I have visited Palawan Island in the Philippines many times as my Mother lives in Puerto Princesa. I did my first trip to El Nido about 10 years ago. These days it’s a lot easier to get there with several flights daily but that particular time I was visiting for Christmas with a few days to spare. I had gone with friends and we wanted to stay somewhere on a beach.
All the popular places were either too expensive or booked out so we looked further afield. We settled on El Nido purely by chance and travelled the 8 hour trip from Puerto Princesa by ramshackle bus. I must say on arrival we were completely shattered.
We had booked into El Nido Beach Hotel; just metres from the white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean. Overjoyed with our choice of destination, our weary bodies were soon revived. The views were amazing and at night, from our hotel room we could hear the ebb and flow of ocean waves. Everything about El Nido took our breath away and it has become my favourite place to visit. It was like Byron Bay about 20 years ago; a quiet beachside town full of friendly locals, a few international tourists, small locally owned restaurants and hotels.
These days many more tourists find their way to El Nido and more accommodation has sprung up over time, ranging from 5 star hotels with elevation and uninterrupted views to backpacker style budgets stays. Despite this El Nido still feels unspoilt and undiscovered; there is the sense of uncovering a hidden gem every time I go there.
The restaurants offer traditional dishes using fresh local produce. Chicken Adobo; a marinated chicken dish made with simple, fresh ingredients is a delicious example of local cuisine but western meals of steak and vegetables are available too. I love the feeling of being right on the beach to dine with the sand beneath my feet and the ocean just a few steps away. Many places, like the El Nido Art Café offer live entertainment.
The Australian dollar buys a lot in the Philippines so entertainment, meals and tours are relatively cheap. One of my favourite things to do there is an island hopping tour by traditional outrigger. These day tours are owned and operated by the locals and while you will explore the popular diving, snorkelling and spear fishing areas and swim in the protected waters of transparent lagoons, there are secret places to discover too.
I asked locals about ‘secret beach’ and was lucky enough to be taken to this magical place, completely protected by cave- like cliffs. It’s accessible only by swimming across from a nearby shoreline. It is so secluded and peaceful; it feels like the most perfect place on Earth.
Away from the ocean El Nido is a natural wonder, full of walking tracks and scenic climbs into the rainforest. My goal next time is to climb Taraw Cliff but still I find it hard to tear myself away from the glorious coastline.
Mel Lim, Australian Business Owner and Travel Enthusiast.
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