Last week I told you about my first week in the Philippines, where I traveled to Cebu, Bantayan Island and Bohol. (read it here)
I started off glampacking but the life of a backpacker is not always so luxurious. I spoiled myself in Cebu and Bohol and stayed at some of the best resorts and hotels. Well, in Palawan you go back in time a little bit. I was anxious to see it because I had been daydreaming about Palawan for ages.
I flew from Cebu City to Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan. This is a town with a cute name but be warned; it’s not a place to chill in my opinion. The center is full of cars and tricycles and you need to get out of the center to find a place to chill. I stayed in a wonderful boutique hotel called Balay Tuko Garden. They have a swimming pool and a nice garden for about 40 euro’s per night during high season. Book here.
Most people travel straight up to El Nido but I wanted to see some places in between. You have a few options: Sebang (the underground river), Port Barton and TayTay.
At the time, it was raining and I was told that most tours around the area got canceled as well as the underground river tour I wanted to do.
If you do want to go, you should book this in advance at Puerto Princessa instead of booking it at the spot. No idea why, but that’s the way it works.
It’s 1500 peso’s and it includes transportation, lunch and entrance fees. The Underground River is one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world, with a total length of 8.2 Kilometers and you’ll go in a boat with about 5-6 people which will take you into a cave. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction but if you pass it on your way to El Nido, you might as well right?
I decided to take a van up to Port Barton. 3 hours from Puerto Princessa. After a very bumpy ride with our friendly driver, we arrived in the cute Port Barton. (yes, this town is cute!) At arrival, you are guided to the tourist office where you pay a small environmental fee of 50 peso’s (1 euro) and you are given a few options on where to stay. A young man (called David) offered us a room and although we were a bit skeptical, he took us to a nice place where we met more travelers (lot’s of hippies!) and we only paid 600 peso’s a night. The place is called Pisces and although the rooms are simple, it’s clean and the owners are extremely helpful and friendly.
Port Barton is a place for the traveler that wants to chill, save money and enjoys the simple things in life.
You can go snorkeling, visit the Pamuayan waterfall (1,5 walk and make sure you ask the way) or check out the amazing white beach. (1 hour walk, no restaurant, bring water)
We booked a snorkeling tour for 700 peso’s with David and his crew and I can highly recommend this! You depart at 9am and return around 5pm.
You eat a freshly prepared lunch on a beautiful beach and visit some snorkeling spots. Check here for more info.
Tip » Bring enough cash to El Nido! Do this in Puerto Princessa or even Cebu if you’re there beforehand. There are no ATM’s in Port Barton and El Nido only has one. If it’s empty, you have a problem. If you do get into money troubles, check the western union which is now situated inside the First Consolidated Bank.
Port Barton isn’t that large but has quite a nice variety of nice places to eat.
» Ausan Beachhouse Restaurant - along the beach Eat in a treehouse!
» Evergreen - in the village great breakfast and dinner. (my evening meal took a loooong time, but it was delicious)
» Barton Bistro - I haven’t tried it but I’ve heard great stories!
» Greenview - beach view and live music on several days in this popular hotel
Warning: Jambalaya Cajun Cafe, (recognizable of a big smiley face on the front) the Lonely Planet describes this as one of the best places to drink coffee but I had a glass of warm milk that they called a latte. It’s also extremely expensive and they are too overconfident.
» Ausan beachhouse cottages – sleep in a treehouse for about 1200 peso’s
» Pisces – this is where I slept. Good vibes and only 600 peso’s a night.
Eat in a treehouse at Ausan Beachhouse cottages (source: cottages website)
After 3 days it was time to move on and travel to El Nido. Another 4 hours in a van. Make sure to book it at least one day in advance and ask to sit in the front if you get car sick. You can discribe El Nido as a vibrant little town with a lot of undevelopment. Like most of the Philippines, the houses and shops are self build and nothing seems to be finished. But thats the charm of El Nido. It’s a fishers town overun by tourist that come for one thing only; El Nido’s many islands.
Once at sea, your mouth will fall open when you see the beautiful rock formations and lagoons.
The most popular thing to do in El Nido is to take a boat tour. You can choose from tours A, B, C and some have tour D (whatever that may be) A & C being the most popular ones and it includes lunch and (most of the time) snorkeling gear.
There are so many tour operators to choose from that it will make you dizzy. To make your life easier I’ve made a shortlist of the ones I can recommend:
» Kraken Tour not the cheapest but highly recommended. Music, appetizers, lunch, drinks, WiFi, toilet, kayaks, paddle board, snorkel materials are included. Check here for more info
» The Artcafe tours. with Kayak 1900 peso’s. (recommended if you take tour A) no snorkling gear included. Accepts credit card.
