This place has been on my bucket list for a while now: the Filipino island Palawan and more specifically, the town of El Nido. I kept seeing the most beautiful pictures on Pinterest: clear, blue water, beautiful mountains and white sandy beaches. Now that I have been there myself I can only say: El Nido should be on your bucket list. But what makes El Nido such an awesome place? I’ll give you 12 reasons!
1. Filipino’s are extremely friendly
Not just in El Nido, but all over the Philippines. Out of all the Asian countries I have visited, I truly like the people of the Philippines best. They are friendly, helpful and sincere. And nearly everyone speaks English, which makes it easier to connect and communicate. They also truly understand what good service is on the Philippines and will do their very best to make your stay enjoyable.
2. Beaches ‘from the travel brochure’
Ok, you’ll have to drive about 1,5 hours from El Nido by scooter on a road that doesn’t seem suitable for scooters at all. It’s not very comfortable and not so much fun after a while either. But in the end, you’ll see the most beautiful beach ever appear through a forest of palm trees (yes, there are probably nicer beaches, but this one really is gorgeous): Napcan Beach. A wide beach covered in soft, white sand along a crystal clear azure blue sea, this beach would look great in every guidebook, without the use of Photoshop. And the best thing is, there are only a few tourists and one place to eat. Definitely worth the bumpy ride.
3. You can camp on a deserted island
Isn’t it every traveler’s secret dream to spend a night on a deserted tropical island? Build a fire and cook some food, wake up to the sound of breaking waves…it’s still possible on the Philippines!
From El Nido, you can find many untouched islands for a night of camping. It’s possible to book a tour for this, but then you’ll be part of a group. Better yet to organize it yourself: borrow a tent, find someone with a boat and your tropical camping adventure is ready to begin! You can arrange this with the owner of Lugadia Beach Cottages in Corong-Corong. She lends you her tent for around 300 pesos (approx. 6 euros) and knows someone with a boat who’ll take you to an island for about 2000 pesos (approx. 40 euros) and pick you up again the next day. You can specify your own island, but if you haven’t got a clue they can pick one for you too. The island we stayed on is part of some island hopping tours, which means an occasional group of tourists visits the island during the day. These trips mostly take place in the afternoon, so you have the entire island to yourself in the evening/night/morning.
4. The Karst Mountains create a beautiful backdrop
You can see Karst Mountains in several places in the world, but the setting at El Nido is very special too. The mountains combined with the blue seawater are very photogenic.
5. The atmosphere is super relaxed
Don’t expect big stores, taxis or fast food restaurants in El Nido. There isn’t even an ATM, so be sure to bring enough cash! It has remained a village, which makes for a relaxed atmosphere, with cute little shops and nice restaurants along the beach. It’s touristic, but not in your face. Wonderful.
6. The islands you can hop to
You won’t be the only one going on an island hopping tour, but that doesn’t make the islands any less special. Starfish island, Big Lagoon, Seven Commando Beach….the Filipino’s were certainly feeling creative when naming the islands.
7. The global cuisine of El Nido
I wasn’t too impressed with Filipino cuisine (or maybe I didn’t eat the right things). But because El Nido is such a chilled-out place, many foreigners ‘stuck around’. That’s why it has a truly global cuisine: Italian, Spanish, Moroccan…..you can eat ‘in a different country’ every night.
8. Take a scooter to the waterfall
Like anywhere in Asia, it’s easy to rent a scooter in El Nido. Don’t feel like leaving your passport or driver’s license? No problem, just give them 1000 pesos and you’re on your way. You could make the hour long drive to the nearby waterfall and take a dive into the water after a nice walk.
9. Zip on the zip-line
Ziplining is cool. It gives you the feeling of flying for a few seconds, especially if you’re brave enough to adopt the ‘Superman/Superwoman’ position. The zip-line at El Nido lets you float between the rocks and the water for several minutes, a very special experience.
10. The really comfortable hammocks
Filipino hammocks are great, made from Rotan with a perfect fit. Of course they’re even more comfortable when holding a chilled cocktail.
11. The sunset is breathtaking
Seen from Corong-Corong, the beach next to El Nido beach, the sunset is at its best. If you have dinner at the Happiness Bar, for example, this is your view while you eat:
12. You can view the underwater world through a transparent canoe
The island hopping tours from El Nido are quite busy, so if you want to visit islands or beaches without all the tourists, you’ll have to arrange your own transportation. A canoe is a great choice. It’s even cooler to rent a transparent canoe! These are available at the Happiness bar on Corong-Corong beach.
For a few hours you’ll see fish, jelly fish and coral passing by beneath you, while you paddle through the mountains to the white sandy beaches of Seven Commando Beach.