They say that to see her beauty, one must pay a hefty price. So for a time I opted to explore other places; I was one of those Pinoys intimidated by El Nido’s reputation as a pretty pricey destination. This adds up to the fact that I’m a kuripot a traveler and an idiot who believes that if a spot was too expensive to visit then I’d rather go out of the country.
The stretch of white sand and clear blue waters isn’t unique to El Nido since our country is home to more than 7100 islands with a long list of wonderful beaches. But the lagoons, cliffs and influx of foreign tourists fueled my curiosity to see this small municipality in Palawan. So I packed my bag and flew with Abril and Vanessa (whose faces you see much in this blog).
From Manila we took a 45-minute flight to Puerto Princesa, which I first visited in 2013 then a six-hour land travel in a van with 3 other passengers. We had no prior bookings with the van operators, their staff just approached us outside of the airport. We arrived in El Nido past midnight and had enough time to take a good rest for the adventure that awaited us.
We spent 4 days in El Nido, 4 wonderful days and found so many reasons to fall in love with this place. Let me share them with you!
1. Breathtaking sunset
This list really comes in random but the sunset in El Nido should really be on the top spot. I’ve seen the sun set from other places, but this one in El Nido is etched in my mind so deeply it is for this simple reason that I want to go back.
Even business owners basked on the remarkably breathtaking sunset that bars and restaurants host sunset viewings. On our third day, after a day spent on wandering about at the port, we rode a tricycle to reach Republica Sunset Bar in the town of Corong Corong. We arrived about 4:00 pm, they were still closed and we had to wait 30 minutes more.
When the owner finally opened their door for us, I felt grateful that we got there first and had the liberty to choose our seats. Republica looks more of a large nipa hut with huge windows and wooden floors. They serve tropical drinks, cocktails and liquors; they have a famous tapa and also offer paella and Panini.
It didn’t take long before the bar was full mostly of foreigners, chatting about the places they’ve been to. When the sun came near to its setting, everyone just stopped. The Spanish owner played a lovely music and we all just raveled at the beauty before our eyes. Someone started to yell and clap, it was so contagious we all followed as if cheering for a friend who’s nearing the finish line.
2. Warm and kind locals
As always, we Filipinos are know for our hospitality and are very welcoming to people especially to foreigners. Whichever province you set foot in, you’ll be greeted with smiles from locals and establishment owners.
In El Nido, everyone we met was nice and helpful particularly the boatmen and staff in our tour. We booked tours A & C with Tarawis Elnido Island Tours. Their staff was very accommodating and took really good photos too! For the two days of tour, they were helpful of everyone especially me since I couldn’t swim haha. I also feel proud of them particularly our tour guide, Kuya Boy who spoke English very well since there were a lot of foreigners in our group. Our food was also prepared in such a lovely manner I couldn’t help but compare with other groups during our lunch stops; we had a complete set with tables and enticing food plating.
El Nido is a gateway to Bacuit, an archipelago with cliffs and hills and hidden beaches. Two particularly famous spots here are the Small and Big Lagoon.
During the 1st day, we went to see the Small Lagoon in one of the islands, Miniloc. From the vast ocean we were greeted by giant rocks with a gap that serves as the entrance, we had to take a kayak to get in. The cliffs keep the water still far from the strong waves in the open sea. I jumped into my life jacket and nervously stepped on the three seater kayak. My friends volunteered to paddle and I promise you I did not force them.
As we got further into the lagoon there was another “gate,” two rocks with a smaller gap and shallower water. Inside, the view was just breathtaking. The clear green water reflects the hue of the trees and plants that grew on the rocks. The place exudes calmness and radiates serenity. It felt so peaceful.
My friends paddled onto every corner and the place surely looks something out of a movie. We dipped in the cold water and steamed off from the heat of the sun.
The Big Lagoon has a wider opening and tour boats could actually get in. Our guide found the water too shallow at that time so we just had to walk. Guests can kayak or paddle board here and just like the at the Small Lagoon, the rock walls kept the water still.
4. Hidden & secret beaches
There is a hidden beach in Matinloc Island enclosed by huge rocks and in order to get in, guests must crawl to a tiny hole. This one looks like a movie location where orcs from the Lord of the Ring can hold a secret meeting. The water was just waist deep and voices echo through the enclosing rocks. It was my first time to see something like it.
