Off the beaten track: Nacpan Beach El Nido

You know you’re off the beaten track when the track suddenly begins to look something like this.

El Nido Palawan road trip

You may bump into a few fellow travelers on the same path…

Carabao and kids in El Nido Palawan

in fact, more than just a few… Full jeepney on El Nido road

But you may not always end up at the same destination, which in our case, was Nacpan Beach, El Nido.

El Nido Nacpan beach resort

The most important thing you need to know about the beaten track: more often than not, going off it is totally worth doing.

El Nido Nacpan beach deserted

By far, the best part of our exploration of El Nido by tricycle was arriving at the remote, far-flung and almost totally deserted shores of Nacpan Beach.

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El Nido: Sunset at Corong-Corong beach

While island-hopping is *the* thing to do in El Nido, Palawan, it isn’t the only thing to do.

Taking a break between island-hopping days (because, you know, it’s such a tough job!), Marlon and I hired a tricycle to explore El Nido by land. Tricycles in El Nido are serious, hefty, all-terrain metal workhorses, and it’s easy to get one in town. Prices vary depending on your chosen destination; we managed to negotiate a full-day road trip to two beaches for Php 1,300.

Most island-hopping tours depart from the main waterfront of El Nido, but ours took off from Corong-Corong beach, a few kilometers south of town proper.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido low tide

When we returned to Corong-Corong at the end of the tour, this brief glimpse of the beach at sundown made me curious about coming back for another look.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido bancas at sunset

With a determined grumble, our diesel-powered chariot charged up the steep, winding road from El Nido town towards Corong-Corong beach.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido sunset

At the top of the hill, this view opened up and a tiny squeal of delight escaped me, prompting our driver to pull over to the side of the road. “Picture muna, ma’am?” he said with a chuckle.

Corong-Corong beach El Nido

He pointed out our destination: Las Cabanas, a secluded resort at the southernmost tip of Corong-Corong beach.

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Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (2 of 2)

Our second island-hopping tour in El Nido fell on the day of our sixth wedding anniversary. It’s just a little bit extra (about Php200-400 more per person) for a private tour, so we decided to make it just the two of us on our special day.

This time, we opted for Tour A, which covers the Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, lunch at Shimizu Island, Secret Lagoon, and a final stop at Seven Commandos beach. For me, these places, particularly the lagoons on Miniloc, are simply postcard El Nido. If you only have time for one island-hopping tour (what a shame!), I highly suggest you pick this one.

There’s a sense of discovery about island-hopping in El Nido that I love. Some of the loveliest places pose a challenge to the traveler and aren’t easily accessible. (Smart choice leaving the baby at home, I must say.) Hidden away from view and behind dramatic limestone peaks, what a wonder it must have been for the explorers who discovered these places for the first time. To follow your curiosity through a peekaboo cutout in the rocks…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon Entrance

and to swim through to emerge in a jewel-colored lagoon, bounded by walls made of jungle and rock.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon

These days, kayaking is the easier option for would-be explorers, but I loved swimming through the Small Lagoon and exploring its little nooks and coves—even if I did slice my hand on some pretty sharp rocks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon swimming

With the Big Lagoon, scale adds an element of drama. Everything suddenly goes quiet as a stream of bancas float down a corridor of towering limestone, like a procession into some kind of royal hall. It feels both majestic and serene.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon

Our tour guide sat at the prow of the banca, which I thought looked like fun. I asked to take his place and sat there, dangling my feet into the water as our boat did one long, slow circuit around the bowl of the Big Lagoon.

El Nido Palawan island hopping tour guide

I had to jerk my feet out of the water when I saw these, though! I’ve been stung by a sea urchin before and the scars took six years to fade. Not going that route again, thanks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon sea urchins

What else did we do? Hmmm… we squeezed through this tiny passage to find a small sinkhole called the Secret Lagoon…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Secret Lagoon entrance

and dropped anchor at a spot somewhere off Miniloc, whose name I can’t remember (baby brain strikes again, argh!) for some great snorkeling. El Nido is not spectacular for snorkeling (God is fair), but this spot was really good.

El Nido Palawan island hopping snorkeling spot

To end the day we spent an hour or so at the pristine Seven Commandos beach, which was a welcome break to just doze in the sun after all that swimming.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos Beach

The tours dock at Seven Commandos at around 4 in the afternoon, perfect timing for a little merienda of fresh coconut juice from a tiny, barely held-together shack on the beach…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos

or, my absolute favorite, a mango shake from the small beach bar on the island. Drinks on Seven Commandos are sold at tourist prices, but there’s practically nothing on this island; the locals have to recoup the costs of periodically bringing everything over by boat, plus make a living.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos mango shake

Sweet Philippine mangoes on a gorgeous Philippine beach—if you ask me, that’s a combination that’s pretty hard to beat!

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Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (1 of 2)

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!

El Nido Palawan island hopping Helicoter Island beach

Looking for wintry layers, coats, boots and blankets? Look elsewhere!

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.

El Nido Palawan island hopping swim to Hidden Beach

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.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach entrance

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…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach

until I reached Hidden Beach, which is everything you hope a hidden beach could be: idyllic, remote, so beautiful it’s almost surreal.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach crystal clear waters

I mean, just look at that water!

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Cheers to the New Year!

To love, laughter, food, friends, discovery, adventure, surprise, wanderlust, change, forgiveness, opportunity, choice, commitment, and all the things that made 2013 worth it. May they reappear in new, surprising and amazing forms in the coming year.

Let’s drink to that!

Sunset margaritas El Nido

Frozen margaritas on the beach at sunset are always a good way to end any trip. It exactly how Marlon and I ended our adults-only trip since Tala was born, the details (and gorgeous pictures) of which I will most definitely share with you when we return to normalcy.

With my wishes for an amazing 2014, I raise a sunset margarita to all of you. Cheers to the New Year!

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