With Rachael leaving me to explore the Philippines alone (long story), I began my weeklong visit with two days exploring El Nido.
El Nido is located at the northern tip of the island of Palawan, making it the perfect location to explore the 45 islands of the Bacuit archipelago.
I spent my first afternoon in the small town relaxing on the beach, which was surprisingly empty. However, this soon changed as it reached 4pm and the day’s island hopping tours began to return to land. Before long I was surrounded by the traditional Philippine Bangka boats and their disembarking passengers.
I spent the evening in the busy Happiness Beach Bar, enjoying some excellent middle-eastern food and very cheap San Miguel beers. Despite it seeming like the party was only just getting started, I returned to my hostel relatively early in preparation for my own island hopping tour the following day.
The Bacuit archipelago is a Protected Area, and the island tours are therefore heavily regulated. Although there are many different tour operators, the tours itineraries are standardised into four options – Tour A, B, C or D.
This was a difficult decision to make given I only had time for one of the tours. Some research narrowed the choice down to A or C, which are the renowned as the best options, and after flipping a coin I chose Tour C. This was booked with El Nido Paradise and cost a very reasonable 1,400PHP (£21) plus an Eco Tax of 200PHP (£3).
We met our guide on the beach early the following morning, and after boarding our Bangka we were soon on the way to our first destination of Helicopter Island.
Officially known as Dilumacad, the side profile of the island has more than a passing resemblance to a helicopter, minus the propellor of course. Our crew anchored the boat just short of the white sand beach, allowing us time for some photos and a quick swim before continuing to our next stop.
We continued to Secret Beach, which can only be accessed by snorkelling through a narrow opening in a limestone wall. When my turn came to swim through, I submerged my head in the water and much to my horror, came face to face with a huge jellyfish. Our guide casually picked up the football-sized creature to show me it was harmless, but I wasn’t convinced and quickly swam through to the safety of the beautiful beach.
After returning to the boat we continued through the bay, passing many other islands including one that is home to a very secluded (and I’m guessing expensive) luxury resort.
The next stop on our tour was at Star Beach, where we would be having lunch. As we arrived we joined the row of other boats lined up along the dazzling white sand.
After spending some time relaxing on the beach while the crew cooked our lunch, we were called back onboard to eat. We enjoyed some delicious unicorn fish and crispy pork with rice, before finishing with watermelon for dessert.
We stopped again just a short distance away for some more snorkelling. This was probably the best spot of the day, and we were surrounded by all sorts of marine life including colourful clownfish, vivid blue starfish and some very unusual looking sea cucumbers.
Our next stop was at the Mantiloc Shrine, an abandoned site on Mantiloc Island. There was not much to the shrine itself, but as we climbed up the limestone cliffs, the view of the surrounding islands was beautiful.
Our final stop of the day was at Hidden Beach, which as the name would suggest is almost completely concealed by the surrounding rocks. The water here was shallow, and this meant it was a long swim to reach the secluded beach. Our tour had the place almost entirely to ourselves, with most of the other boats having already left. We came across some more interesting fish, including some very territorial ones that had a nibble at my ankle.
We then began our journey back to El Nido, to complete a brilliant day of island hopping. Despite being tired from the long day out on the boat, once back in town I quickly showered and changed before taking a tricycle to nearby Corong Corong Beach. The western facing beach is lined with several bars and restaurants, making it a popular spot for sunset.
I chose to visit the Panorama Beach Club, and found a great spot to enjoy a cold beer and watch the sun slowly disappear behind the islands on the horizon.
I had a great time in El Nido, and would have loved to stay longer and experience more than one of the island hopping tours. Despite quickly becoming more popular, the small ramshackle town does not yet feel overwhelmed by tourists. It has a relaxed backpacker vibe, and with lots of different food and drink options it is the ideal place to spend a few days.
However, as always I was on a tight schedule with lots more places still to visit. The following morning, after a delicious breakfast from Glow, I was on my way back to the airport for my next flight to the island of Cebu.