Staying in the town proper is the way to visit El Nido on a shoestring. While the swanky side of El Nido is definitely still on my bucket list, there are a few reasons—other than your budget—to enjoy El Nido town.
Waking up to this literally on our doorstep was one. This beauty is democratic: everyone gets a gorgeous sunrise on the water, regardless of the number of digits they forked over for accommodation. I love it.
Natural beauty is a given, but what I enjoyed most about mainland El Nido is how undeveloped—and how real—it still is. Granted, this means that you’ll discover the less-than-idyllic side of island living. For example, there’s no electricity from 6am to 2pm. There are no ATMs on the island, so bringing enough cash for your entire stay is a must.
The soil is too salty and claylike to grow vegetables, so veggies have to be brought over by sea from Manila, sometimes as infrequently as once a month. There are no poultry farms on the island, because the intermittent electricity supply can’t power the heat lamps needed to raise chickens on a large scale. Anything not grown or produced here—from eggs to bottled water—has to come in by boat, which inflates the prices of most basic goods on El Nido as compared to similarly remote provincial towns and villages.
Despite all those challenges, generations of people—Filipino and foreigners alike—have fallen in love with El Nido and have chosen to start afresh here.
That’s why you’ll find that the longest lines for dinner are for the authentic wood-fired pizzas of Trattoria Altrove, housed in an old bahay-na-bato…
and why you can get a real French crepe from a sawali-roofed plywood shack just like this.
In fact, the presence of a thriving French community in El Nido is the raison d’etre for La Salangane, my favorite bar and restaurant of this whole trip.
Lining the bar like a wall of eerie science experiments are La Salangane’s claim to fame: rhums arrangés, or flavored rums. A tradition imported from the French Caribbean, rhum arrangé is basically a tropical fix for cheap rum: by macerating fruit and spices in them for six to eight weeks to infuse them with flavor.
Omar, La Salangane’s crafty Bulakeño barkeep, takes plain old Tanduay White and transforms it with flavors such as pineapple, banana, orange, cinnamon, apple, ginger, and my favorite, mango (of course). He mixes them into fun blends such as the Christmas shot (apple, cinnamon and epices) and tells really good stories too. So sit by the bar and chat him up!
La Salangane’s rums are also available to take home. New flavors sell out almost as soon as they come out of the barrel. I totally regret not buying a bottle of Piment on the spot!
La Salangane is also a nice place for dinner, if you’re craving something a little bit fancier than the usual grilled seafood and rice.
I love how East meets West here, with a bar built from local materials and menu items in French.
This quirky cultural mix is what gives El Nido that special quality I love about it. It’s just like any tiny, provincial Filipino town—except the villagers come from all over the world. And that’s more than one reason to enjoy El Nido… backpacker style.