Travels, Philippines, Palawan

Here We Go, El Nido! A 4D3N Guide To Heaven In Palawan

A lot of people ask me which one is better, Coron or El Nido. I humbly answer that I haven’t been to El Nido to give an educated response. For Mary’s birthday this year, we have already booked a trip to Guam, purchased our insurance and reserved our hotel. Until, the threats between two super power countries threatened the safety and security of the US island territory.

As a last minute decision (more like last 24 hours), we switched to El Nido instead, and said goodbye to our paid ticket. Because I had done zero research and we don’t want to be stressed for Mary’s birthday, we got the all-in package offered by Oh Maria’s Travel and Tours. All we really had to think about was to pay for our dinner, or if we’re buying pasalubong. Else, everything is included in the package: RT flight via Air Asia, Van PP-El Nido and back, 3 nights accommodation with breakfast, island tours with lunch, and any other environmental fees. You will see the costing after the itinerary.

Day 1:

0710 Arrival at Puerto Princesa International Airport

It was a bumpy ride since it rained before we left Manila and we arrived with it. The 0550 flight is one of the best flights to book when you’re going straight to El Nido. You would arrive just in time to check in.

0730 Van left for El Nido

Make sure to bring food because it’s a 6-hour ride non-stop (or you can ask the driver to drive thru somewhere). In our experience, we slept the entire time so there was no drive thru.

1330 Drop off at Jurias Pensionne

This resort is a tricycle ride from any beach but near the town / market. If you want to wake up to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks or something, this is not the best place. It is ideal those, for those who want some quite. Even if it’s along the main road, it is not near any night establishment famous to the locals and foreigners.

Here We Go, El Nido! Jurias hired a tricycle for us to Nacpan beach (300 pesos)

1430-1700 Nacpan Beach

The afternoon of our arrival, it was a designated free time. We then chose to go to Nacpan since it’s not part of the package we selected. It is one of the most famous beaches in El Nido. It is a twin beach with a vantage view on top of a hill. That hill is privately-owned and is now guarded against “trespassers” who want to take a photo of the beaches. There is also a noticeably floating nuisance of a bar right in the middle of the beach, which I am not sure how they conduct their environmentally unsustainable business there.

Here We Go, El Nido! Owning Nacpan Beach on a Gloomy Afternoon

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Nacpan’s Twin Beach at the distance. Can you spot Mary? (raw iPhone shot)

 

Here We Go, El Nido! The birthday girl owned the beach for an hour or so

 

Here We Go, El Nido! A Floating Bar?

1800 Dinner at Cadlao Resort

We googled the best places to eat in El Nido and this resort/restaurant has consistently come up in the results. Going there is not easy though. It was far, you’ll walk a dark alley, pass by a public cemetery before you could even get there. At first I thought we can walk to the resort but had to call in and we got picked up by one of their service tricycles. That’s when we realized it was dark and spooky to get there on foot. But the food? It was amazing. We had to come back a second time. We ordered the catch of the day (9/10), grilled squid (9/10) and their homemade chocolate ice cream with turon (10/10).

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Resort might be hidden, but the food is explosive!

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Restaurant’s Grilled Squid

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Restaurant’s Handmade Chocolate Ice Cream – Superb!

2000 Back to Jurias Pensionne

Since we had no sleep prior to the flight (straight from a shift), we slept early to prepare for the next day.

Day 2: Tour A

0700 Breakfast

The afternoon we arrived, we were asked to choose our breakfast from the menu, and decide what time we wanted to have breakfast. Nothing fancy, but enough to get you started for the day.

0845 Ready for Pickup

The guy was late, we were picked up at around 910am but he quickly apologized. There were only 4 other joiners with us and that’s a really great thing. They’re a Filipino family vacationing like us.

Here We Go, El Nido! Tour A

1000 Seven Commando Beach

It was our first stop and we were itching to get our feet on the sand. It still wasn’t sunny but it wasn’t drizzling anymore. We bought a mango shake and left our things on one of the tables and just strolled the beach. We wondered why it was called 7 Commando beach but we got conflicting responses from the guide and the boatman.

