Today I get to travel to what has been described as the most beautiful place on earth. El Nido on the island of Palawan. Has you can imagine I was full of excitement and anticipation of seeing heaven on earth. But first I had to get there, via a hectic journey that involved buses, taxis and plane.
It all began with a 5.30am alarm and a sudden jump out of bed to catch the 6oclock bus to Cebu city. Travelling through the Cebu’s eastern coastline, you get to see villages, resorts, towns and plenty of blue ocean. The route is scenic, but the journey is more of a nightmare. It seemed to take forever endless stopping and starting in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic environment for 4 hours, did take a toll on my enthusiasm. Still, even though we arrived an hour late, for 190php all about £3, it represents excellent value for money.
Happy to leave the bus I caught a taxi to the airport, avoiding all the traffic this time I arrived just on time for my flight to Puerto Princesa the gateway to Palawan. Cebu Pacific is a great low-cost carrier, with its bright, colourful planes flying many routes across the Philippines they provide a brilliant opportunity to travellers on a budget wanting to explore many islands. I paid £23 for my 80-minute flight to Puerto Princesa.
After landing, you can choose between taking a minivan and a bus. I choose a van, the easiest method after picking up your bags you get approached by drivers willing to take you to El Nido. It’s a 4/5-hour trip costing between 600php. The alternative is a 6 to 9-hour bus journey from San Jose bus terminal 7km away. By the time you pay for a taxi and a bus ticket 480php you just as well take the minivan. Even though it waits until its fully loaded.
Once you leave Puerto Princesa it’s a 230km journey across bendy hillside roads, The further north you go, the more remote you are as the van travels through deep forests as the sunsets. Finally ending up in Corong-Corong bus terminal, a 5-minute tricycle journey away from downtown El Nido.
The Most Beautiful Day of My Life
These 4 boat trips that operate from El Nido, by many different operators but they all follow the same itinerary and cost the same, around about 1200php all £20. It’s said that the best tours are A and C. I’m certain B and D are amazing as well so you may want to stick around to do those, but I only had enough time to do 2.
The water, sand and scenery of Commando Beach are just out of this world, you really do wonder if you will ever encounter a more spectacular setting in your lifetime. You have giant coconut trees in front of a steep cliff surrounded by rainforest. No one really knows why it’s called commando beach, but the theory goes that 7 soldiers got stranded on the beach from WWII. If that’s true what a place to be stranded.
Unlike back then these many facilities offering refreshments. They are mindful of sustainability, which is why they impose a 200p Eco Tourism Fee and limit your swimming within a large designative square. Each tour should give you about 45-60 minutes to relax on a true castaway paradise.
After the beach, these an off-shore snorkelling stop, it’s about 10 metres deep. I’m not a great snorkelling I just tend to bob around on the top, don’t hold any of those fancy underwater skills, so for me I didn’t get a lot from this experience, did see some fish and some coral that mostly looked colourless. Fear, not these still fantastic snorkelling opportunity to have in El Nido which I will describe in Tour C
The secret lagoon isn’t so secret anymore, you enter through a small hole that opens up to a pool dominated by sharp cliffs. I found it hard to admiral the perfectly formed circler walls while being surrounded by so many tourists, it’s a lot more beautiful outside the lagoon.
Lunch and Snorkel Stop
Stopping around the corner from the Secret Lagoon, these another snorkelling opportunity a bit shallow and many more different types of fish. Following a dip in the ocean, lunch is served chicken, rice and the best bananas in the world.
When I visited the small lagoon, it was surrounded by boats, which made the swim a lot less enjoyable as I couldn’t see the lagoon just boats and more boats, these even an ice cream and beer boat giving tourists the perfect relief from the boiling hot sun. Thankfully authorities are taking action, and visitors will not be able to visit Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon and Secret Beach within one day.
For me, the highlight was the big lagoon, where shallow green turquoise waters lead up to a gateway through the cliffs where you see the whitest of sands, and the clearest of waters you’re ever see. I choose to explore the lagoon by doing some good old-fashioned swimming, as I wanted to peacefully take in the wonder. I ended up walking and stumbling across though as most of the lagoon waters are too shallow to swim across. Everyone else paid for a kayak, which might be the best option, I only made it halfway up the lagoon before heading back, which was good enough for me.
2nd Most Beautiful Day of my Life
A bit less majestic than the previous day, but still a beautiful day out is Tour C, that explores the furthest northern, western side of the 45-island archipelago. If you are a keen snorkeler, this is the tour for you.
Our tour guide asked the group if we wanted to visit a shrine all spend more time snorkelling. As you can imagine, we all voted the latter so I can’t comment on the shrine, but I have no regrets.
After Commando beach the previous day, I thought I will never witness a more beautiful setting to take a swim. The boats moor up outside the shallow waters, giving you the perfect opportunity to see beautiful Marine life while swimming towards the beach. It’s called Hidden Beach because it can’t be seen from the sea as its surround by limestone cliffs. Once you’ve entered through the limestone cliffs, it’s a 5-minute swim in waist-deep water to the beach.
