El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines truly deserves its accolades. It ranks first in Condé Nast Traveler’s “20 Best Beaches in the World” 2016. It is its second year to rank first. In TripAdvisor’s “Top Destinations on the Rise – World” for 2016, it ranks sixth. With its many white sand beaches, azure and turquoise water, beautiful limestone formations, lagoons, caves, fauna and flora, rich marine life and beautiful sunsets, El Nido is paradise! It is dubbed as the last frontier of the Philippines.
For five days in March 2016, my family of thirty four visited the island paradise of El Nido, Palawan. All of us unanimously agreed that it was one of our best annual vacation. Everybody had a great time, even the senior citizens. We stayed at El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island. I have a separate blog about the resort and our activities there. We chose Miniloc among the three resorts of El Nido Resorts in El Nido because it is located in Bacuit Bay with Miniloc Island as its gateway to explore some of El Nido’s most popular attractions like the Big and Small Lagoons and Snake Island.
Our days were full of activities, both within and outside the resort, but still relaxing. They were scheduled very well by the resort activity coordinator. We did two days of island hopping, aqua sports and snorkeling. Many of us always ended our days kayaking in the beautiful house reef of the resort enjoying its marine life. It was so peaceful as the sun sets.
Since motor boats are not allowed inside the Big Lagoon, we transferred to the speedboat of the resort. Imposing limestone cliffs with thick vegetation surround the lagoon. With the blue skies above them, the view was breathtaking! The lagoon has a world of its own. The water during high tide is turquoise and very clear during low tide. When you search for El Nido, Palawan on the internet, most likely than not, it is its picture that you will see.
The Big Lagoon is fifteen to twenty minutes by kayak depending on one’s speed from El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island. On our last morning, we went there before sunrise. It was an awesome and surreal experience. So peaceful. We had the whole place to ourselves. We had fun kayaking and racing. It was low tide. We could clearly see the rocks and marine life. One needs to be relatively good in kayaking because the sea going to the lagoon from the resort tend to be rough at some point.
The Small Lagoon is accessible by kayak or swimming through a narrow gap between two huge limestone rocks. Surrounded by limestone cliffs very rich in vegetation, it was breathtaking. We had fun kayaking every nook and cranny of the lagoon.
In Matinloc Island, there is a Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beside it, we climbed the steep limestone cliff named Taraw Cliff. The rocks are sharp so caution is needed. Reaching the top, we were rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the nearby islands and the azure to turquoise waters of the sea.
Snake Island is a snake-like shaped sand bar that connects two small islands in Bacuit Bay. Its fine white sand is soft to the feet with occasional rocks and some seashells. We hiked the small hill in one of the islands to view the sand bar. Going up, we made a number of stops to enjoy the view of the beautiful surroundings.
Secret or Hidden Lagoon in Miniloc Island
The Secret Lagoon is hidden behind towering limestone cliffs. Outside the lagoon is a nice beach good for swimming. There is a small hole on the left side cliff. This is the passageway to the Secret Lagoon. It is so small that we had to crawl and twist our body to get in.
Entalula Beach Club
Entalula Beach Club in Entalula Island is exclusive for the guests of El Nido Resorts. It is perfectly located with an awesome view. Very scenic. We had lunch here. Just like at the resort, the food was very good and the service impeccable. The guests were well taken care of. Entalula Island is a good spot for snorkeling but we opted to just immerse in the water and stay in the mini-cave on the right side cliff of the beach. My family had a good bonding time chatting. After lunch, we took a nice siesta in the sunbeds and hammocks at the beachfront.
Dibuluan Beach Club
Just like Entalula, Dibuluan Beach Club in Dibuluan Island is also exclusive for the guests of El Nido Resorts. We had a nice time here doing aqua sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and windsurfing. The wind was not strong enough so we missed the hobie cat. The others opted to swim or rest in the sunbeds.
Snorkeling in Bacuit Bay
We were brought by our guides to two areas in Bacuit Bay for snorkeling. These were where scuba divers do their thing. The water was so clear.
Unfortunately, because of the strong waves, it was not safe for us to go inside the cave by kayak.
Release of Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Helicopter Island
My family was blessed to have witnessed the release of 154 hawksbill sea turtles hatched about five hours before the release. We cut short our island hopping when we were invited by the resort staff to witness the release at Helicopter Island. El Nido Resorts takes charge of protecting the environment in El Nido. Each of its resort has an environment officer who works together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In every 100 baby turtles released only about 1% survives. It would be very lucky if one of them reaches maturity.
The sunset cruise was a relaxing way to cap one of our fun-filled days in El Nido. Except for my family’s chatter, everything was so serene. The scenic topography of El Nido added to the drama. The pictures speak for themselves.
When to Visit, How to Get There, Accommodations, Tours, Food
The best time to go to El Nido is the summer months from March to May because of the relatively nice weather but there are many local tourists. November to February is also a good time to go there. If you want lesser crowds, go during the off season from June to November. Hotel and airline rates could be cheaper during this time. However, these are the rainy months. Flight and island hopping cancellations are possible.
The most convenient way to go to El Nido is by airplane from Manila, Cebu, Caticlan or Clark. Currently, only Airswift flies there. In Manila, Airswift is located at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4. Flight time is approximately 55 minutes. Flying time from Cebu is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you would be staying at El Nido Resorts, there would be a 5 minutes jeepney ride from Lio Airport in El Nido to the jetty for the boat ride to either of the three El Nido Resorts. The boat ride takes about 30 to 45 minutes. If you are staying in El Nido town, arrange for an airport transfer to your hotel for the 10 to 15 minutes van ride. You may also take the tricycle.
For budget conscious travelers, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly daily to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. From Puerto Princesa you can either take the bus or shuttle van to El Nido. Average travel time is six hours.
For those staying in El Nido town, there are many small hotels, resorts, inns, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and even Airbnb. Some have websites where you can book directly. For more choices, you could also check booking sites like Agoda and Booking.com.
Tour operators abound in El Nido town offering almost the same tour packages especially for island hopping. You could also book the tours through your hotel. If you are a big group, chartering a boat is a nice option. You can set the pace of the island hopping and have a freehand in plotting the itinerary based on your interests.
As for food, there are many restaurants and a few bars in El Nido town.
El Nido, Palawan captured the hearts of my family. Given the chance, we would all be willing to visit again. I think it is safe to say that no visitor leaves El Nido without being awed by the enchanting paradise. The Philippines is so blessed.