With 45 islands within its territory, it is a no-brainer that El Nido is a gold mine for Philippine tourism. This destination north of Palawan consistently ranked as one of the top beach destinations in the world. I couldn’t argue against it after having spent four full days of exploring its corners and getting mesmerized by its sheer beauty. El Nido is definitely a head turner!
El Nido was once a destination associated with the rich and the famous. Two upscale resorts were at the forefront of its tourism during its earlier years that direct flights from Manila were exclusively for their guests. Those who were on a budget would have to endure a gruelling one hour flight to Puerto Princesa and another 5 hour land trip to the town. It has become more lenient and affordable these days with daily direct flights to El Nido from Manila, Clark, Cebu, and Puerto Princesa.
Touching down a little past 8am at El Nido airport, I was totally blown away by its quaint and elegant design. It was as if I was walking into a hotel lobby. It gives you a glimpse of its “exclusivity” and its glamorous past. My trike driver who fetched me hmentioned that it was only this year that commercial flights were allowed at El Nido airport. I guess luck was on my side on this trip (this would prove to be an understatement later on).
The town center sits along the shoreline of Bacuit Bay. With islands scattered along its vast expanse of seawaters, El Nido has a lot of nooks and crannies to explore and discover with varying degrees of interests. For starters, there are a number of tours that you can choose from that showcase the varied personality of its natural wonders. I have decided to focus on its lagoons and caves on this first installment of my blog which is consistent with the community’s Tour A and Tour B offers.
Let us hop on a boat and explore the famous lagoons and dramatic caves of El Nido!
Tour A: Luck ‘n Lagoons
Tour A is one of the two popular tours in El Nido. It is often referred to as the Lagoon Tour because the main highlights are El Nido’s saltwater lagoons. These natural attractions are one of the most photographed and shared on social media because of its raw beauty.
Seven Commandos Beach
A stretch of white sand, turquoise blue waters, soaring limestone formations, and coconut trees lined along its shoreline make a perfect backdrop for a tropical paradise. This is how I imagined Seven Commandos Beach without the holiday crowd. But our visit was a bit different because it was a holiday weekend in the Philippines and the crowd was bigger than usual. Nevertheless, it was still a beauty to admire.
At the center of the island is a photo op spot that shows a caricature of seven soldiers. The island derives its name from seven soldiers who once lived in the island. Locals claim that the names of the seven soldiers are etched on a rock in the island, the exact location unknown.
At present, the beach was developed to cater to its guests. Small huts now line the shore intertwined with coconut trees. A fave attraction is a swing where one can get the thrill of riding on to get a different view of the island.
The first of the three lagoons to discover during the tour. The lagoon also had the biggest mark for me on this trip. Situated in the island of Miniloc, the Small Lagoon got its name because of its size compared to its bigger counterpart. Hahahaha!
Our boat docked close to the entry point where you can choose to swim or rent a kayak, for Php200 per head, to get inside the lagoon. We reckoned that going by kayak would be the best way to enjoy the views of the Small Lagoon.
We paddled our way from the boat docking station to the small entrance of the lagoon. The entrance is so small that only one kayak could fit right through and, with the holiday crowd, there was a queue of those going in and going out.
As soon as we got through, we were amazed by the view of the lagoon. The green and perfectly still waters of the lagoon were glimmering from the sun rays breaking through the towering limestones surrounding it. I could only imagine the peaceful ambiance of the place if it was not crowded with holiday tourists. It was a perfect spot to sit still and enjoy nature’s sanctuary. You could close your eyes and listen to the quiet hum of the wind and the rustling of the winds which was often broken by a shriek of excitement. It was a beauty that will both excite and keep you at peace. The scene got me so excited that as we paddled on, I accidentally dropped my phone into its cool waters.
As soon as I saw the purple phone case sinking down the depths of the Small Lagoon. I jumped off the kayak in an attempt to save it but to no avail. I looked for our guide who then asked one of his men to get his gears from our boat and he even asked one of the guides if he could try to get it. The waters were murky so the guide borrowed a snorkeling gear. His first attempt was futile. I was trying not to panic when the guide broke through the waters and raised my phone. He was able to retrieve it on his second attempt. I felt relieved and, thanks to IG: @lifeproofasia, my phone was safe and sound.
The experience was a mini heart attack but thanks to the local guides who went out of their way to help a stranger. It was an experience that made a mark on me where I saw how Filipinos are more than willing to lnd a hand to anyone. This was El Nido to me.
Recovering from the mishap, our tour group went on to enjoy a different kind of lagoon. The one that is often visited while being hushed by the massive limestones that hides it - the Secret Lagoon.
A short swim from the docking area is a small break where one needs to go through enter a small lagoon surrounded by towering limestones. The waters in the lagoon is not deep but its waters are murky. There is nothing much to see except for the limestones that enclose the lagoon secretly.
Adjacent to the lagoon’s entrance is a white sand beach strip where our lunch was served. The cove is protected by limestone formations. A unique feature of the beach is a semi-enclosed tavern guarded by huge rocks with towering coconut trees scattered in the area. It is a photogenic spot for your pictures.
The biggest of all the three lagoons is also one of the best and memorable to experience. It is as beautiful as that of the Small Lagoon but it is far more majestic. And just like the Small Lagoon, it is best enjoyed on a kayak.
Imagine walking along knee high waters with towering limestone formations on both sides leading to the actual lagoon. It was like walking along a river that is pinned by two canyons. It made me feel that I was in a set of Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park.
