El Nido Tour. Philippines Holiday.

What`s El Nido Like?

One blogger referred to this small, bay town - lodged beneath dormant volcanic cliffs - as, "the last frontier," and what was, perhaps, meant by this description is that it's still very much provincial Philippines. El Nido's natives still live in extremely simple, if not completely rustic conditions. And what`s wrong with that? Fishermen head out daily in their small bancas, with nets and hand-lines, some spare fuel, a coke bottle full of drinking water and not much else. Locals collect food from surrounding trees, when in season, and cart them to town - by any means affordable to the individual - to sell to the locals and tourists alike. Carabao are still used as plow animals and for hauling anything from sugarcane to lumber, from rice sacks to people, in a way wonderfully reminiscent of simpler times the world over. But, of course, the industrial, post-modernist world has already embraced El Nido and, like any other central area of even the smallest town in the Philippines, motorbikes, and trikes, trucks, cars, and dogs of all shapes and sizes vie with each other for pavement space, performing an unchoreographed ballet. 

Accommodation

Unlike, Boracay - which is, surely, “one” of the best tropical islands in the world - El Nido town has not, as yet, been inundated with foreign investors; has not as yet, lost its bucolic charm and the resulting "real" provincial-life atmosphere. For me, this was - and remains- its very most attractive feature. However, pending for what one is looking, in a holiday destination, one may feel that El Nido lacks some essential amenities and facilities. Money is hard and expensive to access, most public restaurants, and bars, aren't air-conditioned, and the quality of food, in some venues, may not be exactly what one is expecting. But, there are plenty of upshots to El Nido, one of them being that is that prices of accommodation, food, tours and general expenses are very reasonable, very fair. And, of course, good food can be found. There`s even a Home-Stay option available for the budget traveler or those interested in really experiencing the culture from within….. a family who have rooms for rent. 

As with food, you can expect to pay roughly half the cost for accommodation in El Nido which ranges, most significantly, in size and style. You can, of course, pay for the luxury of the larger hotels as there are several of them on the island; I fell in love with this stunning resort . Most of what you will see, however, in El Nido Town proper are pensionnes and small apartments. And I do mean “small” apartments. You may wish to request specific information on room size before booking, and most significantly check that the room has air-conditioning - and “the it works.” El Nido is hot, hot, and hot. And if you`re like most Westerners, or Asians, you`ll want air-conditioning in your room for relaxing after a day of adventuring, and for sleeping.

Ways to Travel to El Nido

As El Nido has become more and more popular, airlines are now somewhat “scrambling”, as stated by one source, to “create services that fly directly to El Nido”. Once upon a time you had two choices to reach El Nido, one was to fly into Puerto Princesa and then sit in a van for 6 hours traveling North. This option is fine, of course, as Puerto Princesa is very worth seeing for an extended stopover. The other was to sit on a ferry from Manila, or Puerto Princesa, stopping off at a variety of locations on the way. There is of course nothing wrong with this form of travel, for its aesthetic value, and especially for the traveler on a budget (who isn`t, right? Take note, however, that the ferry may only get you to Coron Beach, where you`ll have to change to an outrigger or another ferry to El Nido Town. Here`s the site for you to check up to date details on traveling via Ferry http://travel.2go.com.ph/ For roughly twice the price, however, you can secure a return flight from Manila, which takes only an hour, and gets you to within a 15 minute trike ride to El Nido Town, Proper.   

You can purchase a direct flight with ITI (Island Transvoyager Incorporated). It`s a 1 hour flight that departs from Pasay City, in Makati, Manila.  As far as I`m aware you “must” book through El Nido Boutique Arts & Crafts. I tried booking directly through the carrier, without any success.  

Access to Cash 

Returning to El Nido, however, bloggers and traveler`s sites will all tell you to, 'bring plenty of cash with you.' One I read, probably due to its age, stated, 'you can't access money in El Nido.' So, let's get up to date on money first, as no holiday is much fun if one runs out of money. You can access money with a MasterCard and a Visa card at Sea Slugs Restaurant/Bar, on the beach of El Nido Town. They will charge you 10% commission adding it on top of what you wish to withdraw. However, what you can withdraw on any given day may not equate with what you wish to withdraw. It depends on how much cash is in their ATM float on any given day. And this, of course, means that if several other people needed to access money earlier that day, or even in the past few days, you may not be able to withdraw as much as you may want. You can also access money at a pharmacy on Calle Real (in the town center, basically). The image one has of a "pharmacy" may not be an accurate representation of what you'll eventually find. It's more like a general store, and there is a guy who seems pretty knowledgable, and as such assists with the more specific of customer enquiries, and he even obtained some things that I needed, from another pharmacy, without being asked. Please note: I never attempted to withdraw money from this pharmacy. As such, I did not have occasion to make enquiries about it. Sea Slugs is perhaps your safest bet, and go from there.  

