It was quite the journey to get to El Nido, but WORTH IT. From Cebu we flew to Puerto Princesa, which was pretty uneventful except for the part where I left my cell phone in the cab to the airport, never to be seen again (SAD FACE). On arrival to Puerto Princesa we found a van to El Nido for 500P, however in typical Filipino public transit fashion, their advertised departure time of 12:30pm really meant we were loaded into the van at 12:30pm, only to spend an hour and a half switching vans 4 times, waiting for other passengers to show up, and waiting for our current passengers to buy snacks. This would have been less annoying if we actually knew what was going, however we happened to be the only non-Filipinos in the van so we pretty much spent 90 minutes being bewildered about why we kept going to convenience stores and not El Nido. On this plus side, the van we ended up in was nice and new and our luggage was in the trunk and not the roof, a luxury over here it seems. The drive to El Nido is about 5 hours plus a short rest break in the middle, so it was close to 8pm by the time we made it there.
In El Nido we stayed at Peak House Garden Pension, a family-run guesthouse with a pack of cute dogs always hanging around.
The small town is on Bacuit Bay and is most well known for its amazing island hopping. There are four standard island hopping tours offered around El Nido, called A, B, C, and D, each encompassing a different set of islands. Our first day there we decided to try out tour A, which includes a number of lagoons. We rented some fins to go with our snorkels and met up with our boat for a 9am departure. The island hopping boats are all outrigger boats that can hold about 15-ish people plus the crew; watching each one maneuver out of the bay full of other outrigger boats is quite impressive. We started off our tour with the Big Lagoon, which is exactly what is sounds like. The water is crazy green, so the popular thing to do is take turns sitting on the helm of the boat and getting your picture taken as it floats along.
Next up was Secret Lagoon, however it was pretty crowded (there seemed to be 15-20 boats doing tour A that day, I think it’s the most popular tour just because it’s A) so we stopped to snorkel further along the coast first. The waters have tons of coral and colourful fish, although we also saw a few small jellies so it’s best to watch out.
Once at Secret Lagoon we discovered why our crew had decided to wait for the crowds to disperse: the only way to get into the lagoon is to climb through a tiny one-person hole in the rocks, thus it’s name. Due to him not being a small Asian person it was a bit of a squeeze for Chris, but he managed to make it without accidentally concussing himself. Once inside it was, as Chris put it, “like Pirates of the Caribbean or something in here”.
Next we headed over to Shimizu Island for lunch. The beach is pretty and all, but by this time we were most excited about the platter of of fish, chicken, pork, rice, veggies, and fruit that our crew somehow prepared on the boat.
After lunch we headed over to the Small Lagoon. You could either swim into the lagoon or rent a kayak; we decided to just go with swimming because a) we were planning on renting a kayak the next day, and b) anywhere in Asia where large groups of people rent kayaks is a gong show. I think maybe it’s a cultural/geographical thing, but everyone I know back home has kayaked enough times to know the basics, whereas every Asian on holiday seems to always be kayaking for the very first time. So, put a bunch of them in a lagoon and it’s like a hilarious game of bumper kayaks. It’s pretty much a miracle neither of us got decapitated while swimming.
Swimming actually turned out to be a good thing, because there were tons of fish and some cute/scary jellyfish in the lagoon to look at.
The most exciting part though was returning to the boat, where we heard some tinkly music. Chris was like, “Weird, that sounds just like an ice cream truck.” AND THEN AN ICE CREAM BOAT SHOWED UP.
Our final stop was Seven Commandos Beach, a more populated beach on the mainland where were got a buko (a.k.a. coconut) shake to share. It was the end of the day, so we just chilled until the boat took us back to El Nido.
Back in town we decided to hit up a cute Italian place next to our guesthouse (called Altrove Trattoria) for pasta for dinner. Food-wise El Nido seemed a little more expensive to us, although that could be because there are no cheapo fast food chains here and most places on the main strip are cute (i.e. fancier) little restaurants.