Our next destination in the Philippines would be El Nido, Palawan, but first we had to get there from Bantayan Island. This isn’t as straightforward as just going there, first we took a tricycle (like a motorbike tuk-tuk) to the port on Bantayan, then the ferry to Cebu (which for some unknown reason, maybe the shape of the moon, or the wind direction or the captain was sobering up, took two hours this time). Then it was the four-hour bus back to Cebu city, followed by a taxi to Cebu airport.
Next was the one hour flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and because we arrived at night, we’d have to stay there in the city for one night before going to El Nido the next morning, so it was another tricycle from the airport to the hotel. The next morning we got up early and took the six-hour bus (that only took five) to El Nido, I think the driver was making up for the slowness of Philippine time by trying to drive at close to the speed of light to get there quicker.
In total, from Bantayan to El Nido, it was Tricycle, Boat, Bus, Taxi, Plane, Tricycle, Bus, and start-to-finish was about 30 hours, but mostly it was actually great fun, not including the very fast, winding and bumpy bus trip on Palawan. On the boat, we also met another couple, Conor and Danielle, who we would meet up with again in El Nido.
El Nido is the kind of Instagram destination that everybody dreams of, I’m sure if you’ve ever seen a photo of the beautiful scenery of the Philippines, it was most likely taken here. Google it and you will see beautiful pictures abound. Now, I’m not sure if all the photos were taken many years ago or just on one day when they didn’t let any tourists go to these places, but the pictures you see of serenity and empty stunning beaches and lagoons couldn’t be much further from the truth.
It turns out, that this paradise, at the other side of the world, remote, and not that simple to get to, is actually accessible to everybody and tourists completely over-run the place. Don’t think I’m saying that it isn’t beautiful, it is stunning, the scenery is very beautiful, the empty spots that can sometimes be found have crystal clear waters and stunning marine life and the whole area is naturally magnificent, but as we all know, tourists destroy nature.
The town is completely over-run by tourists and can’t cope with the amount of people, it’s dirty, there’s sewerage running out in to the sea by the fishing village and the smell is horrific, and we were unfortunate enough to be staying right in front of the sea here so had to live with the smell all the time. The water supply to the town is known to be dangerous and unusable, making many people sick, and the accommodation is about four times the price of most other tourist places in the Philippines. But this is all just the town, and people don’t come here for the town, they come for the Island Hopping, so the town has been left to rot a little.
I am writing this honestly of our impressions of El Nido, and I’m sure other people have different opinions, but we did stay for a week and did two separate Island Hopping tours, so yes we know we also contribute to the tourist numbers and waste here.
We were very lucky to have been put in touch with a local guy in El Nido, Jeffy, him and his dad Captain Jones run tours for people who don’t want to be crammed in to boats with dozens of other tourists for the same island hopping tours. We did a tour with him twice, both times just four of us on the boat with Jeffy and Captain and saw all the spots on tours A & C (basically beaches and lagoons in the area around El Nido).
Both times we managed to see some stunning areas before the other tourists arrived but also then witnessed the dozens of other bigger boats arriving afterwards with hundreds more people coming to the same small spots. The second time we went out we were with Conor and Dani who we had met on our way here, they had already done a tour arranged by their accommodation and told us they were on a boat not much bigger than the one we were on, but theirs had 29 tourists on, there wasn’t even enough seats on the boat to seat all the people.
I don’t want to say that every tour organiser is just money-making, but you do tend to get that impression. I think we saw the area about as sustainably as we possibly could, on a small boat with fewer people, we didn’t stand on coral or try to touch marine life, but I thought doing this like this would be automatic to most people… it seems not.
There are shops in El Nido town that rent out ‘coral shoes’ so that people can walk on sharp rocks and coral without cutting their feet, with no thoughts whatsoever about the fact that this will damage and kill the coral. There are dozens of people in very compact areas snorkelling with marine life and probably damaging the natural habitat of these animals, none of the activities here seem to be very sustainable or thinking about how to protect nature and the wildlife around here, as long as they make money from tourists.
Each tourist is paying over £20 each for a day tour, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but with 30 people on a boat, to drive around quite a small area and stop at five or six different spots, can be big money for a boat captain, £600+ per day, you can see why every person in town is trying to run or sell a tour.
Unfortunately, most of the coral we saw was already dead, and I’m sure that has resulted in a huge loss of marine life, but there was still lots of amazing marine life still here, I just worry how long it will last.
For us, the experience of seeing El Nido was still incredible, we enjoyed the tours for the most part and loved seeing the scenery, we just hope very much that people start to change attitudes towards nature here, or the marine life and beauty could be completely destroyed.
The food cooked fresh on the boat was incredible both times, fresh fish and meat BBQ, it was easily the best food we had eaten in the Philippines. The food in the town consisted of three options; unsafe, overpriced or pizza, we opted for pizza several times. Any time we didn’t have pizza, the chances are we were having a cup noodle. Definitely better than a UK pot noodle, but still just dehydrated noodles in a pot, I think we must have eaten 8-10 each in one week just to avoid the food in the town.
‘Free breakfast’ in the hotel was of similar quality to the food in the town it seemed, they would ask you in the afternoon of the previous day what you would like for tomorrow’s breakfast and I’m pretty sure that’s when they cooked it. Then they would serve it on a cling-film covered plate and leave it on the side to serve to you the next day. Rice, Eggs and meat is not the kind of dish I’d like to eat many hours after it’s been cooked and served. So we ordered pancakes most days, cold of course 🙂
One great thing we did in El Nido is the Zipline, the last one we did in Vietnam made Stac visibly terrified, but she was actually quite looking forward to this one. They had two lines so we could zip down together on the 800m line from the mainland to a small island. The zipline was great fun and the view from the air, a couple of hundred feet above the islands was amazing, definitely one of the best things to do here.
After one week in El Nido, we were already leaving to head on our way back to Cebu, looking forward to a few days there relaxing before Singapore, almost June already, time is going so quickly…