On our 2nd day, we went to see the secret beach and secret lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is hidden by a strip of giant rocks. We docked by the entrance had to walk a few meters in knee deep crystal blue waters before we reached the white sand beach.
Now this hidden beach is something for the thrill seekers. It is hidden inside walls of limestone rocks that to get inside, guests must swim through a small hole. Guides must find the perfect timing because the violent waves can pull guests or smash them onto the rocks. More on the thrill later. The view inside was just lovely.
5. White sand and crystal clear waters
Like I mentioned, white sand and crystal clear waters isn’t unique to El Nido, but the sight is still something out of the ordinary. Right outside the inn where we stayed for three nights, the sand was already fine and white. In all of our tour destinations like this one in 7 Commandos Beach, it feels so nice to walk and take a stroll at the stretch of powdery sand.
6. A balance of the rural and the urban
Boracay may be the crown jewel of Philippine beaches, but it is way too commercialized. A stream of restaurants, bars and hotels, even fast food chains flood the shores of Boracay making it a party island. There are even housing developers that have built townhouses just close by the beach. The vibe is so hyped up, it is impossible to find tranquility in Boracay.
Now El Nido is, thankfully, far from that. If you want to find a serene place to swim with just a mix of noise from commercial establishments, then this is the perfect place for you. There are a few restaurants and bars at the port area where guests can dine and have a good time. There are other bars that require a tricycle ride to reach. But if you want to find a tranquil place to dip, you can join tour groups or kayak away to the islands, far from the busy town.
7. Thrill at the Secret Beach
The Secret Beach is hidden inside huge rock formations. We docked meters away from the rocks and one by one, each had to swim our way to a tiny opening that leads inside. The entrance was a hole about 4 feet high from the water and 2 feet wide. Getting inside was a real adventure; it had to be done on a perfect timing. Violent waves smash onto the rocks, pushing and pulling away anyone who swims. The day before we got there, one tourist was bloody injured because his face hit the rocks. So for a person who can’t swim like me, it felt like a matter of life and death haha. My vest tightly secured, I hang on to a lifebuoy while our tour guide dragged us to the entrance. As we swam, I felt hands pulling my hair; a Japanese woman was struggling to find something to hold on to so she wouldn’t be pulled by the waves. I led her hand to the buoy. Now at the hole, there was a young man about 16 or 17 who grabbed everyone and pushed them further inside. This guy worked with our guide to find the perfect timing and pushed us inside.
The view was just worth the thrill.
8. Great dining experience
Nothing beats the experience of dining by the beach. Our warm coffee matched with the great view made our mornings in El Nido so unforgettable. We ate in one the restaurants at the port area, just a few meters walk from our inn.
Since the town caters to guests from all corners of the world, you will find a variety of dishes available. One can easily score Italian and French foods, an array of Filipino cuisines and kiosks that serve delectable crepe. We found these two lady backpackers who’ve been in El Nido for months and sell Chilean empanadas to earn during their stay.
Pukka Bar is a resto-bar that offers great food, great music and a great vibe. They have a live band and the place was just a perfect spot to dance and partey.
9. Tranquil boat rides
During our two-day group tour, we visited a total of 10 spots. Everywhere we turn, the surrounding radiate a sense of calmness that seem to take away all the negative vibe. Even the boat rides felt tranquil and gave a perfect mix of excitement because we know that the moment the sound of the engine stops, we are in for a wonderful treat. Our travels from one spot to another provided us a quiet time to marvel at beauty of nature and realize how blessed we are despite of all the hardships in our city life that we get to experience something like this.
10. Swimming spots for free
With a 20-minute tricycle ride, we reached Las Cabanas. The place has a long stretch of white sand and of course, crystal clear waters. Guests can walk along the shore where you’ll find various accommodations; one even offers massage services. Swimming is for free, you can just bring your own food and sheets if you want to lie down at the beach. We found The Beach Shack, a roomy resto-bar without walls and had the perfect view of the beach. We dined and bought some drinks and were allowed to just place our stuff there while we went for a swim. The staff was so nice and their food was just worth every peso. The best thing is that just like Republica Bar, they have a fantastic view of the sunset.
Another famous spot where you can swim for free is Nacpan Beach that is about 40 minutes away from the port area. But, we decided not to go there anymore and just spend the day in Las Cabanas.