of trips and travel notes

Island Hoping El Nido

the El Nido beach front as seen from the bay with the imposing Karst (limestone) formation as backdrop

the El Nido beach front as seen from the bay with the imposing Karst (limestone) formation as backdrop

I’ll let you in to my little secret.

My trip to El Nido is a calculated and premeditated plan, not just an accidental side trip like I wanted to appear. When I was told we are going to Palawan, I employed all my convincing powers and deceiving but innocently suggest for us to make a side trip to El Nido, and I have very good reasons to do so. Just few weeks ago CNN listed El Nido as #14 of the best beaches in the world. Lonely Planet listed Palawan #8 in their top ten region that’s best for travel in 2013 citing he place as “The ultimate archipelago for adventurers“. I couldn’t agree more. It’s that great that even the writer Alex Garland, after when he went to the island was inspired and wrote the book “The Beach” (which was turned into a film starring DiCaprio). Sadly, the last Jason Bourne movie didn’t do much justice to this amazing place by giving it less than 5 minutes of screen time. I’m hoping my little blog about the place would do a bit better.

Situated in Bacuit Bay, El Nido, covering a land area of 465.1 square kilometres (179.6 sq mi) in the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan. Aside from the pristine and virgin beaches scattered within it’s 45 islands and islets, it is also dotted with Paleogene rocks and limestone cliffs very much similar to those that can be found in Coron which is also in Palawan, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Guilin in China, as well as Krabi in Thailand. These limestone cliffs dated to be as old as 250 million years old.

These limestone cliffs are dated to be 25 Million years old.

These limestone cliffs are dated to be 25 Million years old.

El Nido traces its name from the Spanish word for “nest”, which a lot of it can be found in the area. These nests are made by the edible swiftlet, which was locally called “balinsasayaw“. Tucked away in difficult-to-reach crevices of the limestone cliffs and caves, these nests (made from the bird’s saliva) are highly valued and prized by the Chinese medicine and an important ingredient in making bird’s nest soup. Nest collecting used to be the town’s main source of income until the tourism boom. Palawan is known as the world’s major source of these edible swiftlet’s bird nests and El Nido is the supply centre of the raw material for oriental delicacy birds’ nest soup in the Philippines.

The area’s first recorded name was “Talindak”, named after the Tagbanua tribe that first inhabit the area. The Spanish colonizers renamed the area “Bacuit” in 1890. This is how Bacuit Bay got its name, which it retains up until this day. Bacuit was formally renamed to “El Nido” in 1954 via Republic Act No. 1140.

The remoteness of El Nido from the capital Puerto Princesa makes the place hidden from both local and foreign tourist for quite a while until 1979. Story goes that a sea accident happened in Bacuit Bay. According to some locals I talked to, “a big school of tuna disabled a dive boat’s propeller in the middle of the night forcing it to drop anchor in an inlet. The following morning, the divers woke up to an amazing scenery of skyscraping dark cliffs, thick green forest, white sand beaches, sparkling water and, rising above it, a series of magnificently sculpted islands.” Good news spread and El Nido was drawing tourist since then.

El Nido at night

One of the favourite hang-out at night- Seaslugs

some El Nido witty bar singages

some El Nido witty bar singages

I have heard so many great things about El Nido and was told that you should never leave the place without trying out one activity – island hoping. In fact, It is safe to claim that it is pointless to go to El Nido if you do not go island hoping. Unlike island hoping in Coron where you need to pay entrance fee on each spot that you’ll visit, here to make it easier and organised, island tour hoping is divided into 4 tours conveniently called tour A, B, C and D. Each tour is a whole day activity and you can actually do combination of two done within a day. TIP: If ever you only have a day to spare at El Nido, I highly recommend tour A.

El Nido Island Hoping Tour Map

El Nido Island Hoping Tour Map

El Nido tour fee matrix

El Nido tour fee matrix

The motorized boat would accommodate 10-15 people on tour. Smaller groups need not to worry because you will be teamed up with other smaller groups until the boat have enough number to start a tour. Be sure you are already at the beach by 9 am as that is the ideal time to start the day of island hoping and exploration. If you wanted to be alone or have the boat all yourself with your company that could be arranged as well. On our case we are joined by a family of 3 from the Middle East on a holiday, and 4 medical professionals from Ilo-ilo. Very nice crowd!

our group

our group

let the tour begin!

let the tour begin!