Another way of accessing money is currency exchange. I read other, now, obviously outdated information advising that the local currency traders will only trade American dollars and traveler's cheques. This, I found not to be the case. There are several currency traders in the Town proper, with a main one on Calle Real, opposite the elementary school field, near Municipal Hall. This trader is, incidentally, roughly a block heading north from the pharmacy, which is directly opposite the Catholic Parish. If in desperation, do not go all the way - 6 hours by van - to Puerto Princesa, unless you are planning to see the place, just to get access to money. There is an international ATM in the town of Roxas, roughly half-way between El Nido and Puerto Princesa. I have it on good, local, authority that an international ATM is planned to be installed in El Nido, sometime in 2016. 

Changing larger denomination notes - at local convenience type stores - can be a problem in El Nido, to the tune that you may not even be able to purchase what you need, until you can get change from somewhere. This is, again due, simply, to the isolation of the town, I would imagine. My advice: be friendly, introduce yourself to the little store closest to your pensionne, and tell them that you are staying there. They will more than likely extend you some credit in the form of, "we have no change, this morning. Please come back and pay, later." 

Sadly, for my tastes, the quality of the food in El Nido was a slight disappointment. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible, far from it. It just wasn't as refined, perhaps not as westernized, as in Manila and other major tourist destinations. So, the above does become a subjective statement. Ultra fresh ingredients would probably contribute to this very slight deficit, also. Delivery boats come in, when they come in. And they have what food was ordered from the last set of orders, and that may well be “that”, until the next delivery. Fresh seafood, however, is “delicious” and of course very reasonably priced. 

However, there are plenty of restaurants and various vendors that are worth seeking out. On Calle Hama there's a very popular Italian restaurant: L'Altrové which is associated with Cadlao Beach Resort. Here you can get a good pizza that the boys cook downstairs in a large open wood-burning furnace type of arrangement. This cooking style makes the pizzas very tasty. There are a variety to choose from, and you can create your own pizza, also. Being an Italian restaurant, carbonara, spaghetti bolognese and other pasta dishes are on the menu. It`s a popular place. During high season I would imagine some serious waiting time. So, get in early. There is also a Shakey's Pizza delivery outlet on Calle Real, located around where the market is. I did not try this pizza, in El Nido. I`ve tried it on Boracay and, there, it`s not a bad pizza.

Restaurants on the beach

Sea Slugs seems to be the most popular. I had a good steak, here. And the curries and grilled fish dishes were, also, very good. Marber's has a pool table that has seen much better days, but is still functioning and great for its rustic, simplistic Pinay style. The food here is petty good, also. Chicken curry, steaks. Pork, Sinagong, and other Filipino dishes and there's a very popular bacon cheese burger. For me, one challenge in creating burgers and sandwiches, generally, in El Nido, is the freshness of the bread. With the exception of one small vendor who sells his mobile hotdogs and burgers from his fitted-out trike, I don't know who, nor where, people were baking bread. I tend to think most of it comes delivered from afar, and, sadly, day-old bread, takes something essential away from the quality of a burger.

Possibly the best food I encountered in the town, itself, as a very small restaurant, on the northern end of Calle Hama. El Chow, is hosted by a nice woman, Trisha. Here, I ate probably the best chicken curry of the restaurants I tried, in El Nido. Sadly, the wait for the food was what seemed an aeon. The portions were small but, priced accordingly. El Chow, additionally, is where a van service to and from Puerta Princessa departs every two hours. The other restaurant that is highly worthy of mentioning is Kyla's Cocina Restaurant on Nacpan Beach.   

Nacpan Beach is possibly the best beach in the Philippines. For swimming that is, not for surfers. This pristine and amazingly beautiful beach is 23 kilometers north of El Nido Town. It boasts some of the cleanest, most crystal clear waters I've ever enjoyed. It is not, as yet, inundated with tourists, but it must be remembered, I was there during low season. Nacpan boasts five, or six small open bamboo huts that can be rented for a day, a half day, or by the hour. They`ll bring your food and beers to your hut, with a smile and you`ll become an instant celebrity among the local dogs.   

If you`re looking for “real seclusion”, however, with a beach that is just as pristine as Nacpan, and even more isolated, Duli beach is a splendid option. This beach is another 7 kilometers north of Nacpan. It is very isolated and, again, boasts amazingly beautiful, crystal clear waters, very similar to Nacpan beach. There is a small bar and restaurant, on the southern end of the beach where you can get some refreshments and it has one small open hut on the beach. 

The road into Duli Beach is, however, even more trepidatious than the Nacpan access road. If you thought El Nido, and particularly Nacpan is isolated, well, the Bucana area, and Duli Beach is really, very provincial. There's a rather steep dirt hill that needs to be carefully navigated, both up and down. But, it's doable on a decent trail bike. Then, you'll turn left, down a track and the trail gets really hairy. You'll want to be something of an experienced trail bike rider to attempt this, really. There are some serious mud-filled holes and areas of general slush, pending time of year, of course. The trail winds through some tree-root and rocky areas that are to be navigated with care, particularly with a passenger on the back. But, just take it steady and you'll be fine.  

If you`re not up for this trail ride, a trike will take you there, and wait for you, getting you as close to the actual beach as possible. I only saw two other people on Duli beach during the couple off hours that we were there. The interesting thing is, later, back at Nacpan, I saw this couple arrive, on their scooter "via the beach". So, they either knew something I didn't, or they got directions from the small restaurant on Duli Beach, which we saw them go into. On Nacpan and Duli beaches, both, there is a small per person charge and you are to sign in the book. The more times you return to Nacpan, however, the charge decreases. Your third visit is free.

