Visitors in search of nature’s last frontier must pay El Nido in northern Palawan in the Philippines a visit at least once in their lifetime. A secret getaway destination for years, it has caught the attention of influential travel writers, leisure magazines, and famous showbiz figures who have called it paradise on earth, leaving wistfully with hope to return again someday. Here are six reasons why we know El Nido caught their interest:
1. Because you can observe unspoiled nature up close and at it best
A scenic archipelago of forty-five islands located within majestic Bacuit Bay, El Nido not only is dotted with limestone cliffs and powdery white beaches; it is a world-class showcase of marine biodiversity, with a chance to learn and observe nature over land and underwater. The entire province of Palawan itself is protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
If you’re a diving aficionado, you will not pass up the chance to go diving here. Snorkeling will also give you the chance to observe unique coral formations and species of fish not found anywhere else in the world. On land, nature lovers will marvel at the variety of tropical plants and fruits, bird species, and monkeys found easily in the area.
El Nido Resorts organises lectures on marine protection for adults and children and will tour you around their turtle sanctuary areas, where sand turtles nest their eggs until ready to hatch.
2. Because you can “hop” from island to island, eat on the beach, and go hiking or caving
The best way to discover El Nido is to take one of a number of “island hopping” tours around the bay to swim, hike, snorkel, and eat (packed lunches are offered). Snake Island is a popular pitstop; here your boatman/guide will set up a rustic lunch consisting of barbecued meat or seafood and fresh fruit while you explore the mangroves and picture-pretty sandbar that disappears with the tide. Take a quick twenty-minute hike up to the top of the island, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views of Bacuit Bay.
The tours also include Cudugnon Cave, which is believed to be a Neolithic burial place, and therefore of some archaeological interest. The cave also served as a hideout from Japanese invaders during World War II. Located on the western side of Lagen, one must pass through a hole to get into this beautiful cave, a feat that is better done at low tide, since the cave fills up with water during high tide.
3. Because, they say, Alex Garland’s The Beach was originally inspired by El Nido
Locals allege that novelist Alex Garland, author of The Beach, was staying in El Nido when he discovered a secret lagoon that is now portrayed in the book (and in the movie) as Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.This secret beach is said to be that on the tiny islet of Matinloc. Go exploring at the now abandoned religious shrine, or climb the limestone’s jagged edges to get a view of nearby Tapiutan Island. Why did Garland do it, and was he wrong to disguise his dream beach’s original location – or did he do the right thing? Visit and make up your own mind.
4. Because catching the sunrise in Bacuit Bay is magnificent.
When in beautiful tropical islands like Palawan, you must start your day early. Get up at the crack of dawn, as the sun begins to dawn just a little past 5 a.m., and you’ll catch a magnificent sunrise break out into Bacuit Bay’s translucent waters, its limestone karst cliffs serving as dramatic backdrop as the sun rises to the sky. Many make this a full-contact-with-nature experience, kayaking or paddleboarding their way out to sea. Here’s an early morning tip: Don’t forget to give your camera time to adjust from cold a/c to room temperature, or it will stay fogged up for at least thirty minutes with the humidity.
5. Because adventure reality shows and action movies have showcased the beauty of El Nido
El Nido was the first of three sites to have been featured in European editions of the Survivor Franchise (France, Sweden), The Amazing Race USA Edition, and movies like The Bourne Legacy (2012). In particular, views of El Nido’s Big Lagoon, adjacent to Miniloc Island, were featured in these programmes; (again) paddle your own kayak or hop aboard a pumpboat to explore this area’s tranquil waters.
6. And best of all: because staying in El Nido is as cheap or as luxurious as you want it to be
There is a range of modest accommodation in the town of El Nido, which is not far from Lio Airport. Tours are easily booked from here as is transportation to Puerto Princesa or to Coron.
If your budget allows it, splurge on a luxury getaway vacation at one of El Nido Resorts’ three islands: Miniloc, Lagen, or Pangulasian , another 30-45 minute boat ride away depending on which island you pick.
Miniloc is popular with families and groups, with its energetic vibe, and is the resort’s dive centre; Lagen, with its more quiet feel and overwater cottages, is chosen by couples for romantic vacations. Pangulasian Island, the newest of the three, has luxurious beach villas with private views and individual pools; green-friendly visitors will appreciate the use of indigenous design and materials and the relaxed Asian modern vibe at its main bar and restaurant.
El Nido is still not the easiest destination to get to. Once in Manila, you’ll still have to (1) book a charter flight via Island Transvoyager Inc, (2) fly into Busuanga, Coron via Philippine Airlines (or sister budget carrier PAL Express) or Cebu Pacific, and take a small ferry boat into El Nido town, or (3) travel 5 hours over land from Puerto Princesa to reach this unspoilt destination.
Ayala Land, Inc, which operates luxury resorts on Miniloc, Lagen, and Pangulasian Islands in El Nido, just this month announced plans to invest US$135.1 million to develop 100 more hectares of in the area; this will include the construction of a resort under their hotel brand, Seda, in Lio, not far from El Nido’s airport. This may take a few more years to materialise, but that means commercial flights are not too far away in the future.
By Marianne Carandang