28 April 2015

El Nido - paradise, lost?

Between Coron and El Nido
After the beautiful Busuanga archipelago, we wanted to discover more islands of the Philippines. Palawan, the biggest island of the same province, is advertized as one of the most beautiful islands on the planet and quite close to Coron. As there are only expensive charter flights between Coron and El Nido, we took a boat. Our fabulous host at Coron Backpackers organized us tickets for the standard fare of 1400 PHP (28 EUR) and even changed them for another boat as the boat we wanted first had engine problems.


Leaving the Coron archipelago behind
Six days and six nights after arriving in Coron, we got up early, walked 20 minutes to the port, waited a while and boarded our boat to El Nido along with about 30 other passengers. The boat was a large traditional bangka. Nothing fancy, but we trusted it to carry us safely during the next eight hours. Sitting on the wooden floor of the bangka wasn't too comfortable, but the scenery along the way more than compensated for this. During the first part of the trip we crossed the southern part of the Busuanga archipelago with it's many islands. Steep limestone cliffs, palm fringed beaches, turquoise reefs and deep blue water, it all just looked like on a postcard. The second part of the passage was considerably rougher. We crossed between the archipelago and Palawan on the open sea, with high waves that slowed the journey considerably down. None the less, we arrived safe and sound after the scheduled eight hours in the port of El Nido.

The arrival in the port was stunning. High and steep cliffs surround the whole village and the sea shines in an almost unnatural green. From the port, we walked quickly to the guesthouse we had booked the night before: Cliffside cottages. Luckily, we only booked it by phone. The cottages were not bad, but very basic, a
bit shabby and the many dogs and roosters in the neighborhood made it a less than relaxing place. We decided to only stay for the night and look for another place. Prices in El Nido are a bit higher, so we found nothing cheaper than 800 PHP (16 EUR) for a private double room. But Marikit Pensione offered the best deal for this price. A better bed, a clean room and a clean private bathroom. We moved the next morning.

El Nido
The village El Nido is nothing really beautiful. The beach and the surrounding nature are gorgeous but development that comes with mass tourism was and is too fast. The infrastructure (roads, sewage, electricity, etc.) is not ready for the amount of tourists flocking here and a lot of hotels and resorts have clearly been built hastily to make money and not to please the eye. In general, prices in El Nido - for food, accomodation, day trips, diving, motorbike rental, etc. - are higher than in other destinations in the Philippines or even on Palawan. And we often felt that more money didn't buy you higher quality.

Beach walking in El Nido
We didn't come to Palawan to complain. We came to enjoy the beautiful nature and landscapes that surround you as soon as you leave El Nido town. As the organized island hopping tours were significantlz more expensive than in Coron, we decided to rent a kayak and go to the offshore islands ourselves. The first day we wanted to go, no vessel, even less kayaks, were allowed on sea. A typhoon was hitting the eastern part of the Philippines. As we were far west, we only got a bit higher waves and stronger wind. So we decided to go walking along the coast. According to google and local maps, the path along the coast doesn't go very far. But after the path supposedly ended, we could easily walk along the beach, scrambling only once or twice over some rocks. Most of the coast were beautiful beaches with no human being in sight. We walked all the way to the airfield and back. A beautiful day on the beach!

Relaxing on Cadlao island
The next day, the waves were still a bit higher, but they decided it safe enough to rent us a kayak. The currents and waves were often quite strong, but we made it across the channel between El Nido and Cadlao island and went snorkeling along the way in almost every bay we found. Pretty exhausted from the trip there, we hoisted the kayak onto the beach in into the shade of some trees and relaxed there for a couple of hours, watching the monkeys in the trees behind us and the rich yacht owners arriving by water plane. The smiles on our faces couldn't have been broader when we got back to the beach in El Nido in the late afternoon. We finished a perfect day with a couple of happy hour gin and tonics :)

Monkey on Cadlao island
Lisa prefered to spend our last day in El Nido taking care of her nails, on the beach drinking coffee and working. I was in need of more action. So I rented a mountain bike and ventured north. I didn't have a map, I just vaguely heard of some long and lonely beaches up there. For the first 15 kilometers, the road was awesome and I progressed rapidly. After that, the tarmac ended and I continued on a dirt road, that got worse and worse. Big loose stones, potholes, mud and more and more steep hills. Finally, after 35 km I turned around and went to a beach nearby. But not for long, as I still had to go back to El Nido. I finally reached the village after 6 hours of strenuous biking, in time for a sunset drink with my honey and a last dinner.

In summary, we definitely recommend El Nido. The village itself is nothing nice, overdeveloped and overpriced. But the nature of Northern Palawan is still spectacular. We definitely don't regret having gone there. And we hope neither won't you!

More pictures from El Nido

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