All of the tour packages have have five spots a piece to check and so for our trip, we checked out 7 Commando Beach, the Big and Small Lagoon, Shimizu Island and the Secret Lagoon.

7 COMMANDO BEACH
Usually, the tours have specific stopovers but since we saw that there’s a lot of boats that already left before us, our tour guide decided to check out first the 7 Commando Beach, which is usually the last spot to check because the other spots are already crowded. We excitedly jumped to the shore and have the beach completely to ourselves.

Seven Commandos Beach is named after the seven soldiers who were stranded and live there for a while. Local folks even told me that theres a rock somewhere in the island where their names are etched for posterity. It may not be the best beach amidst its perfectly white, pure sand, it can definitely hold its own. With it’s crystal clear cool waters, plenty of shade and fresh buko juice for sale (50php each) what more you can ask for?

seven commandos beach

seven commandos beach

our first stop!

our first stop!

after almost an hour of snorkelling, swimming and basking in the sun, we head to our next destination – Big Lagoon.

BIG LAGOON
The big lagoon and it’s smaller brother is part of a majestic limestone walled island called Miniloc. Imagine a vast expanse of sharp, unforgiving, jagged limestone walls connected to the alternating turquoise and emerald green waters. You will be amazed and put into silent awe as you slowly pass on to the Big Lagoon. Lucky for us the waters is still high so our boat can still manoeuvre inside, otherwise the only way you could go inside and marvel it’s beauty is by kayak.

entrance to the Big Lagoon

entrance to the Big Lagoon

Miniloc island

Miniloc island

our trip was punctuated by short downpours like this one. We're full steam ahead and have Miniloc island as our next stop on the other side of those ominous looking clouds!

our trip was punctuated by short downpours like this one. We’re full steam ahead and have Miniloc island as our next stop on the other side of those ominous looking clouds!

Soon it’s lunch time and we head our way to Shimizu Island.

SHIMIZU ISLAND
You will definitely wonder why they call this island after a Japanese name. According to our tour guide, the island was named after a Japanese scuba diver who died near the vicinity of the island because of insufficient oxygen in his SCUBA. The locals named the island in honour of him. Shimizu’s main attraction is the narrow stretch of powdery white sand and the beautiful marine life just a couple of meters from the shore. Clams and school upon school of colorful ornamental fishes are just around the waters of Shimizu that’s why the island is a great place for snorkelling and scuba diving. This is where we had our lunch which was prepared by our boatmen slash cooks and such a feast it was!

Shimizu Island!

Shimizu Island!

On the menu: grilled fish, chicken and pork, eggplant salad and fresh fruits. Ice cold drinks and unlimited rice. Heaven you can feast on!

On the menu: grilled fish, chicken and pork, eggplant salad and fresh fruits. Ice cold drinks and unlimited rice. Heaven you can feast on!

some of the limestone walls in the island

some of the limestone walls in the island

Miniloc Island Resort. Rates starting at 22,000php (500 USD) up

Miniloc Island Resort. Rates starting at 22,000php (500 USD) up

after a sumptuous lunch we head our way to the next lagoon that’s supposed to be secret.

SECRET LAGOON
Upon reaching the shore of our next stop, I realised why it was called thus. You need to crawl in a small hole in order for you to get to the small and enclosed lagoon on the other side. If you will happen to go there during high tide, the entire hole can be completely submerged under water and you have no other option but to swim to get in.

the entrance to the secret lagoon

the entrance to the secret lagoon

1. bring your camera when you go inside the lagoon. 2. float in the middle of the shallow lagoon. 3. aim your camera above and click to get this view

1. bring your camera when you go inside the lagoon. 2. make yourself float in the middle of the lagoon. 3. aim your camera above and click to get this view

the hole in the wall

the hole in the wall

SMALL LAGOON
Last but not the least, is the smaller version of the big lagoon within Miniloc. The place is surrounded by tranquil, turquoise-green waters and orchid-lined limestone walls that showcases a kaleidoscope of marine life. Archeologists believe that these lagoons were actually caves which abound in these islands. The roofs of these caves must have collapsed millions of years ago, and these lagoons have emerged in their place.

