grub + travels + perspectives

El Nido Adventures: Part One

"Anong gagawin mo sa El Nido eh hindi ka naman marunong lumangoy?" ("What are you supposed to do in El Nido when you don't even know how to swim?") That's my mom's initial reaction when I informed her that I'd be gone for 5 days to go to El Nido with a few friends. To be honest, I really thought of backing out. Because it was insane for me to spend that much time on huge bodies of water when in fact it makes me nervous. *cringing at the thought of seeing a Portuguese Man-of-War* Our tickets were booked last year, and as the days crept nearer and nearer, I was really having second thoughts on pushing through. See the following tweets I posted ~3 days before our trip:

Add the fact that I have less that PhP 3,000 in my bank account (bills, bills, bills ate my budget), I was so afraid everything was going to be a disaster for me. But then I finally realized why I wanted to go: I miss flying. Flying gives me a natural high more than being on foreign land. It actually doesn't matter where I'm going, I just missed riding planes and traversing the skies and clouds.

(Related Reading: El Nido Adventures Part Two - Tour C)
(Related Reading: El Nido Adventures Part Three - Tour A)
(Related Reading: El Nido Adventures Part Four - Nacpan & Calitang Twin Beaches)

Day Zero

I got out of work 8:30 AM, I then went straight home to Cavite to pack my things (I always do this the last minute because I hate doing it!) and met up with Ian around 1:00 PM so that we could go together to the airport and catch our 3:40 PM flight. Surprisingly, we boarded the plane 10 minutes before the supposed time! But then our plane wasn't allowed to take off right away due to air traffic, so our flight still got delayed by an hour. -_-

We opted for the cheaper option of going to El Nido: booking tickets to Puerto Princesa and from there, we were picked up by a shuttle service and traveled for around 6 hours to El Nido. Most people would dread being inside a moving vehicle for such a long period of time but I was actually looking forward to it since I haven't had any type of rest after work.

I remember we had one stop, which is for dinner. The next thing I knew, when I woke up, we were already at our destination. We were dropped off at the San Jose Terminal. We then had to take a tricycle going to our home for the next 3 days: El Nido Sands Inn. It's a decent hostel located in Buena Suerte that's got cheap rates. We paid PhP 300 per head per day for our 4-person capacity fan room (1 double deck + 1 queen sized bed + 2 fans). There's nothing fancy about El Nido Sands Inn, it's got the basic facilities you need. But what I really liked about this place is you get to wake up to the sound of waves crashing and seeing this sweet view while having coffee:

Day One

The next morning, Ian informed us that our tour guide (from Northern Hope Tours) will be picking us up 8:30 AM. So we changed to our swimming outfits and began scouting the little streets of Buena Suerte for something filling and affordable. We stumbled upon Silog Republic a few streets away from our inn. PhP 65 for a breakfast meal? Not bad at all! And since we were under an extra tight budget, we frequented Silog Republic the following days when we can't decide where to eat. Hahaha.

Charm and I were also able to try the Chocolate Banana crepes at this cute little place called Belle Le Take Me Away.

Let the island hopping commence! Since 2 of our friends will be flying in the next day and will be joining us for Tours A and C (which were the popular ones), we asked tour agent to make our first tour, Tour B.

Pinagbuyutan Island

Pinagbuyutan Island is one of those places you could picture yourself living in after retirement (or at least, that's what came to mind when we docked there). It's so picturesque. There were rows and rows of coconut trees, a stretch of green surrounded by white sand and blue green waters.

Borrowing this photo from langyaw.com because we lost some of our shots there. :)
We were given around 40 minutes to swim and snorkel. I was already looking forward to just chill and take shelter under the trees, maybe lay down on the grass but my friends insisted I go snorkel. Hahaha. After much convincing and promises of them taking turns to hold my hand (Thanks again, Charm and Honey! Hahaha. I was such a scaredy cat), I gave in!

I look like fish out of the water when I'm in the water. Hahaha.

I finally knew how to properly use a snorkel! And look what I would have missed out on seeing if I chickened out! The crystal blue water was just breathtaking. The corals were actually very near the shore, so you have to keep yourself afloat to avoid stepping and damaging the corals. After snapping a few more photos by the bent coconut tree, we headed to our next destination.

