By taking advantage of the Easter long weekend and also getting super cheap flights, a group of 10 girl friends and I headed to The Philippines. We had a night in Manila before heading to Palawan for 5 days. It was a super relaxing yet fun filled long weekend and I encourage everyone to visit!
We only had one night here but stayed at Avant Apartments in Big Global City (BGC) which is a safe, central location close to shops, restaurants and bars. However, as it was Easter Thursday and a public holidays for the Filipinos, a lot of places were shut.
I was still lucky to be able to catch up with Arnold, a friend from high school and two other school friends who happened to be there at the same time. Arnold took us out to dinner to a Filipino restaurant called Abe for some local Filipino dishes such as adobo and sinigang and we went back to his apartment for drinks. Unfortunately we were planning on going out but there weren’t any places which were open. Will have to come back to Manila again to experience their nightlife!
As the fifth largest island in the Philippines, Palawan is said to be largely unexplored compared to the many popular destinations such as Boracay. The islands are absolutely beautiful and there is an idyllic tropical vibe.
The capital of Palawan is Puerto Princesa and Liz, Courtney and I flew into here from Manila. We got a private driver to take us to El Nido which took about 4.5 hours.
We based ourselves in El Nido, a small but booming resort town in far northwest of Palawan. The town is hemmed between spectacular cliffs of jagged karst and limestone which is covered in green jungle.
We stayed at MaryGold Hotel which was right on the beach and a prime location with great views. El Nido bay front has beautiful views but the beach itself is not especially attractive for swimming because of the number of bangkas (boats) coming and going.
As such, island hopping around the Bacuit archipelago (which is the main reason people come to El Nido) is the best way to see the islands and the beauty surrounding the place. The bangkas are catamaran-style boats and we had a private one for the 11 of us. They took us from island to island and at lunchtime your boatmen who grill fresh fish, seafood and other meats on the BBQ on board and we would feast at one of the many secluded beaches.
The first day we did Tour A which explored the Miniloc and Shimizu Islands. The Small Lagoon was only accessible by swimming or kayak through a small gap in the rocks. To be honest, it was beautiful but there were hoards of tourists so you were kayaking into swimmers. Best to come early or later when the crowds subside. The Big Lagoon is surrounds by towering limestone cliffs that look like a cathedral rising from the water. We stopped and went snorkelling here and I couldn’t believe how clear the water was! We also visited Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and Seven Commando Beach where we drank coconuts, snorkelled and relaxed on the beach.
It was Katie’s birthday so we went to El Nido Boutique Art Café for dinner and birthday celebrations. Afterwards, we headed along the beach to Sava Beach Bar for drinks. We went to a reggae bar as well and although El Nido is not known for their nightlife, it’s fun to have some drinks and go dancing!
The next day we did Tour B which is less popular than Tour A or C, however we went to some really great spots without the boats full of tourists! First we stopped at a small idyllic beach where we hung out and saw starfish. Next was Snake Island which is a serpentine sand bar with crystal clear waters and with its low tide, it’s great to relax. We also walked up a small hill to see the views of Snake Island and then saw Cathedral Cave and also stopped at Pinagbuyutan Island to relax and go swimming.
In the afternoon, we went to Republica Sunset Bar and had sangria and tapas. This place had a great vibe with lots of young travellers and was a perfect place to see the sunset! The sky was on fire!
Tour C is one of the most popular island hopping tours in El Nido which covers Matinloc and Tapiutan Islands and one of my favourite tours as the snorkelling was amazing! We first went snorkelling then went to Hidden Beach which was a cove hidden from view where we saw beautiful clown fish! Next was Secret Beach which is reached by a small gap where you swim through and you are surrounded by steep rock walls. Lastly, we stopped by another island and went snorkelling where I saw amazing coral and sea life. The snorkelling is incredible here!
We were planning to climb to the top of Mount Taraw which is a ridge that backs El Nido but unfortunately it was raining the night before and we told it was unsafe to climb it early in the morning as it would be very slippery. I will have to come back here just to do this amazing hike!
Instead, we had breakfast at the hotel, checked out and headed to Las Cabanas to go ziplining. It costs 500 pesos to go one way and is only 750m in length. It was short but super fun to go down and the views were stunning!
After, we hung out at Marimegmeg Beach with its soft white sand and clear blue water and then headed back to El Nido town to catch a direct flight back to Manila from El Nido Airport. The airport is tiny and they don’t have security screening machines so the officers look in your bag by hand, so make sure you arrive with sufficient time before your flight!
Some good places to eat here are:
– Squido’s Restaurant – great place to go for cheap Filipino and Western food. Must try the stuffed squid which is their specialty.
– Falafel – a street stall located opposite Squido’s which serves falafels! Super tasty and great for a snack or meal!
– Angel Wish – right on the beach, this seafood restaurant has great prawns and fish with great prices too!
– El Nido Midtown Bakery – super cheap baked goods but you must try the pan de coco! They only serve this from around 2pm in the afternoon but worth going for a snack as it’s delicious and costs only 5 pesos!
– Erland Fresh Fruit Shakes & Crepes – head to this fruit stall for fresh shakes! Try the one with calamansi (Filipino citrus fruit) or avocado!
It’s also good to know that there were many sporadic power cuts here in El Nido both during the day and at night. Rest assured, they try fix this as soon as they can but this is a reason you shouldn’t heavily rely on the wifi here. I basically had no internet connection for the 5 days and for me, it was nice to switch off. However if you need internet, get a local sim card with data.
El Nido and its surrounding islands are breathtaking and known for their beautiful inlets, secret beaches, lagoons and caves. The entire time, I had to pinch myself as I was in tropical paradise! The Filipinos are friendly and this part of South East Asia is still largely untouched due to the lack of tourists. It’s set to become the next “Bali” (let’s hope not!) so hurry and go visit Palawan before it gets commercialised.