The eight hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido didn’t allow my body the rest it was crying out for. Windy roads and uneven surfaces meant that the day was spent sliding off my plastic-covered bus seat due to excessive amounts of leg sweat. Like all Asian bus journeys, the roll on roll off (RORO) local bus took a few hours longer than anticipated as we stopped every couple of yards to pick up or drop off passengers at the side of the road. What’s a couple of hours when I saved a few dollars huh? I do recommend catching the night bus across the island of Palawan as it’s slightly more bearable without the midday sun – although wrap up warm as the aircon is hot wired to the ignition!
I checked into Austria’s Place Guesthouse which was recommended to me by a girl I met in Manila. The staff at Austria Place were great in catering to my every need and the price (400 pesos) was only a dollar more than the cheapest digs in town and it included an awesome free breakfast buffet which I made sure I took full advantage of during my stay. My first day was spent wandering around the small beach town which, to be honest, didn’t seem that great. I met a guy from the Czech Republic who turned out to be a right negative bore. It had been a while since I had come across another traveller I was itching to get away from and he was one of them.
After a decent nights sleep I booked myself on to one of the island hopping tours offered by a number of different companies in town. There are four main tours to choose from ranging from 1200-1600 pesos with tour A and tour C being the most popular. After consulting some of my favourite travel blogs I booked myself on to tour C with El Bacuit who are located on the beach. Like with every tour, you can easily knock 200 pesos ($5) off the price, especially if there is a group of you. Much to my dismay I was the only solo backpacker on my trip but there was a group of Spanish guys around the same age along with an older Filippino couple and another from Korea and the USA. Tour C included around five stunning stops and plenty of opportunity to snorkel, something I hadn’t done in a long time after a bad diving experience last year. I absolutely loved seeing all the colourful fish even though the coral wasn’t half as nice as the great barrier reef.
It was the snorkelling and the crew from El Bacuit that made me enquire about booking tour A with them the very next day. I also took the opportunity to speak with the manager about the company’s online presence and how they could increase the number of bookings by getting set up online. I offered to help as I have previous experience and it’s something I enjoy doing and would like to continue doing during my travels. It seemed like a tricky job to offer to do in a town that only has electricity from 2pm until 6am – something to remember if visiting El Nido.
Tour A visited a different set of beautiful stops, mainly lagoons, which provided much adventure having to navigate through small holes to reach them. Tour A did seem slightly more touristy mainly due to the number of photo opportunities it includes which is great for those who love to snap away but you’d have to be lucky not to have someone’s head in the way. The food cooked by staff at El Bacuit was just as good as the previous day’s comprising of fresh grilled fish, salad and bbq’d chicken and the best mangoes I’ve ever tasted. This was no surprise as Palawan is renowned for it’s sweet yellow mangoes and I was even searched by the mango police on my way to El Nido and at the airport in my way to Cebu, to check I wasn’t transporting them across islands.
Both El Bacuit’s tour A and tour C are a great way of appreciating the beauty around El Nido, with tour C being my overall favourite. This was mainly due to the smaller number of other boats I encountered and the crew and other passengers I was with. If you can, team up in a group of like-minded people and conduct your own tour combining the stops in tour A and C. Most companies can provide a boat and a guide for the day at little extra cost, depending on the number of people in your group.
El Nido appears more popular with Filippino holiday makers than backpackers but a good place to find other travellers is Pukka Bar in the beach or Arts Cafe. I met up again with Jaimie and another girl called Chelsie who I had met in Manila for the most wonderful burger from Sea slugs – my first taste of good bread in nearly four months! Afterwards we went to backpacker hangout Pukka Bar for live reggae music, San Miguels and dancing.
There is certainly more to El Nido than first met my eye and it isn’t just the bars and restaurants lining the beach at night. On my last day, I took a walk along the coast to another beach which was stunning and I hear there’s an even nicer one a little further on. If you do have a day to spare, hiring a motorbike would be a great way to explore the beauty of the Northern tip of Palawan, but remember, get cash out the ATM before visiting El Nido.
Living life, loving travel,