“It took us forever to get there, but it’s gorgeous!” was heard more than once when my friends referred to El Nido. Now that I’ve been there and back, I can honestly say that that statement is accurate on both accounts. Relative to many other places in South East Asia, El Nido is quieter with many picturesque spots undisturbed by tourists. Photos probably don’t do it justice. If you’re considering visiting, make sure you have a lot of time. That’s why we opted to go there over the two week Christmas break.
- Wifi is readily available and even when offered, is often not reliable. Read: Not great for #digitalnomads
- With the exception of resorts, dive shops and some restaurants, El Nido is cash-only. The town centre has two ATM machines which, for the duration of our stay, never worked. Make sure you bring enough cash.
- Tricycles are your best mode of transport. As with all SEA countries, negotiate the price before you hop on and don’t be surprised if they try to pick up other customers along the way if you’re only 1-2 people.
- If you’re a scuba diver, the food provided by dive centres here are amazing!
Getting to El Nido
The fastest way to El Nido is by taking a flight directly from Manila but because we were travelling over the Christmas period, we decided to keep costs down by opting for a longer route. There are currently no international direct flights into El Nido but we heard a rumour that things may change in late 2016. From Singapore, we flew to Manila via Kuala Lumpur before taking a second flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa. The final leg involves taking either a shuttle van or a bus from Puerto Princesa up north to El Nido. We chose the shuttle van which cost about 500 pesos (US$30), took us around 5 hours and was almost like a rollercoaster ride. If you tend to get car sick, you might prefer the bus which costs about the same but takes anywhere between 6-8 hours.
Places to Stay
Due to peak season and poor planning we actually had to stay in two places and one of my friends at a different third one. Accommodation is cheap and the three places we took up worked for us perfectly:
- Angel Nido Resort: A short walk away from town along the beach. Italian family run establishment with a great view to wake up to. Breakfast is included and wifi is available throughout.
- Columbus Inn: Just across the road from Republica Bar in Corong Corong, the family who runs this place are fantastic. The rooms are clean, air-conditioned and have mosquito nets provided. Breakfast is included. Wifi signal only available outside the room and isn’t the most reliable.
- SPIN Designer Hostel: More expensive than your regular hostel and those about town but is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in my travels (probably why I saw parents with babies and even older people there). Great common space with regular BBQs or live music nights. Fantastic wifi too. If you have a party of four, you can take over a single room for yourselves.
Things to Do
Unlike it’s cousins in the region, El Nido doesn’t offer much by way of street shopping so the focus for our trip spread across two main activities – visiting various beaches and going diving. Some friends we met along the way also found a few hiking trails but if you go exploring, make sure you try to cover up with clothing and insect repellant as the mosquitoes are quite unforgiving. Here’s are the highlights:
- Las Cabanas Beach: Just a bit further than Republica Sunset Bar, this beach is close enough to town and beautiful. There’s also a great place for a massage down the strip. Sometimes it can get a little crowded and loud with music playing, but we found that Sunday was the best day to go.
- Nacpan Beach: Favourite beach of our trip but a 45 minute scooter ride up north (which was fun!). Much more isolated and simply stunning. Only word of warning, one of my friends got bitten alive by sandflies…but maybe it’s just her?
- Palawan Divers: Probably the biggest and one of the best dive shops in town. We spent the majority of our time with them completing more than 7 dives including certifications. Great instructors, great equipment…oh and great wifi!
- Palawan Free Divers: A branch of Palawan Divers, these guys were great at teaching me the first 2 days of the AIDA certification and are the only guys in town who have free diving available.
- Fisheye Underwater Productions: Tight-knit team of four led by Simon & Pauline who I met at The Bazaar one night – they specialise in underwater photography and videography courses which were a great way to spend a day!
Place to Eat & Drink
While I usually try to eat as much local food as possible while I’m in a city, I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of Filipino cuisine. The times we tried, the quality of food was a bit hit and miss while often completely different to photos advertised. The exception to this was chicken – in most instances the chicken was tender and cooked beautifully. Most other times we ate Italian pizzas and pastas. These were our regular haunts while we were there:
- Heramis Lechon: A Filipino chain for the best rotisserie chicken and liempo or BBQ pork belly
- Trattoria Al’trove: Offering some of the best pizzas in town and usually has a line after 6pm
- Mezzanine: Relatively more expensive but definitely offering some delicious pizzas and pastas
- Art Cafe: The go-to place to buy essentials on the ground floor, the cafe on the waterfront and on the second floor offers some great food and a place to chill. They offer live music at nights too.
- Cadlao Resort & Restaurant: Probably one of the most expensive resorts in town, but offers top notch food and it’s not Italian! Personally, I’d skip the complimentary shots after dinner.
- The Bazaar: Hidden away from the main part of town, a group of French friends started a group of bars and boutique shops which is the best place to chill in town. If you visit on Sundays, they also bring in a DJ!
- Republica Sunset Bar: Spanish-owned bar about a 10 minute tricycle ride out towards Corong Corong with beautiful sunset views and a good Spotify playlist. Try to get there around 4:30 as you might lose out on the best seats!