little township and tasted its restaurant menus before heading to El Nido the following day.

At Puerto Princesa, one must try the 'Balinsasayaw' soup – a bird's nest soup. You can find crazy information on it from the Internet. By the way, Cherry Bus Company and van operators also travel to El Nido at night time and the last trip in their schedules is around 8PM which takes you to El Nido past midnight. It has been safe in Palawan, so nothing to worry about in terms of security there. Before you book your bus or van trip at night, ensure that they can drop you to your hotel otherwise you may find it difficult to reach your accommodation from where you'll be getting off.

Where to stay in El Nido? We stayed at El Nido Viewdeck Cottages which is located along the highway and a ten-minute walk from El Nido town. It was about US$40.00 a night per room with double bed and breakfast. It has aircon, hot water and flush toilet. We woke up to the majestic sight beside a limestone mountain with perched trees where birds and monkeys hopped. Over the horizon, past the town view is the calm blue sea with little mountains like little grey pebbles planted in them by the Creator. The cottages are winding along the mountain; walking up and down the steps could be a challenge to those with weaker knees but a fun for those who enjoy tropical colours of orchids, frangipanis, bougainvilleas, mangoes which grew everywhere. I was certainly entranced by the spectacular views of the sea from the mountain, the tasty Philippine orange 'lakatan' bananas and the bamboo and wood furnitures fitted in this superb restaurant and accomodation.

What to do in El Nido? There's a lot to do in El Nido: kayaking, lazying on the beach, mountain climbing, etc., but I highly recommend island hopping. Out of the four popular tours in El Nido. We like tours A and C for their value for money and enchanting and enjoyable sights. Both tours offer food eat-all-you-can on board the 'banca', a little boat that has bamboo extensions for balance. See accompanying photos. The food, comprising sea food, fruit and vegetables, is prepared on board using hot coconut charcoal. Food is served on banana leaves. The tours take you to four to five different island destinations for swimming, snorkelling, diving, lagoon swimming, sights marvelling that include limestones, bird watching, lazying in the sand, and visiting places used in popular film shooting. The whole experience is breathtaking and rejuvenating, feeling vitamin D sun dosed and cleansed from the therapeutic elements of pristine sea water. You will get to meet people, appreciate nature and feeling whole again from the hustle, bustle and stress of everyday work.

El Nido is truly a magnificent holiday destination. The dinner by the beach at night at the choices of restaurants along Aplaya, at the centre of El Nido is wonderful. Grilled tuna worth $15 is a feast that you and your partner can indulge in. It comes with a tasty sauce made up of crushed calamansi – local lemon and soy sauce. On the side, you are served with seaweed salad – truly different and exotic, fresh cucumber and local tomatoes. Lit torches on the sand, live music in the ambience and cool air with chilled beer by the side – El Nido is a number one pick for me in tropical Philippines.

In terms of money, one Philippine peso equates to .020 UD dollars at the moment and there are a few ATM machines in the city. It is however best to load up with cash from Puerto Princesa or Manila as most establishment in El Nido operate in cash. Most people are nice and they speak Tagalog – the national language of the Philippines. There has been no case of pickpockets in the city but just a word of precaution, keep your wallet or cash out of sight.

Unlike big cities of Bali, Manila or Bangkok, El Nido is innocent in terms of sex industry. Prostitution is almost absent in the city and perhaps frowned when signs of its existence is initiated by visitors. It is a largely Catholic city with majority of its locals go to church on Sunday. The Catholic church just a block away from the beach is a sight you must witness on the weekend while at El Nido.

Street food is also nice around town, especially at night. Try Philippine barbecue meat on stick, roasted on charcoal, with San Miguel Beer – the local beer. The taste is just like married in heaven. For those who have more adventurous taste, try balut – a duck egg with a tiny fertilised cell in the middle and suck its tasty juice, then finish it with a pinch of salt in vinegar. Balut is best when eaten 14 days and below, otherwise it looks gross with a more developed embryo. Apparently, Filipinos have acquired such taste from the Chinese who had traded with the locals since the 13th century. For dessert, try banana cue – fried banana on stick. Delicious! Since it is warm in the Philippines for most times of the year, the prevalence of eating this Filipino authentic cold dessert 'Halo-Halo' has been known worldwide. Look for it in the side streets and the nooks and crannies of El Nido. I just enjoy local pack of chips, soft drinks, including coconut drink and sago drink, and be amazed by the subtle differences of taste and texture from similar food iI'm used to.

On the way back to Puerto Princes, you may stop over at Coron, also a magnificent place. Coron is breathtaking with its sunken WWII Japanese ships turned living corals where fish proliferate its stocks. This place is perfect for diving or snorkelling. Calm waters abound in this enchanting spot. The whole experience is mind-opening, but El Nido alone is beautiful, different and simply nice. Unforgettable.

Cebu Pacific Air flies for one-hour from Manila to Puerto Princesa every day
Cebu Pacific Air flies for one-hour from Manila to Puerto Princesa every day | Source
Just got off from snorkelling – one of the most enjoyable things to do in El Nido
Just got off from snorkelling – one of the most enjoyable things to do in El Nido | Source
The limestones of El Nido
The limestones of El Nido | Source
Cheery buses goes to El Nido from Puerto Princesa. Travel time: around 4 hours. Fare around US$10
Cheery buses goes to El Nido from Puerto Princesa. Travel time: around 4 hours. Fare around US$10 | Source
A standard double room of El Nido View Deck Cottages, around US$40 a night with breakfast for 2
A standard double room of El Nido View Deck Cottages, around US$40 a night with breakfast for 2 | Source
A view from a standard double room of El Nido View Deck Cottages, around US$40 a night with breakfast for 2
A view from a standard double room of El Nido View Deck Cottages, around US$40 a night with breakfast for 2 | Source
On-board dining while island hopping in El Nido
On-board dining while island hopping in El Nido | Source

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