I’ve had it with this gray, gloomy, freezing winter weather. In revolt, I hereby declare this El Nido Week on the blog!
For the whole week, I refuse to blog about anything but turquoise waters, remote beaches, secret lagoons, sunny golden shores, and charming little beach bars and restaurants. Tough luck for you!
Marlon and I decided to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary in another bucket list destination: El Nido, Palawan. The plan was to leave Tala with my family for a few days and aim for something a little more adventurous and off the beaten track. What better place to go than the Philippines’ so-called “last frontier?”
There are two ways to do El Nido: go for luxury with the exclusive, full-service, five-star El Nido Resorts, or do it backpacker style by staying in El Nido proper. With only our bank accounts and no baby to consider, Marlon and I joined the great unwashed among the basic, no-frills hotels of Bacuit Bay.
Regardless of accommodation, everyone goes island-hopping in El Nido. It’s simply the thing to do. All the tour companies on El Nido offer the same four itineraries with standard prices, which is brilliant because it saves you the hassle of researching or bargaining.
Our first tour took us to the beautiful white shores of Helicopter Island (see above) before depositing us at Matinloc Island for—no exaggeration—the hardest, most challenging swim of my life. And I consider myself a fairly good swimmer.
Seduced by the prospect of a hidden beach, I jumped into the water without much thought and was immediately caught up in a powerful, pounding current. There had been a storm the day before, and the tide was still churning. The banca was too far out to return to, so there was nothing to do but swim to the island before the sea bashed me against the rocks. Seriously—it was a very real possibility.
Somehow, after fighting the tide with everything I had, I made it! I headed into calmer shallows, and up a corridor of dramatic limestone peaks…
until I reached Hidden Beach, which is everything you hope a hidden beach could be: idyllic, remote, so beautiful it’s almost surreal.
I mean, just look at that water!
Having escaped death on the rocks, the rest of our island-hopping adventure was serene and relaxed. We parked for lunch on Payong-Payong Island…
where our tour guide set about preparing a picnic.
Picnic lunches and bottled water are included in the price of the tour. The meal is simple but delicious: rice, grilled fish, meat and vegetables, with fruit for dessert.
Clever beach dogs from the neighboring islands swim over for lunch. They don’t get enough meat, living off the sea, so they come because they know the picnicking tourists will have some. Too adorable!
Also on the itinerary is Matinloc Shrine, which sounds more romantic than it actually is—it’s an abandoned church and seminary dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The buildings are decrepit, so there’s not much to see, but the views from the top of the sharp and dramatic rocks are beautiful.
There are places that make me wish I had better equipment to do them justice with my photos. Like Cappadocia or Iceland, El Nido is one of these places.
I spent all evening selecting photos, and I still have way too many that I want to share. El Nido is full of beautiful moments that go beyond photos and words, and I can’t believe this is all in a country I call home.
Some practical information:
Island Hopping Tour C (Php 1,400 for a group tour) comprises Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach on Matinloc Island, Matinloc Shrine, and another hidden beach we didn’t visit because of high tide and rough waters.
Tour guides and boat captains reserve the right to modify the itinerary for safety concerns, based on sea and weather conditions; they’re not trying to cheat you, they just know better—so trust them!
Bottled mineral water and picnic lunches are included; snorkeling masks, fins and aqua socks or booties are an additional Php 200 each. I find it way easier to swim with booties than fins, and booties are essential to protect your feet from sharp rocks and corals.
El Nido Week continues tomorrow!