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It is said that ‘El Nido is another one of those ‘must see’ places in Palawan… if not THE place that most people come to Palawan to see‘.
El Nido is not just a target location in itself, it is also the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago of 40 islands ‘which rivals Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay for sheer dramatic seascape. Idyllic days are spent island hopping in a “bangka” (a traditional outrigger canoe)‘.
Online write-ups paint an idyllic picture of El Nido: ‘Jaw-dropping El Nido has been dubbed as one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world and it is easy to see why with jagged limestone karst, clear turquoise waters (perfect for snorkeling and diving), and white sandy shores. Once an undiscovered paradise, El Nido is becoming more popular with adventurous backpackers willing to make the journey‘.
And, El Nido was one of my main targets in The Philippines. I had high hopes for the place…
Please Note: A lot of the online information about El Nido is now out-of-date. The North Road is now fully paved all the way from Puerto Princesa, there is now 1 ATM in town, most places have electricity all day (but, you get a short power-outage now and again), and El Nido is now well and truly ON THE BEATEN TRACK.
I made my own way from Port Barton to El Nido in a Nature Island minivan.
The cost was PHP700 (because they have nicer vans with more leg room than the, cheaper, PHP650 ones). It was worth paying the extra PHP50 for the better van. The trip was fast and comfortable.
Pick up from my Port Barton hotel was at 8:00am. By 8:20am we had picked up everyone from their hotels and we were underway. We stopped for 15 minutes on the way to let people have breakfast and go to the toilet. We arrived at El Nido Bus Terminal at 11:30am. The bus terminal is on the edge of town near Carong Carong Beach – only 1-2 kms from the El Nido Town Ferry Terminal.
I was in my hotel by 12:00 noon.
Lessons Learnt: When you book the van, book a specific seat. The best seats to book (for good leg room) are:
- Seat 3: The window seat immediately behind the driver
- Seat 4: Next to seat 3
- Seat 2: The window seat up front next to the driver – but be prepared to ‘rub shoulders’ with whomever they put in Seat 1 (the ‘jump seat’ between you and the driver)
I still had my Globe SIM card that I purchased at Manila Airport when I flew in from Hanoi to Puerto Princesa.
For PHP1000, I got a SIM card with a 1 month ‘unlimited’ data package; no texts, no calls, no credits. Please Note: it is not ‘unlimited’ – your daily usage is ‘capped’ at about 800MBs. When you hit that limit, you are dropped to the slowest speed.
If you want to be able to get online in The Philippines, you need to get your own mobile data package; Wifi in The Philippines is poor and unreliable at the best of times – even on your own package.
If you rely on the Wifi in budget hotels, etc you will find that they too (usually) have the same daily ‘data limit’ which gets used up very quickly in the mornings with tourists checking their face-ache. For the rest of the day, their Wifi can be almost unusable.
By Foot / Bicycle / Tribike:
You can walk everywhere in El Nido Town; there is no need for transport.
The asking price for a bicycle is PHP350 / day. Don’t pay it – negotiate them down. You can’t really go anywhere on a bicycle anyway – perhaps Carong Carong Beach… It may be better (and cheaper) to catch a Tribike there and back for PHP30-50 each way.
You can rent a scooter for PHP600 / day if you want to go off on a day trip (e.g. to Nacpan Beach).
WHERE TO STAY:
I have done a review of Where To Stay in El Nido Town.
- There is a lot of over-priced budget accommodation on noisy streets
- Accommodation in El Nido, per se, is over-priced for what you get
- Almost all El Nido Town accommodation can be found on online booking sites like AGODA.COM (even the really bad ones)
- Start searching for accommodation weeks in advance – and snap up any ‘50% off’ deals that pop up for decent hotels – especially if they are on the beach.
I pre-booked 2 nights in the EL TARAW for PHP800 / night excluding breakfast. It was not worth that price.
Getting a reasonable breakfast included in your hotel price is important.
The ‘cheapest’ simple breakfast (a tomato & onion omelette with toast) starts at PHP170 on the streets. A coffee will cost you another PHP65! That is at least PHP235 for breakfast.
The breakfast at the Tandikan changes each day.
Pop down to the supermarket and pick up a pack of 36 x 2g sachets of nescafe for PHP60 (the cost of 1 coffee in a restaurant)… and you have unlimited free coffee every morning.
This means that the Tandikan saved me over PHP250 / day on breakfast… this, effectively, brought the ‘room rate’ down from PHP1000 to PHP750. This makes the room rate more acceptable.
Don’t expect much from places like the Tandikan though. These places aren’t the most ‘organised’. When the ‘boss lady’ isn’t around, the service falls apart… there won’t be any hot water waiting outside your room in the morning, you have to ask for breakfast (and wait a while), you have to ask for your room to be cleaned…
It is what it is… but, you are on the beach.
