El Nido, also known as, “The Nest” in Spanish, is a town surrounded by towering limestone cliffs with powdery white beaches studded with lively bars, tasty diners, dive shops, and charming little hotels. The town proper is bustling with tourists on rented motorbikes and would-be “explorers” looking for a piece of paradise. I don’t blame them. Looking down from the plane, El Nido looks like heaven for people looking for endless white beaches, colorful reefs and clear blue waters. We were excited go on our El Nido Tour Package!
Day 1 – El Nido Town Proper
Excited to settle down, stretch and relax from a 1-hour plane ride from Manila plus a 5-hour van ride to the El Nido town proper, we were instead greeted by my mom’s scowling face at the hotel we were supposed to stay at. My mom, sister and her boyfriend had traveled all the way from Cebu to El Nido only to find out our reservation at the Bulul Garden Resort was rendered null because the resort supposedly has not been dealing with Expedia for years. Thus, a lengthy and frustrated discussion between the customer service representative and I began.
After a grueling 2 hours on the phone exchanging propositions for compensation due to lack of service follow through, we finally got what we (sort of) deserve from the mix up and upgraded our accommodation to 2 relatively spacious rooms at a beach front hotel called Rainforest Beach Hotel. After a settling down and taking a quick shower, we chose to dine next door at Habibi‘s: a restaurant and shisha cafe located at the beachfront where we had hummus and chicken tikka masala. During dinner, we planned out our island hopping trip for the next day.
Day 2 – El Nido Island Hopping
The El Nido Package Tour for island hopping consists of 4 tours: A, B, C, and D. Considering time constraints we chose a combination tour A and C which was PHP 1800/person and it included:
- Private boat with lunch
- Helicopter Island
- Snorkelling Area
- Talisayin Beach
- Hidden Beach
- Secret Beach
- Secret Lagoon
- Small Lagoon
- Big Lagoon
- 7 Commandos
The Helicopter Island, an island shaped like a chopper, was a bit unimpressive. The corals were smashed and the beach was small. The Snorkelling Area was a lot better in terms of preservation and variety.
Our combination tour pretty much covered the best locations around El Nido. As expected, with the growing popularity of Palawan tourism via social media exposure, each location had an abundance of tourists filling up the reefs and beaches; even hard-to-get-to locations like Hidden Beach, Secret Lagoon, Secret Beach, where we had to jump off the boat and swim under jagged rock and reef.
At the start of our trip, on the way to Hidden Beach, we stumbled upon a private boat with a Brazilian couple stuck out on the water without gas. Our boatman was kind enough to stop and offer them to ride with us as they have yet to complete their tour. Of course we agreed to have them jump on and sure enough we all hit it off as they were friendly and sociable. They bought us some buko juice from a floating vendor to say thank you. El Nido is the first and only place we’ve encountered where people mix rhum inside the coconut!
A day of El Nido island hopping isn’t complete without a hearty lunch from the boat tour package. We parked our boat at Talisayin Beach where we had grilled fish, liempo, eggplant, yellow watermelon and pineapples paired with freshly-cracked coconut juice mixed with rum–yum!
Much like Coron, El Nido Palawan has some lagoons. We didn’t have enough time to visit the Small Lagoon because the sun was setting, so we only got to visit the Big Lagoon. Both lagoons required us to rent kayaks for (400 PHP/kayak) which could fit 2-3 persons. Raina and I paddled with my mom in the middle. The corridor where we entered from was long but shallow, and it suddenly dipped as it opened into the lagoon.
The sun has set long before we left our last destination at 7 Commandos Beach: a long stretch of ultra-soft, power white sand; the beach ended with a romantic, secluded resort with beach front bar and dining called Vellago Resort. (Note to self: keep that place in mind for a future romantic getaway.)
After a long day of excursions, we decided to wind down and relax. During dinner we discussed plans for the next day: ride to and spend the day at Nacpan Beach. Soon after, Raina and I needed to let loose and drink the night away. One mickey of Smirnoff and half a bottle of Bacardi 151 paired with card games with my sister, her boyfriend, and our new-found friends from Australia of whom my sister and her boyfriend met in Cebu was all it took to get us tipsy and crash hard. Unbeknownst to us, “crashing” turned out to be a foreshadowing of what happened to us the next day.