our last destination, the small lagoon!

our last destination, the small lagoon!

entrance to the small lagoon

entrance to the small lagoon

The entrance to the small lagoon is too shallow even for the boat to come close to the entrance so I highly recommend island hoppers to rent a kayak to enjoy the lagoon specially if you do not know how to swim, otherwise just swim to get in and make yourself float in the lagoon and bask quietly in these fantastic wonder of nature.

the small lagoon

the small lagoon

Travel Tips, Info and Recommendation

  • best time to go to El Nido is the summer months of March to May where waters are cool, clear and calm and the weather is perfect. Low season starts around rainy season of June and then picks up again by September until the next year
  • There is no ATM and hospital in El Nido. If somebody needs medical attention in the town he needs to be taken to Taytay District Hospital, which is 55kms away. Same thing with cash so be sure to bring bills from the capital because only big establishments accept credit cards
  • Electricity only runs from 2pm until 6am the next day because of some serious power shortage within the area. Most of the accommodation have generators though to address this.
  • Accommodations range from 200-300php per person dormitory type bunk beds to at least few thousand pesos per night within the beach front. Usual air conditioned rooms for two are around 1,000- 1,500php a night.
  • and SUV or tricycle? you decide in this 100% Palawan ride!

    and SUV or tricycle? you decide in this 100% Palawan ride!

    a very helpful complete list of island hoping operators, accredited tour guides, accommodations, diving schools, island hoping and land transport operators and their location and contact details which I got from the local tourism office. Very handy!

    a very helpful complete list of island hoping operators, accredited tour guides, accommodations, diving schools, island hoping and land transport operators and their location and contact details which I got from the local tourism office. Very handy!

  • Artcafe is at the end of Serena Street and are known for their pancakes, fresh muesli and homemade yoghurt. Trattoria Altrove serves the best pizza in town. This restaurant is located along the main road. You can’t miss it, as you see the brick oven facing the street. You have to leave your slippers at the entrance and enter barefoot. The floor is made of dark hardwood as are the walls. The ceiling is lighter and high with ceiling fans ventilating the entire area. Their restroom is perhaps the cleanest in town. They have nice ambient music and serves delectable menu, in which ingredients are mostly imported. Their pastas are mouthwatering and the pizza is to die for!
  • Grilled seafoods are top notch at Squidos Restaurant on the corner of M. Quezon and Abdulla Streets. Its French owner lent a French touch to Filipino favorites. People also swear by how good their burgers are. Nightlife is very much bustling at El Nido, Seaslugs is the place to be with their lively acoustic performers and mouthwatering food. Most of the bars and cafes are WiFi enabled.
  • Try to pass by Midtown Bakery and sample their crunchy and freshly baked piyaya. Check out also Skyline Grill for their delicious turn-turo as the place is ran by family of chefs.
  • take a few minutes tricycle ride and head to Corong-Corong beach for some dramatic sunset.
  • Small shops are located in the main street of El Nido where they offer personalized souvenirs and products made by the locals of Palawan. They sell cashew nuts and dried fish which is known to be the specialty of El Nido. Several arts and crafts is also sold in souvenir shops like, pearls, key chains, native bags, wood carvings and more. The most popular item in El Nido is the Palawan honey.
  • Treetops If you find beach front accommodations of El Nido town either unprepossesing or downright expensive, try those at Corong-Corong and hands down it is arguably the best place to stay in El Nido. Situated just minutes from the town proper, the place boasts of two cozy and spacious chalets giving it a very intimate feel. The chalet is P2500/night which is good for value considering the nice and relaxing place. The owners are very attending and pleasant. The spectacular Corong-Corong sunset is just an added bonus. To reserve, contact Dave at treetopselnido@yahoo.com +639183552836
  • prices of island hoping packages are pretty much the same across the board on all island hoping tour operators. Depending on which tour package you choose, it includes life jacket rental and buffet lunch in one of the islands. El Bacuit Travel and Tour offers 10% discount on group tour package when you tell them that you know them through me and my blog. They could be reached at +639213112940 and look for Ms. Rejane Meridor. You can also check their website at http://www.elbaquitphilippines.com

