El Nido (Philippines): the One with the Mangoes

Ah. El Nido. 100% one of my top 3 favourites in the 32 countries (& however many cities/islands) I’ve been to so far!

Not trying to brag.. just trying to convey the beauty that is El Nido.

FYI: El Nido is a beautiful place in the northern part of the island of Palawan, an island of the Philippines.

P.S. I’m sorry, my camera was broken at the time & so I mostly used my phone. Just take my word for the beauty please!

HOW WE GOT THERE

I’m adding this unique section into this blog entry because it’s a hell of a ride.

The trip to the Philippines was rough. We took off from Australia, flew to Kuala Lumpur and then Manila, and then to Puerto Princesa. The journey didn’t end there. We then purchased a 3000 piso (~C$70) tour package between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. Right outside the airport of Puerto Princesa, there’s this tiny little office thing. It included round trip van ride and tour C and A in El Nido (more about that later). It was a total of 30 hours of straight planes and vehicles, and it reminded me a lot of our trip to/from Pai & Chiang Mai in Thailand. When you’re about to “enter” El Nido, a border guy stops the van and makes sure you’re not bringing drugs any mangoes from southern Palawan to El Nido (due to infected mangoes).

Not drugs. Mangoes.

Fair.

I definitely recommend that if you’re a tired traveler, you should take breaks in between. That trip is anything but easy.

WHERE WE STAYED

We actually didn’t have a place to sleep when we got to El Nido LOL #yolo (do people still use that?) So we asked around and took a tricycle (basically a Filipino tuktuk/taxi where a motorcycle is attached to a box on 2 wheels) to the nearest decent accommodation. We slept at a hotel called Mam Olsen Pensionne House. It was pretty reasonably priced (I think around $C20 per night) considering that I had 2 friends with me at this point and we could split the room fee. Had all the basics, was a good distance from everything.

I recommend it 🙂 It’s not fancy but it’s also not a shit hole.

I think we stayed there for about 10 days (yes, that is how much we loved El Nido).

WHAT WE DID

  • Nacpan beach: Okay. I’ve been to a lot of beaches. Beaches all over Thailand islands, in southern Italy, Lisbon, Madrid, Santorini… Nacpan beach beats them all. It is such a beautiful beach. There are tiny bugs in the water, but it’s nothing serious & totally worth it. Left no marks, just little tiny pinches once in a while! You’ll be fine. 🙂 Just go!
  • Tour A: HIGHLY recommended. Way better than tour C. Both A&C are part of the tour package mentioned above. You just island hop, get some BOMB ASS FOOD, go snorkeling, etc. You should bring water shoes. The hotel we stayed at rents water shoes for 50 piso per day! But we didn’t know that so we last-minute had to spend 100 piso.
  • Tour C: good but not phenomenal. Lunch was included (fried rice, very plain). First beach you stop at costs 100 piso so BRING CASH or you’ll be stuck waiting in the boat. I’d say this tour was worth it for the photos + the connections we made. Helicopter island was my favourite part – very beautiful.
  • Zip lining: there are signs for it around El Nido! I recommend it, it was really fun! You have to get a tricycle to take you to the start point (and then to take you back after you’re done – so make sure they know they should wait for you so you’re not stranded LOL). There’s a tiny hike up some stairs through a forest to get to the starting point. You zipline across to another mini island, and then you have to walk BACK to the island you started from. Bomb.
  • Canopy walk: the view from the top is dreamy and amazing, but the activity itself is not that fun/exciting. It was also really hot. Pretty quick, under 30 minutes.
  • Waterfall: I have… no idea what it was called. Find a tricycle driver named Jay and ask him to take you there. It was almost dried out at the time, and a tough trek through mud and ponds… but it was a pretty waterfall!
  • Spin Designer event: took place in some other hostel (I think it was also called Spin..). Had good wifi, listened to their reggae band, met no strangers haha.

WHAT WE ATE

  • Mangos: there’s a little store that sells fruits beside LC’s Burrito Bar, it’s in a tiny street that runs parallel to the beach (the small one near the hotel) on same street as Art Cafe. See photo above. It’s just piles and piles of mangoes in two boxes, out on the path. I ate 7 in one day. I literally just walked around El Nido peeling mangoes, biting into them like a beast with juice dripping down my face and hands.
  • Art cafe: a cute outdoor restaurant that overlooks the ocean. Great ambience, decent food!
  • Halo Halo: a bar/shop along the main beach near the hotel that makes HaloHalo which is kind of a shaved ice dessert. If you’ve ever heard of bingsu, it’s like the Filipino version of bingsu. See photo above!
  • Deli Nido Cafe: recommended, but only if you can find Ricky! Our new local friend Ricky who led Tour C recommended this place to us. He specially made us chicken adobo with fried rice, which wasn’t even on the menu. I recall the restaurant belonging to someone he knows, and he borrows their kitchen to cook sometimes. He also made us some beef thing the next day, which was also really good.
  • Locals: just become friends with the locals! They’re so sweet and kind. We became friends with the tricycle driver (Jay!) who took us from our hotel to Tour C. He was our only driver for the rest of our stay in El Nido. He was also childhood friends with Ricky (the leader of our Tour C) so they invited us to their home where they introduced us to Jay’s cousin Jimmy. They made us Chicken Tinola! You should try this even if you can’t find a local friend to make it for you. It was the best meal we ever had. They were all such KIND SOULS and they gave us a truly warm experience. Jay then drove us back to our hotel.
  • Trattoria Al Trove: best Italian food I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I’ve been ALL OVER Italy. It’s worth the line-up, I promise. We got the pepperoni pizza and the arrabiata pasta.
  • El Nido Skyline Restaurant: do not go here. Took forever, small portions, and they didn’t have the appropriate change. We had adobo here but it’s not the best. Keep reading if you want to know where to get good adobo 😉
  • Newton bakery: on the same street as above “restaurant” haha. Their freshly baked goods are yummy, but everything else is not worth your money… but everything is like… 10 cents, so you can afford to risk it for the biscuit 😛
  • Jollibee: we actually had this in Manila quickly.. not worth.

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

  • Have cash on you
  • Have a trusted tricycle driver, better to develop a bond with a trusted local for entire stay than to have to haggle with multiple drivers
  • Get to Puerto Princesa EARLY for your flight out of El Nido. It was HECTIC and badly organized. There’s a line to get into fake customers to get into the airport.. then a line to check in, a line to print online boarding passes, a line to pay the terminal fee, and then line to get through real customers. If you’re rich, maybe you can fly directly into El Nido 😛
  • EAT THE MANGOES – FRESH, DRY, ALL FORMS.
  • Make friends with locals! They honestly made leaving El Nido SO difficult. I left a piece of my heart in El Nido, and I can only really say that about Vancouver and San Francisco. (Ironically those are not all my top 3).

 

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