» Northern Hope Tours. Professional and recommended by various sites. Book here
All tours are best booked in El Nido. (via the website you may need to pay an extra fee)
“El Nido is Palawan’s main attraction”
Tour A takes you to the picture perfect Big Lagoon
Another popular activity is diving. There are also plenty dive shops to choose from but I chose Adventurous Scuba. Smaller than some of the flashy expensive diveshops but more personal and professional. 3400 peso’s for 3 dives after a bit of deal making. We had a lovely scuba instructor called Bernie who was really nice to talk with. I can definitely recommend him! They are situated in the same street as the Art Cafe, right at the end on the left side.
Massages are also widely available in El Nido. Expect nothing more than a few curtains to divide the guest but hey, this is Asia and you’ll only pay 400 peso’s for one hour. (8 euro’s) like all other places, you can try your luck and try to get a discount. ( I got mine for 300 peso’s!) They are based in El Nido town. Just follow the “massaaaaaaage” voices and you’re good.
El Nido is not a place to get the best fashion items but there are some nice shops if you walk around. The best shop in town (and maybe even in Palawan)is without doubt Little Corner of Paradise. They sell tops, shirts, bikini’s, summer dresses, jewelry and everything has a beach vibe to it. Run by a French girl, it’s right across from a cute muffin/coffee store that shares the same owner. (Try the banana muffin!)
Another good place for shopping is BAZAAR. Just 2 minutes out of the center, you will find this nice place where you will find 3 stores (bags, flipflops,clothes) food and drinks. You can also have a massage upstairs which I tried and it’s definitely worth the 100 peso’s extra from what you pay in town.
On Sunday’s they throw a small electro party with DJ’s and cocktails. Bazaar feels like a little European community in the middle of El Nido.
FOOD / DRINK
Someone has to say it so I guess it will be me; the food in El Nido isn’t great. It’s OK if you eat meat but as a vegetarian you’ve got a bit of a problem.
There are a few places that serve good food and these were exactly the places I would eat day after day.
» Art Cafe - great curries, fish and breakfast
» BAZAAR asian kitchen - just opened! Amazing Japanese dishes
» Deli Nido Café – the best Frappuchino in town hands down
» Bagel V & V – the girls who work there are a bit moody but the homemade bagels are nice enough to go there
There are many accommodations to choose from but don’t expect anything top of the range. Even if you pay a bit more, you will get a basic room. You can always opt for the expensive El Nido Resorts but you just don’t want to to that (unless you want to eat nothing else but plain rice for the rest of your holiday)
» Sei Nazioni Cottages – Cute cottages in the middle of town with en-suite options and air-con. book here.
» The Resort Bayview Hotel – Nice view. Book here
» Anywhere along Marimegmeg Beach – I’ve seen some nice cottages there you should check out.
Thank god it’s not like Koh PhiPhi in Thailand were the beach turns into a place full of drunk horny teenagers. Well, El Nido does it a bit different. After dinner people go to the beachbars and the Pukka Bar is everyones favorite. They play cool reggae music with a pretty sick live band that gets the crowd dancing until about 3am. Other beachbars are more chilled and close a bit earlier (around midnight)
Bazaar throws a party on Sundays and it nice for drinks, ping pong and the occasional darts.
La Place is a lively beachbar situated alongside Corong Corong beach and they host a few parties a week. With a small pool in the middle and the DJ booth high up, they come closest to a real club in El Nido. Expect deep/techhouse music.
The Kala Bar is part of the Bazaar
Around El Nido
Rent a scooter for a day or 2 and explore! (500 peso’s) A few places you can visit:
» Duli beach – If you get there before 1pm, you might be the only person on the beach. There is one resort called Duli Beach resort (named after the Sea Turtles that lay their eggs here) and it’s run by a Dutch couple. Rooms are around 1000 peso’s a night and you’ll wake up on an amazing long stretched beach.
Tip »You might be asked for a fee before entering the bumpy road up to the beach. Just say you have paid already as they totally make this fee up.
» Nacpan Beach - You will hear tricycle drivers shouting: “Nacpan Beach?” around town as this is the most touristic beach around El Nido, Palawan. It’s part of Twin beach and you can eat tasty mussels here. Same applies for the fee they will ask you to pay.
» Marimegmeg Beach - Just a 10 to 15 min trycile ride from El Nido town you will find this beach with one of the best views you’ll ever see. There are a few beach restaurants and resorts where you can eat. Expect slow service though.
Palawan’s beauty is truly breathtaking but be prepared to go back in time a little bit. Less tourist (positive), less tasty food than you’re might used to in Asia, beautiful nature, but not a lot of beautiful architecture. Beaches enough though! Drop me a line in the comments if you need any other tips!
Next week I will finally post about my amazing island camping tour from El Nido to Coron!
Check my travel video of the Philippines here! (And subscribe to our YOUTUBE Channel if you want to see more)