Exploring the essence of El Nido, Palawan
November 30, 2018
by Deepthi Ponodath
El Nido is an island paradise situated to the north-east of the Palawan island in the Philippines. In a country constituted by over seven thousand islands, El Nido contributes to forty-five of the most unique and breath-taking islands, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, thereby making it a much sought after tourist destination. With enough and more to quench your thirst for a tropical adventure, and offering some of the most unique delicacies, El Nido is an experience you will cherish for a lifetime.
Reaching El Nido
El Nido is well connected by air, water, as well as land transport. I planned a week-long visit towards the end of April as the best time to visit El Nido is between the months of November and May. I took a flight from Manila to Puerto Princessa, which is the capital of Palawan, and travelled to El Nido the following day. A six-hour bus ride from Puerto Princessa will get you into El Nido town, from where you can hail jeepneys (a type of paratransit used in the Philippines) to ply you to your destinations. The bus ride to El Nido was very scenic with picturesque views of the pristine blue waters of the Sulu Sea and its coast, which takes you on a journey of its own. There are regular bus shuttle services between Puerto Princessa and El Nido at reasonable rates.
Stay at a beachside resort
Located away from the hustle and bustle of El Nido town, the Garden Bay Beach Resort at the end of the beach is one of the best places to stay in El Nido. The peace and tranquillity of the resort and its surroundings with the hammocks and swings swaying in the wind and the exceptional hospitality of the resort owners and staff make your stay all the more pleasant and memorable.
What to eat while in El Nido
A walk around El Nido in the evening gives you a general vibe of the place, with its quaint resto-bars with music along the beachfront and the numerous food stalls lining the street which is a paradise for every foodie.
If you are daring enough, try ‘balut’, a famous street delicacy in the Philippines, which is basically a boiled duck embryo eaten directly from the eggshell. You can find a balut vendor at every nook and corner of El Nido. Being a foreigner in El Nido and asking to try a balut caught the attention of the vendor as well as many locals, who observed me with a lot of interest. It is quite unappealing to look at but if you can manage to get past its appearance, you will find that it is pretty delicious.
Another refreshing street delicacy is Buko Juice, which is essentially a mix of tender coconut (water and pulp) and milk. The drink is milky white in colour and has a nice aroma of tender coconut.
‘Gusto Gelato’ has the best ice creams and is a must try for anyone with a sweet tooth. It is truly a little slice of heaven, and you just can’t seem to get enough of their exotic flavours. They also have the most amazing crepes at Gusto’s, especially their Nutella crepe which is an enticing treat.
Next door to Gusto’s is a popular Italian place called ‘Altrove’, with the best pizzas in El Nido. It is mostly quite packed in the evenings and is often very hard to get a table without having to wait in line for quite long. But a pizza from Altrove is worth the wait.
Bald Guy Grill
While you are there, be sure to check out ‘Bald Guy Grill’ for a nice juicy ‘big Hungarian sausage’ and a great conversation! They also serve onion rings, french fries, fried oreos and chicken popcorn in addition to their famous sausage.
Island hopping tours in El Nido
The enchanting islands of El Nido and the surrounding bright blue waters are breathtakingly beautiful, to say the least. Various island hopping tour packages (tour A, B, C, D and E) covering the outer islands of El Nido are available. There are also private tours to the islands or beaches of your choice for a slightly higher fee.
El Gordo’s Action Adventures – Private tour
I took the private tour package provided by El Gordo’s Action Adventures. Snorkelling gear, water shoes, kayak, and life jackets were provided as part of the package. The owner sat me down and described the islands and locations on a map and helped me choose which ones to visit on the trip.
Lunch on the boat
A scrumptious lunch was served on the boat by the crew, which was a part of the tour package. I must say, it was one lavish spread!
While we kayaked, the crew always stayed close on another kayak to ensure our safety. Kayaking in the mesmerising turquoise blue waters was such a fun and calming experience for someone like me with zero kayaking experience. Being there in that moment, in the lap of nature surrounded by water felt surreal and heavenly.
There were numerous sites for snorkelling all along the route. The clear blue sea water offered unhindered view of the coral reefs and marine life thriving beneath, thereby opening my eyes to a magical underwater world. The sheer beauty of it was so captivating that I ended up snorkelling for hours without even realising it.
Must see tour sites in El Nido
Swimming through the hole in the rock under water to get into the secret lagoon was daring enough for the amateur swimmer in me, but the rush of adrenaline, excitement and the experience is one I wouldn’t trade for anything. In case you are not a swimmer, the crew will guide you and help you through the hole safely. The water inside is very shallow but be sure to have your water shoes on as the bed is covered with sharp rocks and corals.
Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon
The big lagoon and small lagoon with its crystal clear turquoise blue waters redefined the state of tranquillity. Beware of sea urchins in the shallow water near the rocks. The big lagoon offers a good opportunity to kayak as the water is calm and steady.
The white sandy beach with clear water is hidden from the open sea by limestone rock formations which completely enclose the beach. A swim from your boat through the open sea through a narrow opening in the rock is how you enter the Hidden Beach. You will need an experienced swimmer and a guide in order to find the Hidden Beach, as it is well hidden from view.
The Helicopter Island is shaped roughly like a helicopter and hence the name. The water near the island offered a very good site for snorkelling with a colourful, mesmerising underwater world which makes you forget all about the surface.