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No thanks to the expensive direct flights and mostly posh luxury resorts dotting its islands, Northern Palawan has remained inaccessible to most people.
Which is sad, because there is more to Busuanga, Coron and El Nido than expensive island living. El Nido Town, for one, is a gem that’s been grossly overlooked. It’s charming and low-key with a few surprises that should definitely not be missed.
Here we present an alternative guide to seeing and experiencing El Nido, which should start with you booking a 1.5-hour Cebu Pacific flight to Puerto Princesa (PHP7,000 average for round trip) then hopping on a van for a five-hour ride (from PHP850 one-way) to El Nido Town proper. Ready? Game.
1. Hang out at Nacpan Beach
Island hopping around El Nido may bring you to remote and secluded beaches, which is great, but there are also great discoveries inland. Nacpan Beach (PHP50 entry) is a mere 30-minute motorbike ride (PHP800/day) north of El Nido Town. It boasts a three kilometer stretch of fine sand and beautiful clear waters. It’s still undeveloped — no electricity and only one restaurant with a few beach huts to its name — so it’s quiet and isolated. Find your spot, spread your sarong and soak in as much sun as you can. Don’t forget to hike up to the View Point where you’ll see that one end of Nacpan is actually a two-sided beach. Beautiful!
2. Trek to Bulalacao Falls
Postcards may lead you to think that El Nido is all about lagoons and beaches — it’s not. There are other attractions to see here, too, like waterfalls. North of El Nido town are the Bulalacao Falls (there’s a small one and a big one), which you reach via a 35-minute trek that starts from the foot of a forest located in Pasadena Town, and involves crossing six rivers. Once you reach your target, refresh yourself and go in for a dip. If you’re feeling a little bit more of a dare devil, climb up the steps and dive in. PHP75/head: PHP25 at the foot of the forest and PHP50 at the foot of the falls
3. Ride a motorbike around town
You’d be surprised at what El Nido Town has to offer. Seeing them from inside an airconditioned van is fine, but there are places best accessed with a motorbike. Besides, a two-wheeler provides a certain kind of freedom to your travels. Without the metal confining you in the safe AC of the van, you’ll feel closer to nature, sun on your skin, wind blowing through your hair. El Nido is slowly seeing progress, too, so nice long stretches of paved roads complete the experience of riding through mud and potholes. By the time you’ve reached your random destination, you’ll feel like you’ve actually already seen something. Rent a bike or ride in tandem with a local. PHP800/whole day
4. Stay at a budget and friendly hostel
Right in the heart of El Nido Town is the 84-bed, two-storey Spin Hostel, a newly-opened designer hostel that will make you feel right at home. The Nest, which is what they call the common hangout area, making friends is not next to impossible. There are board games and instruments, magazines and general litter for everyone’s enjoyment. There are jam nights and movie nights but our favorite has got to be Saturday night barbecue night (PHP175/head). You sign up in the morning, indicate which meat you’d like grilled, head out for the day and come back at night with your food ready, coconut juice straight outta the husk included. Of course you can head out straight to your room and slip under the blanket, so warm, nice and comfortable. Balinsasayaw Road, El Nido. +63917 5667746. PHP700/bed, PHP3000/private rooms
5. Hang out at Art Café
Art Café on Serena Street is like a village hangout with decent food — including vegetarian selection — and internet connection, as well as TV sets tuned in to football and/or rugby matches. There’s a book exchange corner, in case you wanna leave your book behind. And it is here where you can make quick, last-minute arrangements for ITI flights — the only airline that flies direct from Manila to El Nido. Serena Street, El Nido Town. +63 920 9026317. 6:30am-11pm
6. Go cliff climbing at Mt Taraw
Standing over 200 meters high, Mt. Taraw is El Nido’s highest peak. It’s a steep, two-hour climb up jagged and sharp edges of limestone, so it’s not recommended for beginners, the ill-equipped, or the faint of heart. If you only packed for the beach and have no trekking shoes, we say leave this for your next visit. Otherwise, pull yourself up the top and savor the sight. You can ask you’re your hotel to book you a guide. Starts PHP300/head
7. Catch happy hour at Las Cabañas beach
Located along Corong-Corong a few minutes away from town proper, Las Cabañas is an inland beach that has earned a reputation among travelers as the go-to place for happy hour. There is a resort there, but there are also a couple of beach bars to watch the sun set. You can’t go wrong with PHP40-beers.
8. Drink beer in the middle of the ocean
When you go island hopping in El Nido you can also enjoy activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, and kayaking. While all those are highly recommended, there is nothing like the joy of lazily staying on your boat (PHP1,200/head) by the entrance of the ‘Small Lagoon’ and enjoying a cold beer (PHP70) bought from a floating sari-sari store.
9. Have a pizza at Trattoria Altrove
We’re big pizza fans over here at Coconuts, so we mean when say that Altrove serves some of the best pizzas in the Philippines, which they in a stone oven right by the entrance. Order any toppings (we personally like the anchovies) and bite into the crusty, chewy, crunchy bread. Afterwards, treat yourself to chocolate gelato — it’s rich and creamy, and served with a slice of orange and basil leaves. Calle Hamma, El Nido Town. +63917 8229871 5pm-11pm