El Nido, Philippines

El Nido is a small village near the Northern tip of Palawan Island. By Filipino standards it is remote, but its firm established on the backpacker tourist trail has brought abundant accommodation, restaurants, and prosperity to this once sleepy town. El Nido is pleasant enough by itself but the real allure is its proximity to the Bacuit Archipelago, an incredible span of islands, empty white beaches, and shimmering turquoise waters.

We arrived late on a dark evening in desperate need of a shower. Most of the hotels and guesthouses were full. We fell back on SE Asian traditions, “when in doubt look for a narrow alleyway with a lot of construction hazards.” Sure enough we found one and it led us to treasure. At its end we found the flickering sign of a guesthouse. They had rooms and a good weekly rate, basecamp was established.

We spent the next few days in boats exploring nearby islands and pushing our limits free diving. It’s a beautiful part of the world filled with jagged limestone jutting vertically out of the ocean. There’s an untapped market for deep water soloing (rock climbing without a rope over water) here. Val did most of the climbing, complete with mask, snorkel and sometimes fins.

Hidden beaches abound and are usually accessed via a small hole below the water line. It’s a paradise, but one you have to share. The Filipino tourists are our favorite, they are unfailingly happy and great fun to watch. You can see them from miles away, fluorescent life jackets ratcheted one notch below “surgically grafted”. They are from Manila, Cebu, or Davao, part of the financially stable class of Filipinos Their sun darkened cousins from here in the provinces laugh at them as they try to swim, each has something the other does not.

In the nights live music spills out over the sands of El Nido from beachside bars and a festive atmosphere pervades. We love watching the sunset perched high above the water. El Nido may not be a secret but it is a great place to let the days slide by with a book, a coconut shake, and an empty to-do list.


Traveler practicalities

Traveling between El Nido and Coron is achieved by boat. There are three options:

A) Montenegro Fast Craft. 1750p one way 2 departures daily. Air-con fast ferry 5 hours

B) Atienza Shipping Lines: Coron 1200p one way Manila 1350 two departures per week. Air-con ferry and cargo ship 8-10 hours (24 hours to Manila).

C) Big Bangka Ferries: 1200p one way multiple departures daily. 8-10 hours ocean breeze. This option should be avoided the boats have had many accidents, they are uncomfortable, and unsuited for open ocean travel. Montenegro has all but put these companies out of business.

To Puerto Princessa take a minivan or bus (500-200p 5-7 hours, 480p 7 hours)

Cheapest easy to find double room 650p, Average budget double room 1000p

Written by:

Scott Dusek is a writer and photography originally from Seattle, Washingon.

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