Philippines Part 2: El Nido, Palawan

Here we go on part two of our trip to the Philippines! If you missed part one, make sure you click here to read about our time in Cebu.

John’s highlight video is at the end of this post, be sure to check it out! 🙂

So our first week came to an end in Cebu and we found ourselves packing up a backpack for a quick trip over to the island of Palawan. By this point I really felt like a nomad, packing bags out of my suitcase of other packed things. As I type this (three months after returning) I realize that my suitcase is still packed in my closet upstairs LOL.

Anyway, we hopped on a pretty small puddle jumper (50 seats) and took the 1 hour flight to El Nido, Palawan. There are two airports on the island of Palawan, El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Puerto Princesa has a lot more options for arrival and departure but if you are looking to go to El Nido I really suggest getting a flight right to there otherwise you will find yourself having to sit on a 6+ hour bus ride.

We had been looking forward to this part of the trip because this island is BEAUTIFUL and the pictures we saw online were really building our excitement. If you are going to the island of Palawan I would say that El Nido is a can’t miss place to stop! Between the sunsets, beaches, lagoons, and wildlife El Nido is filled with breathtaking views and endless photo opportunities!

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This is a sunset picture I took on my iPhone and has no filter on it! The sunsets are awesome in El Nido!

When we landed, we were greeted by local singers, Filipino snacks, and the cutest outdoor airport I have ever seen. Security is outside and it’s basically just a waiting area under a pavilion. There’s no need to arrange a ride ahead of time because there are a ton of trikes outside just waiting to take you where you need to go. It was only about a 20 minute trike ride from the airport to the hotel and cost about  200 php (that is equal to $5.50 in USD).

We stayed at Cadlao Resort in El Nido and I was honestly in awe of how great the resort was. In El Nido there are pretty much three types of hotels: Private Island hotels ($350 USD and up per night), resorts on the island ($100+ USD per night) or more budget friendly hotels (more in the $30-$50 USD per night range). Our hotel was in the middle category because we wanted to really relax and read great reviews about Cadlao. I think we spent about $160 USD per night but it was well worth it. The rooms were clean, the staff was extremely friendly, the resort was private and quiet, and breakfast was included!

So the first day we got to the resort and just got settled, took some photos of the sunset, and walked into town to see around. The hotel was a little bit off the beaten path but they have their own trike drivers that will drive you up to the main road and the center of the town is within walking distance from there. The only time this poses a problem is late at night because the trike stopped running at 10pm. It was a little bit creepy walking back because you have to pass a cemetery but I just put a little pep in my step and it was fine.

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My first photo of the sunset!

There are four different boat tours you can do on the island that will take you to the local beautiful places that you need a boat to see. If you walk into town it is impossible to walk 4 feet without seeing a stand that has pictures of Tour A, B, C, and D. One thing I noticed was that the price rarely varies from place to place so there really is no way to save money here. We went through Art Cafe because we had read great reviews when researching which boat tours we wanted to do. It’s a great cafe that also has a desk upstairs where you can book your tours. They do take credit and you just have to book the day before and show up the next day. You do have to pay an extra fee that goes toward the island but it is affordable and you need it to go on any of the boat tours. So the first night we booked our first tour, Tour A, and stayed for some beers and pizza at Art Cafe.

At night, they block off the main streets for walking traffic only and it’s really awesome to see all of the different people who have come from all over the world to see this place. It was quite different from Cebu because it was filled with travelers and had a little bit more of a touristy feel.

Day 1: Tour A

The next morning we got up bright and early for our first tour. We made sure we had a waterproof bag (recommended) and had two go pros, John’s drone, towels, sunglasses, etc. One thing I forgot (you’d think I’d remember this by now) was sunblock. This is seriously no joke, WEAR SUNBLOCK, because even when it is cloudy the sun here is really strong.

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John’s drone shot from Tour A

Tour A was the one we saw was most popular when doing research online. You have the choice of doing it as a kayaking tour or snorkeling and we decided to just do snorkeling. This tour stopped at Miniloc Island (this includes Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Secret Lagoon), Simizu Island, and 7 Commando Beach. We stopped at Small Lagoon first and they told us that it was quite a swim from the boat and they were not kidding. I opted for the life vest at first because my swimming is a joke. Thank god I did because I probably would have drowned on that swim. It is a pretty far swim but worth it because Small Lagoon is beautiful!! I struggled even with the life vest and ended up spending most of my 45 minutes just trying to swim there and back. If you’re not a confident swimmer, I recommend putting your life jacket on for this stop.

