We were ready for the tourist Mecca of Palawan – El Nido. Named many times as the best beach destination in the world, we were curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Exploring El Nido town
We checked into our brightly coloured accommodation at the MaryGold Beachfront Inn, happy to find we had the most beach-facing option available. Bags dropped, we went out to explore the town. We had been in busy cities before, combined with the atmospheric petrol fumes, but here there was no pavement, which made walking down the narrow streets, teaming with tricycles, even more stressful. Not the idyllic place the media would have you believe. It’s the island hopping around El Nido that makes it famous though as the locals claim.
As a reprieve, we headed to the beach to drink young coconuts. On the shore were a few pasty tourists enjoying the overcast sky. It reminded me of the Filipina girl’s comments on one of our tours — “El Nido is beautiful, but full of whities, drinking and dancing all the time”. We put it down to a cultural thing, but later in the evening we saw what she meant. Beyond the shore, limestone karsts converged around the water, and we imagined what was out there that made so many headlines.
Corong Corong Beach, El Nido
In the afternoon, we took a tricycle to Corong Corong Beach. A little away from the hustle of El Nido, but which was also lined with beach side hotels. Feeling like we needed some fresh air, we took out a couple of kayaks and paddled out to sea. A little apprehensive to start with, as we couldn’t see anyone else paddling, but soon we ventured further out. As we past a rather huge rock, we found a local in a small wooden row boat. At first we thought he was beckoning us over to proudly show us his catch of the day. Perched on one of the jutting out limestone karsts, he seemed pretty laid back so we went over to see what he had. However, when he started frowning and fruitlessly bailing out his boat with a plastic cup, we thought again. After a crazy mixture of Tagalog, broken English and gestures, we realised his boat was sinking so went to find help. Paddling quickly, we went to the nearest shore where a tour guide and two passengers were drinking and listening to music. I explained to the guide in as simple English as I could that someone needed help and his boat was going down. The local guide looked at me as if I was crazy and just laughed. “Is he still alive?”, he queried jokily. With a great deal of reluctance and no sense of hurry, the guide ambled into his motorboat. By this time, the shipwrecked local was in the sea holding onto the boat with his arms. The nonchalant guide slowly circled the vulnerable local and then eventually pulled him in.
Island hopping in the Bacuit Bay, El Nido
Island hopping day in El Nido had arrived, so we donned our swim wear and made our way down to the jetty. Sharing the boat with some Filipinos, we, after briefly donning our lifejackets, went directly to Hidden Beach. We stopped at a huge lump of limestone karst which looked like a mini island and made our way along the side of the rocks to a small alcove, where we were the only ones. Strangely the Filipinos had stayed on or around the boat, either uninterested or too scared to make their way around the rocks. This made it better for us however, as we had a bit of time to enjoy the surrounds by ourselves, admiring the hues of the water and the almost scribble texture of the protruding rocks.
We went on to our essential snorkelling session. First a practice run where they test you out to see if you’ll be ok swimming around the coral, and you can try out the equipment. Then to the best snorkelling spot of the tour. It was a good site, but we were too aware of the amount of dead coral. We found snorkelling on the Twin Reefs in Port Barton had been more spectacular.
Next stop on our tour was Secret Beach. Unsurprisingly, this was not the best kept secret in the world. We gave way to a few other tour members before swimming through the small opening in the rock wall. Inside, we were greeted with more tour groups and as we swam, we noticed the dead coral beneath us. “It’s not a very good secret anymore” joked our guide. Our next port of call was the Big Lagoon, which we entered slowly on our bangka, admiring the soaring limestone cliffs on either side of use. On to Small Lagoon, we paid the required extra to rent the kayak (otherwise we would just wait on the boat) paddled through a small opening into a serene lake. Gliding across the gin-clear water, we paddled to all the furthest nooks and crannies in the rocks and listened to the gentle drops of water.
Canopy Walk El Nido
The following day, after having done the tour, we were on the look out for other things to do in the town. At the Tourist Office, they suggested we try Canopy Walk, so off we went. Thinking that this would be a stroll in the woods, we arrived ill-prepared proudly sporting our flip flops. Returning more prepared, we became slightly worried as we were fitted with braces and helmets. Wondering what we had got ourselves into, our guide pranced ahead quickly, and before we knew it, we were wobbling from side to side on the rope bridge. The guide was almost at the other side by the time I caught my balance. I was attached by safety catch to the rope above, but still, I didn’t fancy dangling over a huge gorge with only that as comfort. Safely across, we started an incline of grand limestone steps until we came to the view point.
Looking over El Nido, we could see the limestone karsts in the foreground, the tin roofs of the town below, the sea and the mountains in the distance. We took a while here, gazing and wondering at the seascape. Then we were on the move again, still out of breath from the trip up, we cautiously made our way down the massive steps. The flimsy rope bridge this time seemed even more scary than the first time. It was as if we were on a narrow bouncy castle, violently undulating with every step. I was glad that there was only three of us on there at the same time.
It was time to leave El Nido and we were soon to be leaving the Philippines. We had another excursion booked from Coron and then we would be flying to Thailand via Manila. To see earlier entries in our blog, please visit the tag: 30 Days in the Philippines.