Philippines, March 2016
Puerto Princesa Airport
There are three ways to get to El Nido in the Philippines. The first is by boat, but the downside of this is that it takes hours. The fastest way is by air, via a chartered aircraft flying from Manila, but this is going to be costly. The final option is to travel by land, and this is the option my friend and I went with after arriving in Puerto Princesa, travelling from Boracay.
To do this I made a reservation/booking with a local shuttle service called Fort Wally Adventure and Tours (mobile:+639172762875) . They offer transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa, among other things. If you’re on your own or with one or two friends, you can reserve individual seats in a van. Alternatively, you can rent the whole van for 10000 Php round trip.
With this in mind, if you are planning to go straight to El Nido by land, I’d highly recommend taking this transfer option. This will save you time and energy and allow you to enjoy your journey along the winding road rather than stress out over it. From what I experienced, the journey was nice and smooth, the road was mostly tarred, and with only two checkpoint stops and a quick lunch break, the trip took us about 4.5 hours.
Street view on our way to the hotel
El Nido Reef Strand Hotel
If you’re travelling on a budget, you need to be aware that accommodation near the waterfront will be expensive. After doing a bit of research and searching, we discovered a hotel that was only a few minutes walk away that was within our budget price, called the El Nido Reef Strand Hotel click here.
Travel photo by : myaji (tripadvisor)
The hotel felt more like a guest house, and was owned by a couple originally from Mindanao who fell in love with El Nido while vacationing and decided to move and open a business. In terms of the accommodation itself, the rooms were spacious, although they had only the most basic amenities. There were no televisions, side tables, lamps or any of the other items people are accustomed to seeing in a hotel, so before you book accommodation in El Nido, you should double check what amenities the hotel offers, because I know such things can be a deal breaker for some travellers.
For me personally, it isn’t a big deal because I know I will be out and about most of the time anyways. For this particular hotel, an expansion project is underway, and when complete will feature additional rooms, a pool, jacuzzi, and a restaurant. It’s expected to be done by May 2016.
El Nido is famous for its stunning beaches with their crystalline waters in the Bacuit Archipelago. There seem to be a few standard itineraries for island-hopping, which were divided into 4 tours, called Tour A,B,C and D. Our host in our hotel assisted us in the booking of a private boat for the following morning, for Tour A, which included stops at the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon and Seven Commando Beach.
The following day we were greeted by our tour guide, Grace, and taken to our private boat. Every person must pay a 200 Php Eco-Tourism Development Fee (ETDF) when entering the Bacuit Islands, and this fee is good for 10 days. In addition, the guide also needs to obtain and prepare a Coast Guard Manifesto which details how many passengers are on the vessel, the boat captain’s ID and other such details. Once all the necessary paperwork had been prepared and processed, we were off to our first stop.
Seven Commando Beach
Our first destination, and probably the most memorable one for me, was Seven Commando Beach. The story behind the name is that there were seven commandos stranded on the beach from a shipwreck of some sort, although that’s about all I can tell you, as I have to admit that I wasn’t paying much attention to the history lesson, because I was so overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty of the ocean. It was still mid-morning and the sun was not yet at its peak, so I decided not to wear my rash guard, and because of this I unfortunately got stung by a jellyfish.
Lesson learned, and now you will see me wearing my rash guard for most of my pictures. The beach has a snorkelling site, a variety of marine life and, obviously, some jellyfish (I call them J-fish). We stayed for about 30-40 minutes to swim and just generally enjoy the sun, coconut juice, banana Q (fried banana covered with caramelized sugar) and in my case, trying to cool down my burning, itchy left forearm, upon which the jellyfish sting definitely left a “Bacuit Island map”.
Seven Commando Beach
Since we were on a smaller boat, we were able to enter the Big Lagoon easier than the bigger boats. The depth of the water varies greatly, and there was always someone in front of the boat looking out for big rocks, swimmers, kayakers, boat traffic, snorkelers etc, because of how busy the lagoon was. We easily breezed through the entry point, thanks to the careful and precise navigation of our captain and his crew.
The Lagoon was really big – hence the name. We drove around the perimeter and saw some mangroves, and marvelled at the beautiful limestone cliffs that surrounded us. There are many great photo opportunities here, so don’t miss them. After this we anchored for a while and went for a swim.
The water here is brackish water, which is a combination of fresh and salt water, which is typical for a lagoon. On the water around midday, you can see some boats preparing lunch by grilling food at the back of the boat. After a few minutes’ dip in the water, our guide decided to find a private beach where we could have our own secluded lunch hideaway, which meant that we would need to go elsewhere. We soon found that getting out of the Big Lagoon was a lot trickier and harder than going in. There were more boats than there were earlier, and more people swimming and snorkelling. A lot of shouting was involved from our guide, trying to get their attention so that they could get out of the way of the boat.
Finally we managed to find a secluded area between the Big Lagoon and the Small Lagoon, on Miniloc Island, which was where our boat anchored and prepared our lunch. The table was prepared with a generous amount of food, featuring a tasty combination of chicken, pork, fish, vegetables and fruits. It was a picture perfect way to have lunch in my opinion. We lingered for a few minutes after lunch so that we could digest our food before heading to our next destination, the Small Lagoon.
