Head over to this Palawan paradise to discover the mind-blowing things you can do in one of the world’s most famous islands. I’m looking at you diving and island-hopping adventures!
With over 7,000 islands to explore in the Philippines, the choice can be a tough one to make, but ultimately, there is a standout winner. May I present you with the Philippines’s largest province, Palawan. Palawan is one to entice you to lay down the beach towel with its stunning coastline and also unleash that adventurous side in you, and luckily, its seaside playground El Nido caters to both.
If natural therapy is the best form of medicine, then it is best to prescribe yourself a ticket to this Filipino paradise stat with this list of things to do in Palawan’s El Nido.
El Nido is steadily becoming one of the go-to destinations of the Philippines – the Bali and Phuket of yesteryear. Its stunning is defined by its ‘50 shades of blue waters’ and its hashtag-worthy seascapes (think cliff faces and small neighbouring islands) and lush, verdant palms. Seriously, your neck will be hurting by the end of it from all that head-turning scenery so maybe book yourself a trip to the chiro afterwards.
Although tricky to get to, it is well worth the effort to get to this paradise located over 230 km north-east of the island’s biggest city (and airport), Puerto Princesa.
Worth it for the overnight ferry
If you are one exploring South East Asia on a shoestring budget, I highly recommend having an overnight journey (although long) on a budget ferry cruise liner from Manila heading to Puerto Princesa. This is an epic journey and not suited for those that do not want to spend almost a day on a boat!
The ferry will take from Manila and go past the scuba-diving mecca Coron, another island I highly recommend checking out for its WW2 shipwreck diving. From Coron, you can get an 8 hr boat ride to El Nido.
Instead of stopping by Coron, you can go the full-hog and go all the way to Puerto Princesa; you can travel via land to El Nido.
Yep, it is that much of an epic journey but well worth it!
Back to the boat ride; forget the sleeping part as its multi-storey, open-air bunk beds setting doesn’t really allow for it. Instead, I recommend heading to the rooftop to enjoy rooftop karaoke under the stars with locals. A few sips on locally brewed San Miguels may aid your karaoke efforts or make the boat journey appear faster than it actually is. I did this journey twice, and both times it was a highlight for two reasons 1) Island spotting at night under a blanket of stars and just seeing how bright the moon actually is and 2) just getting friendly with locals and travellers onboard in a merry manner (that’s one too many beers for you!)
Despite the hardship to get to El Nido, this coastal village ticks all boxes with its proximately to hiking, world-class snorkelling, scuba diving and island-hopping expeditions. Need I to say more?
El Nido town
El Nido is set against a backdrop of towering limestone cliffs with islands dotting the horizon. You can go both Yin and Yang by spending lazy days at its’ white sandy beaches paired with clear-as-vodka waters, or be the adventurous explorer (a modern-day Marco Polo) and set sail via longboat.
Off the coast seems to be a fulfilling a check-list of what makes an island holiday great again with its intensely hued reefs, waterfalls, coves and empty lagoons hidden behind soaring karst limestone formations waiting to be discovered – so grab the bikini or shorts and dive on in!
There are plenty of affordable tours that depart from the centre of Baycuit Bay’s main hub. If independent travels are more your thing, you can hire a boat privately and be toured around by local fisherman. The more people you get onboard your boat, the cheaper it becomes so don’t hesitate to ask the traveller next to you if they would be keen to join you island-hopping around El Nido.
Want to have more fun in the Philippines?
Hardly a secret, Secret Lagoon, is a favourite spot to go kayaking around.
Straight to the point, Small and Big Lagoon make you wish you were part of some Survivor episode that you would never want to be cast away from as the winning million you would have earnt yourself is its stunning views.
It is here where I lived out my Little Mermaid fantasies by sitting atop of a rock, wondering why did Airel ever want a life on land when this beach life is sublime!
If you prefer to have a lead foot over flippers, you can choose to scooter around El Nido and surrounding beaches and jungles – just make sure you check what your insurance covers! I ended up getting scared of driving around on the scooter (previously had a bit of an accident in Bali) so I ended up returning it much earlier than intended however this is a popular way to get around the island as public transport is not that reliable.
The invasion of foreigners, particularly French expats, have helped shaped the nightlife in this town. After sunset, the main port comes alive with a pumping nightlife scene (this may be seen as a pro or con) on a much smaller scale than the likes of nightlife hotspots – Bali’s Kuta and Phuket’s Patong Beach. It is here where you can Get Lucky by following in the footsteps of Pharrell by raising your cup to the stars in one of its one and two storey beachside wooden bar shacks in town.
Not spoilt by chains – yet
El Nido is not saturated with chains – yet! Thankfully, it has numerous locally operated accommodation options to fit both luxury and backpacker budgets.
If you want to experience something other than the main island hotspots in South East Asia, the hordes of tourists and mass commercialisation yet want a beach with a bit of a buzz, no doubt El Nido is the right cure.