The much anticipated El Nido was held back until we were coming to a close on our trip. After dotting around the islands for about 6 weeks we decided to close our adventure on the Island of Palawan slowly working way up from Puerto Princesa, stopping through Sabang & Port Barton before El Nido. Having avoided the bigger tourism areas for the most part, El Nido came to a little bit of a shock. Not to say El Nido town was bad, but it was busy, the local atmosphere we had been submerged in was gone and this was essentially a place to make money from Tourists. Unfortunately beautiful places attract many people, and it’s not a bad thing but it does tend to drive away the essence of why you go travelling. El Nido is a stunning location and it is difficult to get off the beaten track here. That is the nature of tourism, however it isn’t impossible to break away if you know how, and in walking the opposite direction to everyone else, you can be rewarded with another side of El Nido.
I’m not trying to write and portray El Nido negatively because a lot of people really enjoyed the town and its night life, but out of people we’ve met, there have been great differences in opinion. For travellers who want to venture out from the ‘Top 10 Attractions in Philippines’ to the lesser known, calm and isolated destinations, it becomes less beautiful and a little more hassle. I’m all for off the beaten track and in the quieter, more local towns I feel most inspired. However we embraced El Nido for what it was and made it our own and for that it became a highlight of this trip.
The main draw to El Nido is all formed around the tours available. I can assure that you won’t hear the last of tours A B C D. The best and most popular tours are A and C because they do truly take you to some spectacular locations. A local tour guide we spoke to said that B & D hardly run due to lack of popularity and usually only run via private boat.
Many people have asked ‘Where are all the tourists?’ When looking at this set of photos. I will admit we were particularly lucky, we had some of the most sought after destinations to ourselves at no extra cost. We just didn’t go at the same time as everyone else, or moreover, the same order. When enquiring for the tour, speak to the operators and try to find one that is friendly and chatty, not only will speaking to them for a little while give you some further discounts but it enabled us to ask them to do the tour in a different order. The majority of the tours all go in the same order everyday, so by changing the order you bypass most of the other tourists. An incredible feeling, to be somewhere so beautiful and not have to share it with one hundred other people.
Besides the tranquil isolation we were gifted and although ‘secret’ this and ‘hidden’ that can get confusing, the actual highlights of the both tours A & C were the incredible locations. For the first it was the big lagoon and the secret lagoon. The waters in the big and small lagoon were extremely clear, but for me the serenity whilst navigating in the big lagoon was just so beautiful. I realise a big part of this was due to the luck and lack of boats in the entire area, but it was just spectacular and really worth seeing. The shallow waters really showed off the clarity of the water and the oceanic life below. The secret beach and hidden beach were my favourites from Tour C. The hidden beach, obstructed by large pieces of limestone revealed a protected section of shallow crystal waters and a white sandy shore lined with coconuts. What more could a girl need?
Another option for you in El Nido is to be your own tour guide and explore yourself. There is a lot of hype about the guided tours in El Nido, but what about inland?
Just outside the town is a small market place where food is a fraction of the price in the town and you start to feel like you’re back to rural Philippines. Or how about hiring a motorbike and riding up to Nacpan and Duli beaches, where the sand runs far and tight along the coastline? I particularly enjoyed navigating ourselves by Kayak right along the edge of the town on our way to helicopter island, stopping in secluded bays and resting on deserted beaches no more than 5 metres long. Although my muscles didn’t last as long as I hoped, we did manage to stay out until the sun set and have stunning pink skies guide our way home.