Islands, Lagoons and Beaches – Palawan Dreaming in El Nido

El Nido-4865Exploring 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.

El Nido by night

El Nido by night

El Nido Bay by night. Armada of bankas anchoring.

El Nido Bay by night. Armada of bankas anchoring.

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.

Starting our island tour through the Bacuit Archipelago.

Starting our island tour through the Bacuit Archipelago.

Amazing water and scenery.

Amazing water and scenery.

Bankas exiting the lagoon.

Bankas exiting the lagoon.

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.

After a few cold ones...

After a few cold ones…

Another amazing lagoon.

Another amazing lagoon.

Dolf doing the usual.

Dolf doing the usual.

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.

Chilling with new friends and some Tanduay.

Chilling with new friends and some Tanduay.

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.

View from Squiddos Hilltop Bar and Restaurant over El Nido Bay.

View from Squiddos Hilltop Bar and Restaurant over 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.

Relaxing after having some freshly caught fish.

Relaxing after having some freshly caught fish.

Going nuts.

Going nuts.

Easy Riders on Nacpan Beach.

Easy Riders on Nacpan Beach.

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.

Duli Beach - Pure solitude

Duli Beach – Pure solitude

Sunset in El Nido Bay

Sunset in El Nido 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.

Goodbye El Nido!

Goodbye El Nido!

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Categories: Motorbike, The Philippines | Tags: , , , , , | 58 Comments

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58 thoughts on “Islands, Lagoons and Beaches – Palawan Dreaming in El Nido

  1. Duli and Nacpan beach looks heavenly. No tourist, a beach all for me 🙂

    • Philipp Dukatz

      It was so nice and unbelievable that it was still fairly close to El Nido which was packed with tourists. Definitely worth the side trip.

  2. peter montgomery

    nacpan beach , wow .

    • For sure Peter …. and across the beach you can see the private island of Manny Pacquiao, the Pac Man!

  3. Hey Phil, A beach looks like heaven from where I’m at in Laos right now. Good thing I’m headed to the 4,000 islands in the morning. Hope you enjoy the rest of the Philippines – Susan

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hehe, Laos is different, for sure. If you head to the 4.000, stay in Don Dhet but make sure to stay away from the main strip which you will hit after getting off the boat. I stayed on the sunrise side a good 20 minutes down. There are some nice bungalows managed by friendly families. And if you wanna hit the strip there, you can always go by rented bicycle… Enjoy!

  4. I just came back from Philippines and spend some time in El Nido. It was truly beautiful. What camera did you use for your pics here? All Go Pro? Your pics look amazing!

    Cheers from istanbul!
    http://www.justonewayticket.com/2013/05/09/paradise-on-earth-the-archipelago-of-el-nido-philippines/

    • Hi Sab,
      some of them are GoPro but most with my DSLR. Some others were taken by my travel mate then who often uses a fisheye lens. That lens can produce some really nice shots. I am looking at buying one as well. How is Istanbul? For how long are you travelling overall, Sab?

  5. I agree, El Nido was much more touristy and developed that I was expecting too. We stayed at a guest house at a beach before you get into El Nido itself which was much more relaxing and with very few tourists, we were only sharing the beach with locals 🙂
    I loved the island hopping, again it was much more touristy and there were boats everywhere, but the water was such a stunning colour and the cliffs and islands were very picturesque.
    Greetings from Bangkok!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hey Tali, great that you also made it to El Nido. It is a great place, despite the more touristy character of the town itself. The scenery and the islands are just wonderful. Where are you heading next? I need some inspiration on where to head to next …

  6. Yes, it’s definitely worth visiting El Nido, even just to see the islands! I’m in Ko Lanta now and then heading up to Chiang Mai, so I’ve been taking inspiration from your earlier posts. What about you, where are you off to next?

    • Philipp Dukatz

      I am actually planning that right now at this moment. Probably Malaysia and then shortly after to Indonesia. What’s your next stop after Thailand? Make sure to take some time for the North. It is so nice there ….

      • After Thailand it’s Laos and Cambodia. I really look forward to reading about Indonesia, with only 3 months I won’t make it there this time. It’s great to get inspiration for my next trip though!

      • Philipp Dukatz

        Hi Tali, I just made it here and I am excited what adventures will await me. I don’t have an outline yet since I am staying at a great surfcamp at the moment. I got some ideas for the time after tht but nothing is arranged yet. Stay tuned and I will make sure to keep those updates coming. Let me know how you liked Laos and Cambodia. I really like the people in Cambodia after coming from Laos…. Have you checked my articles on these countries yet?

      • Yes I have read them. Your trek in Cambodia looks great, I’m not sure about the ant soup though!

      • Philipp Dukatz

        Hehe, a little bit sour but tasty. I wanna go back to CAM since I missed Angkor ….

      • That’s my next stop so I’ll let you know what it’s like. I’ll be taking a few days and hiring a bicycle to explore it fully, away from the tour buses.
        I’m also excited to hear about Mahendraparvata and the developments with this lost city – it will be worth coming back in a few years to explore that too. Cambodia has a lot of potential and a big future ahead of it.

