Discovering El Nido, Palawan (2014)

El Nido, Palawan has been a dream destination for me ever since I started travelling. I had the impression that El Nido was a wonderful paradise and an expensive vacation. Going on this trip, I can attest that El Nido is really a magnificent paradise. I didn’t want to leave. I had to drag myself back to Manila when our trip ended. I can also attest that going on a trip to El Nido doesn’t have to be so demoralizing for your wallet. 🙂

My Companions:

We were an all-female group for this trip. Rhan, Shiela, Jella and Jema are all dear college friends to me. They are usually game for trips like this and I love going on food trips with them.

Jella, Ruby, Rhan, Jema, Shiela

Jella, Ruby, Rhan, Jema, Shiela

The Flight: Cebu Pacific

Our flight to Puerto Princesa was at 3:40 PM. We all decided to meet at the airport at 2 PM. I already checked us in through Cebu Pacific’s Web Check-in option 3 days before our flight (excited lang). We only had to go to the counters to have our boarding pass printed because my printer ran out of ink.

We still had plenty of time before our flight so we decided to eat at the airport. We were expecting a long travel to El Nido and we didn’t want to feel hungry. Hahaha! We arrived at our gate just as our boarding call was being announced. The flight was only an hour and 15 minutes long. I still haven’t settled into my seat when the pilot announced that we were about to land. Everything was right on schedule.

I just wish that our flight back to Manila was the same though. Our flight got delayed by 6 freaking hours! Our ETD was 10:05 AM but we were informed that there was an aircraft situation and the mechanic still had to fly from Manila. Shiela was supposed to go to the office that day and I had to work when I got home. The delay ruined our plans. Typhoon Luis was still inside PAR and I could understand if the delay was due to bad weather. We were told that our flight would leave at 12 noon instead, but it didn’t happen.

We were given a Chickenjoy meal for our lunch but what we wanted was to go home. We asked to be transferred to another flight as our right but the ground personnel told us that the mechanic would be arriving in the next flight and we didn’t have long to wait. 2 PM came and we still weren’t inside the plane. We were then told that they were waiting for clearance. It was 4 PM when we flew. But the time we arrived in Manila, it was already rush hour. I live in Quezon City so I had to travel from south to north. Nakaka-stress!

If only the ground personnel granted our request to be transferred to another flight. The time spent waiting could have been spent on more important things. I ended up working until midnight that day.

The road to El Nido:

I contacted Northern Hope Tours to arrange for our van transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa. We paid Php 500 for each way. We could have taken a bus and paid for a cheaper fare but I read that their are several stopovers for the trip. We didn’t mind paying more if it meant getting to El Nido sooner and more comfortably.

the van that took us to El Nido

the van that took us to El Nido

When I payed the downpayment and Northern Hope confirmed our booking with them, I was told that the driver would be waiting for us at Puerto Princesa International Airport. I didn’t have time before the trip to call them up and confirm the arrangement but our driver was already there when we exited the airport. We were told that he had to pick up more guests and we will be on our way. We requested to stop somewhere so we could buy snacks for the trip and the driver obliged. There were only 9 of us for this trip and it was a comfortable fit. I liked that Northen Hope didn’t fill out all the seats 🙂

The trip to El Nido takes about 6 hours from Puerto Princesa. We started the road trip at 5 PM and the road was a little creepy. There were no lights and houses were few and far in between. I was afraid to look out the windows in case I see a flash of white or something. Hahaha! The road was smooth and there was no traffic. I felt that the driver was driving a little too fast but I was confident at the way he drove.

At 8 PM, we stopped at Halfway Cafe to have dinner. We were the only guests at the time so it didn’t take long to find seats and order. Food was delicious! I ordered Bicol Express, cup noodles and a large bottled water all for Php 150.  And the restrooms are very clean which was a pleasant surprise.

it really is located halfway between Puerto Princesa and El Nido

it really is located halfway between Puerto Princesa and El Nido

simple but clean interiors

simple but clean interiors

About 1.5 hours before reaching El Nido, the roads alternate between rough and smooth. There were road construction sites that we passed by so I guess the road will get better when these are finished.