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Small Lagoon

Big Lagoon was my favorite stop of Tour A. Our guide suggested wearing our shoes to here and I stupidly ignored him because I only had flip flops. Water shoes would be a good thing to bring on these island tours but I didn’t think ahead. You have to swim around the first big rock but then you find yourself in this huge beautiful lagoon. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and taking in the beauty of this place, I had never been anywhere like it!

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Big Lagoon

After this we stopped for lunch. Pretty much all of the tours offer free lunch and it is cooked on the boat by your guides. Ours was delicious and consisted of fish, marinated pork, salad, two kinds of rice, fruit, and more!

At lunch is when I started realizing how bad my sunburn was and how screwed I was. There were five other people on our boat (from Australia, UK, and Germany) and one of them offered me sunblock (bless her soul). I also spent most of the rest of the trip under my towel praying that it would go away. Simizu Island was really cool and the snorkeling was so great! The tour guides said that this is the place that people usually see turtles (we weren’t lucky). The last Island was pretty much just a beach and it was really beautiful but less memorable than the first three stops, probably partly because I was very fixated on getting some aloe on my body ASAP.

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The water here is so clear and photographs so well!

We knew that the next day we wanted to climb Taraw Peak so during our tour on the first day we asked our tour guides about where we could find someone to take us up to the peak. Luckily, one of our guides said he did it almost every day for people and would be willing to take us up there the next morning for the equivalent of about $20 USD.

So we headed back to the hotel, lathered up the aloe, and I prayed that it would be better the next day.

Day 2: Taraw Peak and Clear Kayaking

After a long night of tossing and turning with sunburn, we woke up at 4:00am because our guide asked us to meet him at 5:00 am so we could see the sunrise. On our walk we encountered a swarm of bats that we had to run through so that was something I definitely was not expecting.

Taraw Peak was something John REALLY wanted to do but was my main source of anxiety for the trip. John had mentioned it was a little dangerous and I’m definitely not the most coordinated person on the planet. I read up on Trip Advisor and saw people climbing in sandals and some older people and children making the climb which made me feel better.

I want to preface this part saying that I am a big scaredy cat. Surprisingly, heights don’t bother me but this hike was no joke and probably the scariest most dangerous thing I have ever done. I may be a little dramatic but if you are on the fence about making the climb, make sure you read a lot of personal experiences before doing it, I’d be happy to give more details if you email me.

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This photo is not great quality but shows how vertical the climb can be (this was on the way down)

Basically, we met our tour guide in town at 5:00 am and started the one hour hike up the peak. It was pitch black out and I couldn’t see a thing in front of me. The guide had a very little flashlight but wasn’t very diligent with shining it so that I could see where I was going. This is not a leisurely hike, this is literally climbing vertical rock faces so I honestly think a little experience in rock climbing goes a long way. We had no helmets or ropes or anything and the entire way up was pretty vertical.

The three biggest mistakes I made on the hike were that I wore short shorts, forgot to bring water, and didn’t have any source of light. So if you go make sure that you wear comfortable clothing, bring water, and maybe pick up one of those head lamps if you’re planning to see the sunrise.

So, we did the hike and I honestly have never sweat that much in my life. We brought bug spray which was a Godsend so make sure you bring some! Also, this hike really isn’t for the weak hearted, so even if you see 60 year olds doing it, please know that it really is important to be in good physical shape and have a lot of courage! There were points in the hike where I was literally hanging off a mountain and when I looked down there was at least a 20 foot drop onto limestone rock. Limestone is really sharp on the top which is really great for finding handholds but they also hurt your hands and if you fall (like I did) you will bleed.

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The rocks are super sharp but the views are worth it!

When you get to the top, there is no where to sit and relax like I was envisioning. It is literally just jagged rocks and you are right at the edge of the peak. Don’t get me wrong, the peak was beautiful and I didn’t die but it probably took me a full two months to admit it was worth it. A lot of people asked me why I didn’t turn back if it was so scary and honestly it’s because I knew it meant a lot to John to get to the top and I get scared a lot of so I convinced myself it was just me overreacting. I also know that I have the most fun and the best stories from situations where I am terrified or push myself to do things I am not comfortable with. This was a BIG push out of the comfort zone for me and I am really proud I did it. So I don’t mean to discourage anyone that is on the fence but I do wish that I had read some truthful words about the hike before I agreed to risk my life.