IN SEARCH OF VALUE FOR MONEY:
For this blog, I try hard to find the best Value For Money (VFM) places where GRANDPAckers can eat. In El Nido, they are hard to find.
One night I went up to the Bacuit Grill (at the north eastern end of the El Nido Town beach next to El Nido Corner). They have several meal options for about PHP180. However, they had 5 prawn dishes on the menu at PHP100. I ordered Thai Prawns (which come with rice). The waitress took my order but returned 5 minutes later to say that they had no prawns. She suggested that I have a shrimp dish instead. All of the shrimp dishes were PHP250… I decided to continue my search somewhere else. Please Note: Some Restaurants seem to confuse ‘shrimp’ with ‘prawn’… sometimes the ‘shrimps’ are the bigger ones (what we call ‘prawns’).
I headed back through town and found the Little Italy which has a bar / restaurant upstairs. The tables were full, but the prices were a bit pricey anyway. I stayed for a Happy Hour PHP50 San Miguel and moved on. The Little Italy had a nice, relaxed atmosphere and may be a good place to spend some ‘LIVING’ funds should you ever have any money left out of your daily budget – which, in El Nido, I doubt. However, I did end up there after my El Nido Island Hopping Trip – I shared a Bacon Burger and 4-Cheese Pizza and had a couple of San Miguels – my share of the bill was PHP420.
I headed back east along the beach; but they were all too ‘pricey’. There was a power outage, so I headed back towards my hotel.
I, finally, stopped at the IBR Convenience Store. Next to the store is a reasonably priced restaurant. The prices here were in GRANDPAcker range. I ordered a Vegetable Curry for PHP95 (I felt that I needed a good dose of vegetables) and paid in advance. I waited over 40 minutes and gave in… even in a power outage, 40 minutes is too long (they cook with gas)… I had not eaten since breakfast so I was getting hungry… I went back to the counter and got a refund.
I stopped at a roadside cart. They had Beef Enchaladas for PHP60. I asked for one. She handed me this thing that was about 6 cms long and 4 cms wide. I said ‘no thanks’ and moved on.
In the end, I went to the place outside the front of my Tandikan hotel and bought a Footlong Hotdog with Cheese & Vegetables for PHP60.
I’ll resume my quest tomorrow night…
PHP250-PHP400 on the beachfront (and other ‘westernised’ cafes) is more the norm. The Art Cafe has a good reputation if you want to eat in this price range. So does the Little Italy.
A meal in the cheapest beachfront restaurant will cost at least PHP150; I had a Thai Chicken Curry for that price (it was very average).
Don’t expect big portions.
On another night I tried their Vegetable Fried Noodles (PHP90).
And, on another night I tried their ‘large’ Grilled Fish with Rice (PHP150); this was the biggest Grilled Fish that I managed to find in El Nido (and Nacpan Beach) in this price range.
All of these meals were to GRANDPAcking Standard. There are nicer meals if you manage to have any ‘LIVING Funds’ left at the end of a day.
A simple crepe from a roadside stall will cost PHP120-160.
There are many ‘Tin Pot Buffets’ around town.
You can get a sample sized meal for PHP50-60. Rice is an extra PHP10.
I always try and avoid the fatty meats in these places: I try and find one that does whole fish – if not, I go for vegetables of chicken. You usually get free tap water in these places too.
A San Miguel will cost you PHP40 to PHP65 depending on where you go. You have to find an Happy Hour to get one at PHP40.
The price of a San Miguel at some of the beachfront bars is surprisingly cheap. Some sell them for only PHP45.
Both of these places have San Migual for PHP40 during Happy Hour.
And, you get a nice view of the sunset out across the harbour.
Why not try a local rum (Tanduay): for PHP40 for 375ml Light (55 proof) or PHP47 for a 375ml Dark (80 proof). A 1.5L bottle of Coke costs PHP60 (supermarket) or PHP65 (shop).
EL NIDO TOWN BEACH:
When the boats are out during the day, it is OK swimming but watch for rocks underfoot.
The beach was clean and well kept. The water is clean and clear of rubbish / debris and I saw no jellyfish whilst I was there (but you do get them).
CARONG CARONG BEACH:
The walk takes about 45 minutes each way at a leisurely pace.
Alternatively, you can catch a Tribike for PHP30-50 each way.
The beach, itself, is OK for sunbathing on, but the water is shallow for a long way out.
At low tide, you can wade out over 50 metres and still not get your shorts wet. There are some stones and rocks underfoot so you need to wade out carefully or wear watershoes (you should bring your own watershoes to the Philippines anyway – you will need them a lot).
You have to go nearly 100 metres out before you can swim. Have a look at my photo… you will see a man in the far distance wading out in search of a swim.
The best time to be in Carong Carong is for sunset.
There is no reason to feel unsafe in El Nido (IMHO).
