Monday, January 31, 2011

Visiting El Nido on a Shoestring Budget

Picture this: you wake up one early morning to the gentle waves of the sea lapping at the shoreline, its monotony broken only by occasional barking of dogs from a distance. You get out of bed and peer out of your window to see karsts formations, like giant mammoths, jutting out of the bay. The clear, blue waters meet the cloudless blue skies. Your cozy cottage itself is under the shadow of a limestone cliff.

Welcome to El Nido. Located north of Palawan’s capital city, Puerto Princesa (“Puerto”), it is home to karsts mountains and cliffs, isolated islands/islets of various shapes and sizes (e.g., “snake island”), a cavernous cave named the “cathedral,” and white sandy beaches.

A paradise on earth if there is one, but the general impression is it may be too expensive to enjoy. It is not entirely true. Such impression must have been brought about by the presence of 2 exclusive resorts located in the islands off the town proper, with their customers serviced by chartered planes straight from Manila. Now, a package tour of that nature is really way beyond the ordinary folks’ means.

But as Filipinos are always wont to do, may diskarte dyan. (Disclaimer: Please bear with me as this is a recollection of our trip 2 summers ago, so names of places and prices of services may be inaccurate if not forgotten.)

There are several flights each day between Manila and Puerto. Get the budget carriers (Php900/head, 1-way via Zest Air. NB: I checked this 1 earlier). Stay for a day or 2 in Puerto, and visit the Underground River and the market. Ask a tricycle driver to bring you to a restaurant serving delicious but affordable sea food fares or Vietnamese dishes. (They abound.)

Once fully rested, the same tricycle driver can take you to the terminal of vans and minibuses going to northern Palawan, including El Nido. Only a few local passengers go all the way to El Nido. Most passengers alight in Roxas and Taytay towns. You can convince the van driver that you’re willing to pay him for a minimum of 5 passengers (Php500/head) to El Nido. The van is airconditioned and the road all the way to Taytay (the last town before El Nido) is paved. Travel time is 6-7 hours.

In El Nido, affordable resorts dot the beach. Fernandez’s resort is among them. Family cottage with fan costs Php500 a day. In the market, Aling Pacing’s small restaurant serves fresh seafood and meat dishes of less than Php100 per order. To truly enjoy El Nido, you can hire a boat from Mang Digoy for Php3,500 for the whole day, including lunch in a secluded island.

He will take you to lagoons ideal for snorkeling, what with corals teeming with fish and other marine animals, and the aforementioned snake island and cathedral cave, among others. Cap your day with a beer or wine from a European resto-bar south of El Nido beach.

You can return home straight from El Nido through a previously booked flight via Seair (Php6,000-Php7,000/head). Or you can retrace your steps and fly back via Puerto.

(PS: A friend who owns a beach in El Nido has asked for my help. He's selling his property and in case you're interested, please visit this site: 

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