On our trip back to Puerto Princesa, we left El Nido at past 10 AM so we were able to see the views – mountains, trees, farms and seas. But we were stuck on the road for more than an hour because there was an accident between two vehicles that blocked the road. We had to wait until they moved the vehicles to the side before we could pass.

We were looking forward to a delicious lunch at Halfway Cafe, but instead we stopped at Bacuit Grill Restaurant. Food was also delicious. I paid Php 95 for the nilagang baka and Coca-cola I ordered.

Bacuit Grill Restaurant

Bacuit Grill Restaurant

Bacuit's colorful and homey interiors

Bacuit’s colorful and homey interiors

Our Accommodation: Telesfora Beach Cottages

Me and my companions wanted a beachfront accommodation so I searched for somewhere that wouldn’t hurt our wallets too much. I found Telesfora Beach Cottages while browsing through blogs. Ms. Chat was very prompt in answering my emails and it was a factor that made me decide to confirm our booking with them. She gave us the barkada room which cost Php 500 per person per night.

our home in El Nido

our home in El Nido

I also didn’t have time to confirm our arrival time on the day of our trip. I just mentioned in my earlier emails that we would be arriving at night. I was so thankful that our room was ready when we arrived at 11 PM. One of the staff was also there to welcome us. The room was built for 8 people so it was very spacious when we were only 5 in the group. Blankets, towels and soaps were laid out on the beds for all of us when we arrived. I love the way they folded the towels.

first glimpse of our room

first glimpse of our room

and the rest of the beds. we didn't occupy the upper decks

and the rest of the beds. we didn’t occupy the upper decks

I love the creativity :)

I love the creativity 🙂

Besides these, our room also had air conditioning, a TV and a toilet and bath. No water heater though. But the water was not so cold for shower so I didn’t mind. The water in Manila is colder if you want to have a basis for comparison.

When we woke up the next day, I got a chance to see the rest of Telesfora.

the rooms located just across from our room

the rooms located just across from our room

the entrance to Telesfora from the beach side

the entrance to Telesfora from the beach side

And this breathtaking view was what greeted us early in the morning ❤

a glimpse of El Nido's beauty

a glimpse of El Nido’s beauty

The breakfast that came with our room is a simple continental breakfast. We also had the option of taking tea or coffee in the morning. I loved the bread and pineapple jam that they served. We thought that it wouldn’t last us until lunch, but the bread felt heavy on our stomachs.

more butter and jam please

more butter and jam please

Itinerary: 5D/4N

Although this says we had 5 days and 4 nights, we only spent 2 days actually touring El Nido. When I booked our flights during a seat sale, I had limited options for our ETDs. 2 days was spent on travelling, 2 days in El Nido and a day in Puerto Princesa.

Day 1: Manila to El Nido

Day 1 of our trip was spent on travelling from Manila to El Nido. Our flight from Manila was at 3:4o PM and scheduled to arrive at Puerto Princesa at 4:55 PM. From the airport, we immediately headed towards El Nido which was 6 hours away. Only stopping for dinner at Halfway Cafe.

Day 2: Tour C – Northern Hope Tours

After breakfast, I was called by Northern Hope to tell me that we were going to be picked up at 8:45 am from our hotel. Our driver was 15 minutes early though. It was a 10-minute tricyle ride from our hotel to the town. We were dropped off at Northern Hope’s “office” so we could pay our fees and meet our guide for the day.

After buying water and some snacks, we were led by Gilbert (our guide) to our boat. Since there were 5 of us, Northern Hope arranged a private tour for us.

our life vests and snorkel equipment were arranged like this when we boarded the boat. wow!

our life vests and snorkel equipment were arranged like this when we boarded the boat. wow!

As we were leaving the shore, Gilbert gave a short introductory speech about where we were going for the day and some rules we had to keep in mind. We gave him a round of applause just because we had so much energy and were very excited for the day ahead.

Off we went and everything I saw took my breath away. All I and my companions could say was “Ang ganda!“. Insert an expletive there somewhere 🙂

Yep, the water was that blue and the plants were that green.

Yep, the water was that blue and the plants were that green.

