El Nido guide by a local expat
March 4, 2019
by Khanyisa Mnyaka
I cried the first I arrived in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines. I had seen the pictures before I went but I couldn’t believe what my eyes were looking at when I arrived there. I had a perfect view of Cadloa lagoon from the balcony at my accommodation, and the mountain, surrounded by water was too much for my senses and all I could do was cry. It was like looking at an art masterpiece, but only; the masterpiece was vibrant and alive. Growing up in a Christian household where we had church songs in the background, I began singing that old hymn, “How Great Thou Art”. This song finally made sense to me, here in El Nido, crying unable to peel my eyes off of Cadloa lagoon. I realized that this is what the writer was talking about when he said “……consider all the worlds thou hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the roaring thunder. Thy power throughout the Universe displayed….” I have had the pleasure to travel to a few other countries but this is where I saw how stunning this planet truly is.
After a few regular visits, during every vacation as an ESL teacher in South Korea and then later Malaysia, I moved to El Nido. Palawan is more than deserving of its title “the most beautiful island in the world”. The island has held this title for five years running, voted by nearly every travel and leisure magazine on the planet. El Nido, located in the most Northern part of Palawan, upholds the standard of beauty of which Palawan rightfully boasts. It’s as if mother nature wanted to gloat and oh, gloat she did! The limestones look like they are competing for attention; each standing tall and glorious in its own right. The white sand beaches, that open up to lagoons, rocks you swim through in order to get inside other white sand beaches. It is all a visual sensory overload.
Tour A, B, C & D are the main attraction in El Nido. Each tour includes a visit to four different famous spots on the El Nido bacuit bay which tour A & C being the most popular tours. A normal tour includes a buffet barbecue lunch, snorkeling gear (if you’re lucky) and a tour guide that speaks enough English to let you know when you’re about to step on dead corals. You will see these tour signs on all the tour booking offices in town and they’re all pretty standard and the boats are all the same size.
However, living in El Nido, I would often hear tourist ask “I’ve done the tours, what else is there? I would excitedly tell the inquirers that El Nido has so much more to offer, I called it “a gift that keeps on giving”. There is so much to see and do in that tiny town.
El Nido has and continues to become a booming tourist town with all the attention it has received from travelers. The aforementioned tours are a nightmare for tourists as well as the tourism board. The high number of boats and tourists that go out every day have caused major environmental issues and the municipality has had to think of ways to rehabilitate the bay. However, if you are a traveler that works hard to avoid the crowds, you will enjoy the following tours. These leave at 11 am, giving a two-hour head start to everyone and making sure that there are almost no other boats by the time they arrive at the islands. Not only that, these have had to reinvent the tour, making it a little bit more expensive as to not compete with the local operators and include more to their tour. Some include alcohol but they all provide the comfort of being on a big boat so you get to enjoy the tour on a spacious and open space.
- Kraken Tours
- Le Boat Expeditions
- Tour Z
- Ape Tours
Okay, now you have done the tours, ate that delicious Filipino barbecue and jumped from the back of a boat. However, you have a few more days to kill and you want to see what else is there. There are some hidden gems in El Nido, like the waterfalls, Nacpan beach, Duli (surfers paradise) beach and even way up further North to Sibaltan. Sibaltan is where you can do a day tour to Linapacan (famously known for having the clearest waters in the world). You can rent a scooter, which I strongly discourage for first-time scooter drivers, to discover more of El Nido or join a group tour. A few tour operators have started creating fun inland tour packages.
- YOLO tour
- Wanderlust El Nido
- Duli Surf club
For the Sunset Lovers
El Nido has the most immaculate sunsets I have ever seen and it matters where sit at the end of each day with your cold San Miguel Light in one hand, a lover’s hand in the other and watch the sun disappear. There a lot of bars on the main strip in town where you can do just that with SAVA beach bar being the best. But, if you get on a tricycle and head to Corong Corong, you will be on some of the most beautiful bars and resort (that open to the public) where you can enjoy the sunset. Here’s a list of some of them.
- Panorama Resort & Bar
- Buko Resort & Bar
- Outpost hostel (for the partying traveler)
- Republika Sunset
- La Plage
- Bella Vita restaurant
Something for everyone
El Nido has something for everyone, whether you enjoy spending your day at the beach with a cheap bottle of Rum and coca cola, or driving around in a scooter or even waking up early to watch the sunrise. It also has something for everyone’s budget, you’ll find a hostel for as low as $5 a night or resort in the middle of the ocean for as high as $1000 a night. El Nido truly is “a gift that keeps on giving”.