Since all the odds weren’t in my favor the first time I attempted to go to El Nido in Palawan (see previous post), I have learned to manage my expectations and keep them to a minimum. My goal was simply, well, to get there. I didn’t care if I wouldn’t have that fine weather or the good company since I was doing it solo, hence, my joy when the days went on perfectly.It was as if the universe was giving me a blast in the paradise!
While at the airport waiting for my flight, I was browsing some travel blogs, checking for some itineraries to copy for a four-day getaway to El Nido. It was a much-needed respite from the city. Four days away from Manila, its hellish traffic jams and its pollution. Four days wasn’t enough to explore El Nido entirely since the travel time from Puerto Princesa City will take about 5 to 7 hours from you. But this was already welcoming for a city slave like me.
The challenge I had imposed on myself was to spend P5, 000 or less to prove that fact that visiting beautiful places in the Philippines need not to weigh your pockets down. But I spent a little past the P5, 000 mark because I made a couple of mistakes. First mistake: I went to the first terminal of vans going to El Nido, paying P700 for the five-hour ride. I didn’t even have a good seat. It had no headrest and thus I was unable to sleep the five hours of travel away. I discovered much later that I could find a van that would cost me as low as P450. I didn’t repeat this mistake on my way back to Puerto Princesa. I asked one of the people at the hostel to reserve me a seat for my trip back. The van had good seats and it dropped passengers right outside the airport terminal. To reach the Lexus Van terminal from the Puerto Princesa airport, take a tricycle, the Pinoy’s three-wheeled taxi, from the airport to Junction 1 (P8), and then a multi-cab (P12) to the van terminal. If you’d even want to cut costs and you have a lot of time with you, take the non-aircon Roro bus (P250). But the travel time is definitely longer since it makes more stops. The second mistake was booking my Island Hopping Tour at that same van terminal. A local offered me the Island Hopping Tour A for P1, 000. I thought it was a good deal since I heard the usual price is P1, 200. I was fooled right away. The price didn’t include yet the P200 environmental fee. So imagine my disappointment when a Taiwanese guy I met at the hostel later told me he got his tour for P900, the environmental fee included.
Lesson learned: in El Nido, you can haggle over the price of almost everything including the tricycle fare and the tours.
I stayed in a dorm-type room of Hakuna Matata, a backpacker’s hostel next to Art Cafe, for three nights (P350/night). Although not on the beach front, Hakuna is a few strides away from the beach. It had all the things I needed: bed, electric fan, locker for important stuff (I brought my laptop thinking I could still do a bit of work), clean shower/toilet room. The hostel also offers free unlimited coffee. The best things about Hakuna Matata are the people and the atmosphere. I was traveling solo but I never felt a slight loneliness. Just sit at the common area and you’d immediately find new friends. There was one evening when that place was like a beehive, people from different countries were like busy bees buzzing at each other. It was a wonder why I was the only Filipino traveler at the hostel.
El Nido seemed to be more popular to international tourists than to the locals. I had a few theories. One, many Filipinos travel in luxury, thinking perhaps that going to El Nido would cost them a fortune. Second, traveling alone is not appealing to most since we have this sense that our travels should be shared with a special someone, family and friends. Most of the people I met in El Nido were solo backpackers from distant places like the Netherlands, England, Australia, Israel, Russia and Canada. Philippines is just a part of their extensive travel in Southeast Asia.
I had no concrete plans on what to do in El Nido so my first question to the people at the hostel was “Where should I go now?”
I arrived in El Nido past 4 in the afternoon, so I still had ample time to catch the sunset on the nearest beach. They advised me to go to Las Cabanas beach, a 10-minute tricycle ride from the town proper.
There, I picked a spot on the stretch of the powdery cream sands to loll and watch the moment pass by. It was amazingly beautiful.
Back at the hostel, I met fellow travelers who also wanted to go to Nacpan beach, another beach on the island. It’s a four-kilometer beach with clear sparkling blue waters. The coconut trees surrounding the beach made the scenery perfect. It would be best to go here with friends so you can split the transportation cost.
On our way back to our hostel, we stopped off to trek up to the nearest waterfall. A swim in the cold waters made the 30-minute trek worth it.
You cannot leave El Nido without getting into its island hopping tours. You have the options A, B, C or a mix or “combo” of two of them. I picked A and would have picked the two others too if I had the entire week. El Nido is known for its limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and pristine powdery white beaches. But being there was simply astounding. I could not put into words what I felt then. Feelings of awe and gratitude struck me. Oh this country, my dear Philippines! No camera can capture El Nido’s pure beauty as it is. You simply have to be there.