The Philippines was my first destination on an 11-month journey through Southeast Asia, a journey of wander and self-development in creative expression through photography and video. Photos I had seen of the Philippines played a strong role in encouraging me to take the plunge into the unknown – selling everything I could, upgrading my camera, and investing 100% in my creative self. Needless to say, I had high expectations for this country, especially for the island of Palawan!
Palawan was my very first island destination, mostly due to its reputation as the best island for travellers to visit. That on its own was enough to attract me, but of course all the photos of crystal clear waters surrounding unfathomably beautiful limestone peaks also had me beyond stoked to visit and start my soon-to-be professional career as a travel photographer!
The Philippines as a tourist destination has only gained popularity in recent times, but don’t expect it to stay low-key for long! It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, with a unique culture and a nation full of joyful locals to top it off! Consisting of over 7000 islands boasting all elements from perfectly conical volcanoes, to fine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, the Philippines really puts on a show for its visitors. As you may have guessed, El Nido Palawan was one place in particular that had me absolutely blown away!
El Nido is the northernmost part of the main island of Palawan, and directly to the north of it is an equally beautiful Island named Coron – these two destinations are perfect to visit on the same trip, and I can guarantee that you will have an amazing time!
Getting to El Nido is easy if your budget allows, however, for the more common explorative traveller, a slight detour will save you a lot of money! There is a small private airport in El Nido, but flights to and from here are quite unreasonably priced compared to the alternatives. More commonly, one would opt to fly to Puerto Princessa and then catch either a bus or a van from there to El Nido.
During my first time there, my partner and I decided to take the bus for the local experience! We ended up finding ourselves in a bus with no AC, wooden seats squeezed nice and tight, and were also the only non-locals onboard. We were getting many stares of confusion, but it was still a worthwhile experience at the end of the day. Nevertheless, for our second time around, we opted for the van from the Puerto Princessa airport to El Nido town. It turned out to be much faster, more comfortable and only slightly more expensive (maybe 5$ more than the bus per person)!
But what makes it stand out? What makes it so beautifully special? Is it the incredible limestone cliffs coming out of nowhere? Or the perfect beaches all around the area? Or the fact that the average day consists of island hopping to locations that make you feel like you’re literally inside a postcard? Maybe it’s the unimaginably beautiful sunsets, or the vibe of the destination? In all honesty, it’s a combination of all of the above that makes it so extraordinary!
The immediate reaction of wonder typically comes from the bewildering topography, similar to that of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, except in El Nido, all these gorgeous limestone cliffs are surrounded by bright turquoise waters, sandy beaches, beautiful reefs and underwater wildlife galore!
Although El Nido is technically a town, it is known as a prime destination for the cluster of gorgeous islands that surround it. All of these islands display incredible sights of nature and they all stand out in their own way, with lagoons, viewpoints, secret beaches, etc.
The experience of sailing around these wonders of nature in the local Filippino pump boats is good enough a reason to visit Palawan. However, the fact that you can swim and kayak through hidden lagoons, enjoy castaway beaches, and feast on a fresh seafood lunch buffet on one of these perfect beaches, just makes it impossible to keep it off the “must-visit” list!
In addition, you will be able to find plenty of food options for all palettes, but in particular, the fresh seafood dishes at the beachside restaurants will leave you beyond satisfied. The food from these restaurants is surprisingly affordable and they honestly serve one of the best grilled fish I have ever eaten in my life! There are also a variety of accommodation options, from your average hostel to villas on stilts over turquoise waters at one of the nearby islands – so it all boils down to your budget! Though I would recommend splurging for a night or two to experience one of these island resorts, as they seem like paradise on earth and typically include complimentary island hopping trips as well!
El Nido is still emerging but really starting to make a name for itself, and it won’t be long before the demand amounts to that of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand for example, so hurry and plan your trip now! The essence of the town and the vibe that it radiates, coupled with a combination of happy locals and travellers, will truly provide you with a uniquely unforgettable experience.
All images belong to Jonas, subject to copyright.