Our first destination was Hidden Beach. Our boat docked on the shallow waters and we disembarked to walk the rest of the way.

there is a Hidden Beach in here somewhere

there is a Hidden Beach in here somewhere

We had a little panicky moment when we saw a large bayawak (sea lizard) headed our way. Gilbert said it was more afraid of us but it’s size was a little frightening. We waded on until we reached the Hidden Beach.

It was very ideal for swimming since the water was only chest-high. We put on our snorkel masks and saw fishes swiming with us. One had the nerve to bite me twice. But it didn’t really hurt so I was cool.

It was only us and one other group this early in the morning

it was only us and one other group this early in the morning

first group picture of the trip. yay!

first group picture of the trip. yay!

Our next destination was Matinloc Shrine. There is an historical background to the island but I wasn’t paying close attention to remember. When we got there, I immediately saw a gazebo with the figure of Mama Mary in the center. Our guide told us that masses were held here in the past.

the column where the sculpture stood can be rotated according to our guide, but we didn't want to disturb it

the column where the sculpture stood can be rotated according to our guide, but we didn’t want to disturb it

There is an abandoned house on the island and I wanted to explore out of curiousity but we were discouraged from doing so because of the mosquitoes and the possible threat of dengue. Instead, Gilbert guided us to where we can climb to a peak where we can admire the surrounding landscape. The rocks are jagged and pointy. Despite being told to be careful, I easily wounded my knee when I bumped it on the rocks. But the wound was worth it when we got to the top. It was oh so amazing.

view from the top of the rise <3

view from the top of the rise ❤

We spent a few minutes admiring the view and taking pictures. We wanted to stay longer but other guests have arrived and were waiting for their turn. We didn’t want to leave but Gilbert said we would have lunch on our next destination so we followed him immeadiately to the port where our boat was docked. Food is a strong motivator for us 😛

the port of Matinloc Island

the port of Matinloc Island

Our next stop was Kulasa Beach where there was nothing to do but swim. We did swim near our boat where we could see and smell Gilbert and our boatmen grilling our lunch. We were so excited at the prospect of eating nothing but seafood for lunch. They told us to wait for 30 minutes but it felt like forever. Hindi naman halata na gutom na gutom na kami.

loitering at Kulasa beach for more swimming and lunch!

loitering at Kulasa beach for more swimming and lunch 🙂

When they were finished cooking our lunch and setting up at one of the cottages, they didn’t have to call us. We followed them as soon as we saw them disembarking with the food. I was surprised at the presentation of our food. Our boatmen even put garnishing to make our food more tempting. I wish I could cook like them. Gah!

OMG. seafood galore!

OMG. seafood galore!

The next destination for us was Cadlao Lagoon. It is actually intended for Tour D. But since one of our destinations (the Secret Beach) can’t be reached because of the rough waves in the area, Northern Hope replaced it with Cadlao Lagoon. I have no complaints about this because Cadloa Lagoon is so beautiful. The water is blue green and clear. Nature at it’s finest.

Cadlao Lagoon

Cadlao Lagoon

the water is perfect for swimming. I wish I could swim though and not rely on a life vest

the water is perfect for swimming. I wish I could swim though and not rely on a life vest

Our last stop for the day was Helicopter Island, named as such because the island is shaped like a helicopter when viewed from afar. As with the other destinations, the water is clear and blue. The current was stronger here though.

the beach at Helicopter Island

the beach at Helicopter Island

After enough time, our guide told us it was time to return. We spent the ride back discussing how beautiful everything was AND our plans for dinner. It was only 4 PM so we had plenty of time to res before going out again. We bought snacks when we got to town and hired a tricycle to take us back to Telesfora. The dogs at Telesfora were a friendly bunch. They welcomed us back and slept at our front porch 🙂

we didn't give them any chips so they decided to sleep instead

we didn’t give them any chips so they decided to sleep instead

We decided to eat at Trattoria Altrove for dinner. It is a famous Italian place that’s popular among El Nido tourists so we wanted to give it a try. The place was small but we luckily arrived before the dinner crowd.

the restaurant takes up the 2nd floor of this building

the restaurant takes up the 2nd floor of this building

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was a small sign asking guests to take off their footwear and place them in shelves beside the stairs.

there are several establishments in El Nido who do this

there are several establishments in El Nido who do this

The menu featured pizzas, pastas, desserts and drinks. I can’t remember the names of the items we ordered but they were all delicious.

