Words and photos by Jenny Kim, July 2012
If you are willing to make the journey to Palawan, the unimaginable scenery and countless adventures will surely make the island your favourite place in the Philippines. With access to the one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and the legendary Bacuit Archipelago, which consists of thousands of deserted islands, Palawan will ignite your love of the natural world and will keep you longer than planned with adventures that you are unable to say no to. Enjoy life without the grit of large cities and buddy up with a local to keep you laughing, singing and exploring the entire time.
Before you leave Puerto Princessa for El Nido, make sure you take ample amounts of cash for there are NO ATM’s in El Nido! The gas station claims to have one but is often out of cash and many credit cards are not accepted. I met a group of travellers who were assuming there would be cash available once in El Nido and ended up stranded for a few days unable to check out of their hostel because they had no money to pay their bill and were repeatedly unsuccessful at taking money out of the one ATM.
Where to stay
Puerto Princessa: Plenty of lodging ranging from 400P a night to 1000P. Most are basic as Puerto Princessa is more of a jumping off point for El Nido.
- La Banane Hostel- Attracts a younger crowd with a television area and shaded bean bags along the beach. Shared dorms cost around 350P per bed.
- Relucio – Basic rooms with a fan and a shared bathroom. Towels are provided by friendly staff as is drinking water and an amazing view of the bay.
- Cliffside Cottages- Rather than a stunning view of the ocean, CC is snuggled up against a breathtaking marble cliff. Private cottages are around 600P.
Note: The power is turned off for the entire town at 6am-2pm. So regardless of whether or not your room has air conditioning or fan, you will inevitably wake up sweaty. On the plus side, it gets you out of your room early so you can enjoy the day, and prevents that horrible cycle of sleeping during the day while it’s hot and emerging out only after dark for countless beers!
Things to do
Visit the subterranean river: Voted as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world, the subterranean river has attracted thousands of tourists every year as it is the longest underground river in the world. You should book ahead of time to get a park permit to enter.
Take a tour: In El Nido, there are a set of standard tours ranging from 700-900P per person which includes the best meal you will eat in El Nido, and transportation. Some of the places visited include Small Lagoon (accessible only by swimming one at a time through a narrow gap in the rocks), Hidden Lagoon (must visit during low tide for it reveals a hole in the rocks that you must crawl through to enter), Snake Island, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach and many other destinations with mysterious names. Beware that there are hidden fees when taking a tour like the park fee which is 200P, and snorkeling gear which is 100P.
Tip: Make friends with your boat captain for he can offer activities not available at all tour offices!
Visit a waterfall or hot springs: Take a break from the beach and rent a motorbike or hire a tricycle driver to take you inland to the hot springs or waterfall. A quick drive and a scenic hike will land you in pools of fresh water that will have you convinced that you were a water nymph in a past life.
Kayak: Eat a good breakfast, pack a picnic and rent a kayak to explore the nearby islands and beaches. You get to enjoy crystal clear water at a relaxing pace. But look out for fog for it becomes quite disorienting as islands keep appearing out of the mist.
Go camping: Hire a boat to take you on an overnight adventure to deserted beaches where you have nothing to distract you from the beauty of nature and the beauty of your friends. Take a night swim and watch the water come alive with millions of bioluminescent plankton putting on a light show that will make you feel like Pandora from Avatar!
How to get there
You can get to Palawan by taking a short flight from Manila to Puerto Princessa. From there, you can take a daily bus or private van to El Nido. Be warned that the van is overly air conditioned and is a grueling five hour drive that is often unpaved. You can also take a ferry from Coron, weather permitting.
Where to go next
Coron: Many tour offices offer a three day expedition to Coron that will take you to local fishing villages.
Baugio City: At the end of your trip in El Nido, you may be a little “beached” out so head to Baugio City to enjoy hiking through misty rice terraces and enjoy the fresh mountain air.