Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7000 islands , is the most diverse and welcoming country I have ever been to. Always smiling Filipinos win your heart by their simplicity and humbleness. Whenever I plan my trip to India, I make sure that I get a chance to visit atleast one south-east country and Philippines had been on my list forever.
My dream came true last month when me and my husband decided to celebrate our first anniversary in this exotic country. Philippines has so much to offer that deciding on
which places to go took me really long.My initial plan to visit Cebu-Bohol-Camiguin was forced changed by nature (Typhoon : Haiyan/Yolanda) and we ended up deciding on El-Nido and Boracay . I will be posting to separate blogs each for El Nido and Boracay since there is so much to share .
I was very scared when I reached Manila since I had read in many blogs that cab drivers at times literally snatch your luggage to get you in their cabs. I , on the contrary found them very helpful and sincere. Also I had read that Manila was very noisy. I think since I was going to Manila from Mumbai I did not notice it much either. While hiring taxi from airport my recommendation will be to bargain with drivers of post-paid taxis as it is cheaper than pre-paid cabs. We stayed in Mabuhay Manor , Pasay hotel which is roughly 2 miles away from airport. We were staying for just one night so we wanted something near to the airport and this hotel is excellent location wise. It is very near to South Asia Mall , hardly 10 mins from hotel ,so we got a chance to visit that too. The staff is very courteous and accommodating. Hotel has shuttle service to airport and they arrange it for you at any time of the day. Our flight to El Nido was at 7 am and since we were leaving early and our room was paid for complementary breakfast (75$ per night ), they even packed breakfast for us ( I was happy with that ).
How to get there: El Nido situated in state of Palawan . Easiest and most comfortable way to get to El Nido is an hour flight from Manila. It is an ITI flight , a charter flight of El Nido resorts and the only flight to El Nido. It costs 150$ to 180$ one way per person. The other way is to reach Puerto Princesca and then take 8 hr long shared ride to El Nido. Let me just warn you that roads are not in very good condition in Philippines , hence 8 hours can be very challenging. ITI has a very good service and they make sure you do not miss your connecting flights. However luggage rules are very strict and they allow only 10 kg free luggage in total to check-in including camera equipment , baby strollers no exceptions. Once you reach El Nido and if you have booking in one of El Nido resorts your transfer is taken care by resort. We were not staying in El Nido resorts so we hired a tricycle ( when i saw, I couldn’t believe what they had done to a motorbike).
Where to Stay:
El Nido is very laid back and relaxed kind of place. If you want total seclusion and ready to spend a lot, El Nido resorts are beautiful. They are on 4 different islands namely Miniloc, Lagen, Apulit and Pangulasian. However if budget is problem you can get accommodation as cheap as 30$ in El Nido. There are many hotels (2 star or 1 star), lodges and hostels which provide cheap accommodation and are in downtown right by the sea. We stayed in Cadlao Resort which was less than mile away from downtown, a bit expensive though but was very beautiful and quiet. I had only one problem , our hotel was not very easily accessible. Even while getting to hotel from airport we had to carry our luggage ourselves since no motorbike could reach there.
What to do: El Nido is famous for reefs and corals. It is Mecca for divers. It was my first dive and thanks to Adventure Scuba (http://www.elnidoadventurescuba.com/index.html) it was a memorable one. I really want to thank these people because trust me when it comes to water I have serious issues and the main instructor Jonathan Lualhati took a real
good care of me. Life under water is amazing and I have also shared some you tube links http://youtu.be/3p6B927TG8I)where Jonathan helped us in recording our experience. Me and my husband are vegetarians so Adventure Scuba made sure to keep some vegetarian options on boat for us. It takes an entire day for diving. For beginners they arrange 2 dives, 45 mins each and locations are pre decided. Our diving package included training, transportation, snacks and meal, equipment, diving suit and all this for 3600 PHP (90$). This was the most memorable day of my entire trip. Adventure Scuba is partner of El Nido boutique and artcafe and trust me this boutique is the main landmark of El Nido. Ask anybody about this place and you are sure to get a correct answer ;). You can make all kinds of booking (flight, diving, snorkelling, kayaking, local tours) at http://www.elnidoboutiqueandartcafe.com/TravelCenter.html.
Apart from diving the other major El Nido attraction is tour to nearby islands which are
named Tour A ,Tour B and Tour C. My personal favorite are Tour B and Tour C. In tour C they took us to secret lagoon , snorkelling sights of Matinloc Island and Tapiutan Island, helicopter island and BBQ on one of the beaches. We made some great friends on this tour. Generally diving tours and other excursion tours end at around 4 pm so you can enjoy sunset at one of the restaurants by the bay sipping coconut water. If you are up to a serious challenge try hiring a motorbike and drive to Napatan beach. We hired our bike from Adventure Scuba, costed us 400 PHP (roughly 10$) for half day and trust me after coming back from that beach I could not feel my butt. The drive was so bumpy and roads were merciless. Evenings are very relaxed in El Nido. A long walk along the bay and supper by the beach is very relaxing. If you are vegetarian then yes food is a bit problem in Philippines. A lavish dinner (drinks, appetizer, main course) for two used to cost us 20-25$.
What to pack : El Nido is not very commercialized. Its better to carry necessities with you. Pack cotton clothes since its warm and humid in there. Do carry swimsuits and beach wear as water activities and island hopping is something you cannot and should not miss. Do not forget sunscreen and shades. The most important thing, make sure you carry camera so that you may record your memorable experiences. We carried GoPro for under water photography and DSLR for normal sight seeing. My recommendation will be to travel light but pack right .
That is all, if you have any questions or want to know more about these places or need help in planning, feel free to email me or leave a comment. I am good at responding quickly. Next I will take you to Boracay .
Below are our diving videos ( since my husband had the camera you will see him :p ):