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Friday, October 14, 2011

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Being a remote area located in the island province of Palawan which is 420 kilometers southwest of Manila, the area wasn't discovered as a tourist spot until 1979 when a group of divers were stranded in the area in the middle of the night due to a tuna line that got tangled around its propeller. They woke up the next day to find themselves in paradise.

Way before the island was discovered as a tourist destination, the island had been inhabited by humans from the Late Neolithic Age. Later on, during the Song Dynasty, Chinese traders came to this island to harvest the edible swiftlet nests that are abundant here. According to a book written by a member of the Chinese Royal Family, El Nido is known as Pa-Lau-Yu, The Land of the Beautiful Harbors.

Day 1: Puerto Princesa to El Nido
We had an early start. We were picked up by the mini van that we booked at around 7:30 in the morning. We were lucky because we weren't the last batch to be picked up. The mini van went to other hotels, packing up the van with tourists. After that, we were off on a long and bumpy ride to El Nido. 

We arrived at the El Nido Four Seasons Resort at around 2 PM. Since it was too late to do any island hopping or tours, we decided to take a dip in our resort's beach front. The tide was really low and we had quite a long walk to the middle of the sea. We also had a nice lunch by the resort's pool.

After a short nap, we headed to the town to check out the restaurants and book a ferry for Coron since we decided to change our flights and head to Manila from Coron. Unfortunately, we had a hard time getting a ferry on a Sunday. We ended up having some drinks at the Aplaya, a beach front restaurant with a nice Happy Hour Promo and really yummy dishes.

The View Outside Aplaya

Gambas. One of the dishes that we had every night during our stay in El Nido.

Day 2: Kayaking
Since we weren't quite satisfied with the service in our resort, we decided to move to the Stunning Vistas Resort. Although the Four Seasons Resort had a swimming pool and a quieter beach front, we preferred the attentiveness of both the staff and the owner in the other resort. Also, we were a bit miffed that they rented out the room that we reserved. And then, they "upgraded" us to a room with a terrace that has been covered up with canvas. Worse, when we came for breakfast, the trays were empty. They didn't refill the fare that they prepared and we ended up picking through the crumbs that the other guests have left. So, we both decided to move to a cheaper resort that offer better services.

After informing the owner of our plans of moving to his resort the next day, we rented his kayak and paddled from the resort to the Las Cabanas Resort. 

Four Seasons Resort. We passed by the resort where we stayed in for two nights.

Rocky Cove. We used this rocky cove as a stopover.

Day 3: Tour C
After moving our things to the Stunning Vistas Resort, we got on a boat to go to the sites that they've included in Tour C: Tapiutan Island, Secret Beach, Star Island, Matinloc Island and Helicopter Island.

Before leaving for Palawan, I made an impulsive decision to get myself an Olympus Tough (TG-610) camera. It was quite a splurge but it was nice to go on a kayak or a boat without worrying about getting my camera wet. And, I was absolutely psyched to try using my camera underwater. Since we weren't going to do any scuba diving, having a camera that can go 16 feet underwater was all I needed for this vacation.

Although I was a bit frustrated by the time it takes for the camera to focus and take a picture, I soon got over that problem by timing each shot and predicting where the fish would be when the picture was finally taken. It was quite a challenge since fishes are meant to swim and move around -- Worse, they sometimes shy away from approaching humans. My favourite subjects were Nemo and his family. They were very good models -- They knew how to stay still.

Another thing I learned about underwater photography during my trip was that the noon sun can be a really good ally. It makes the pictures clearer. Rain, unfortunately, can ruin all you shots because it affects the visibility underwater. It also affects the focus speed and shutter speed. 


A Clownfish (AKA Nemo)




We had a delicious lunch on a beautiful island. The only sad thing about it is that trash from other countries get washed into this island. And, because it's used as a picnic ground, there are tons of containers scattered about. Our tour guide told us that there's a crew assigned to clean up the island but I got the feeling that they don't go there regularly.

What's special about this beach is that you'll have to jump off your boat and swim through a hole to get to it. If you can't swim, better request for a life jacket because you'll have to swim through deep waters to get to through the hole. 

The portal to a hidden paradise.

This place was built by religious people who were told to build a shrine in one of the islands. Finding a heart-shaped island from a helicopter, they decided to build the shrine on Matinloc which, by the way, means shrine.

The Beach by The Matinloc Shrine

The island got its name because of its shape. What's nice about this island is the beach because of its powdery white sand.

After spending some time on the beach of Helicopter Island, we headed back to the resort where we watched the sunset before heading to town . We had dinner at Sea Slugs where we had dinner while watching a live band. We capped the night by heading to the Habibi and had a shisha.

Day 3: Kayaking to 7 Commandos Beach
The next day, we packed some sandwiches, beer and loads of water and paddled to the 7 Commandos Beach. We spent the afternoon there, reading a book and snorkelling.

We had a picnic under this shade.

7 Commandos Beach.

It suddenly rained in the afternoon and we had a hard time going back to the resort. We had to stop at the next beach and wait for the rain to let up. From the beach, we followed a path that lead us to a shack.
A Tire That Became A Chair

We thought we were going to be stranded. And, we felt really lucky that the rain stopped before it got dark. We were able to get to the resort to catch the sunset.

Day 4: A Day For Resting And Doing Nothing
We spent the rest of the day in the resort and headed to Squido's for dinner. They've got really nice curry and calamari.

Day 5: Tour A
We had another early start. We headed to the Small Lagoon, the Big Lagoon, Cadugnon Cave and the 7 Commandos Beach. On the way, I took pictures of some of the islands that we passed.

Should this be Blimp Island?

Helicopter Island


Because the tide was too low and the boat couldn't enter the lagoon, our tour guide had this amazing idea of bringing kayaks for the trip. And, we had an amazing time paddling through the clear waters.

I was able to get a lot of nice underwater shots while waiting for our lunch to be cooked. Since it was noon, the visibility underwater was great for taking pictures.

This was our next stop. We had to go through a small hole to get to the cove. And, the landscape was breathtaking.


Day 6: Hammock and Reading
We spent our last day on a hammock, reading by the beach. It was a really nice way to spend our last day, considering that we've got to prepare ourselves for another mini van ride back to Puerto Princesa the next day.

Quick Travel Tips

Stunning Vistas Resort. Corong-Corong, El Nido, Palawan. 

Mobile Number:  Gary: (0999)566-0888; Eden: (0921)751-5785

The mini van can be arranged by the resort. We paid around Php600 per person to get to Puerto Princesa.

From our experience, going to Coron on a Sunday is not a good idea. We didn't push through with our plans to go to Coron since we found out that the ferries leaving El Nido on a Sunday are not licensed or are not registered.

Extra Cost:
Kayaking around the Big Lagoon is a must. So, make sure that you arrange for kayaks to be included in your tour. Most resorts and agencies would ask you to pay a rental fee for the kayak but we were lucky to get it for free when we went on the tour.

If you don't have your own snorkel and fins, you'll have to rent them too.

You'll be expected to pay the Tourism Fee which is good for a week's stay.

Our favourite is Balay Aplaya because of the gambas. Squido had some really nice calamari and fish. The food in Sea Slugs wasn't that spectacular but we did love the live band there.

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