But, as with all poor places, be sensible. Don’t flash your wealth or leave things unattended.
There are sandflies. If you plan on spending a lot of time on or near the beach, be prepared to treat a few bites every day. Come with a suitable remedy.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
LIVE MUSIC BARS:
There are 2 live music bars close to each other near on the beach: one plays classic rock and the other plays reggae. Sit on the beach between them to get your own, unique ‘sound’. A San Miguel in each will cost PHP60.
The best place to hire a Kayak is at Carong Carong Beach. There are a couple of nice beaches around the headland that you can only get to by sea. These beaches are closer to carong Carong than El Nido Town.
Hire a Kayak, visit these beaches, and time in to return at sunset.
El Nido is well known as an Island Hopping destination.
I went on a 2 Day / 1 Night Island Hopping Trip myself. If you read my post you will see that I suggest that you choose your agent carefully.
A DAY TRIP TO NACPAN BEACH:
A day trip to Nacpan Beach is a ‘must do’.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There is now 1 ATM in town but it is said to be unreliable. Bring plenty of cash (just in case) and go to the ATM well before your money runs out (just in case you have to go several times over several days).
You will find the ATM in the School Zone in the Pamahalaang Lokal building.
When I was in El Nido, they only filled it up on a Sunday. They arrive with an armoured van and machine gun toting security guards. The queue for the ATM can be 20-30 metres long. When the money runs out, that’s it. You have to wait until next Sunday. Get there early and be patient.
Clothes shopping is surprisingly good in El Nido. There are many shops along the streets – or you can go to the market stalls.
If you can’t get to somewhere like Manila or Cebu City, you should have a look at their branded goods ‘knock-offs’. You know that they are knock-offs because some still have the transfer sticker plastic on them. The stickers change – but the goods are all the same.
That said, some ‘knock offs’ are very good quailty. You can get a long sleeve 4-way stretch Billabong / Nike / Heatgear / Adidas / Etc sports swimming top for as little as PHP420. The sticker says that it is UPF50 – but don’t believe the sticker – they are 100% polyester. Great in the evenings for keeping off the sandflies and mozzies.
Decent sleeveless branded ‘knock-offs’ go for as little as PHP150-200.
Laundry: PHP55 / Kg (so get it done in Puerto Princesa before you get here for PHP25 / Kg).
Supermarkets: 1L water PHP30. 2L water PHP45. 5L water PHP85. 6.6L water PHP100. Pack 36 x 2g sachets of Nescafe coffee PHP60. 750ml Tanduay 80% Proof Dark Rum PHP90.
The Art Cafe: This is the cheapest place to top up on your water. They have a big water dispenser outside where you can fill up a 500ml bottle for PHP8, a 1L bottle for PHP10, or a 1.5L bottle for PHP15. This is half the price of what you pay for a bottle of water at the supermarket.
My next stop is Coron Town.
There are several ferries that do the El Nido to Coron Town route. Some are more reliable than others. I was told that the Bonso Ferries are the best; they are cancelled less often than the other ones.
You pay PHP1500 for Bonso and PHP1400 for the cheaper ferries. Lunch and water on-board is included in the price but it is an 8 hour trip and you are encouraged to take your own snack.
I went to the Art Cafe to book the Bonso. It left at 8:30am Saturday morning. I was to the there by 8:00am ready for boarding.
I checked out of my Tandikan room after breakfast at 7:30am and walked to the Ferry Terminal. I was there in 10 minutes.
All ferries from Coron had been cancelled. There was a gale warning in the Coron area and the Port Master had grounded all ferries. Bugger.
I went back to the Art Cafe booking counter. They did not know when the ferries would start again… they would know later in the day… maybe I can go tomorrow…
I walked back to the Tandikan. Luckily, it was still only 8:00am and my old room was still available. I booked back in.
I will tell you about my journey from El Nido To Coron in a future post.
Someone did a very good marketing job on El Nido. The reality is that it does not live up to the ‘hype’.
El Nido is over-priced and over-rated; there are much nicer places to go to where you pay much less for much more… read about them on my blog… you will see them listed in my GRANDPAcking COE% Table in the left margin.
Yes, you can do things here in El Nido. Boat trips. Snorkelling. Island Hopping. SCUBA Diving… but you pay twice as much for it here than you do somewhere like Port Barton or Coron. The prices here for SCUBA Diving aren’t justified when you see what you can get on a Live-aboard in Khao Lak, Thailand.
In addition, you feel that the locals in El Nido have ‘had enough’. Many don’t say hello when you walk into their shop / restaurant, they don’t smile, they look pooh-faced, and they serve you like they just don’t care.
IMHO whatever El Nido was has gone. It is a Tourist Trap. Look at El Nido as a gateway between Palawan and the Bacuit Archipelago. Don’t plan to stay long.
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