Cathedral Cave

Fittingly named Cathedral Cave, this dome-shaped outcrop has such a high but narrow opening. You can't even see how high the ceiling of the cave is because it's too dark inside. We just stayed here for photos because people are currently not allowed to swim inside because it's still jellyfish season. See those white spots on the surface of the water? Yep. Those are jellyfishes. They were everywhere. Charm managed to get a good shot of one of them using her GoPro:

Cudugnon Cave and Beach

Cudugnon Beach was our lunch spot for that day. The beach was, again, gorgeous. And since our guides were still preparing our food, we sneaked in Cudugnon Cave just to see what's in store for us there.

At first glance, you would not notice that there's an opening that leads into a cave. I had to crawl on all fours and squeeze myself in the little orifice to get in. The walls were wet and there were puddles of water inside due to the rain.

The first chamber upon entering the cave was dim, but when you climb to the main chamber, it is bright with skylight, so it wouldn't be a problem if you decide to climb further up the steep rock formations. Just take extra caution as the surfaces could get really slippery after the rain.

Our guide also told us that human remains were previously found inside the cave. It was believed that Japanese soldiers used this crevice as a hiding place from the American forces during the war.

Our delicious feast! Grilled snapper, squid and pork, and some kind of ensaladang talong with tuna! Nothing beats a sumptuous meal by the beach!
Our guides and boatmen's food presentation skills were superb!
The whole team!
Had fun playing with this uber cute swimming dog after we ate! He's so sweet!

Snake Island

I was really thrilled when we reached Snake Island. What greeted us was a long white sandbar that connects the islet and a forest of mangroves. The water was crystal clear and the sand was fine, it reminded me of White Island in Camiguin

Mangrove forest on the right
The islet with a viewing deck on top to the left. (And another beach dog!)
The place isn't inhabited by venomous, legless reptiles, if that's what you're thinking. It was named as such because the sand bar actually resembles a snake, which you could better see when you reach the viewing deck at the top of the hill. Gravity's not my best friend so any form of uphill movement is at the bottom of my list. Hahaha. But this was an easy peasy 10-minute climb (naks)! (I remember in Palaui Island when we had to hike to reach the Cape EngaƱo lighthouse--that was almost the death of me! But the view from the top made it all so worth it.)

The weather's pretty insane! On our way up, the skies turned gloomy and rain started to pour but after a few minutes, the sun was out again.

One of our crazy jump shots!

Pupulkan Snorkeling Site

Our last stop for the day was Pupulkan Snorkeling Site. There's not much information I can find about this place on the Internet though. Everyone was allowed to swim and snorkel for a good hour, I think. 

I already reached my snorkeling quota for that day so I opted just to stay on the boat and lie down and stare at the sky. Hahaha. Plus Charm got sick so I volunteered to kind of watch over her. LOL.

And that concludes our first tour in El Nido! I hope I've got it detailed enough to show you guys how amazing this place is and how much fun we had. For someone who's not so inclined with water, I enjoyed our first ~30 hours in El Nido. Though I am still testing the waters (figuratively and literally), I felt really safe and comfortable the entire day. My favorite out of Tour B would be Snake Island and the super chill ambiance and lovable swimming dog of Cudugnon Beach!

I've still got to blog about days two to four so please stick around for that! :)

More information and tips:
  • Viajes PH assisted us with and organized our 5-day trip. Thank you, Jolo! :)
  • Tours were provided by Northern Hope Tours.

    Tour B costs PhP 1,300/head.
    Snorkeling gear and fins were provided as well as lunch.
    They also have underwater cameras for rent. (PhP 700/day; best to bring your own SD card.)
  • We booked our accommodation ourselves. For reservations at El Nido Sands Inn (they have Wi-Fi), you may contact them through the following numbers:
    Landline: (048) 723-1916
    Mobile Nos.: 0917 773-3324 / 0999 452-5843
    Address: Serena Street, Brgy. Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan
  • Please bring cash. I don't recall seeing any ATMs there. For emergency situations, there are pawnshops that offer money transfer services.
  • Power interruptions are frequent during day time.
  • Smart and Globe networks have strong signal there. As for Sun, nada.
  • If you could bring a dry bag to store all your gadgets, that would be perfect.
  • It's best to wear aqua shoes/sandals during the tour.
  • Bring a towel or malong.
  • Food, overall, is affordable. For our first night, we had dinner at Angel Wish, located right beside El Nido Sands Inn, and we had a set meal for PhP 950 which was good enough for 6 people. There's also a lot of eateries you can find on most streets. We frequented Silog Republic for breakfast and dinner.
(Photos by me, Honey Ramos, Charmilyn Mamaradlo and Ian Manzon.)