Two days after our wedding, Rambi and I flew to Palawan for our pre-honeymoon vacation with his family. We flew via Zest Air from Manila and arrived at Puerto Princesa around 9:00 AM. From the capital, to get to El Nido via land you can either ride a bus or hire a van. Just outside the airport, rental vans are readily available to take you to any point in mainland Palawan and for Php 9,000.00 ours will take us on a five hour semi-bumpy ride to El Nido, where we were to stay for three days. The price covers gasoline costs and the driver’s meals and accommodation, so as far those are concerned we had nothing else to worry about. For an additional Php 1,500.00 the driver agreed to drive us to Sabang on our way back, so we could see the famous Underground River.
We decided to have lunch before driving to El Nido, and our choice of resto: Ugong Rock. Not a bad choice as it was close to the airport and the food was great. We ordered the usual pancit and fried chicken for the children, but went a little adventurous with Crocodile Sisig for the adults. It was delicious but honestly, I couldn’t really taste anything different from other Sisig dishes. Then again, I’ve never tasted crocodile meat before so I didn’t really know what flavor to look for. Tamilok or wood worm was another dish for the adventurous, unfortunately it wasn’t available. I was secretly relieved.
After lunch, we took a quick trip to Robinson’s Mall to buy supplies before our trip figuring it would be much cheaper in the capital than in El Nido. Sunscreens, toiletries, swimsuits and snacks — check. One final stop, our driver was kind enough to drive us to the van’s owner’s house where they let us use their restroom before we embark on our five-hour journey.
Our drive to El Nido was smooth and steady for the most part, thanks to the paved road which is about 60% complete. Back in 2008, vehicles used to travel eight hours on dusty rough roads to get to El Nido that my hair was thick and dry by the time we arrived. It was late afternoon when we reached town and it looked very different from how I remembered. There were a lot more people, shops, restaurants and food kiosks than before. It reminded me a little of Phuket, especially when I saw prata being sold on the streets.
Rambi’s cousin, Ate Lav, took the liberty of booking us rooms in Shorepass Lodge as a wedding gift. It was nothing fancy, which is typical of the resorts in El Nido; the high-end resorts are few and usually on a private island. The rooms were clean and spacious, but the air-conditioning could be improved. We quickly got settled and had grilled pork barbecue and isaw (intestines) for dinner. Yum.
We later met with a boatman who was offering island hopping tours for the next day. Tours are normally categorized into Types A, B, C, and D, each with different combinations of tourist attractions and with prices ranging from Php 1,200 to 1,400 per person. We were admittedly shocked by the price since it used to be half the current rates. The boatman explained that due to taxes and needs for island improvements, the price hike was implemented, but he gave us a sweet deal of Php 7,000 for a customized tour, lunch included. We got to choose eight tourist spots: Matinloc Island, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Seven Commandos Beach and Helicopter Island. We went to bed early that night, excited for our tour the next day.
We were up by 6, had our breakfast and arrived at the beach by 8:00. A number of tour boats were already queued and each get to set sail one by one. It took about 20 minutes before we finally sailed into the ocean.
Our first stop, Helicopter Island where the movie, The Bourne Legacy, was filmed. There’s not much to say about the island itself since we spent the whole time snorkeling in the water. Sadly the water wasn’t at its clearest since the infamous Haiyan typhoon had temporarily affected the water’s visibility. Nevertheless, El Nido’s marine life did not disappoint.
Matinloc Island was our second stop. Here, we got to see the Matinloc Shrine and a statue of the Virgin Mary. The structure was built during the Marcos era and many versions of its true purpose circulate El Nido. I’ll leave the stories to the boatmen, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.
The highlight on this island is a viewing point which is reachable via quick climb up the rocky limestone cliffs. The climb only takes less than five minutes but it is a little steep, and the rocks are really sharp.
By this time, it was almost noon. The boatmen took us to the Hidden Beach, where they set up our lunch while Rambi, Audrey and I snorkeled some more.
After stuffing ourselves with glorious food, we headed off to the one of the best spots — the Secret Beach!!! Tall walls of limestone cliffs envelope the Secret Beach, hence the name, and the access is a small passage beneath the rocks. The tide was high during my last visit; my friends and I had to take a short dive to get through the hole. Luckily, this time the water wasn’t too high and we managed to reach the hole with our heads above the water.
Next comes a series of lagoons to visit. The first is the Secret lagoon, which similar to the Secret Beach is accessible by a small hole in the rocks!
And then there’s the Big Lagoon where you could find a whole bunch of anemones and Nemos.
The last of the lagoon series is the Small Lagoon, which also happens to be my favorite of the three. Rambi and I did a little exploring here in search of a cave. Upon entering the lagoon, we swam left and found a secluded area but no cave. Tired and unsuccessful, we swam back to the boat. The boatman later informed us that to reach the cave, you need to swim straight from the entrance. (Beats me why we don’t have photos of this lagoon.)
The day was almost over and we had one stop left — the Seven Commandos Beach. Out of all the tourist spots we’ve visited, this island had the finest sand that I laid on the beach and covered myself with it for a good five minutes. A restobar has also been set up on this island, another new addition. The drinks are too pricey for us, though. P200 for a glass of banana shake? I think I’ll pass.
And that concludes our island hopping tour of El Nido, but the adventure doesn’t stop there! There are stories of scuba diving to be told so stay tuned!