At this time, the lagoon was very busy; boats, kayakers, and swimmers were everywhere. The entry to the small lagoon was small, which meant that kayaks (which are available for rent at 300 Php) were one of the best ways to get inside. Since there were 3 of us, of which I was the only one who had a GoPro, I ended up sitting in the middle of the kayak, capturing the beauty of the lagoon.
Once you pass through the narrow entrance, it opens up to a bigger lagoon with the same quality of water as the Big Lagoon. High limestone rocks surrounded us, providing a dramatic view of the area. Luckily, they also provided us with some shade and much-needed shelter from the scorching heat while we were paddling.
This place is a heaven for both photographers and videographers because of the breathtaking scenery, and it has definitely gone down as one of my favorites, and one that I have to recommend as a must-see
We have different ways to cool down from the heat
Our last stop for the day was the Secret lagoon, which is only accessible by foot. The boat docked close to the entrance so that we could step off and walk for a little bit. The entrance was very small and somewhat hidden, so much so that if you are not familiar with the area you might easily miss it.
When we got to the lagoon, we found that the water was shallow, so the hue of the water was not as green as that of the other two. Nevertheless, it still provided us with dramatic views, because it was surrounded by statuesque limestone cliffs. Grace, our guide, even climbed up and took a beautiful photo of us.
That was a busy day of swimming, snorkeling and just enjoying the nature. We were ready to go back in town and enjoy an evening out and be mesmerize by the beauty of the town.
On our way to dinner
Drinks by the beach at Pukka Bar
The next day we decided to stay inland and visit two other beaches that had been highly recommended: Nacpan and Las Cabanas beach. We hired a tricycle for 1400 Php for the whole day, with the deal being that we would be driven to both beaches. The road to Nacpan beach was a little rough for my tastes, especially seeing as I was sitting in a slouch at the back of the tricycle. It ended up being about a 30-45 minutes trek, and half of it was mostly bumpy dirt roads. Nacpan beach is known by locals as “Mini Boracay” because of its white sand beaches – and also possibly because here you will see more foreigners than local tourists. Also, I think that this is a pretty accurate generalization to make regarding the whole island of El Nido, actually.
We were there around noon time, and even though the sands were not conducive for barefoot walking because of the heat, the water was beautiful and the strip of white sand was amazing. Despite the fact that we spent most of our time in the shade, we had a fantastic time here.
Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas beach was close to the town of El Nido, so it was about an 45 minutes tricycle ride from Nacpan beach. This beach has calmer waters, and also happens to be a perfect spot from which to enjoy the sunset. There were some stairs which provided access to the beach, a few small bars, some deckchairs, but mostly a lot of stretches of sand. After a bit of searching we found a spot, enjoyed a green mango shake, and then waited for the sun to set.
Las Cabanas Beach
Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach
After a full day at the beach, we head back to our hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes. We head out and enjoyed the evening in town.
A little bit of gambling before dinner
Our dinner options
Not yet having quenched our thirst for island adventures, the following day we signed up for yet another private island hopping tour. This time we went for Tour C, which included stops at Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island and a quick stop on Cadlao Island.
Our first stop was the Secret beach. While the boat docks as close to the entrance as possible, you will have to swim/walk through the water to the beach. Because of this, I recommend wearing footwear of some sort because you will be stepping on some sharp rocks on your way.
On our way to Secret Beach
Aside from the rocks though, the water was beautiful and allowed us some much-needed relief from the heat. We spent a few minutes at the beach, from which we took some awesome shots as well.
Once more, just like on the previous day, our guide Grace started looking for a nice spot to have a private lunch. Here is a picture of Grace and her lunch creation.
Our tour guide, Grace
After a “full” filling lunch, which was immensely enjoyable, we headed off to our next destination, which happened to be Hidden Beach. Again we had to access the beach by foot, so footwear to protect yourself from sharp rocks is recommended.
While on Hidden Beach, Grace suggested we walk a little bit further and over the beach, to a place that according to her was the real “hidden beach”. This beach was smaller, calmer and surrounded by breathtaking limestone cliffs. Once again, Grace climbed up the cliffs and took some awesome pictures for us.
The real “Hidden Beach” according to our guide.
In addition, Grace decided to give us a free viewing tour of the Cadlao lagoon. Our boat was a lot bigger than last time because the destination was further away, and a small boat wouldn’t have handled the trip too well.
Kuya Ricky looking out in Cadlao Lagoon
We didn’t stop for a swim this time, but we nonetheless enjoyed our time at the lagoon. Lastly, we headed to Helicopter Island, where we docked and rested and enjoyed soaking up some more sun before heading back to the main island.
S.O.S……..or not 🙂
End of El Nido
Tonight was our last night, and we will leave El Nido the following morning. I highly recommend visiting El Nido, especially if you love beaches, snorkeling, food, sunset, and picturesque islands. The prices were not too bad in terms of food, transportation etc, and it also helps if you are travelling with a group, because this will definitely cut some of the total expenses. It really is a very worthwhile stop to make if you’re visiting the Philippines.