So after a fiasco regarding Chinese New Year in Coron and issues with a double booking and no accommodation available, we decided we’d call a few places in El Nido and see if we could book. One filipino sim, 100 pesos of credit and 15 phone calls later it seemed any place with a listed phone number was booked out for when we were arriving. It turns out Coron and El Nido are both preferred Chinese new year destinations.
Slightly panicked we decided to book something a bit higher end but that would ensure us a bed for a couple of nights, then see what we could find for the rest of the nights when we got there. We booked three nights at Entalula, it would be described as mid range, with en suite, wifi, air con and breakfast facing the beach. I had read that fan rooms could be around 1000 ($22) pesos, but we were quoted 2600 for air con ($60) which was quite a jump, but we were a bit over a barrel. Apparently all of their rooms are the same price and all are air con now.
Arriving after 9hrs on a boat from coron, damp with sea spray, having a place prebooked was a god send. Over the three days we had prebooked, we saw many people dragging their luggage up and down the beach and main street, lonely plant or rough guide in hand looking fed up.
Entalula surprised me. It looked as though it had been recently built, nice bathrooms, a balcony with a seaview and they even accommodated my veggieness for breakfast. The owner and staff were friendly and helpful, plus it had the fastest wifi we’ve had in the philippines so far.
For our last few nights we eventually found some more budget friendly huts at De Vayns across from Rosanna’s. The huts are quite nice and at half the price including air con they fit our budget a bit better.
We did two Island hopping tours in our four full days in El Nido. Pretty much every company does the same tour and they are labelled A, B, C and D. The tours cruise around different areas of the Bacuit Archipelago visiting a set number of beaches. It is possible to hire your own bangka for a tour, but for two people it’s a bit pricey plus you share all the sites with all the group tour boats anyway so we didn’t see a lot of value in it.
We woke up our first morning and last minute decided to join our hotels tour that morning which was tour C. We had 10min to get ready, and in the confusion I forgot to put on my bikini bottoms. This was pointed out to me by Greg between laughs when we arrived at our first snorkelling spot. Looks like I was swimming in board shorts for the day. Our driver, we named one-eyed-willy, drove us between the sights of Matinloc island, at a pace that could only be described as glacial. We were passed by every boat out there.
We checked out the hidden beach complete with “many house of nemo”, secret beach where you had to swim through a small gap in the rocks to get to a small lagoon and beach, Matinloc Shrine, a chapel and shrine built because the island is vaguely heart shaped. We also went snorkelling in the tapiutan strait. This is touted in the lonely planet Philippines (10th ed) to be some of the best snorkelling in the archipelago. After diving in Coron on what I can only describe as one of the best reefs I’ve seen, this was a disappointment. The bangka’s use a double anchor system, just chucking them out on to the coral. Combine that with the number of tourists just walking all over it and the number of boats each day, the underwater world of the main sights is a bit disappointing to say the least.
We decided that we had had our fill of boats and took a day resting on the beach. El Nido beach is ok, it’s not near as amazing as some of the ones you visit on the tours and the water is a little silty from all the boats but it’s not so bad since most people are out on tours all day making the town quite quiet. This is also when we first noticed the film crew.
It turns out they were filming “the Bourne Legacy” movie in the archipelago. There was an old looking Vietnamese fishing boat that was seen cruising around the islands while helicopters flew low over it getting aerial shots. The also were shooting in the big lagoon, one of the most famous sights in the region. Due to this on our tour A day, we weren’t allowed any where near the lagoon, and Coast guard speed boats patrolled the opening.
Tour A, we ended up with a different company, mostly because we were the only ones in our place going out that day. The other company (Spider Pension Spa) was better, had a faster boat, and lunch was tastier! Otherwise the stuff you see is all the same. The small lagoon was pretty impressive, as you swim through a tiny hole in the rocks you end up in almost a double bay lagoon with sheer rocky cliffs surrounding you. We then checked out secret lagoon, an even smaller gap, and a tiny lagoon. We spent lunch on a beach, while watching the Bourne crew filming boat scenes across the bay. The final stop was 7 commando beach. It’s actually on the mainland, a stunning White sand beach with a small hut selling beers and buko (fresh young coconuts). A great way to end the day.
There’s an amazing pizza place in El nido, woodfired thin crust Italian style pizza. Best food I’ve had in the Philippines by far. The Alternative has a decent veggie list, their banana heart curry was especially good. The Art Cafe, listed as the go to place for info and food, didn’t live up to it’s reputation. The food, although ok was very pricey for the amount you got. The travel info was not helpful and it was overpriced. They quoted us 490 pesos for a van to Roxas so we could get to Port Barton, we found another agent (who we knew as the man with the dog), who was 40 pesos cheaper and gave us more information about the connections than the Art Cafe.
Overall, I wouldn’t head to El Nido for snorkelling. I’d honestly wait 10 years and see if the coral improves but with the way they use anchors I won’t be holding my breath. But for island hopping and beaches it comes out on top. The dramatic limestone cliffs, lush rainforests and white sand beaches of the Bacuit Archipelago, makes the rest of Palawan pale in comparison.