Our journey to El Nido was not an easy one. We left Bohol at 4:30 am; a tricycle, a ferry, a taxi, a (delayed) flight, a lot of waiting around and a hair-raising van ride later, we FINALLY arrived in El Nido at 11 pm. After a mix up with our room, we were checked into our noisy, basic, highway facing hotel room. I went to sleep in a terrible mood with the tooting of horns from the roadside traffic in my ears. My relationship with El Nido definitely got off to the wrong start. Then, the next morning I woke up, went out onto the decking
for breakfast and spotted the majestic bay out in the distance. Ok, maybe El Nido wasn’t so bad!
When we woke up that morning we knew exactly what we needed to do- chill out and stretch our legs after our long journey the day before. While El Nido is famous for its island hopping tours, the last thing we wanted to do was sit on any form of transportation for a long period of time. We had read about the somewhat undiscovered beaches of El Nido, namely a beach called Napcan Beach which is 40 minutes north of the main town. We headed into town and found a tricycle driver willing to take us there. For 1,200 PHP (18GBP/25USD) he took us to the beach, waited for us all day then took us back later after sunset. While this might seem expensive, it is one of the only options to get there and the driver will wait for you for as long as you like. If you’re a brave soul and looking to save some pesos, another option to get here would be to hire a scooter or motorbike- the going rate is around 600 pesos per day. Because we had heard horror stories about the windy, unpaved, dirt roads we decided to put our lives in someone else’s hands rather than our own- actually, the roads weren’t too bad and in hindsight, I do wish we had saved the 600 pesos and braved the roads for ourselves.
The beach itself was definitely worth the journey (and the pesos!) and it was exactly what I imagined when I thought about holidaying in the Philippines. While the sand wasn’t as perfectly powdery white as the sand in Boracay, I thought that the beach itself was definitely more beautiful. The sea was the same clear turquoise blue colour and you can stare off into the mountains and islands in the distance. Also rather than the beach being lined with shops, bars, and restaurants, there were just rows of palm trees. It definitely had a more rugged charm.
Don’t get me wrong, this beach isn’t completely undiscovered. It is definitely a popular day trip for tourists from El Nido looking to stay on land rather than venture out to the nearby islands. Reviews on Trip Advisor state that there are 2 crowded restaurants on the beach. Actually, if you walk a little bit further up you will find 2 more which are much less crowded and make great spots to grab yourself a lounger and relax away from the crowds.
If you do come to Napcan beach, make sure you stay for sunset before starting your journey back. Definitely a spot not to miss.
After our day of lounging around on Napcan Beach, it was time to do what we came to El Nido to do: Island Hopping! Island Hopping in El Nido is split into 4 tours, A B C and D, which are offered by probably every tour operator on the island- Tour A and Tour C are by far the most popular. With only 2 days to hop around the islands, we decided to follow the crowds and go for Tour A (1900PHP/28GBP/40USD inc Kayak) and Tour C(1400PHP/21GBP/30USD.) We booked our tours through Art Cafe as we heard they are one of the most reputable and environmentally responsible operators on the island. If you book their kayak Tour A you get to spend a lot of time kayaking around the blue lagoon, which is an experience not to be missed. We were impressed by the tours and service offered and would recommend them to others. I loved both tours- we were able to see breathtaking scenery, snorkel in crystal clear waters and spend lots of time relaxing on the secluded beaches. Kayak Tour A is great for the variation of activities- being able to kayak as well as snorkel definitely broke the day up nicely. While Tour C is great for variation of scenery- you’ll start the day visiting an abandoned shrine on Mantiloc Island which definitely makes for some cool photo ops. On both tours look out for jellyfish! I got pretty badly stung while snorkeling on the second day. Fortunately, the stings aren’t poisonous- just painful!
Really, there aren’t enough words to describe how beautiful it was and although my photos don’t half do it justice, they will give you a better idea of what you can expect to see on the island hopping tours than I could ever explain in words.
El Nido Town
To be honest, El Nido town lacked the charm and atmosphere of the other places we went to in the Philippines so we tried not to spend too much time here. Most of the restaurants are located across the main beachfront and offer similar menus of Filipino and Western fare. For those on a budget, walk just a few blocks up and you’ll find some reasonably priced (and delicious) local food. The best meal (and best coffee) we had was at The Art Cafe which you’re bound to visit at some point as it serves as an all round hub for booking tours, getting drinks, eating and most importantly, getting some nice strong WiFi! There is also a Reggae Bar at the end of the beach front which is popular among backpackers.
While El Nido has its own airport, flights are extremely expensive. Most travelers do what we did, and fly to Puerto Princesa. From there you can take the van to El Nido which takes 5 hours but you should allow yourself an extra hour for traffic leaving the city if you have a flight to catch. Tickets cost between 500PHP(7GBP/10USD) and 700PHP(10GBP/15USD) depending on the operator (and your haggling ability.) There’s also the option to take the ferry from Coron if you are already in Palawan. You can read more about it here.
Despite the long journey to get there and mediocre town, I must say that I am really glad we decided to go. The unspoiled archipelago was like nothing I have ever seen before and offered a huge contrast to the pristine beaches of Boracay and lush jungles of Bohol. The area is undergoing a large amount of development and you will notice a lot of scaffolding along the motorway- a sign of things to come. El Nido has been featured in a few of the countdowns of best places to go on the internet recently so it’s on more and more people’s radars. Go soon and see this natural beauty for yourself before it is spoiled by the effects of mass tourism.
Disclaimer: Currency conversions are approximations and were true at the time of writing- Jan 2016.