North of the Final Frontier (El Nido)

El Nido has been on my to-go list since I graduated from college. Back then I hadn’t been to either Puerto Prinsesa or Coron. It’s been 5 years since and I’ve been to the latter two several times and even the Tabon Caves to the South. Finally, I was able to reach El Nido just as summer was winding down this year.

They say good things come to those who wait and this was the case for me. While El Nido has gotten more crowded recently, it still retains its Palawan charm with dramatic limestone cliffs and incredible beaches teeming with life. 5 years since I planned on visiting this paradise and we had the great privilege of being hosted by my friend Kring who happens to be (or was by this time) a manager at the El Nido Cove Resort and Spa.

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Sunset at the El Nido Cover Resort and Spa

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View from the beach front

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At the veranda overlooking the sunset

This resort was newly acquired by Ten Knots, owners of the famous El Nido Resorts (Miniloc, Lagen, Apulit and Pangulasian Islands). In other words, not my typical budget travel accommodation. We had a grand time living in an private cove away from the crowds but still with the convenience of having the town within tricycle distance. It was also great not having to plan the itinerary for once.

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We took the 615 PM flight to Puerto Prinsesa via Tiger Airways (Seair) and arrived around 8 PM due to late arrival of the aircraft. We went straight to the RoRo Bus terminal via tricycle (150 PHP) and bought our tickets to El Nido for the 10 PM trip (380 PHP student fare). Travel time was slightly longer than the vans that ply the same route at 6.5 hours due to frequent stops (and mechanical problems). Despite the name don’t expect getting onto a boat during the trip. This RoRo is landlocked. We arrived at El Nido at 430 AM where Kring met us and we went straight to the resort to recharge for the island hopping at 8AM.

Ready to take on El Nido!

Ready to take on El Nido!

We visited 4 sites on the first day namely Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine (Tapiutan Strait) and Dilumakad (Helicopter) Island. Hidden beach is named due to its location being covered by a facade of limestone. Secret beach is very reminiscent of the twin lagoons of Coron, with a small opening (submerged during high tide) leading to the small lagoon with a sandy beach. Matinloc Shrine has one of the best views in El Nido overlooking the Tapiutan Strait. The three sites are all part of Matinloc Island. Dilumakad (or helicopter island due to its shape) has a nice coral reef habitat in front of its fine sand beach. For just 700-900 PHP, these island hoping tours are quite affordable.

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Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach

Secret Beach

Secret Beach

Matinloc Shrine

Matinloc Shrine

View of Tapiutan Strait from Miniloc Shrine

View of Tapiutan Strait from Miniloc Shrine

Tapiutan Strait

Tapiutan Strait

Dilumakad Island

Dilumakad Island

The second day Kring arranged for a boat to pick us up directly from the resort. We visited 2 lagoons (big and small) before having lunch care of El Nido Resorts at the Big Lagoon Beach. After lunch Kring gave us the special tour of Miniloc Island. We checked out one of the rooms available and then used some of their facilities. The highlight for me was getting to aim with large jacks in the house reef of the resort. After Miniloc we headed to Snake Island (similar to that in Puerto Prinsesa) and Cudugnon Cave, where we saw a local celebrity.

Into the Big Lagoon

Into the Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon

Within the Small Lagoon

Within the Small Lagoon

Miniloc Island

Miniloc Island

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Snake Island

Snake Island

Entrance to Cudugnon Cave

Entrance to Cudugnon Cave

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Cudugnon Cave

Cudugnon Cave

Lagen Island

Lagen Island

On the third day we decided to skip the island hopping and try to visit one of the waterfalls in El Nido. We rented a van and spent the day with the resort staff since it was their day off. The starting point for Nagcalitcalit Falls was just a few meters north of the resort and it took us a little over 30 minutes to reach it. Water flow was a bit weak but the cool temperature of the basin was heaven to our sweaty bodies after the hike. After the falls we headed to Nacpan Beach, said to be the best beach in El Nido. I have never been to Boracay but according to my friends this was very similar with a whole cove glistening with white sand and crystal clear waters. The best part? We had it mostly to ourselves.

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Nagcalitcalit Waterfalls

Nagcalitcalit Waterfalls

Our last day had the most physically taxing activity: island hoping via kayak. Maapdet Island is a small island near the resort and can be reached in 30 minutes through kayak. I have never considered kayaking long distances but I’m open to new experiences and what an experience it was. Continuous paddling on a tandem kayak is tiring to say the least. When part of the time it’s just you doing the paddling, it can get painful. Thankfully we got to the island eventually and got or tired shoulder some much needed rest. There are natural pools formed near the beach and on days where the water is choppy and crashing into these rocks it is a beautiful sight to behold.

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Maapdet Island

Maapdet Island

It was nearing lunch time by the time we got back to the resort. We reserved seats on the 1 PM trip on the public service vans back to Puerto Prinsesa (500 PHP) and because we were running late we requested to be brought to the airport directly (additional 100 PHP per person). Barely making it to the check in counter, our stay in paradise was over. Like Coron, the short visit left me both satisfied and wanting. There will be another time to go through the 6 hour ride up north again. 😀

Full Gallery at Flickr

Notes:

The pampered lifestyle on this trip prevented me from experiencing the commuter POV but a more comprehensive guide to traveling to El Nido can be found at Walkflypinoy. We were able to reserve the seats we wanted on the van (first row) ahead of time so try requesting it instead of just reserving for a certain number of people. Also note that the 10 PM trip we took on the RoRo Bus is first come first served and the bus gets full. Best to pass by the terminal to buy your ticket immediately before having dinner if taking the same route as we did.

If you would like to stay at El Nido Cove Resort and Spa, a tricycle well set you back 50 Php/person or 200-250 per tricycle. Its past the airport so I think the cost is justified. The resort is also going to be undergoing renovations soon so it may not be available in the immediate future.

Terminal fee is still 40 PHP at the Puerto Prinsesa Airport.

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