this pizza was heaven. I wanted more but we ordered three pasta dishes

this pizza was heaven. I wanted more but we ordered three pasta dishes (forgot to take a picture for one of the pastas)

found this a bit bland but my companions strongly disagreed with me

found this a bit bland but my companions strongly disagreed with me

this was very delicious!

this was very delicious!

chocolate gelato. there is a pineapple flavor too :)

chocolate gelato. there is a pineapple flavor too 🙂

Day 3: Tour A – Northern Hope Tours

The day started out just like to previous one. It was raining heavily around 5 AM due to typhoon Luis but it let up by the time we woke up. We were afraid that Northen Hope would cancel due to the bad weather but Gilbert, our guide again for the day, told us that we can still make the trip. We were relieved to hear it but I sent a silent prayer up above to keep us all safe. Gilbert also informed us that some of our destinations for the day would make it impossible to bring a camera without getting it wet. We decided to rent an underwater camera for the day. That camera turned out to be a GoPro which we rented for Php 1,000.

The waves and wind were stronger than the day before. We were a bit wet by the time we reached our first destination – the Big Lagoon. And luckily the waves were calm at this area.

The awe was still there. We weren’t allowed to swim but we took a lot of photos 🙂

at the "entrance" of the Big Lagoon

at the “entrance” of the Big Lagoon

a photo just before we turned around to exit

a photo just before we turned around to exit

Beside the Big Lagoon is the Small Lagoon where we swam and snorkeled until we got tired of swimming. It is so amazing under the sea. I think I saw hundreds of different types of fish. I felt like a mermaid among all of them 🙂

Underwater shot taken by Gilbert

Underwater shot taken by Gilbert

that's us swimming and floating :)

that’s us swimming and floating 🙂

the fish who happily let us swim with them. so many!

the fish who happily let us swim with them. so many!

Shimizu Island was our next destination and where we would eat lunch. As usual, we swam while we waited for our boatmen to prepare our lunch.

we were bored so we attempted a jump shot with the GoPro camera we rented

we were bored so we attempted a jump shot with the GoPro camera we rented

and then we swam some more

and then we swam some more

and then we ate to get our energy back

and then we ate to get our energy back

After getting enough rest, we headed to the entrance of Secret Lagoon. Gilbert told us to be ready for a lot of swimming. I was confused about this at first because all I seeare shallow waters but he clarified that we had to go through a small opening in the rocks to enter the lagoon.

the "parking area" for the boats at the Secret Lagoon

the “parking area” for the boats at the Secret Lagoon

this was the small opening our guide mentioned - the entrance to Secret Lagoon

this was the small opening our guide mentioned – the entrance to Secret Lagoon

this is what was hidden inside - more beauty

this is what was hidden inside – more beauty

There is a cave that we went into but we weren’t able to take a decent photo. We enjoyed the lagoon but it was very tiring to swim. I was holding on to a life ring which our guide was pulling along by the time we were exiting the lagoon.

It was with a heavy heart that we continued on to our next and final destination. The 7 Commando Beach was the most crowded place I’ve been of all our tour destinations. There are cottages in the area and what looked like a hotel on one side. A small store can also be found where tourists lined up to buy buko and halo-halo. We swam for a bit but got tired easily because of the strong current.

as we were approaching 7 Commando Beach

as we were approaching 7 Commando Beach

group photo by Gilbert

group photo by Gilbert

We didn’t want to leave because it meant that our time in El Nido is already ending. But at around 4 PM Gilbert told us it was time to leave because the waves were getting stronger. We didn’t make a fuss because we knew there was a storm coming and we wanted to be safe.

For dinner, we went to Pukka Bar where a friend of ours had a gig. We know her from UP and I am a little envy that she is based in El Nido. The food was a bit pricey – Php 250-300 per plate, but we discovered that it was worth it. Every dish we ordered was scrumptuous and had big servings (because they have many foreigners as customers). I wish I had my camera to take pictures of the food but my SD card was being used to transfer our GoPro pictures there. After eating, we ordered a few drinks and enjoyed the acoustic and reggae live band 🙂

Day 4: back to Puerto Princesa

We were very tempted to stay at El Nido for another tour or for trekking but it was rainy when we woke up. We grudgingly packed our bags and waited for our van to take us back to Puerto Princesa. We left a little after 10 AM with three other passengers but got stuck on the road for about an hour because of an accident that blocked the road. We couldn’t update anyone of where we were because there was no signal in the area. We were thankful that our flight was scheduled for the next day or it would have been very bad for us.

