El Nido is the home of over 45 beautiful islands, diverse wildlife, and scenic landscapes. Beautiful beaches, mangroves, clear waters, lush forest over towering limestone and farmlands abound here. Bacuit Bay and terrestrial parts of the municipality of El Nido are now protected as a marine reserve by the Philippine government. It has become a prime tourist destination with the establishment of tourist and air-transport facility.
My journey started at the small rustic airline lounge of ITI or Island Transvoyager Inc. at the A. Soriano Hangar, Domestic Airport in Pasay City. There were complimentary coffee, tea and croissant which were not that bad especially when you are hungry. After watching the safety demonstrations of the stewardess in the event of ditching, we were asked to weigh everything. It included all my hand-carry bags, my heavy cam and me, no wonder I was charged with excess baggage. This was my first time to fly on a German-made 19-seater Dornier 228-212 aircraft or in my own vocabulary a tiny plane that had seen its better days.
Alright maybe I just have qualms of flying in general but surprisingly I enjoyed the flight after that scary take-off. The plane has a map of its route to El Nido and one of the first islands you would see was the Lubang Group of Islands in Mindoro, also known as the place where the last Japanese soldier surrendered. It also passed over the Busuanga area where the aerial view was even more magnificent with endless blue waters, long stretch of white sand and dramatic limestone.
We were warmly welcomed by a group dressed in traditional baro at saya while a man was playing the guitar before we went to the native hut airport lounge where free ice tea and rice cakes were served. Booking a summer promo at the El Nido Resorts made everything convenient and hassle-free as the airport transfers, activities, use of equipments and accommodation were part of the package. It was already past one when we reached Lagen Resorts and our group was again welcomed by a group performance by the staff. The resort is situated at the Lagen Island with a backdrop of verdant forest and towering limestones. It has a nice pools overlooking the vast waters and water cottages in concrete stilts.
The resort was very cosz and luxurious. The water surrounding the water cottages was crystal-clear, it was like looking at colorful fish in an aquarium. There were jellyfish, however, all over the the place and I had seen more when we had our island-hopping later on. After getting hold of the brochure, I was almost tempted to hike through the trail of Lagen’s lush forest. It was tempting and the thought of seeing some endemic animals in the area was very exciting. In the end, i decided to just explore the resort, which didn’t turn out to be a bad idea either. I met George Tapan, one of the most sought-after photographers in the Philippines who was currently doing a photo shoot with the El Nido Resorts Company at that time. He was kind enough to share some tips to me and Aldren, another photography enthusiast I met in the resort. He even invited me to join his island-hopping photo shoot the next day.
My adventure started the next day when I joined some guests to Miniloc Island where we went kayaking and snorkeling. Unlike Lagen, Miniloc Resort has a wider beach area and more laid-back atmosphere with clubhouse and cottages made of native huts. This was more like the resort for the beach-mode, reggae-music loving vacationers. It was also nearer the other islands and the lagoons, which were next in our itinerary. At first, I was rather disappointed that the snorkeling area was just in front of the resort itself since I wanted to see more marine species. But to my surprise, it was so diverse with different species of colorful fishes swimming around me and lots of enormous parrot fish scraping off algae on the corals. Although these were not the wild ones, I had a great time snorkeling here. I’ve seen more fish here than the last time I snorkeled at the marine reserve of Puerto Galera in Mindoro.
After lunch at the Miniloc Clubhouse, we went to Pangulasian Island, a private island owned by the EL Nido Resorts. It has a long stretch of white sand beach and it offers the best view of the sunset among the islands included in our tour according to our guide. He recommended this place for snorkeling and diving but I opted to have the 20-30 minute hike in the middle of the island with a promise of a 360 degrees view of El Nido. It was also a good place for bird watching and wildlife spotting. It was very humid that afternoon but my effort was rewarded with a spectacular view on top of a wooden view deck. The island also offers many water sports activities like sailing but I had so much for the day so I chose to just chill in one of the lovely cottages and waited for the sunset. Unfortunately, a sudden downpour left us with no choice but to pack our things and head back to Lagen Resorts. We capped the night watching a dance performance of Philippine Folk Dances, which were really impressive.
