Island-hopping through lagoons and limestone formations outside El Nido was one of the most beautiful days of my life—I would even go as far as to say top five. It was cheaper and less crowded than Thailand or Vietnam, swimming was often encouraged, and below the surface the marine life was popping. The following day we motorbiked along the Palawan coast away from the tourists and Western restaurants, discovering peaceful farms and waterfalls.

 

Small Lagoon, Tour Package A.

 

 

Getting There & Away

Boat—We took the slow boat at 8am from the Coron port to El Nido, 8 hours, $24, lunch included. The fast boat left at noon and took 3.5 hours, $34 for adults and $30 for students with ID. The reverse trips from El Nido to Coron left at 8am for the slow boat and 6am for the fast.

The reason why I always chose the slow boat was because it was cheaper and there was plenty of space along the cushions to stretch out and sleep. I could sit at the hull, or chill on the upper deck, and I often had data signal on my phone. When departing from Coron, the slow boat actually reached El Nido at an earlier hour than the fast boat. Plus, the onboard meal was always healthy with veggies, protein, steamed rice, and a banana, served hot on a beautiful woven plate.

Van— To catch my flight from Puerto Princesa, I took a van from El Nido to PP, 6 hours. Walking towards the edge of town the booking offices offer cheaper deals. I got my ride for $8 which included pick up from the office to the bus station.

Small Lagoon

 

Accommodation

Hakuna Matata was a no frills hostel in a central location, $6. For AC, wifi, and breakfast, try Our Melting Pot, $10. For atmosphere and socializing, others couldn’t seem to get enough of Outpost Hostel, located away from town with a view, $9-12.

 

Simizu Island, Tour A.

 

Eating

If your budget is super tight, buy alcohol outside of bars and restaurants and stick to local bakeries, fresh fruits and grilled meat from street stalls. However, I splurged to sample a good amount of the well-known food spots that El Nido.

Best all around— Happiness Beach Bar had wooden rope swings instead of chairs. Seriously. Oh, and decent music. And a convenient happy hour for BOGO frozen margs. We all shared falafel, sabich, and shakshuka which were pretty good for being on a remote island in Southeast Asia. To give an idea of its popularity, I had first heard about this falafel in a monastery/meditation center in the middle of Myanmar.

Pizza— On two (2) (!!) separate occasions I threw my face into a full pizza straight out of the stone-fired oven, minus the slice I gifted to whoever was sitting across from me. Little Italy was to fill our pie-craving holes. And all I wanted was plain cheese. That beauty is currently my screensaver. I soon realized that Trattoria Altrove was supposedly THE place to go, pizza or not. The reviews are so stellar and the restaurant was so hyped, from tourists to locals to expats from New York. Naturally I couldn’t stop thinking about it and took the caloric hit again, about five days later. I did half fungi, half proscuitto.

Icy sweets— Forget any gelato in town, they’re bad and overpriced. Ringing intuitively means an ice cream man is coming around, and in SEA, that’s correct. A man sold me a rainbow of ube, chocolate, and mango mini scoops inside a hamburger bun (making it a valid lunch) for just cents. The roadside stalls on the main road sell smoothies for about $1, restaurants for about $1.60. Just drink ’em!

 

Filipino ice cream sandwich.

 

Seafood— For being a chaotic mass of islands, I ate pig, and more pig in this country. El Nido was an exception. Upon a friend’s recommendation we feasted on squid, crab, and mussels at Sea Jane’s Restobar which weighs and grills your pick. Can’t go wrong with garlic butter. Later I tried the curry seafood special at Squido’s, a cheaper dinner spot more popular among Filipino visitors.

Coffee and internet— Artcafe was always crowded with tourists and gets the job done. I didn’t think I could find a quiet spot to myself with chargers, AC, solid connection, clean bathroom, and caffeination with enough ice to survive the wall of heat blockading my productivity. I was wrong. Cafe Caalan was actually the reception of Caalan Resort, and the American owner kindly served as a conversationalist, therapist, and bearer of tourism advice. The best part? They were so anti-frills (in a good, newly-opened sense) that they had a simple menu of just cold brew and whatever baked goods the nephew from Korea was baking up. Go for the banana bread—serious moistness.

Seven Commando Beach, Tour A.

See and Do

Island Hop

As with most non-private tours, what you get will be about the same. The destination sets of four or five islands are systematically named  Tours A-D. There was a separate $4 per person entry ticket that was valid for several days.

The Marthan booking office next to the BPI bank sold us Tour A for $14, snorkel gear included. My friend later got Tour A for $12 and Tour C for $16 at Onin’s. Considering how well they fed us at lunchtime, any price in this range was a deal.

 

Small Lagoon, Tour A. Photo Credit- Manu.

An Israeli fellow recommended that we rent kayaks in town (on the main beach, around $4) and agree to have them put on the tour boat the next morning, rather than renting for twice the cost at each lagoon. Swimming in the lagoons would have been limiting since they were so large, and because jellyfish.

 

 

Day 67

Today was another great birthday for my home country, and I spent it eating grill and wearing a bikini, the way it should be done.

 

Big Lagoon, Tour A.

 

Today was also an abundance of sunshine despite the wet season and, like I said, one of the prettiest days I’ve lived.

My favorite stop on our Tour A package was Big Lagoon, where we navigated through the extensive network of rock and emerald water.

 

Big Lagoon, Tour A.

 

At night we tore through ten bivalves, a hefty squid, and two fat crabs like never before. The sight of us nauseated Arne like never before. I am sure my hands still have traces of that garlic butter flavor to this day.

Motorbike

Day 68

It was $14 to rent motorbikes for a day so that afternoon we doubled up and headed to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, parking outside the property for a small fee. The falls involved hiking, a garden snake spotting to Arne’s delight, several creek crossings, and a wrong turn, but in the end I was soaking in it.

 

Nagkalit-kalit local chilling in the creek we crossed.

 

Brit and I received motorbike lessons and got to shred some Filipino coastline before sunset.

 

 

Day 69

Sometimes things don’t work out. The more you travel, the more you understand nothing should compromise you from having the experience you want. I was back to solo traveling, but not really. Lore, our roommate that was coincidentally also Belgian was, still with me.

Day 70

Love, love the way they freely sing in this country.

 

 

 

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