Tuesday, June 14, 2011

El Nido:Uniquely El Nido!

Flashback to few years back - it was an Amazing Race episode where I saw the contestants rapelling down a limestone cliff, riding a speedboat in the bluest of blue ocean and finally checking in to this resort resembling a beach paradise where a grinning Phil Keoghan welcomed them to El Nido,Palawan. Then it was a frenzy of 'googling', I finally discovered about El Nido and how it finally found a place in the bucket list of places to visit.

[TRAVEL TIP] If you don't have thousands of pesos (which I don't have) to spend for an overnight in the upscale resorts, the best option for a budget friendly trip to El Nido is to stay in El Nido town. The beach in El Nido town is not something spectacular because it is what lies beyond those limestone cliffs and the great blue sea that people came to see and experience - this is the famous El Nido Island hopping activity. Island hopping tours are grouped into Tour A, B and C.There are several tour companies that arranges the island hopping tour, there will be no problem if you are not a big group because they would usually join you with other groups as well. Rates for the island hopping tours is the same among the tour companies. [We took the tour from KrisKlein, it is the burger stand near the street entrance of Marina Garden - look for Ate Lanie]

We were supposed to go for two island hopping tour but due to a last minute discovery (a teaser for my next post), we have opted to just get one island hopping tour. Per recommendation of the receptionist at the resort where we stayed, we choose Tour A which is comprised of the following: Small & Big lagoon, Secret lagoon, Simisu Island and 7 Commandos beach. The tour priceis 900 Php inclusive of lunch. We also rented the snorkel and mask for 100 Php.

Our second morning in El Nido is bright and sunny, a perfect weather for beach hopping. At around 9am, we were called to join a group for the tour which were composed of a balikbayan family from the Windy City and a petite Pinay with her Dutch boyfriend. We exchanged a few shy smiles with the group as we settled into our place in the ferry boat.

Small Lagoon, is the first stop of the tour. The boat anchored among the limestone cliffs, and we can only see a small opening where one can only swim or kayak to be able to enter it. We scrambled down the boat, to enter the clear water and swam (with our lifevest for precautionary measures) towards the small opening. Upon entering the lagoon, I was engulfed by the deep emerald water and surrounded by craggy stones. As I looked down, I can't see the bottom of the lagoon which would probably mean it is really really deep. As I scanned the whole lagoon, there is definitely nothing small with this lagoon - now I am so excited what the BIG lagoon has in store for us. I felt like one of the character from the famous Alex Garland novel - The Beach when I suddenly heard several whacking noise and a gruff voice saying "one by one, four by four". I turned to our boatman Kuya Dodoy (who also serves as our tour guide) to ask him what the structure the they were building is for. He said "Para sa Survivor yan, buti na lang ngayon tayo pumunta dito baka bukas sarado na to" (translation: "It is for the Survivor series, good thing we were able to come today because they might close this for tourist tomorrow"). 

The guy in the yellow kayak is from the Survivor production team..see the props he is transporting
Our next stop is Simisu island for some snorkeling and lunch. The fish and pork still need to grilled, so we have some time to snorkel, soak in the sand, swim or take pictures before we take our lunch. After about 30 minutes we are called in to eat to feast, the lunch was a smorgasboard of grilled fish with the soy sauce dipping, grilled liempo, cucumber salad, a vegetable viand, fresh fruits and rice. It was so good to eat with your hands as you pinch a small flesh of fish/a chunk of liempo and rice straight to your mouth..yum! yum!. As we share a meal, the people in our tour group started to share some bits and pieces of themselves - we found out that the balikbayan family haven't been back in the Philippines for almost 20+ years already and now they are planning to spend more than a month vacationing in different places in the Philippines and that El Nido is their first stop and they are going to Cebu in a few days. A dose of love story from the Pinay on how she met and eventually fell in love with the Dutch guy and how the guy would visit her in Philippines and that it is actually their second time now in El Nido. As the saying goes, share a meal and win a friend or was it share a seat?

With hunger pangs gone, our next stop is Big Lagoon. As we neared the entrance of the Big lagoon, our boatman stopped the motor and said that we cannot go any further because the tide is low. Our option is to kayak into the Big lagoon or walk until the entrance. No one seems to take the offer to kayak, so I bravely asked Kuya Dodoy if it's ok if we take the kayak together with my friend E. And it was one of the best decision - It felt like a scene out of a National Geographic film. A lone kayak makes its way unto an opening of two huge limestone cliff. It slowly wades into the calm dark blue waters of the lagoon that opens out into the sea. The water is calm as the paddle sliced the water as if it is cutting through glass.

After the Big Lagoon, we are off to find the Secret lagoon. It was called secret lagoon because you have to get into a hole to be able to reach this lagoon. We docked into one of the beach, and we walked through slippery stones/corals to reach the opening of the Secret lagoon. The secret lagoon is like the Bat cave's swimming pool (if Batman has one) - it is totally enclosed by the limestone cliffs, the lagoon is not deep as it reached only until my mid calf.After spending a few minutes inside the lagoon which is not that secret anymore, we explored the beach just beside it and found a toilet bowl amidst the coconut trees. Rumor has it that this was used as an island for another Survivor series (Survivor again!)

The final stop of the day is the 7 Commandos beach where there is a convenience (sari-sari) store whose specialty is fresh buko juice (coconut juice). Just the perfect way to cap a day out on the beach, sand and sun is by cooling off with a fresh buko juice. This is also a good spot to snorkel - I was able to see blue corals, a small squid, colorful fishes. It is just like being in a big big aquarium.
7 Commando beach
As the sun slowly sets in the horizon, we got back into the boat. I am now ten times tanner than this morning, my hair is tied in a knot and tastes like salt and I just scraped my knee from a sharp coral but I got a big big smile on my face. It was such a unique experience that El Nido gave me to take home - witnessing the beauty of it's marine life from colorful fishes to oddly shaped corals, swimming inside lagoons, sharing life stories with strangers, sipping fresh coconut juice in a sandy white beach, kayaking through the Big lagoon, claiming to fame how I was there when Survivor (country unknown) was setting up for probably an immunity challenge. It was Uniquely El Nido!


  1. For Tour A, Secret Lagoon is the one I love the most. So scenic. :)

  2. Swimming pool ni batman yun :P My special spot siguro sa akin si Big Lagoon kasi sobrang feel na feel ko yung pagkayak papunta sa loob. Too bad konti lang pics nakuha ko natakot kasi mabasa ang cam :D