My favourite part of El Nido was the 90 minutes we spent at a beach on Tupuitan Island. The beach somehow eclipses the beauty of Commando and hidden, the waters seemed even more turquoise with coral and marine life, while above the cliffs looked more rigid and aggressive giving way to mountains of greenery.
Before getting to the beach, I took the chance of jumping in, where I had the most amazing snorkelling experience of my life, so many fish and so many different spectrums of coloured coral in the clearest of waters I’ve ever seen. Be careful though as sea orchids are everywhere,
The furthest point within the tour holds Secret Beach, that isn’t so secret anymore, about 5 boats were anchored off-shore. You have to swim to the Cliffside were these a narrow cap no bigger than a door. It can get crowded as these only enough room for one person at a time. Once you’re through the crevasse cliffs, open up, and you finally get to see Secret Beach. If you can manage to swim and hobble across rocks, you can ultimately lie down and relax on a surreal beach that’s surrounded by cliffs.
I managed to swim back to the boat, where most of us collapsed on-board exhausted from today’s swimming. Sitting down, taking in the scenery, you can see why they say it inspired Alex Garland to write the famous Novel The Beach.
Helicopter island would still be classified as a lovely place anyway in the world, but after all the swimming it just felt like a less beautiful version of Commando, and I just ended up lying down exhausted from today’s effects.
Relaxing in Paradise
After a night partying in El Nido, I decided to take it easy and take a tricycle to Marimegmeg beach. Marimegmeg is still very beautiful and is probably the most accessible beach in El Nido. It’s curving beach with golden sands is a 3-mile tricycle ride away from central El Nido. Therefore, its more developed and popular being home to severe bars and the Las Cabanas Resort.
Which was perfect for my throat and mouth has it become so dry from all the alcohol the night before. Being in a hot humidly environment, you really notice the diuretic effect alcohol has on the body. Resulting in me having a drink every half an hour for the rest of the day. While watching people zip ling in front of a scenic backdrop of distant islands.
By the end of the day, I was so sad to be leaving El Nido, and I wish someday I will return although I’ve been hearing that it’s getting too popular and overcrowded now.
Ferry to Coron
These now a fast ferry connecting Coron to El Nido it takes 3 and half hours which you can now book on https://www.bookaway.com which is kind of discouraging as I really don’t want both destinations to be spoiled by mass tourism. I say this because when I visited the journey took between 9-11 hours depending on weather and only sailed on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It cost about 20 dollars the new fast operation is about $36. I didn’t mind the 9-hour journey because I mostly slept through the most part.
I only had one day in Coron, so I could only achieve one of the many boat tours on offer. Like El Nido, all the tours go to the same places. The one I chose is the most popular and cost about £20. These tours are the cheapest way of seeing all the landmarks, and they will give you social opportunities, but you may want to consider a private excursion. As all the boats seem to arrive at the same places at the same times leaving some activates feeling overcrowded.
Kayangan lake is the most famous natural attraction in Coron and arguably within the Philippines. As you can imagine, then it’s busy when I arrived there must have been about 20 boats parked. Which made for an interesting ascent as you end up taking turns to walk up narrow walkways and possibly slippery steps.
Once you’re at the top, these a platform where you will have a glimpse of those famous postcard pictures you’ve seen online. Opposite the bay lies a sizeable lake with the greenest waters I’ve ever seen.
A wooden deck welcomes you at the bottom (really slippery in parts), and it’s all too inviting to jump in. You can escape the crowds and enjoy some of the cleanest and brightest waters in the Philippines while watching those stunning limestone cliffs circling the entire lake without too much bother. You feel fully rejuvenate afterwards, although the trip back to the boat may harm that effect.
Malwawey Coral Garden
I had high hopes for the coral garden, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as impressive as I would have hoped. Most of the coral seemed colourless.
The Last destination all activate was a snorkelling session towards the beautiful South Bay Island. Entering the water, it was nerve-racking to see how far the island stood in the distance. Too late the boat left I had no other choice to swim over awe-inspiring marine life, like before I could only see from a distance thanks to my marvellous snorkelling skills but gradually coming towards the shore everything began to come closer. I kept struggling with my snorkelling mask as I fell behind the others. I did finally arrive onto CYC beach, which is on a perfectly formed circled island filled with mangrove trees. But to be honest, the beauty was spoiled by the number of boats surrounding the island.
Bye, Bye Philippines
A sad day as I wish I spent my entire 5 weeks in the Philippines, however, the show must go on as I climbed on-board a tricycle for the last time taking me towards Busuanga airport. Where a 1-hour flight to Manila waits for me. On reflecting upon my time within the Philippines, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, the scenery, climate, people, culture, everyone speaks perfect English, which makes travelling really easy within the country. It’s the ideal country for popping that Asian cherry and these not forget “life is more fun in the Philippines”.