My mom and I spent a magical week in Palawan in July, and here’s a detailed blog about how we did it. But first here are some of our highlights…
El Nido was definitely the highlight of our trip. Here’s a map I drew for my cousin with my favourite places highlighted.
Island hopping tours – we only did Tour A which was great. We used Pearl Gates Tours, they were excellent. Normal price is 1200 pesos but we paid 1000 pesos ($22) each for a day tour from 9am – 2pm including lunch (yummy fresh fish, octopus, salad, fruit, rice) including snorkelling gear. Our guide was really funny too! There are many tour companies to choose from, but I can recommend these guys. If you are coming down the main road towards the beach, they are located down the main side road (to the right) closest to the beach. Walk down a while and they are just past the first massage shop you see on the right hand side. They also organised our transportation back to Sabang and the Underground River tour for us. They were really great. (Contact Ryan or Jesse at Pearl Gates Tours: 0917 4853 740 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pina Coladas and fresh coconut water at Coco Bar.
Live music (really good local musos covering Sting when we were there) and yummy food (fresh fish and we even tried the delicacy Bird’s Nest Soup….mmmm) at Sea Slugs.
Cheap local beer – San Miguel, 35 pesos ($0.7) a beer!
The Art Cafe – very overpriced foreigner hangout, but nice vibe and live music at night.
A day trip to Las Cabanas beach (only a $120 peso tricycle ride up the main road). It was special, just white, palm tree-lined beach. Great for a relaxing day on the beach. The Beach Shack Cafe had yummy mango smoothies too.
Diving… aaah my first diving experience and I’m addicted. I paid $3500 pesos ($80) as I needed a guide with me and first-time dive training. It’s a lot cheaper if you have your PADI. It was from 9am to about 2pm and included tea, cakes and fruit. Andy was our Dive Master, great guy, from El Bahura Divers. You can’t miss them, they are located down the main road, just up from the beach, next to the crepe shop. The Dive Shop is owned by a friendly Aussie guy, but you can contact Andy on 092 623 61539.
Fresh fish for dinner at any of the restaurants lining the ocean front.
El Nido sunsets = heaven.
The island dogs – so many of them, so hungry, yet so gentle taking food.
1. HOW WE GOT AROUND
Puerto Princesa > El Nido
We flew into Puerto Princesa, the island’s capital. After reading a few travel blogs, I knew I didn’t want to spend much time in Puerto, so we headed straight out, and caught a van to El Nido. Most blogs say that you need to catch a tricycle to San Jose Terminal in order to get a bus/van from there. We didn’t have to though, as we exited the airport someone approached us and we joined a van with some other travellers. It cost 600 Pesos ($13) each for a 6 hour ride. There is also the option to take a bus which is cheaper, but it takes longer and the locals say the buses are getting older now and not as comfortable as they used to be (see HERE for more info on transport). Our 6 hour ride ended up taking longer because we had to drive through typhoon rain and winds, and got a flat tyre along the way. The roads were really bad, lots of potholes and washed out in some spots. Our driver was excellent however and never took any chances.
Around El Nido
In El Nido, we walked a lot. It felt good to walk and explore. Tricycles around town are everywhere and cost 50 pesos ($1) to get around. You can also hire motorbikes in town. We caught a tricycle up to Las Cabanas beach which cost about 120 pesos ($2.7). We really enjoyed this beach area which is accessible through a green palm tree like forest. It’s a beautiful long beach, lined with palm trees and was really peaceful and quiet when we were there. Great for swimming too.
El Nido > Sabang > Puerto Princesa
On our way back to Puerto we went via Sabang (to do the Underground River). It cost 900 Pesos ($20), and we stayed the night in Sabang. I booked this through the people we did our island hopping tour with – Pearl Gates Tours. They were great (see contact info below under HIGHLIGHTS).
In El Nido
I had pre-booked our first 3 nights accommodation. I’d recommend not pre-booking, especially if you’re going out of season as we did. Accommodation in El Nido is tricky. You could stay in a hostel for 500 Pesos ($11) per night for 3 people sharing (160 pesos/$3 each), share a beach hut right on the beach for 600 Pesos ($13 a night) or stay in a beautiful resort overlooking the lagoon for 6000 Pesos ($145) per night. It’s really best to check it out when you there, because what may look beautiful online is not necessarily so. Of course, in season its necessary to book.
