Exploring Palawans Underground was great and chilling at Sabang Beach was also nice but now it was time to see the things we had came here for. Rumors of white beaches, turquoise blue waters, deserted lagoons and beaches had lead us to magical Palawan. We wanted to see for ourselves what is true about these stories and what is not and made our way all the way up to El Nido. The jeepney ride from Sabang took us four hours and was quiet rough.
Recommended by fellow travelers and locals alike, we expected a beautiful, lazy and laid back town by the coast. Our first impression was everything but that.
El Nido – not too much of a paradise
The town was bustling with a lot of tourists, restaurants and bars lined up along the main road and an armada of bankas anchoring in the bay. There was no real beach and on top of all that we had to walk a good 20 minutes in the blazing heat to find an accommodation since most of the places were fully booked. A little disappointed but still with high hopes, we settled in one of the beachfront bars to have a cold drink to cool ourselves off and think about our plans for the next two days. El Nido is famous for its island hopping so one of the four tours advertised everywhere in town should be it. We opted for Tour A which was supposed to take us to 5 different locations – beaches, lagoons and some good snorkeling. Bring on paradise.
Island Hopping around El Nido
Before we boarded our banka, we stacked up on some beers, a small bottle of Tanduay Rum and snacks. We had a small group of 8 people which made the whole tour more enjoyable since it left some space to move around on the boat. The first stop was already absolutely amazing. It was called small lagoon and featured the clearest waters we had experienced so far. We anchored in the bay for some swimming and snorkeling. The snorkeling was alright but the best thing remained the beautiful scenery and the lagoon tugged in between it.
The next stop took us to the so called hidden lagoon. It was actually not visible from the sea so the name seemed appropriate. The many boats in the lagoon itself however made it appear not so hidden anymore. Yet again the setting was picture perfect with high karst cliffs lining the lagoon and turquoise waters below our boat. While heading to our third destination it was time to open the first cold ones. Nothing beats an ice cold beer on a boat with the sun out and good friends around you. The fact, that our captain was playing some old school 80’s tunes including the odd Modern Talking classics only made it more worthwhile.
One of the last stops took us to a good snorkeling location. We got into the blue and started exploring the underwater world. The visibility was good and this time there was more to see than during our first try at the small lagoon. Feeling good after the beers we had, we had loads of fun and took some great shots with Chris’ Go Pro camera.
The last stop took us to a nice beach where we ended the tour relaxing and talking to a group of friendly Filipinos we had met before. They were from Manila and also on a holiday. We shared the bottle of Tanduay Rum we had brought and had a good time making yet some more friends.
Back in El Nido we went straight to the motorbike rental place close to our guesthouse. Chris and I planned to get out of town and explore some of El Nido’s remote beaches. We had everything lined up and ended the day with good food, some more cold ones by the sea together with our new friends we had met on our tour earlier.
Back on motorbikes to explore
Chris and I got up early the next day to get a head start before it got too hot. We planned to make it to Nacpan Beach for our first stop but decided to stop at Squiddo’s Hilltop Bar and Restaurant for a great view of the whole El Nido Bay.
After going down gravel and dirt roads for about one hour, we finally made it to the small village right next to Nacpan Beach. The beach was huge, about 3km long, very wide and bright yellow. It was lined by coconut trees and behind the tree line there wasn’t a sign of resorts, bungalows or any other sign of tourism. Small bankas were sitting on the beach waiting to get pushed into the water by their owners, fish cages and nets were lined up and some freshly caught fish was laid out for drying – the famous Filipino Daing. The colors of the water were beautiful and featured different tones of blue, green and turquoise. The whole scenery was majestic and seemed to be taken right out of a tourism magazine. El Nido itself really had nothing to this place and we were regretting not having found accommodation here in the small fishermen’s village.
During our stroll down the beach we encountered a friendly lady who apparently owned a small eatery a good kilometer down the beach. She invited us over for some fresh coffee, cool drinks and tasty seafood. It sounded good to us, so we took our bikes and rode them down the beach to her place which was set right at the beach sheltered by huge coconut trees. The place also had some traditional hammocks put up which was especially enjoyable after our delicious, freshly caught fish. We left the place again riding along the beach which was probably the most memorable ride we have taken during our whole journey up to that point.
On our way back through the little fishermen’s village, we encountered a few locals who were happy to see us. We started to talk and met more people going along the way. A lot of them were kids and teenagers who were shy and curious at the same time. However, they all wanted to get their picture taken and were having fun posing for the camera.
We finished our little side trip at Duli Beach, another completely empty and undeveloped beach. It is really amazing that you can discover places like that even nowadays, and even that close to a fairly touristy place like El Nido. We were glad to have taken that tour and rode back to El Nido to catch the sunset in the bay.
Last thoughts …
El Nido itself was more or less a disappointment. We had expected a much less developed, more laid back town and not the touristic hot spot we found there. Up to that point it is safe to say that El Nido is the most touristic spot we have visited here in the Philippines. And no, we have not visited Boracay.
Besides that, it once again prove that exploring by motorbike is just the right way to get off the beaten track. We have seen beautiful beaches with no one on it and that just a an hour or two away from the center. Exactly these places and those moments made our trip to El Nido worthwhile.
The island hopping is a fun activity in El Nido. Don’t expect to be by yourself and discover secluded places. There will be heaps of other boats and other tourists around. But if you prepare yourself accordingly and take some booze, it can be heaps of fun. I know we had a lot of it.