El Nido is an enchantress. Her charm will transport you to her as you look back to the memories created during your visit. With 45 islands, hundreds of secluded coves, lagoons, white sand shorelines, limestone rock formations, caves, and turquoise blue waters, it is hard not to fall in love with one of the hottest destination in the world. El Nido will impress you and will make you want for more.
El Nido was originally known as Bacuit. Its present name was adopted in 1954, named after the Spanish word “nido” or nest with reference to the swiftlet’s nest used as an ingredient in a soup of the same name. Local story claim that the beauty of the municipality was accidentally discovered in 1979 by divers. The past decades have seen its growth in tourism with the entry of high end resorts in a number of private islands and the birth of tourism establishments around town. El Nido was declared a protected area in 1998 because of its diverse ecosystem.
Going In Land
But before we head out to explore the beaches in El Nido, this town has a bunch of interesting sites to explore even without boarding a boat. So I braved its streets and boarded a trike to explore two (or is it three?) its popular inland destinations.
Nestled at the heart of town, the Taraw Cliffs is a popular spot among tourists because its peak offers a panoramic view of the town and Bacuit Bay. The limestone formations towers over the town like a guardian. However, an accident in 2016 that almost caused the life of a local guide prompted local officials to close down the highest point of Taraw for safety reasons.
But do not fret because there is a safer way to enjoy the view above the cliffs. It is not as high but the view remains amazing. The Canopy Walk is a safer alternative for those who want to experience the views above the cliffs. The experience will take to a walk through a mangrove area, climb through stone faces, cross a hanging bridge, and navigate through a steel staircase mounted on rock faces to a view deck high above town. Local guides lead the way and pause at certain points of the canopy to share information about El Nido and make you appreciate the view.
The view deck offers an awesome bird’s eye view of the town. The guides know the spots where they can take your photos to capture the amazing view. Since I came in close to midday, the line of guests were not that much and we had more time to enjoy the view.
The Canopy Walk experience will take you safely up and down the cliff within 45 minutes to an hour. The people behind it are the same people who helped establish the Masungi Reserve in Tanay. They are currently installing an extension of the canopy which will feature a huge dreamcatcher once finished. Ot is the safest way to enjoy the cliffs of Taraw.
Nacpan - Calitang Twin Beach
45 mins away from the town proper by tricycle is one of the popular spots in El Nido. The Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach is a beach strip that stands back-to-back on the northern part of El Nido. The two beaches converge on the eastern part of the strip.
My first encounter with the twin beach was aboard my Airswift flight from Clark as we were on our final descent to El Nido Airport. I had a full bird’s eyeview of the twin beach from my window seat. The strip of white sand was enough to excite me to check it out.
Calitang Beach is the smaller beach spot. The cove is where you will find local boats docked for safety and this is also the side where you will find most of the local residents’ homes.
Nacpan Beach is the longer strip of white sand beach with a number of private establishment that dot its beachfront. It is the touristy side of the twin beach with cottages, huts, and bars that cater to its guests. It is also a great place to watch and enjoy the sunset.
Unfortunately, the hill located on the east side where you can get the best view of the twin beach is off limits to tourists and guests. It was cordoned off by a private developer/owner pending a court case resolution.
Tour C - When The Sea Beckons
Did you know that El Nido has about 50 white sand beaches to explore? We covered a couple of these beaches on my first serving and this time we are going to beach around El Nido.
Tour C is referred to as the “Beach Tour” mainly because the destinations featured in this tour are the pristine beach spots of El Nido, both the hidden and the unhidden. Although there are some beach strips that you would have to admire from afar as it is privately-owned, there are tens of others that you can enjoy and relax on while under the sun.
Helicopter Island is one island that you will get to see and admire from afar when you get on the other tours. It is one of the islands located at the mouth of Bacuit Bay and serves as one of the “guardians” of the town. Its shape is said to be similar to a helicopter without the blades and it is because of that shape that it earned the name “Helicopter Island”.
Also known as Dilumacad Island, the island is also characterized by towering limestone rock formations, lush greeneries, and a white sand beach strip where the tours make their stop. Its underwater scene also bursts out with life and different colors that you can also try snorkeling in the area.