  • Scuba diving is another great way to appreciate the wonderful beauty of El Nido. Refer to the map the contact details of diving schools in the area that gives certification for newbies and amateurs alike
  • Budget
    It is a common misconception that it is expensive to go and have a great time at El Nido. It’s not! You can stay, dine and enjoy the islands without digging too deep in your pockets. See my sample breakdown for a 3N/2D stay

    Transportation (PP to El Nido VV) – 1,000 – 1,200php
    Accommodation (3-day stay) – 3,000php
    Food (3 dinner, 3 lunch, 2 bf) – 2,000 – 3,000php
    Island Tour (2 days) – 1,600php

    So for a 3N/2D stay, you need at least 7,600php – 8,800php (180-210 USD) not bad for a top notch island adventure!

    Getting There and Away

    By Land

    There are few options to to reach El Nido depending on where you are at the moment. From Puerto Princesa, the major jump off point to El Nido, the most popular means is the the Roro Bus Transport. Puerto Princesa to El Nido (273kms travel time: 5-6hrs) Fare rate: (One way) is 483php for aircon trips (381php student/senior) and 367php for non aircon (294php student/senior) Schedules: ordinary buses leaves at 4:00am, 8:00am, 12:00nn, 4:00pm. Air conditioned buses leave at 6:00am, 10:00am, 2:00pm, 6:00pm, 10:00pm. For bookings and reservations: +639175971189, +639089202568, +639228901044. Other bus line is Cherry Transport, fare cost 330php ordinary one way with 3-4 trips a day

    If you prefer an almost non stop and much shorter trip, and money if not an issue, I would recommend to go into those airconditioned executive vans instead. The best choice would be DayTripper Palawan (www.DaytripperPalawan.com) at 900php per head one way, one can be picked up any point in Puerto Princesa to any point in El Nido.

    the RoRo Bus

    the RoRo Bus

    By Sea

    El Nido Can also be reached by ferry from Cuyo, Coron and Puerto Princesa.

    There are also cargo ship operators that also ferry passengers from Manila to El Nido. Contact the shipping lines for schedule and fare information. Please note that these are smaller cargo ships/hauls that cater specially to cargo but also allow passengers.

    Operator: San Nicholas Shipping Lines (M/B Andrea-1, M/V Catalyn-A, M/V Catalyn-C, M/V Catalyn-E, M/V Asuncion-IX, M/V Asuncion-XI)
    Route: Manila-El Nido-Liminangcong and vice versa
    Contact Info: (02)-243-4595

    Operator: Atienza Shipping Lines (M/V Josilee-II, M/V April Rose, M/V Q-Carrelyn-III)
    Route: Manila-Coron-El Nido-Liminangcong and vice versa
    Website : http://www.atienzashippinglines.com
    Email: atienzashippinglines@yahoo.com
    Telephone No. : (02)-986-3118 and (02)-536-8123

    By Air

    Puerto Princesa City is accessible by air from Manila via Philippine Airlines, AirphilExpress, Cebu Pacific Air and Zest Air; from Cebu via Cebu Pacific Air; and from Busuanga (Coron) via AirphilExpress.

    panoramic view of Corong Corong beach

    panoramic view of Corong Corong beach

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    This entry was published on June 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm. It’s filed under beach, getaway, places (local), travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

    8 thoughts on “Island Hoping El Nido

    1. paula on said:

      Ganda nang el nido

    2. paula on said:

      SAbeh ni carlo galing mo daw kumuha nang photos

    3. Kristian Jesson Malong on said:

      Very nice… very informative… u should get something out of this… 😉

    4. Johann Dy on said:

      wow:) Simply amazing.

    5. Hi Mr. Eric Banes, Thanks for this blog very informative and helpful. I would like to know where can we find the tour package boat in el nido palawan? We are planning to be there on the 27th of feb to march 01. The tour package seems very cheap compare to other tour packages. Thank you and more power!

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