      • Philipp Dukatz

        Yeah, I really like Cambodia. It seems so dynamic and everybody is one the move. People are so friendly and welcoming which is surprising after all they went through. By the way, I never heard about that lost city ….

  7. Alexa Cabot

    Gorgeous pics! I was in El Nido early March 2013. Love the view from Squido’s. Will definitely check it out this October when I head back to the Philippines.
    I was told that El Nido is only crowded during the months of April and May, when the schools are out, and during Holy Week and Christmas break.
    It was perfect when I went there, not crowded at all, bright skies, calm seas, crystal clear water.
    I actually prefer El Nido and Coron to the Krabi region, Bali, Ha Long Bay, Belize, Maldives and Bora-Bora.

    • Hey Alexa, I think you might be right and we just made it there during a busy time. I mean we were there after holy week, but it was still crowded. I think it was all due to general holiday season here in the Phils. It was still nice though and I wouldn’t want to miss it. Where are you at right now?

  8. Alexa Cabot

    Hi Phil, I think so too. It was mostly crowded every place I went to after El Nido and Coron. Except for Mt. Pinatubo trekking three weeks ago with very few tourists.

    I’m back in Manila from Caramoan/CamSur. Whole body is aching, maybe from wakeboarding, I’m out of Tylenol and can’t find it or acetaminophen anywhere. Anyway, I’m off to the north, to see Batad & Banaue Rice Terraces and Ilocos. Kids here are back in school, so YAY! no more crowd.

    Heading back to Singapore on Monday. Maybe rest and do nothing for a day or two. Then I’m hoping to find a cheap air fare or ferry to Sumatra. I have never been to northern Indonesia, only to Jakarta and Bali. Or I might go overland and explore Johor, Malaysia. Penang is also on my list.

    What’s your next adventure?

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Alexa, body aching is definitely from wakeboarding. I know that feeling….but it’s so much fun. How did you like the Pinatuba Climb. I was fairly disappointed, especially considering the money we paid for it. Great that you’ll hit the North. Stay a day or two in Batad, it is so nice there. I liked it much better than Banaue. You have to tell how the weather is there now. Hope it’s not raining.

      My next adventure will take me to Malaysia – only for a few days though. It’s rather an extended stopover than anything else. Afterwards it is off to Indonesia. First Bali and than going along the coast in Nusa Tengara. No fixed plans yet. Maybe we’ll manage to meet sometime. Would be great.

      Take care, enjoy your next destinations and best of luck,

      Phil

  9. jdesperida

    Hey, Phil. Were all these photos taken with a GoPro? Because I see some with really good resolution. I’m thinking of getting a GoPro.

    Thanks,
    Joan

    • Hi Joan, most of it was taken with a DSLR. Underwater pics with the GoPro. I would never use the GoPro for regular pictures if I have the chance to use a DSLR. It’s good for underwater and action photography. But it is a really nice gadget… I would also like to buy one but I am missing the funds right now 🙂

      • jdesperida

        I guess it’s not really a good idea to sell my dSLR. It’s just that it’s too heavy and fragile to take with me on hikes.

      • Philipp Dukatz

        Hey Joan, I wouldn’t worry about it being to fragile. I have been carrying mine around for almost half a year now – hike, on boats on motorbike trips along the dirtiest roads ever and so on. All good. Just make sure to have a proper case and it won’t be a problem. A camera is there to take pictures with so don’t worry about it too much. Weight is effeminately an issue. I wouldn’t trade my DSLR for nothing but if you are looking for an alternative, check one of these mirrorless hybrid cameras. They are way smaller and take awesome pictures. Sony has a good model out but it is very mahal 😉

  10. sanchezhanna

    Well for me, Coron is way, way more beautiful then El Nido. Especially the snorkeling part, most of the corals in El Nido were dead while in Coron, it’s like a palette of colours!

    • Hey Hanna, you are right with the corals. Snorkeling was definitely better than in El Nido. That is also we didn’t even bother diving in El Nido although I heard some reports that it is actually not too bad. In terms of snorkeling and diving Coron is better …

  11. Lili

    Hi, Phil!

    did you have the chance to go to Siargao Island (in the Philippines?) country’s surfing capital… waves as powerful as Pipeline or Cloudbreak. Multiple surf spots accessible from the main coast.

    If a place can avoid being “touristy” but still have a lot of travelers i think here is it… 🙂

    • Hi Lili, I heard about cloudbreak but by then we didnt have the time to make it here. I wish we could have though. I heard some really good reports about it and friends of mine have surfed it already. They were stoked. One day I will definitely give it a shot. Do you surf as well then? Greets, Phil

  12. Aya

    STUNNING! love the pictures… glad to know you enjoy ur travel here.. nice blog!

    • Glad you liked the pictures. El Nido is photgenic place although El Nido town was quiete touristy and busy when we were there. But yeah, we still had fun and a great time. Have you been to El Nido yet?