I found myself setting up under one of the shade of the trees while immersing myself with the beach view. Again, the holiday crowd was still there. There is a small WWF kiosk where you can read about the diverse marine life found in the area. This was the third day that I was exploring El Nido that I opted to just chill out under the shade and enjoy the view.
You can explore further down the beach but the shorelines on that end are rockier. It is the best place to get a panoramic view of the island and the other islands surrounding it. It is also a better option to chill down because the crowd is thinner in the area.
A huge limestone boulder hides the view of the beach from the sea. In fact, it looks like a plain limestone jutting out from the waters and, if not for the presence of boats in the area, you wouldn’t think that some good spot is out there. This is Hidden Beach - a spot that is hidden no more.
Our boat docked a few meters away from the entrance of Hidden Beach. From that point, one would have to navigate through waves and swim towards the entrance of the beach. You then have to wade through knee high waters through its “canyons” before you can unhide the beauty of Hidden Beach.
Hidden Beach is a huge white sand cove protected by limestones from the sea. The water is not too deep that both the young and old can enjoy its cool waters. From its shoreline, you can actually sea another entry point that opens directly to the sea on its left side. When the sun is getting too hot, you can find shelter under the shade of trees in the area.
You can also explore the inner right part of the cove where you will find a smaller cove within the confines of limestone rocks. Saltwater gushes in with the waves. This is the third entry point of Hidden Beach although it is a lot trickier to navigate because you have to go through the crevices of its limestones to get in and out.
I reckon that Hidden Beach is a great place to slow down and commune with nature, if you have the place for yourself. I can imagine the peace it offers with its cool waters and the sound of the wind and sea without the holiday crowd.
Matinloc Island / Matinloc Shrine
An island with a veil of mystery that started in 1982 when a group built a retreat place and shrine on the island. The place was later abandoned leaving a trail of stories that border from mysterious to creepy in reference to its history.
The shrine is now privately-owned and an entrance fee is collected before you can explore the shrine premises. The still waters between Matinloc Island and Tapiutan Island is a stopover during the tour for lunch, snorkeling, and a quick swim. You can view the shrine and what remains of the retreat house as you pass through its docking area.
Not far from the shrine is another secret that is no longer a secret to me - the Secret Beach. The beach got its name because of its location. One needs to swim from the docking area of the boat towards a small opening along the limestones that surround the cove. With proper timing, one hauls himself or herself into the opening with the help of the wave to get inside the Secret Beach.
Just like the other beaches in El Nido, the Secret Beach is characterized by its white sand shores surrounded by towering limestones. Its stark difference is the challenge on how to get to the beach and the combination of rocky and sandy seafloor.
The sandy shoreline have pocket areas where you can sit down to just chill out. The space is limited though and, when you have the holiday crowd, a peaceful spot away from the crowd is hard to find.
With the holiday crowd in El Nido at the time of our visit, Talisay Beach was a breather. It was the only beach spot during our tour that did not have the holiday crowd. In fact, our group was the only one on the beach so we got to enjoy our own piece in El Nido.
As our boat docked close by the shore, we all found our own piece of paradise in Talisay Beach. I settled down under the shadows of its towering limestone cliffs where I enjoyed the tropical view of the beach cove. It was a great way to enjoy the serene beach atmosphere of Talisay with its white sand and tropical vibe.
I also took time to enjoy the clear waters of the beach that was teeming with marine life. It was fun capturing images of its rich and colorful underwater scene. I took my time enjoying swimming with the schools of fishes in the area. I felt that I was in my element.
Talisay Beach was a great way to end my El Nido trip. Taking a peaceful break from the holiday crowd in my own piece of tropical paradise.
Post Travel Notes
El Nido is a beauty. It is one of those Philippine destinations that is popular among foreigners and has slowly gained traction among local travelers. Its traction on tourism cannot be questioned because of the innate beauty of its islands. It has a lot to offer for those who want that tropical vibe.
However, its strong presence in the tourism front poses a threat to its lucrative trade. The developments happening in town to accommodate the demands is a danger to its economy. With what is happening to Boracay, I feel that El Nido might be bordering towards the same fate unless the local government take action to address its issues like the structure along the shores of the town. It is an issue that most Philippine destinations are facing that I hope is properly addressed before it’s too late.
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 +63927 5608535. 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 C is at Php1400. All tours come with a grilled buffet lunch.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.