As you enter the lagoon, you will be amazed by its size. The dark green still waters tell you that it is very deep. The large crowd of tourists were dwarfed by its wide expanse and towering limestone walls. There is enough space to find a perfect spot where you can stop paddling, relax, chill with the afternoon sun, and enjoy the view.
There are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore. On one side of the lagoon is a small mangrove area where you can see its clear waters and what lives underneath its waters. There is even a small cave that you can navigate through.
The Big Lagoon was a great way to conclude the tour. The beauty of its breadth will definitely keep you in awe, leaving a huge impression in every tourist.
Tour B: Two Caves and A Bar
With a wide area to discover and explore, it is not a surprise that El Nido is blessed with a wide selection of natural attractions under and above its waters. El Nido is not just about lagoons and white sand beaches. There is a different side of El Nido that has its own story to share.
One thing that El Nido has that you will never tire out is the white sand beaches and every tour will more often include a beach spot in its itinerary. Entalula Island is another favorite beach stop in its tours. The island was once open to the public until it was sold by its owners to a luxurious resort. The resort have cordoned off part of the island for the exclusive use of its guests while the smaller coves remained open to the public.
Characterized by white sand, turquoise blue waters, and towering limestones, it is quite easy to fall in love with Entalula Island. The beach cove where we made our stop had a limestone rock jutting out of its waters giving the view a dramatic feel. We took the opportunity to take photos of the cove from various angles while the other guests went on to enjoy its cool waters. After a while, I took the time to just enjoy the view and the guests enjoying the island.
Snake Island is not exactly an island. It is a sandbar that connects Vigan Island to Pagauanen Island. The s-shaped white sandbar looks like a snake between the two island from a view deck in Vigan Island. It is best to visit the sandbar during low tide to get a full view of its snaking to Pagauanen Island.
A short trek from the boat’s drop off point on Vigan Island will get you to the island’s highest point. The view deck offers a panoramic view of the sandbar and the surrounding areas. This is where you get to see the sandbar snaking through the waters between Vigan and Pagauanen. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to see a carnivorous plant along the trail.
Our guide cautioned us from walking the length of the sandbar because we came in during the high tide and stingrays might be present on the submerged sandbar. We did try to walk a short distance just for our photos while enjoying its cool waters flowing between our legs.
Cudugnon Cave and Beach Cove
A cave that was once an ancient burial site of earlier civilizations of Palawan is now an interesting cave to visit when you find yourself in El Nido.
One needs to crawl through a small opening to get inside the cave. Once inside, you will be amazed by huge cavity inside the limestone formations. The cave has a pungent smell of bat poop since it also serves as a home to hundred of bats. One can also climb up to the upper level where you will be awed by the beautiful rock formations. The light streaming from the ceiling of the cave gives the scene a more dramatic feel.
A few meters from the cave opening is a small beach cove. The beach stands out with its white sand and peaceful ambiance. The beach has been developed by its owners. Beach huts can be rented out by tourists and guests.
Cathedral Cave/Pinasil Island
Another famous cave is the Cathedral Cave at Pinasil Island. The name of the island is roughly translated to mean “tinapon” which means thrown. Pinasil Island juts out of the sea like a huge rock thrown in the middle of the sea.
The islands main attraction is the Cathedral Cave - a huge cave that opens to the sea. Boats are only allowed to dock at the mouth of the cave. Boats were allowed to enter before but are no longer allowed now due to safety reasons. So tourists can only admire the huge cavity and its rock formations from its opening.
Pinagbuyatan Island is said to be shrouded with mystery. Locals share of the story of sea clams said to be found at the top of the island’s limestone rock formations.
But beyond the mysterious story, one would definitely be charmed by the beauty of Pinagbuyutan. The tropical vibe runs along its shores with its white sand shoreline complete with coconut trees.
The amazing views of Pinagbuyutan Island.
I opted to just lie down by the island’s grass and enjoy the cool breeze and the afternoon sun. Definitely, the best way to enjoy the beach.
Post Travel Notes
El Nido definitely fortified a unique travel experience for me. Blessed with a very diverse collection of natural attractions, it definitely has the right mix to claim to be one of the best in the world. It has definitely fortified that the locals make a spot on difference in giving their guests a meaningful and unique travel experience. The human element make the stark difference in making an impression to their guests. I have experienced how locals took care of me at the time that I needed help and that act alone made a huge impression on this trip.
The diversity in the attraction was enough to keep me excited throughout my stay. El Nido is not just a beach destination. For the most part of it, it is but it has other sides to explore and discover. Think of it as its appetizers. It is enough to get you excited for El Nido’s main course.
And just what exactly is its “main course”? Find out on the next serving of my El Nido trip.
Getting there: The fastest way to get to Coron is via Air Swift who have direct flights from Manila, Clark, and Cebu. One can also opt to fly in through Puerto Princesa and then take a 5-hour land trip to Coron. The latter option is the cheaper alternative.
There are a lot of accommodations in El Nido that cater to every kind of traveler. Nido Bay Inn is an affordable beachfront accommodation. You may reach them through +639275608535. You can also arrange your island tours with them without additional fees as the tours have standard rates. A Php200 environmental fee is charged at the hotel/resort. You need to bring the receipt with you always.
Tour A is at Php1200 and Tour B is at Php1300. All tours come with a grilled buffet lunch.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.