As posted on Tripadvisor, I struggled a bit with El Nido before deciding to visit. How can it be that the town which boasts of being the heart of the most beautiful island on earth can have such an apparent dearth of beaches and appeal in its town centre?
The responses I got didn’t altogether dispel the concerns, but the response upon visiting? This place is special.
The ubiquitous island-hopping trips are essential: hidden lagoons, spectacular beaches and islands, and kayaking, snorkelling and more available. Beaches like Seven Commandos Beach (above) take the breath away.
However, my concerns that the mainland of El Nido would be lacking proved happily unfounded. Las Cabanas Beach is spacious, beautiful, and has a choice of places to lounge, eat and drink.
Las Cabanas is home to the spectacular Birdhouse El Nido, a glamping destination of rare quality and beauty, with a spectacular view out to the islands. Unfortunately it was booked out during our visit, but I made sure to wander up to it.
A moped or tricycle ride up to Nacpan Beach is essential and arrival is welcome after the dirt track road for the last few kilometres.
Even the derided El Nido town had plenty of choices for food, drink and shopping. A restaurant recently moved from Corong Corong Beach to the town – Happiness – will bring out that emotion in you, and a choice of grilled fish stalls are available in the evening.
What I liked about El Nido almost as much as the beaches however was that this is not a contrived, sanitised resort town. It is a community that lives and develops for itself as much as its visitors, and while that may mean pristine presentation isn’t always guaranteed, there’s plenty of corners of interest – not least at the cockfighting arena near El Nido’s airport, where I happened upon Derby Day.
Hugely popular, I found it cruel but without being gruesome. Fights end quickly, not least due to a blade being attached to the cocks’ legs. Primarily, it is a social and gambling event, with the loudest noise happening pre-fight as all present lay their wagers. Trying to determine who is winning and losing proved beyond this novice, but a packed arena had no such trouble. I stayed for a handful of fights – there were 10 hours of it scheduled for the truly committed.
On departing for Manila, the lure of returning to explore further – El Nido, the wider Palawan Island, and some of the other 7,000 islands which make up the Philippines – was very real.
It goes without saying that the Filipino people were warm and welcoming (we were serenaded on arrival at El Nido Airport) and food is good with costs low. The only struggle now is when to return.
Getting there: I flew with Air Swift from Manila, convenient but expensive particularly compared to other internal airlines. You can also fly to Puerto Princesa and book a 6-7 hour transfer from there.
Staying: We stayed in Greenviews Corong Corong a good budget option with excellent food. However, try to get into Birdhouse El Nido as mentionerfd above!
Getting around: Tricycles are everywhere and are very reasonable. Don’t be surprised if your journey also involves collecting the tricycle driver’s kids from school!
Must do: Islandhopping Tours A and C; ziplining at Las Cabanas; kayaking either at El Nido or on an islandhopping trip; Nacpan Beaach; cockfighting if you’re there when it’s on.