Hiring a Motorcycle in El Nido...

Is as easy as it is in Boracay. No-one asks “can you ride? Do you have any experience?” And, quite wonderfully, in my opinion, no-one ever asks, “can I see your motorcycle license.” It`s more fun in the Philippines! There are several bike rental shops on Calle Hama. They are very easy to find. Unfortunately, for me, they did not have any even medium sized bikes. I love the Honda XR200, and could easily rent these bikes in Boracay. It`s just a great size - and weight - bike for me, that doesn`t have unnecessary - for me - horsepower. Many times, in the Philippines, however, I`ve tried to find someone to rent me the much newer Honda CRF250, but, alas. Not as yet. The bikes in El Nido range from 100 cc scooters, that seem to be very popular as they are automatic, and don`t require a rider familiar with clutch and manual - left-foot - gear usage. I learnt to ride trail and motor-cross bikes when I was a kid, in Australia, so this has never been a consideration for me. I`ve never had a motorcycle license, though. Ha ha ha. I would “never” rent a scooter. Sorry, if that offends! I just love bikes. 

This, however, also brings me back around to a point I made above. You`ll want to have some - at least - trail bike riding experience to ride to both Nacpan and Duli beaches. And the “scooters” are really not equipped for this type of riding, particularly the trail into Duli beach. I did, however, see people riding to Nacpan on these scooters. It must have been a hairy and uncomfortable ride. But, the bikes available for rent in El Nido are really ag-bikes. They are the Honda XR125L and the Yamaha XT125, in addition to a couple of other models. Although ag-bikes, their design, frame and suspension structure is suitable for trail riding. I would have liked some more horsepower though. I saw a couple of guys riding XR200`s and The Kawasaki KX200, and hit them up for a rental, but they wouldn`t be in it. You can rent these 125 cc bikes for 800 pesos for the whole day, and some of the scooters can be rented for as little as 300, if memory serves, for the whole day.    

If you are a lover of do it yourself adventure, motorbikes, trail riding, beautiful scenery, and waterfalls, I have one very nice secret for you: Bulalacao Falls.

These Falls are approximately 10 minutes of riding on a (very) rough dirt road, from the Pasadena turn-off, when you`re heading towards Nacpan Beach. 25 Pesos, The entrance cost to the falls is only 25 pesos. Guides available - and recommended really - for 200 Pesos. It`s a 20 minute walk through beautiful tropical jungle, that is quit a hard hike in places. One crosses the river 5 times before getting to the falls, and it is worth it, trust me. If you `re anything like myself, you`ll want to find a way to move some belongings there, set-up house and never leave. One can swim in the main body of water and there is a little climb higher, to see the 3 main tiers of the waterfall. The water is very cool, and extremely refreshing and swimming up under, even this size waterfall, one feels how powerful water is, when falling in volume. 

If you are, however, one who enjoys the guided tour type of holiday, there are four main tours (A, B, C, & D), that include visits to Helicopter Island, Cadlao Lagoon and other varieties including one tour C that includes a trip to a secret beach. You can see - and even swim with - sea turtles and dolphins; you can enjoy kayaking or riding a standing-board. These tours include beautiful snorkeling with accessibility to rather deep, wide coral reefs. you`ll get breakfast, and lunch, included in the price of a whole day tour; these seem to be about an 8 hour day out in most cases. The prices range from 1,200 to 1,900 pesos per head, per tour. 

Health

Obviously, when you travel to another country, your body is coming into contact with bacteria, pathogens, and even viruses that it is not as yet used to; that your body has not, as yet, developed an immunity to. As such, it`s usual to get, at very least, queasy at some point during any holiday, or travel. However, El Nido does have occasional problems with the viral disease, Dengue Fever. Antibiotics are available - at relatively low cost, and without prescription - over the counter, everywhere that I`ve been in the Philippines. This, however, is 1) Attempting to right a problem, after the fact, and 2) hoping that the antibiotics will work, when several scientific studies instruct us that antibiotics actually only work against 4 types of bacteria. So, you`re much better off to be a Boy Scout and “be prepared”.  What I use is colloidal silver. In fact, I never leave home without it. If you`ve never heard of colloidal silver, you may want to read this article. And If you want some more scientific facts about how colloidal silver actually works, read this one

With colloidal silver, or any other liquids, I`m sure you`re aware that there are very strict regulations with regards carry-on baggage. Any liquids are not meant to exceed 100 mil` bottles. Additionally the bottles are supposed to be individually sealed in plastic bags. If you don`t want to spend your time checking your, luggage you can carry several bottles of 100 mil size of colloidal silver and have a spray nossle either attached - or ready for attachment - to these bottles. Spraying your silver orally, and nasally, has two benefits: 1) It`s a very efficient means for using your silver sparingly, and 2) spraying is almost the most effective way of using colloidal silver.

Blog Post by, Elliot Sabino 

Sep` 29, 2015.