  13. Kim Malaluan

    I love your blog! and not to mention your great shots! Wow. El Nido is really a great place, and was perfectly captured by your lenses. Keep it up. Keep posting.

    • Hi Kim, thanks so much for your kind feedback and for stopping by. Keeps me motivated. Where are you from actually? Your lastname sounds interesting … El Nido was and is nice although tourism grows more and more there. If I ever come back, I would want to travel no North but down the South of Palawan. I haven’t heard much about that area so it must be pretty interesting….. Cheers, Philipp

  14. Excellent way of explaining, and pleasant article to take
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  15. Esabela

    Hi again Philipp. I am glad I read this article and saw what the Real El Nido is like. There’s been so much fuss about it; thankfully there are those of you who write about a place as-a-matter-of-factly. I wish I have the courage to ride a scooter or a motorbike though – LOL. Especially after reading your post about traveling via a motorbike, it does seem the BEST way to go. I must apologize BTW because after all the pictures here what stuck in my mind is how smooth that dive to the first lagoon was ^_^ I am giving you a 10! *wink* ciao…

  16. Hi Esa, yeah riding the scooter in El Nido definitely came in handy. Otherwise some of the places would have been hard or expensive to get to. So yeah, maybe one day you can try it out. And yeah, I am surprised as well about my dive..haven’t watched that video for ages..thanks for reminding me it even existed lol ….

  17. Korics

    ‘just an additional perspective, El Nido plays as a main hub for the neighboring small islands, lagoons and beaches..that’s why it’s more crowded & “developed”. So thinking/expecting that it’s more laid back is unrealistic and misguided notion. I enjoyed my trip there and had a blast! -:)

    • I think that is was El Nido used to be just that .. laid back and relaxed. And that is also what fellow travelers have told me some time before I made it over. I think it changed very rapidly. But as I read, I enjoyed my time there nevertheless and some of the pictures I took there are among my all time favorites… Good times, no matter what! 😉

      • Korics

        ‘wonder how you’ll react to Boracay when you check it out! -:(..An Open mind is a must-have -:)..and I bet you’ll have FUN there too!

    • I am still wondering whether or not I should go …… I might just have to try it one day hehe

      • Korics

        it sounds like something is “bothering” your interest…there’s would be plenty of unbiased feedback/reviews you’ll find on d web. You’ll rock it out…

  18. christina

    I love El Nido! Been there twice and I’m still thinking of going back for more adventure again in the future. I’m planning to bring more friends to come and experience El Nido for themselves. It’s my favorite place in the Philippines. Glad you enjoyed your trip there too.

  19. Hi Philipp! If I remember it right, you and 2 other backpackers you met in Laos were our neighbors at Cliffside Cottages in El Nido back in April 2013. You mentioned to my friend you were then planning to go wreck diving in Coron after a few nights in El Nido. And you also told us about where else you’ve been to in the Philippines. That was encouraging to see more of our country! Glad to find your blog!

    • Hi Led, wow how small the world is. Yeah I remember it..we had a good time in El Nido and went to Coron afterwards. The diving was good there and also the island hopping which is sort of similar to El Nido. Thanks for stopping by my friend. Really funny that we met again online after all …. Cheers!

      • You know I just learned about your blog when I incidentally clicked a link from a local travel blog (I can’t remember whose blog was it) directing me to your page. I browsed some posts and thought of our El Nido neighbors whose narratives then matched yours here. Then, this week I’ve read a Yahoo! PH article about your travels so I messaged you to just confirm. And your confirmation came. Yeah, it’s funny! More travels to you, mate! I’m eyeing Siquijor and Biri Islands next.

    • Hi Led, glad you found me..what a coincidence. I really find it funny. Maybe our paths cross again in the future. Wanna come to Pinas in December 😉

    • I might be there over Christmas… it is nice yeah?

      • It is mostly nice, yeah – carols, lanterns, foods, sharing, family gatherings and all. Except the hideous traffic in the metro.

    • I am a little scare of the traffic I have to admit

  20. Hey Phil! Awesome blog and sweet photos! I`m planning to visit Palawan this December and would love to shoot during my trip. What was it like to have your DSLR on the island hopping tours? Any tips on camera safety/transport during travel?

    • Hi there, no problems with the camera during the island hopping trips. If you really want to take no risks, take a waterproof bag to put it in. I have no special tips for transporting your gear. I had a regular camera bag and that is it. I think it is more important to really watch out and be cautious to prevent theft. Because that happened to me in Vietnam … Cheers

    • No problem…happy travels ….

  21. Obet

    Hi there Friend Philipp!!!.. i was browsing the net when i saw your blog about El Nido… nice… sweetest way to end our day… sippin’ some Tanduay coke!!!! how are you friend? send some regards to Chris and Dolf! keep safe… =)

    • Hi Obet, I well remember that fine day that ended with good old Tanduay on the Beach. Good times, indeed. How are you doing anyhow? I am ok, working a lot and being generally busy here. Take care my friend,

      Philipp

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