We just left the most enjoyable 7 days in the island of Palawan, specifically the northern tip called El Nido.
We arrived on Palawan Island after a quick flight from Boracay which lands at the Puerto Princessa Airport, centrally located in this long skinny island. As soon as we landed we knew we needed to get on one of the many tourist vans that will transfer you to El Nido.
El Nido is about 5.5 – 7 hours away from the airport, depending on if you take a smaller van or large motorcoach. At the time of our arrival, the only a/c option was the van, so we opted for that. The first van they (random locals running this no name shuttle service) put us in, they tried to overcrowd and it made us feel claustrophobic so we got out and demanded a refund. They conceded and gave us a different van and we got the front row (more leg room) and they rightfully only put three people in each row instead of four. These are A/C vans that are comfortable only if three people are in each row and cost 600 pesos each ($ USD) and it stops twice for bathroom/ snack breaks in very humble eateries (Think hole in the ground toilet with a manual flusher – you pouring water in with a scoop and cold food that should be hot.)
Travel Tip: Load up on snacks for this ride before you get to Puerto Princessa. There is a place to buy water before you get on the van but nothing else, not a cafe in the airport. It’s small.
We arrived in El Nido around 7pm catching a glimpse through the van window of what the sunsets are like in this part of the world, spectacular. We were hungry and unfamiliar with the town. It was dark so we hired a trike to drive us towards the main town with a top notch plan to stop at the first decent looking restaurant we passed. We found a restaurant was called Angle Bar at the edge of the main town.
The owners and their puppy greeted us at this casual bar with just a few patrons dining and drinking. We ordered two beers to take the edge off from the fast, swerving van ride and ordered dinner. The dinner was amazing, especially the fish burger.
The next morning, we made arrangements with some friends to do an island boat tour. Who are these friends we speak of??
Side bar: We sat behind the same couple on three different flights on our way to Boracay and to Palawan. We briefly chatted with them on the last flight, finding out they were also from New York. Then as fate would have it, after we got in our van to El Nido and drove for about 3 mins we made a stop and Shon and Michelle were the two people to join the journey. After a long van ride, they were now officially our friends!
Shon and Michelle had also made friends on Cebu with a Canadian couple named Daniel and Kelly who were in El Nido as well. So with the power of numbers on our side, we were able to arrange a tour with just the six of us through Danny and Kelly’s hotel.
Most travelers visiting El Nido are either there to dive, visit the beautiful beaches or partake in one of the 4 boat tours (labeled A through D) of El Nido’s most special places. We started with tour B.
Tour B explores 5 areas of El Nido and included a feast cooked by the captain! The tour was very relaxed and since we all knew each other, we could stay as little or as long as we preferred at each stop opposed to being on a boat with 15 strangers and having no say. It was awesome! Tours A and C are considered the best so it was very unpopulated with at most one other boat at each stop. The whole day cost each person $1200 pesos ($24 USD).
The six of us had so much fun that we all met up after showers and resting in the A/C at the Sterling Resort for dinner and cocktails overlooking the sunset.
We woke up to a torrential downpour and thunderstorm, the sheet amount of rain was so impressive it was slightly scary, maybe because at our hotel we were watching it from the upper deck under a tin roof.
Nate and I had only booked our first two nights in El Nido, since we weren’t sure how much time we would want to spend there. The prices for quality hotels available online were very expensive. We really liked the place Kelly and Daniel were staying at so we booked our next two nights at JM Pension and since we booked it in person it was a cool $26 USD a night and includes breakfast! The best values in El Nido are on the road asking the beach leading into town.
The rain, though it finally let up, canceled our tour plans for the day. Instead we used the day to outline the rest of our two and half months of traveling. We went into the *town and had a great panini at Altrove Express and used their wifi then went to Deli Nido Cafe for more decent wifi and a frappe and smoothie. Both places we really recommend.
We wandered the town, through shops and picked up some toiletries we had run out of.
On our way back to our new hotel, we ran into Kelly and Danny in the street, who were doing the same type of wondering. We made plans to meet up with them, along with Shon and Michelle to catch another gorgeous sunset. This time, we picked a bar that looked very happening the last two nights we walked past it.
We arrived at Republica Sunset Bar an hour and half before sunset to ensure a table for six!
The place was playing great music, served excellent tapas and quickly filled up with people. The sunsets are unreal in El Nido, worthy of its own Instagram filter.
We all had lots of drinks and the bar sent over two rounds of shots on the house because that’s how the Filipinos are, so warm, so welcoming. We called it a night after hours of fun and a few rounds of spoons, knowing we had Tour A in the morning.
The six of us met at our hotel, which was now where four of us were staying. Shon and I both weren’t feeling great so the host Emily offered to make us ginger tea to help settle our stomachs before we left. We all headed out for another magical boat day. Tour A takes you to Secret Lagoon, Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon.
Every stop was really phenomenal but unfortunately being that it is the most popular tour, it was much more crowded than our serene Tour B. I can only imagine when El Nido actually gets more populated with tourists!
Everyone was pretty wiped by the end of the day and I was still a little sick, so each couple did their own thing for dinner. Our host checked on me and brought more ginger tea before I turned in for the night.
Meanwhile, Nate headed up to Angle Bar to have dinner and discuss a few details with Martin who would be taking him scuba diving the next day.