I have heard so much about the stunning lagoons of El Nido so I had been looking forward to our island-hopping to more beaches and the lagoons on our third day in El Nido. We started with Pinasil Island where the cathedral-like cavern could be found. Our boat was too big for the cavern’s channel and it is only accessible by dinghy and kayak. We just took pictures of its exteriors and didn’t spend much time here. Then we moved to Cudugnon Cave in Palawan Mainland known to be the burial site of the Neolithic period. The cave was accessible through a small opening and will lead you to into a narrow empty space in the middle. The part where the remains of our ancestors lie was off-limit for safety reasons because the rock formations were steep and sharp. Sadly, some areas of the caves have vandals, which were such a shame for something historical and government-owned landmark.
After a visit to the cave, we cruised to Vigan Island also known as “Snake Island”. It got its name from the the odd shape of its natural sandbar that resembles the shape of a snake. This S-shaped sandbar is visible when the tide is low and can be best viewed from the lookout of the nearby hill. The sandbar was surrounded by shallow swimming areas and forested hills. It was my kind of place for swimming as I am usually gross-out by sea urchins, sea grasses and other spiky and slimy underwater creatures. It was just like an infinity pool with very clear waters and fine sand. There was also a 5-10 minute hiking trail near the mangrove area which offers another 360 degrees view of the island. The S-shaped sandbar was clearly visible from the top and some of the guests walked all the way to its tip.
Then we went to Entalula Island to have our picnic style lunch. George was currently doing a pictorial with Hans Montenegro and his wife when our group arrived on the beach. There were small bamboo table,s a small native hut that functions as beach bar and a few native hut cottages with a hammock. The beach here was even better than at Pangulasian Island. Its shoreline is lined with coconut trees, and the sand is whiter and finer. The island is also owned by the El Nido Resorts Company so some activities like the rock climbing were exclusive for guests only. After exploring the area a bit and soaking in the smell of the barbecue, I found myself gorging on freshly-grilled seafood, slabs of juicy meat and a generous serving of salad and fruit. It was one of the best meals I ever had. Probably, because the food was good, or perhaps it was the ambience or perhaps I was just hungry
After lunch it was so tempting to lie on the hammock and just drift to sleep. But then, we only had limited time at Entalula so I didn’t waste any more time and had a quick look at the water near the cliff to snorkel. In the end, I doing the rock climbing for beginners, which was surprisingly fun and easy. The climb was free at certain point and the charging starts if you want to climb further beyond the designated point and want to try the other climbing areas. They have about 10 climbing areas with almost the same level of difficulty. After my first successful attempt at rock climbing, I decided it was enough and just lazed on the hammock until our boat came to pick us up.
It was drizzling when the boat picked us up but that didn’t stop us from proceeding to our next destinations. We went first to the Big Lagoon and started cruising along a channel surrounded by rugged limestone with some wild ferns and exotic plants attached to its walls. There was a wide floating raft at the edge of it which we had used to have a better view of the surrounding area and to snap more pictures. The scenery is just awesome.
We then moved to the Small Lagoon which had impressed me even more. The water was so clear and beautiful coral were visible at the shallow part of the water. I opted to kayak first while the others were snorkeling. There were only limited kayaks so others were advised to snorkel first or swim while waiting for their turn. Kayaking at the small lagoon was such a spiritual experience for me especially when I entered its inner part accessible only through a small opening under the rock formations. It was so peaceful and it was like you have entered a primitive world untouched by human civilization. The water was so clear and the lush flora made the place more enchanting.
Snorkeling in this area, however wasn’t as great as the other snorkeling spots we had been to. There were only a few small designated areas where you would find high concentration of corals and marine life. But, it sure was fun as well. The rain finally poured in when we were on our way back to Lagen Resort. It was my last night at the resort and I was glad I took pictures of that lovely sunset of El Nido on my first night. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen.
There are still so many beautiful islands to see in El Nido. I’m definitely not done with it yet. Next time I go back, I will include a mangrove tour, Cadlao Island trekking, a visit to Makinit Hot Spring and the historical Ille Cave and many more. How I wish!
HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
a. ITI – Island Transvoyager Inc. ( It offers daily direct flight to El Nido and is the official carrier of the guests of El Nido Resorts ( Lagen Resort and Miniloc Resorts). The resorts’ guests are prioritized but available seats are open for other passengers as long as they book ahead of time. (one way flight is around 8000 pesos)
ITI Hangar No. 5-03-127, Andrews Avenue (near PAL Medical Center) Domestic Airport, Pasay City +63+(2)+ 8515674, +63+(2)+ 8515667, +63+(2)+ 8545220
b. Major Airlines (PAL, Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, and Air Philippines, SEAIR) The cheapest way to do it is to fly to Puerto Princesa which usually offer promo airfares and then go to El Nido either by land, air or sea. (one way flight ranges from 1000 – 4000 pesos)
1. Puerto Princesa to EL Nido by land
Local non-ac bus – the road trip is around 8 -10 hours which depend on how many stops the bus makes as it picks and drops passenger from town to town. A bus fare is around 500 pesos. The earliest trip for the bus is 5am and leaves every hour until 9am. From what I’ve heard, it’s a grueling hours of dusty and bumpy ride and occasional flat tires is common. (An option for those with extra time and backpacker’s budget)
Aircon Shuttle Van – Take one of the air-con mini vans from Puerto Princesa’s new market bus station between 6 and 9 AM in the morning and 1 to 2PM in the afternoon. Costs are 600 pesos per person and the trip takes 6-8 hours. It’s possible to make reservations (best for afternoon trips) via phone at: +63(0)9209815702 or +63(0)9172762875.
Private Van for hire – for big group renting a van is around 10 thousand pesos including the driver’s fee and the cost of going back to Puerto Prinsesa. If you want the van to stay with you in El Nido, there’s extra charge on a per-night basis, around 1,500.
2. Sabang to El Nido by boat – a boat ride from Sabang (place of the underground river) takes around 6 hours with a stop in Port Barton after 3 hours. It costs around 6000++ per boat or 1000 -1500 per person
3. Puerto Princesa to El Nido by air – Seair flies from PPC to El Nido once or twice a week. (An option for those with limited time but with extra budget)
a. WG&A Superferry (tel:  528-7000, (www.SuperFerry.com.ph) leaves every Friday afternoon from Manila, for a Saturday morning arrival in Coron and an evening arrival in Puerto Princesa (27 hours away). Return trips leave Sunday. (An option for those who want to visit coron too)
b. San Nicholas Shipping Lines (phone: +63(0)9182161764) and Atienza Shipping Lines (phone: +63(0)9274066036) make trips 2-3 times a week for around P1,200.00. Trip takes 30 hours
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
Most of the budget hotels are located in El Nido town. Prices range from 300 to 2000 pesos per night depending on the season, the type of room, the location and your haggling talent. Some of the resorts are Marina Garden Beach Resort, Rosanna Cottage, Chizlyke Cottage, Shore Pass Lodge. Dara Fernandez Cottages, Gloria’s Beach Cottages, Lally and Abet Beach Cottages, Tandikan Beach Cottages, El Nido Beach Hotel, El Nido View Deck Inn and Four Season’s Inn
Detailed list of contact numbers and prices click here
WHERE TO DINE AND DRINK IN EL NIDO
Address: El Nido Town
Balay Tubay – has a nice reggae/local music set up, live bands every night, and great character to the place
Blue Karrot Bar – a nice place for late afternoon drinks and relaxing in beach mode style
Shipwreck Bar – a favorite hub of locals and tourists for drinking and a game of pool
Art Café Bar and Restaurant – famous for its delicious breakfast and also a travel center in one
El Nido Resorts Clubhouse – located at Miniloc and Lagen islands
WHAT TO DO IN EL NIDO
a. exploring remote beaches
b. snorkeling hidden lagoons
c. island hopping
d. trekking, cave exploration and rock climbing
e. water sports and activities (diving, wind surfing, sailing, fishing etc.)
Art Café offers a wide range of services like island hopping tour, trekking tours, equipment rentals, accommodation packages, flight booking and reconfirmations etc. They are one of the most organized travel centers and the prices are relatively cheap or reasonable. But they are other tour operators that give the same itinerary for only 500 pesos per head.
Sample tours they offer
TOUR A – Snorkel tour to two lagoons on Miniloc
Island, Simisu Island, and 7 Commando
TOUR B - Tour to Lagen Island, Cudugnon Cave,
Snake Island, Cathedral Cave. P800/person
TOUR C- Snorkel tour around Matinloc Island
and Tapiutan Island, with a visit to the
Secret Beach. P900/person