Day 3 – Nacpan Beach
As planned, we decided to look around town for a motorbike to rent while we looked for my mom who had strayed off early in the morning to explore. After negotiating with a couple locals, we hastily decided and chose to rent from a particularly sketchy group of people of whom did not produce a waiver for us to sign nor a helmet–but whatever, we were burning daylight and had a long day of beach fun ahead of us. So, I gave the rental manager my driver’s license and we rode off back to the hotel to meet with the rest of our group. The three of them found a relatively inexpensive and spacious trike (1200 PHP) to ride, combined with our motorbike rental (500 PHP + 60 PHP/1L of gas); our trip was turning out to be a fun and super-affordable one.
Riding in tandem with Raina on two wheels induced memories of our good old days in La Union when we used to ride everywhere on my Rango 150. Our good vibes were ended abruptly when we fell off our bike trying to safely traverse the rough and bumpy dirt road on the way to Nacpan Beach. Ironically, I was going extra slow so that we could avoid tripping on the rocks. I took most of the fall and Raina walked away with only a tiny scratch on her ankle. We jumped back on the bike as if nothing happened and I continued to ride on with my blood flying in the wind. Before stepping on to the beach, we stopped by the kagawad’s office to wash off the dirt and rock stuck underneath my skin and applied Betadine.
Nacpan Beach is truly a sight to behold. The powder white sand stretched as far as the eye can see. Despite its relatively remote location, tourists frequent the beach as its famous for it’s crystal clear water and picturesque landscape. Nacpan is probably one the best looking beaches I’ve ever laid my eyes on; truly postcard worthy.
Wading around and strolling casually had us hungry for a snack. We had fresh oyster sauce crab and garlic butter mussels paired with ice cold buko shakes: the perfect beach merienda.
From a distance, I spotted some locals skimboarding on their home-made wooden boards. I decided to give it a try and asked one of the kids if I could take a shot at skimming with one of their boards. I got some good distance gliding on their tiny guitar pick looking boards considering it was my first time skimming.
We noticed that the sun couldn’t hold itself up any longer and we’ve got a pretty long way back to town proper so we started packing up and jumped on rented trike with mom while my sister and her boyfriend rode the motorbike back. By the time we got back it was already dark and the streets were barricaded in order for tourists to freely walk around without encountering any vehicle traffic.
As soon as we returned our motorbike, the same locals who were dealing with earlier acted somewhat hostile as if they already knew what happened earlier that day. Sure enough, the rental manager was fuming because someone had told him we had laid down the bike. The rental manager demanded us to pay 1000 PHP for very minor scratches on the fender. We refused to pay the ridiculous amount and went to the police station to ask for assistance. Let’s just say the police wasn’t much help, the guy basically slid away as I was arguing with rental manager.
After a lengthy discussion, we settled to pay 700 PHP for the damages so that I could get my license back and rid of the proverbial monkey on my back. For anyone planning to rent a motorbike in El Nido, please keep in mind of the following: don’t rent unless you’ve signed a waiver and have been provided a helmet, make sure your wheels aren’t fully pumped if you’re planning to take it on rough dirt road, and finally–reconsider the headache of renting a motorbike and maybe just opt for a trike ride or even better: an air conditioned van.
Our last night at El Nido felt bittersweet, but we felt like there was no need to cry over spilled milk in paradise. We chose to have dinner next door at Big Mama’s where we had comfort food to lull us from our frantic and eventful day. During dinner, we all played Bullshit and ended off our last night with positive vibes.
Morning after, we packed up our bags and said goodbye to my mom, sister, and her boyfriend as they were scheduled for a different flight back to Manila. As I looked down from our plane window, I reflected on the events that occurred during our trip and burned to memory the lessons we have learned. El Nido had me feeling all kinds of ways: even though paradise may be costly, the memories and experiences are priceless