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Sitting isn’t very relaxing at the top! You can tell by my face I was dying!

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The view was worth it! (photo by John Machacon)

So that was physically and mentally draining so we headed back to the hotel for showers, a nap, and then much needed breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed back to Art Cafe to book Tour C for the next day and decided we wanted to book a kayak to take out on the water. We rented a clear kayak for 650 PHP for half a day ($14 USD). We decided we didn’t want to take it too far because we knew we would have to paddle back so we went right out to the closest little island and explored the area. The clear kayak was cool but it’s pretty cloudy so you don’t really see too much below you. It kind of freaked me out at points too because I kept thinking I might see a shark or something.

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We returned the kayak and caught a trike out to Las Cabanas Beach which cost less than $5  USD each way. This is the place where you can zip line from one island to another and I think this is a can’t miss experience! I love zip lining and we decided to do it just one way so that we could walk back across the beaches. I think it was about 500 php or $10 USD to do regular zip line one way. You can also do it “superman style” for an extra fee.To get up to the zip line it was a little bit of a hike (nothing like Taraw Peak) and our trike driver actually served as our guide to walk us up there which was very nice.

The zip line was super fun and it felt very safe. Make sure you bring a camera to get pictures because the views are absolutely breathtaking!

Afterward we strolled along the beach before grabbing a trike back to the resort.

Day 3: Tour C

We chose to do another tour because we enjoyed our first one and knew there were so many other islands we needed to see! This tour went to Matinloc Island, Tapuitan Islands, and includes stops at Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, The Matinloc Shrine and Helicopter Island. They say that this is the tour where you have the best chance to see a turtle but unfortunately we did not see one. This one costs 1400 php ($28 USD) for a tour from 9am-4pm and lunch included.

The secret lagoon is a can’t-miss and if you are in El Nido, you have to swim through the hole to get to the secret beach. Once through the hole, it is a beautiful beach surrounded by high walls of limestone that is just really cool to see and great photo opp!

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This is John swimming through the hole to get to Secret Beach!

Also on this tour, we stopped at a snorkel stop that had a lot of starfish. The others on our trip were picking up the starfish, bringing them out of water, and standing on the coral. Please remember that although you are tall enough to touch the bottom, if there is coral you really should not stand or walk. Touching coral causes it to die and then you’d be ruining it for everyone else who has traveled across the world to see it too. Also, starfish (or any fish/ animals for that matter) are wild and you really should leave them alone. Swimming along with them is one thing but taking them out of the water for pictures probably isn’t a good idea.

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This tour was really cool too but if you only have enough time for one tour, I would still suggest Tour A.

Day 4: Nacpan Beach

For our last day we knew we wanted to go to Nacpan Beach because the pictures are beautiful and it is known for the twin beaches. It’s a pretty far ride so it costs about $20-$30 USD round trip which isn’t too bad. We haggled a little bit and found someone to take us for $20. I really suggest this to anyone who has the time and if you have a drone this is definitely a place that you want to bring it along! The beach wasn’t busy at all because there are only a few resorts on it so it’s much more peaceful. There are a few little restaurants along the beach so make sure you pick up an Avocado milkshake (I became obsessed with these while in the Philippines- so good!)

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Twin Beaches!

If you walk down the beach there is a little path that will lead you up to a hill where you can look over the twin beaches and is a really great photo opportunity. We aren’t huge lay-on-the-beach people so we only spent about 2 hours here just taking pictures, sitting in the shade, and sipping on milkshakes.

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You have to check out this little hill for great photos and views!

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A drone isn’t necessary for great pictures at this spot!

We spent the rest of the day strolling around the city and stopping to take a million pictures. We hopped from happy hour to happy hour too to take advantage of really cheap beers! We also tried the meat that’s on the street. I was pretty hesitant about trying it all mostly because you can tell they don’t refrigerate it really but when in Rome! It was actually really delicious and I suggest you definitely try it!

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Definitely save some time for shopping and trying some of the local restaurants! Walking around was one of my favorite parts of the trip!

We reflected on our trip and discussed when we would come back and things that we wished we had gotten to see (but will be on the list next time) like Boracay and Coron. John put together this great highlight video of our time in El Nido!

The next morning we flew back to Cebu and spent a few more days before starting our long journey home. Overall, the trip was once in a lifetime and wouldn’t have been possible without John’s family’s hospitality and kindness. I absolutely cannot wait to go back and explore more of what the country has to offer!

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