Here We Go, El Nido! 7 Commando’s Fresh Mango Shake

 

Here We Go, El Nido! The key to avoiding the crowd? Find your own spot and own it

 

Here We Go, El Nido! 7 Commando Beach

1130 Big Lagoon

We were already getting hungry but the view stalled it. My God, it was heaven on the face of the earth, or the sea. There were limestone formations, turquoise water, the sound of other boats and excited tourists and well, my mumbling stomach. We were not allowed to swim there but we took pictures. This is one of the downsides of a packaged tour – everything is timed.

Here We Go, El Nido! Big Lagoon

 

1200 Small Lagoon

As these two lagoons were near each other, and the food is not entirely prepared yet, we went for the smaller lagoon where we can kayak and swim. From where the boat anchored, you’d have to take a kayak to enter the lagoon. Even a strong swimmer will get exhausted where we were from. I hired one of the boatmen to take us to the small lagoon and gave him a tip afterwards. We went inside a cave, got off the kayak and felt the rocks beneath us, the fresh water that was so clean I could even drink it (I didn’t).

We stayed there for a good hour and when we were getting ready to come back, food was ready.

Here We Go, El Nido! Small Lagoon Kayak-fest

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Inside a cave in the small lagoon

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Small lagoon (forgive the moist)

1300 Lunch

Lunch comprised of rice (it’s a good thing we were all Filipinos) fish, chicken, prawns, vegetables and fruits.

Here We Go, El Nido! Lunch is served!

1400 Last Destination

Forgive my good graces but I forgot where we went after. It could be the Secret Lagoon where guests had to walk on a rocky beach and go through a hole in the midst of the limestone rocks to see what’s inside. We didn’t go for it, instead we waited by the boat where Mary and I snorkeled. Mary took baby steps to let go of the rope and stay afloat on her own.

Here We Go, El Nido! Baby steps to conquering her fears

1630 End of Tour

We then decided to have dinner at the famed El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe which also showed up in the top places to eat in El Nido. We had pizza (5/10 rating from us) and chicken tikka masala (6/10). We brought home the extra 3 slices of pizza that we didn’t finish.

Here We Go, El Nido! El NIdo Art Cafe’s Chicken Tikka Masala

1800 Jurias Pensionne

Again, no night life for us, and it was the eve of Mary’s birthday.

 

Day 3: Tour C

0730 Breakfast / Buy fruits from the market

This is Mary’s birthday so we had a photo shoot opportunity in front of our cabana. She definitely enjoyed snapping using the Bluetooth remote of our tripod (or was it me?).

Here We Go, El Nido! Jurias Pensionne

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Jurias breakfast

0830 Pick Up

The guys were early this time but we knew from the get go that we’re going to be with a bigger group than yesterday. We were all already seated on the boat that accommodated more than 30 passengers when a looming fog crept closer. And although we were given the Coast Guard’s clearance to tour for the day, the boatmen had to decide to wait it out till the rain passed.

1000 Cadlao Island

And because the Secret Beach is unreachable due to the size and strength of the waves (we were told it faced the open sea), they offered an alternative destination we did not want to refuse – the Cadlao Island. It’s like the Big Lagoon from yesterday only this time we were given 30 minutes to take photos and swim.

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Island

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Island (Originally part of Tour D)

 

Here We Go, El Nido! She’d hardly let go

1100 Helicopter Island

The boats dock here and you have about 30 minutes for photos and swimming. There is a roped area where guests are allowed to swim and that day, the current was still strong. So Mary played in waist to chest-deep water and she told me to go explore the deeper parts – I tried to, but went back to where she was, just because (insert hearts).

Here We Go, El Nido! Helicopter Island

 

1230 Lunch at Hidden Beach

Yeah, we had to walk on rocky path again and this time we had no choice because lunch will be served on the beach. Surprisingly, or maybe out of hunger, it wasn’t too difficult to get there. We were the first ones to settle, so we took pictures while the crew set up lunch.

We had the same menu as yesterday, just a different kind of fish and more fruits.

