I spent an entire weekend reading about and researching each major island of the Philippines before landing on Palawan as our destination choice. (We had agreed to divide the planning duties—I was in charge of our time in the Philippines, while Maya handled our Thailand arrangements.) Why Palawan? Theoretically, we could see both the Bacuit Archipelago and an underground river, Palawan’s best known features, in our alloted three days. (We would wind up extending our stay, but that’s a story for another time.)
Our ultimate port of call was El Nido, the so-called jewel of Palawan. Although tourism is a major source of income for the area, I’d read that it was still fairly under-developed and great for island-hopping, with vistas that put Thailand’s legendary beaches to shame. And Bethany had heard that it was “pretty rad,” which just about sealed the deal.
Most travelers who make their way to Palawan aim first for Puerto Princesa—it’s centrally located and easily reached via Cebu Pacific, the country’s discount airline. The problem with flying into Puerto is that to reach El Nido, we would have had to take two day-long van trips across the island (one there, one back) to continue to our next destination. So, as previously mentioned, we opted for the “flight less flown” and took a charter jet to El Nido, which required, in the end, only one horribly uncomfortable, hungover ride in the back seat of a van with worn shocks and broken air-con.
Rather complicated, yes, but our experience taught us that, as a general rule, travel within the Philippines is far from direct, with much back and forth required. And as women with plans to cover the Philippines and Thailand in just two short weeks, we wanted to keep our backtracking to a minimum.
There are several cottages along the densely packed bay in Población, El Nido’s main thoroughfare. Our first cottage, Tandikan, was basically a bamboo shack with indoor plumbing and laundry service. We quickly learned that the décor was beside the point—thanks to the island’s policy of restricted power usage, the electricity went out at 6:00 a.m. every day, rendering our previously fan-cooled cottage a stuffy hotbox. Consequently, we had no problems waking up for our early-morning boat-tour departures (see below) and spent most of our down-time on our rickety front porch, gazing at the bay. While the view was incredible, the area was a bit noisy and congested. We knew we’d stayed at our cottage too long when some British girls we met later in the trip told us their brilliant tip: Stay in a place for two nights and then move on when your sheets get sandy.
After a few days, upon the suggestions of both Bethany’s guidebook and some Canadians we met early in the trip, we moved to Makulay Lodge, about a 10 minute walk south, down the shoreline to Caalan Beach. Tucked at the edge of the forest with rooms separated by more than bamboo, this place seemed like heaven compared to our previous living quarters. It came complete with its own restaurant, as well.
Things To Do
Known for its limestone cliffs, gorgeous beaches, the previously mentioned archipelago and those tiny edible birds nests, El Nido has no shortage of things to do, if, in fact you feel like doing anything other than take a nap on a deserted beach.
• Tours: There are dozens of bangkas for hire every morning. They can be rented for one of three formal tours, or to gain access to area islands, where you can take a nap on a deserted beach, if your heart desires. (More on the tours soon.) These tours can be booked directly or through El Nido Boutique and Art Café. While the customer service within the Art Café is lacking, this place has the advantage of being the only place we knew of that accepted credit cards. (We treated the place as an ATM several times, and they had no problem giving cash in exchange for keeping a fee for themselves.)
• Outdoor Water Sports: Sea kayaking, SCUBA diving and snorkeling area all available and can be booked through the Art Café. (The latter is a planned part of the aforementioned tours, as well). A few warnings, though. Sea kayaking is more difficult than it looks. And while the views beneath the water while snorkeling are incredible, the views of our skin [Maya note: Especially mine. I was a lobster, and I usually don’t burn] were astounding after our first go at it. Smother your back and legs in sunscreen and do it often.
• Nightlife: There are several bars along the beach, many offering beautiful sunset views. We were invited to go to a dance club a few streets back from the store, as well. If you want to make new friends in El Nido, it’s not difficult. Grab a San Miguel at dusk and say hello to your neighbor.
• Eat: In our several days there, we found a few favorites. We’ll go into more detail in another post, but there are dozens of restaurants and street vendors to try in the area, and not all of them are on the beach.
Calle Hama, Bgy. Masagana
El Nido, Palawan
Contact Info: +63927 562 6350
Makulay Lodge & Villas
Caalan El Nido Palawan
Phone: (63) 906-3236470