We finally moved at 1 PM and stooped for lunch at 3PM at Bacuit Grill Restaurant. By this time, the UAAP Cheerdance Competition has already started and we were missing all the action. 😦

When we arrived in Puerto Princesa, we stopped to buy pasalubong at the shopping center. I bought cashew nuts, cashew tarts, cashew flavored butterscotch, cultured pearl earrings and some postcards all for Php 765.

Afterwards, our driver dropped us off to our accommodation for the night – Purple Fountain Courtyard Inn. I wrote a separate post about our stay here and the dinner we had at their restaurant, White Fence Cafe. You can find it here 🙂

Day 5: back to Manila (after a 6-hour flight delay)

Our flight was delayed for 6 hours due to aircraft situation. Almost an entire day was wasted on waiting for what felt like forever. If we would have known that we would be delayed for that long, we could have returned to Purple Fountain to wait there. But the staff couldn’t even give us a specific time for our departure. We would have preferred an honest answer instead of telling us to wait and be patient everytime we ask for an update about our flight.

The Budget:

The budget that we had for El Nido (+Puerto Princesa) can only be considered so-so. There are many options to make the trip cheaper: taking the bus instead of the van or looking for cheaper accommodations (my friend told me that the cheapest rate is Php 300 a night for 2 people for a fan room).

Here is the breakdown of what I spent for this trip:

1400.00 RT ticket via Cebu Pacific
Day 1 115.00 Lunch at NAIA Terminal 3
500.00 Van to El Nido
150.00 Dinner at Halfway Café
Day 2 1500.00 Telesfora Beach Cottages (3 nights)
1400.00 Tour C
200.00 Eco-Tourism Development Fee
100.00 Tip
338.00 Dinner at Trattoria Altrove
Day 3 1200.00 Tour A
200.00 Contribution for GoPro rental
420.00 Dinner at Pukka Bar
Day 4 500.00 Van to Puerto Princesa
95.00 Lunch at Bacuit Grill
765.00 Pasalubong shopping
748.00 Purple Fountain Courtyard Inn (1 night)
289.00 Dinner at White Fence Café
Day 5 150.00 Terminal Fee
200.00 Miscellaneous expenses
Php 10270.00 TOTAL

Final Thoughts:

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to El Nido, I would strongly recommend that you book your tours with Northern Hope Tours. We didn’t encounter any problems before and while on our trip. They replied to my emails promptly and the schedule they set are on time. The rates for their tours are standard which means that all travel agencies have the same rates but they may give discounts depending on how many people are there in your group.

tour rates and Northern Hope Tours' contact numbers

tour rates and Northern Hope Tours’ contact numbers

I would also reccommend Telesfora Beach Cottages. Their staff are friendly and they made our stay as pleasant as possible. Our last morning there was rainy and the staff volunteered to deliver our breakfast to our room. They also included hot water and other utensils so we won’t miss our morning coffee or tea. Very kind of them.

By the way, I’m not being paid for this 🙂 I just loved their service so much!

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10 thoughts on “Discovering El Nido, Palawan (2014)

    • Our guide pointed us to Adventure Scuba store. All their GoPros were already rented out when we got there (so best come in early or reserve it a day before). But they knew someone else who was renting out a GoPro and he came to the store 🙂

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  3. Hello! Does the van transfer picks up passenger from the airport right away or do we have the option for schedule? We really have no Idea on what lies ahead when we get there. And this will be our honeymoon. 😀

    • Nice! The van from Northern Tours picked us up at the airport, we just told them what time we would be arriving. If you choose to go by public van, you have to go to the terminal (I think it’s 1 tricycle ride away from the airport). If another agency is taking care of your van transfers, best ask them if they’re picking you up at the airport. Enjoy your honeymoon! You’ll love El Nido 😀

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