One of the best things about modern day traveling is that the internet allows you to do so much research before you go.
Google helps you plan your itinerary. Skyscanner help you find the best flight deals. And instagram allows you to imagine yourself in that picture postcard moment before you even set foot on a plane.
But the whole point of traveling is the surprise-factor. That moment when you see something so beautiful and awe-inspiring that you just didn’t expect.
The danger of too much research is it can lead to great expectations, which are often difficult to live up to.
That was almost our experience of El Nido town in Palawan, which is in danger of becoming a victim of its own beauty and success.
Renamed by the Spanish from Bacuit to El Nido (meaning nest in Spanish) in 1954, its new moniker came from the bird nests that can be found in the limestone cliffs surrounding the town and which became the main ingredient of the controversial Nido Soup.
It then became a backpacker haven but with Palawan having been named best island in the world for the past three years, El Nido is now now welcoming tourists from all walks of life, all falling over themselves to find their own picture postcard moment. And unfortunately, the local infrastructure is still playing catch up.
El Nido harbour, while still looking stunning from afar is actually quite polluted from when you get up close and personal. And the lack of any other industry nearby means everything and everybody seems to revolve around catering for the tourists that continue to flock there.
Thankfully, El Nido still has a few aces up its sleeve and the hidden beaches, secret caves and natural lagoon which made it a famous stop-off for independent travelers in the first place, are still the real reason why Palawan is voted year after year as the best island in the world.
Our top recommendations for things to do
1. The hidden and secret beaches of El Nido (Tour C)
This was by far the best tour we did at El Nido and the secret beach was our absolute highlight. If you only have time to do one tour while in El Nido, make sure you choose this one. Unfortunately, its also where we lost our GoPro, and all of our underwater and beach videos from El Nido with it.
2. The little and big lagoons of Miniloc Island (Tour A)
This tour takes you from chilling out at Seven Commandos beach to snorkelling off the tiny Shimizu island. Then its kayaking in the small lagoon to sailing down through the big lagoon. This tour is perfect for those instragram moments.
3. Nacpan and Las Cabanas beaches
Take a day off from the organised tours, hire a scooter and go and explore the beaches to the North and South of El Nido. Nacpan beach to the North is a bit more of a trek but worth the effort once you get there. It doesn’t have the cool hang out bars that Las Cabanas beach has but that’s part of its charm.
Our best place to watch the sunset in El Nido
Las Cabanas beach has a pretty awesome view of the sunset (see above) but better still is a little bar called La Republica which serves authentic Spanish tapas, cold beers and tasty cocktails and is the perfect place to go for a sundowner or two.
Situated on the road out of El Nido going towards Las Cabanas beach, the bar is accessed by a small staircase leading down to a wooden structure perched on the cliff looking out to the sunset. Arrive early around 4.30pm so you can grab a good seat and settle in with a cocktail or two to watch the sun go down in spectacular fashion.
Where to stay
Accommodation in El Nido is definitely over-priced for what you pay for and is one of the consequences of it becoming more of a mainstream tourism destination.
There are still plenty of backpacker options available but if looking for something mid-range or above then you need to be prepared to pay a premium for it – much more so than other Philippines destinations.
Although only there for six days, we actually stayed in four different places but would only recommend three of them:
Cadlao Resort, Caalan Beach – the first place we stayed at in El Nido. This is a lovely little resort with nice bungalows, good food and great views over El Nido bay.
Its a little bit of a trek from town if you’re walking but the resort has a couple of trikes which, if you call reception up, will come to collect you.
The bungalows are well equipped by El Nido standards and nicely furnished.
El Nido Resorts – Miniloc island – possibly one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed at. But then we could only afford to stay there one night. Surrounded by couples on their honeymoons, this is the ultimate place to go for a romantic night away from El Nido town with a private transfer service direct from El Nido airport. This private island getaway also has the best snorkelling in the El Nido area.
Garden Bay Beach Resort – even further away than Cadlao resort and you definitely need to ask for a trike to collect you. Even then, the trike can only take you so far and you have to walk the rest of the way along the beach to get there. But then you arrive at the resort and it is so calm and quiet being situated so far away from everything else going on in town. It also has a few hammocks on the beach where you can grab a beer and watch the sun going down.
The final say…
It’s maybe just a sign of what South East Asia has to offer that we were a little bit disappointed by El Nido town. But then there are so many other amazing destinations that offer the real deal in terms of authenticity and undiscovered environments.
We would still recommend a visit but three days is plenty of time to explore everything it has to offer and make sure you take more time to visit other parts of Palawan such as San Vicente or Coron.