View Deck Cottages: I was travelling with my mom so we wanted our own bathroom. The first 3 nights we stayed at View Deck Cottages, just a short walk up the main road to the beach, built in the cliffs and overlooking the Bacuit Bay of El Nido. I thought we could spend the first few nights in greenery and the last 2 nights on the beach. We paid 2000 Pesos ($50) a night, exceeding breakfast. Our stay was okay. We stayed in a different room every night. We had to move from the first room because the electricity wasn’t working, the second room was dark and dingy and had no view, and finally our last room was what I had imagined when I booked (as per the picture online) – a quaint looking room, with a wooden view deck overlooking the Bacuit Bay. We had been told there’d be hot water, but we didn’t have one hot (or even warm) shower the entire time. Although a beautiful location with a lot of potential, a few simple things could’ve made it better. It just felt like it was lacking the feminine touch and that they were trying to skimp on money, a lot. We could have breakfast for an extra 100 Pesos ($2), which was just a small omelette, some toast and jam and a banana. Also instant 3-in-1 coffee was available. Rudy and his team were accommodating, although I probably won’t stay there again.
Cadlao Beach Resort: We splashed out for our last 2 nights and it was really a nice treat. Perhaps a bit expensive but we enjoyed our stay there. Our cottage was set in beautiful gardens, there was an infinity pool and great restaurant overlooking the ocean. The beach here is rocky though however so you can’t really swim, its more for viewing. It’s basically located on the right end of El Nido, we walked in to town (we passed by a local village with a non-profit school and old cemetery – took some nice pics). It’s probably about a 10 minute stroll along the beach into town. They do offer a free shuttle too.
We paid 6000 Pesos ($145) per night which included a delicious breakfast. We also had a massage here overlooking the pool and gardens, which was probably the best one we had in El Nido (the ones in town were very average, not good at all).
By the time we’d reached Sabang, where the infamous Underground River is located, we had run out of cash. We really wanted to go cheap, and stay in a beach cottage but there was nowhere, and I mean nowhere, to get cash. The only place that would offer us cash back on our credit card was The Sheridan if we stayed there! We needed the cash to pay for the Underground River tour the next day. The Sheridan was also about $6000 pesos ($145) a night (it was easy to negotiate because of low season), including a really good buffet breakfast. I really didn’t want to stay there, I don’t like big hotels and thought the price was exuberant. But it was actually a nice stay.. they had the longest pool I’ve ever seen, jacuzzi and very yummy pina coladas. We had dinner at a quaint little restaurant, on the beach to the right of the hotel. It was reasonable, and probably one of the best dishes we had in Palawan.
In Puerto Princesa
We spent our last night in Puerto, as we were flying out the next day. We stayed at One Manalo Place as recommended by fellow travellers in El Nido. It was great value for money and only a few minutes from the airport. The service was excellent, room was great, as was the complementary breakfast. Theres also a Thai spa next door that offers a big selection of massages at reasonable rates. We paid around 2800 pesos ($60) for the room. Again, they were negotiable. They had a great pool too and were very accommodating.
3. NEXT TIME I’LL PASS
To be honest, if I did it again, I wouldn’t have gone to Sabang for the Underground River. It was beautiful, especially the water just outside the cave. Once inside its dark, the rock formations are interesting, but maybe coming from South Africa, I’ve seen this kind of thing before. It was also very touristy, and you only go about 45 minutes into the cave, plus you have to catch another boat from Sabang to get there (I think it took about 20 minutes). At the airport, I bumped into the 3 German dudes that were on our original van ride up to El Nido. They had just spent a few days in Port Barton instead, and highly recommended it.
Also, there’s really not much going on in Puerto Princesa. It’s a typical Asian city. We were told to go check out the Bay Walk area along the river, which we did but everything was closed, it felt like a ghost town. I’m sure it’s really festive at other times.
One good thing in Puerto is the souvenir shopping. Theres a specific souvenir shop area that has every kind of souvenir imaginable at much cheaper prices than El Nido. Save your shopping for here.
Take enough cash. It’s possible in the afternoon from about 3 – 5pm to get cash back at the gas station (with 5% commission of course) or at The Art Cafe. Otherwise there’s no ATMs in El Nido. Budget and make sure you take enough pesos. Some restaurants and accommodation will take credit cards of course. We ran out of cash and couldn’t draw any in Sabang, so if you’re heading that way and don’t have cash, try get some before leaving El Nido. (There are ATMs in Puerto though).
You’ll need to pay 200 pesos for a 7 day environmental pass in El Nido. It’s once off, I think it was 200 pesos.
Also in Sabang, it’ll be 40 pesos for the enviro fee.
And at the airports you have to pay terminal fees – 150 pesos in El Nido and 550 pesos in Puerto Princesa, so take that into account. We had spent all our pesos in Puerto, but luckily they took credit cards.
Lastly, El Nido is a very special and beautiful place and well worth the mission to get there. The best thing to do is surrender, whether it’s to the rain or lack of electricity or below-par accommodation you may have booked. Release your expectations a little and you’ll be in for an unforgettable adventure.
(To read my previous blog on Palawan, “The Place That Stole My Heart”, click HERE).