Here We Go, El Nido! Tour C Lunch at the Hidden Beach

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Her Pa-birthday Lunch Party

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Gloomy but Happy!

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Hidden Beach

1400 Matinloc Shrine

Hidden Beach is in Matinloc Island so it was just logical to head to the nearby shrine when we finished lunch. Problem was, the waves were too strong, we couldn’t get near the dock. The captain decided to go for a different destination instead, which is, according to my iPhone, Tapiutan Island.

Here We Go, El Nido! A 4D3N Guide To Heaven In Palawan

1600 End of Tour

We headed straight to Jurias Pensionne to shower and change so we can have Mary’s birthday dinner at Cadlao Restaurant. I told you, the food there was amazing. It was also too dark when we went there, we wanted to see how it looked with some natural light on.

1730 Dinner at Cadlao Resort

Their catch of the day was consistently good (9/10), we ordered a different kind of adobo (6/10) and grilled squid (9/10). We wanted to order their homemade ice cream but they ran out. We settled with the Thai-inspired mango sticky rice, which did not fare well with Mary (3/10).

Pick up from the nearby intersection to the resort, and vice versa, is complementary of the resort. Just call them and they’ll send their service your way.

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Resort View

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Cadlao Resort has a Fantastic Menu

 

Here We Go, El Nido!

 

Here We Go, El Nido! Mary’s birthday dinner at Cadlao Resort

2000 Jurias Pensionne

Early to bed for an early flight (which we felt would be delayed due to the weather).

 

Day 4: Flight Back to Manila

0730 Breakfast

0800 Van Pick-Up to Puerto Princesa

Our AirAsia flight is scheduled at 1540, and we already knew that the flight would be delayed based on the website. So there was no hurry especially since we knew that the other passengers were on the same, or a later flight.

I also bought some cashew along the way (a local vendor) because we were told it would be cheaper there compared to the city. I bought half a kilo at 300 pesos.

1400 Arrival at Puerto Princesa

Our original 1540 flight is now estimated to depart by 1700, so we had time to buy some souvenir and food. They can also take a credit card if you forgot to withdraw.

Here We Go, El Nido! Delayed flight due to the weather

1500 Puerto Princesa International Airport

1700 Depart PPS IA

1840 Arrive at NAIA 4

2000 Home

When Mary opened the door, she was surprised by sisters Rona (who takes care of Rocket when we’re away) and via messenger, Rhoem, who is in Russia.

Here We Go, El Nido! Coming home to a surprise from the sisters

 

Here We Go, El Nido! How sweet can they get? The Emberador Sisters

ALL-IN PACKAGE TOUR: 

The cost was PhP 25,340 for two persons, 4D3N. Please take note that it can be cheaper especially if you booked ahead and on a seat sale. We booked less than 24 hours prior so admittedly, we were aware that the cost would be higher.

OUT-OF-POCKET COST:

Snorkel set – 150 (bring yours if you have). I bought Mary a set because I already had one and when I was already packing, I realized that the kid (Rocket) may have played with it and bit off a part. So I had to rent one.

Aqua Shoes – 100 per pair. I rented one for Mary so she’s comfortable walking on rocky shores

Dinner x3 – it’s totally up to you where you want to eat but since it was a birthday getaway, it was okay to splurge a bit.

Pasalubong – cashew and other staple souvenir food items

Snacks, water and fruits – probably at 500 max for 3 days

Terminal Fee – 200 per passenger, payable at the PPS IA

Here We Go, El Nido! Highly recommend Oh Maria’s Travel and Tours for your all-in packages locally and internationally.

Mary has never been to Coron and I was there a really long time ago – 2013, so we would love to go next time.

Palawan is full of wonders, no wonder it’s consistently at the top 5 of any “best islands in the world” surveys. Next time your feet itch, head that way and you won’t regret it a bit. Check out the video I made of the short vacation here.

So what’s the answer to the question, which is better, Coron or El Nido? This sounds cliche but, it depends. I loved Coron for the scuba diving experience it gave me, and El Nido for the visual feast it offered its visitor. I guess you just have to visit both! *wink*

 

 

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