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El Nido and the Bacuit Archipelago are good places to island hop. El Nido is no backpacker destination (though you will find many foreigner back packers) - the costs here are more than most tourist spots in the Philippines including Boracay.
IMPORTANT - MONEY
El Nido does not have any ATM machines, hence bring sufficient cash with you from Puerto Princessa. as costs tend to be higher than budgeted. A good rule of thumb is draw up your budget, multiply by 3 and take all that cash with you when you come. The island hopping, food and transport are among the most expensive in Phils.
Best time -
The Philippine summer (March - May) when the weather is warmer and the water is clearer. Stay for a week since the travel and island hopping can get exhausting.
Electricity in El Nido is only from 2 pm to 6 am, hence be prepared for the inconvenience of less electricity, and no ice during this time in restaurants. Bring along a rechargeable flash light.
El Nido town has sufficient shops and kiosks for basic necessities like toothpaste, slippers, clothes, etc. Expect costs to be higher sicen everything comes from Puerto Princessa.
Reaching there -
As compared to other tourist spots in Philippines, or even as compared to Coron (Northern Palawan), El Nido is more remote and difficult to reach. There are 3 ways to reach -
a) Fly to Puerto Princessa, then take a bus to El Nido (most popular method)
b) Take a boat from Coron
c) Take a direct flight from Manila (most expensive)
The medium priced and popular way is to fly from Manila to Puerto Princessa. There are 3 ways to reach El Nido -
a) The uncomfortable way - Catch a shuttle van or minivan from San Jose bus Terminal to El Nido, a 5 hour+ trip costing P600. The minivan is air conditioned. The vans don't have much leg room; if you get up to stretch you may be kneeing the person in front of you in the back! The road is concreted up to Taytay, but thence it is bad and under construction, so expect a jostling ride for one hour.
b) The less uncomfortable way - Take RORO bus from San Jose market bus terminus (it costs 120 pesos for a trike to reach from the airport to this bus terminus, trike seats max 5 people). The buses run from PP to El Nido every 2 hours, but only every alternate service is air conditioned. Aim for the air con service which is like any other air con bus in Phils.
Cost = 550 pesos per head
Time = 6 hours
c) The comfortable way - Take Daytripper Palawan. They are slightly more expensive (by 3eur) but they have good reputation, have good legroom and comfortable seats and a convenient online booking system in their website (google "daytripper palawan"). They pick up from anywhere in the town proper of Puerto Princesa and drop off at your hotel in El Nido. Cost = 800-900php / head / way
d) The fastest, most expensive and direct route to El Nido is flying 75 minutes from Manila with Island Transvoyager (ITI) . ITI costs P6750 per head one way with a bag restriction of 10kg (including a carryon bag) so you’ll be paying P100 for every extra kg. They do not have online booking which can be a pain. They only give preference to those people who are staying at the Ayala resorts.
WHERE TO STAY
There are 3 places to stay -
a) The more crowded El Nido town proper - crowded, looks like a backpacker area, very small beach
b) The quieter Caalan beach area - quiet, large medium priced resorts, but need to walk to El Nido for food
c) The more remote Corong corong beach area - can only take a trike to reach El Nido town, better beaches
Hotels along the foreshore in El Nido are around P1500/night, twin share. Electricity is not stable and runs from 2pm to 6am, although some resorts make up for the lack with their own generators. With no banks or ATM’s in El Nido it pays to cash up before arriving. Two good eating places are the Blue Azul (say hello to owner Libby) and the Restaurant on top of the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe.
You can hire a Bangka (pump boat to do the Island hopping) from small tour companies throughout El Nido or ask your hotel to organise it. Before you get on the boat you will need to pay an Eco-Tourism Development Fee of 100P for a local and 200P for a foreigner.
El Nido is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago and the Islands are varied and beautiful. In Tour A and B Islands alone you can snorkel across Small Lagoon to a cave at the end with a narrow opening. Stop for lunch at Sumizu Island with its world class scuba diving. Swim across the Secret Lagoon with a waterproof camera and get a rare shot looking back. Couples planning to get married can do something different at Big Lagoon where you can stay at a nearby resort and have your wedding ceremony on a platform in the middle of the lagoon (see photo). The resort on Pangalusian Island is by appointment only but the anchor will be dropped nearby and the underwater life is colourful! On Snake Island climb the steps leading up to the lookout – what a view – and feel like you’re on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. Arriving at Codugnon Cave you’ll squirm across rocks over a life jacket to get in then jaw drop at what you see! The scenery at Pinabuyotan with its nippa hut is the stuff of postcards, pre-arrange to stay a night and explore the Island. And these are just the highlights of nine Islands which make up Group A and B. There’s 45 Islands in the Bacuit Archipelago! Wow!
The island hopping trips in El Nido are organized in fixed itinerary trips A, B, C and D. Each has it's highlights, each includes lunch and these itineraries are fixed for all travel agents.
Island hopping costs 600 pesos per head.
The snorkeling in most of El Nido is surprisingly rather poor and corals are white due to bleaching, indiscriminate anchor dropping by boats and lots of tourists in water kicking the corals. If you have snorkeled in Coron, you will be disappointed in El Nido. However, the sights above water are stunningly beautiful - especially of the lagoons.
For divers, Coron is a bigger attraction due it's wrecks and better preserved corals.