The Philippines: Hopping Around the World's Most Beautiful Island
In summer 2017 I was solo backpacking through some of the most fascinating countries in South East Asia, of which the Philippines is probably my favourite. I just love its tropical vegetation, stunning scenery, turquoise water and kind people. If you want to see a video from the Philippines and my other destinations on this trip you can watch it here.
The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelagic country in the western Pacific Ocean with over 7000 islands. Their currency is the Philippine Peso (PHP) and 1 Euro converts to 57 Pesos.
El Nido is a municipality in the north of Palawan island, often named the “Most Beautiful Island in the World”. Back then, El Nido was a remote place and yet to be discovered by the average tourist. Hence, I was planning on exploring its islands, white-sand beaches and coral reefs on my own.
You have two main options to reach El Nido town: either by bus from Puerto Princesa or by plane from Manila. I opted for the latter, as I flew in from Hong Kong and caught a flight from the domestic airport in Manila to El Nido Lio Airport with AirSwift.
It'‚ just a 1-hour flight and their airport only consists of a short tarmac and one building next to it. Make your way to the parking lot to your left and hire a tricycle to get to your accommodation, as it's the easiest, if not only option you have.
Where to stay
I was checking homestays, Airbnbs and hostels online, also outside town and at nearby beaches, but eventually decided to stay at the Spin Designer Hostel. It is conveniently located in walking distance to the beach, restaurants and the ferry pier for daily tours and has a great outdoor and BBQ area to meet and mingle with fellow travellers. There might be cheaper alternatives in the area, but I trusted the positive reviews and definitely didn't regret my choice.
Day 1 (Tour C)
Talking about tours! In El Nido, you can choose between four major tours (A, B, C and D; comprehendible, I know), each of which takes you to various beaches and lagoons. You may check online for current prices and reviews about individual agencies. All tours feature five different spots and include lunch, so you will spend the whole day on the boat and groups may consist of 15-20 people. Keep in mind, when you book a tour, you have to pay the Eco-Tourism Development Fee of 200PHP (which is valid for 10 days).
On my first day, I went for tour C, which included: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, and Hidden Beach. At each spot, one of the guides came with us and showed us around. You can also borrow snorkelling gear and take a dive to explore the coral reefs by yourself. Don't forget your action cam!
Day 2 (Tour A)
The next morning we headed out with the same tour guides, this time to visit Small and Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commando Beach, and Shimizu Island. As you can see in these photos, we were having a good time at the beach while sipping coconuts (with rum, of course) and enjoying the freshly prepared lunch (loads of veggie options!).
It was “masarap” (which is Philippino for delicious)!
This tour also included kayaking in the turquoise waters of Secret Lagoon, which you can also see in my travel video here. Of course, some spots might get crowded when several boats arrive at the same time, so chose your agency wisely. There is no guarantee as such, but at least some of them try to take a detour or change the order of the route. If you want complete freedom you can also hire a private boat.
On my last day in El Nido I planned to have a relaxing day at the popular but remote Nacpan Beach. It took a 1-hour drive by tricycle (back then I wasn't driving scooter myself) to this endless stretch of beach north of El Nido. The water was crystal clear and the few restaurants along the beach almost empty. After making acquaintance with a German guy and due to an upcoming storm, we drove on his motorbike to Las Cabañas Beach. Watching the sunset while sipping cocktails, what else is there to a perfect last evening in one of my favourite places on earth.
What to keep in mind
El Nido town only has two ATMs, and sometimes none of them is working, so prepare to bring lots of cash (for tours, food, drinks, etc.) and keep in mind that the machine might not accept your foreign card (I tried about 5 different ATMs in the Philippines but eventually had to use my credit card to withdraw money).
Always wear sun protection! I had to learn the hard (and painful) way on my first day on the boat when I got badly sunburnt. The sun is much stronger due to the water reflections and, with the sailing wind, you easily forget about the tropical heat.
If you hire a taxi or tricycle driver always arrange the fare beforehand, as most of them won't be using a taximeter. Also, if you are planning to do a day trip (e.g. to Nacpan Beach) you can ask your driver to wait for you and agree on a lump sum to be paid at the end of the day.