Saturday, April 15, 2017

My El Nido Adventure

I've always thought of El Nido as a destination that is beyond my budget. Whenever I would suggest it to my friends for our next barkada outing, they'd always say, "mahal ang El Nido" (El Nido is expensive). So of course, we'd pick a place that is within our tipid budget.

I've never given up on El Nido, though. It's always been a dream of mine to visit Palawan, but I didn't know that I'd get to see it sooner rather than later.

Last year, AirAsia had a seat sale and without even thinking twice, I booked a round trip Manila-Puerto Princesa flight for me and the Boyfriend (without his knowledge &/or consent LOL).

My friends were making plans for us to go to Hongkong, but I was getting antsy with all the planning and nobody was even buying tickets, so I went ahead and purchased my own, to a different destination. They all went to Hongkong without us, but we didn't really care because, hello... El Nido!

It took me a lot of planning and budgeting, and a ton of research. I read a lot of travel blogs, I searched Google for whatever info I could find, I emailed several travel agencies for price quotations. I was deciding whether to join a tour or DIY our trip when my cousin suggested the freelance tour guide they hired during their visit. So I found him on Facebook, messaged him, and decided to hire him as our tour guide, too.

The initial plan was to join a group tour, since it was just me and the Boyfriend. The Boyfriend and I are not very social people, though, so I took a chance and asked about a private tour. And because the price difference wasn't that much, we took that one instead.

We paid for more than our initial budget for the tour, but it was worth having the bangka all to ourselves. 

Day 1, March 8 - Manila

Our Tac-Mla flight was moved up a day because our original flight was cancelled due to the radar repair. So we had to spend a night at Manila, which we spent visiting with the Boyfriend's college barkada.

Day 2, March 9 - Manila-Puerto Princesa-El Nido

The initial Plan was for Kuya Ryan (our guide) to pick us up at Puerto Princesa airport, but since he was already in El Nido, he had Kuya Ogie (the van driver) pick us up instead. He thoughtfully reserved the seat behind the driver so we'd be comfortable during the 5-hour drive. We picked up passengers along the way, and then we were off to El Nido. We stopped for dinner halfway through the drive, and we arrived at El Nido around 9 PM.

Kuya Ryan checked us in at Ricgem Place. It's a nice little lodge that is a 5-10 minute walk away from resturants and bars. Breakfast is included, and the place is clean. Clothes racks and hangers are provided for guests to hang their wet clothes after swimming. The only downside, if you're like me who only takes hot showers, is that there is no hot water.

Day 3, March 10 - El Nido Island Hopping

We planned an early start, but we got delayed because the breakfast we ordered was served late. A big group staying at the hotel ordered ahead of us, and I guess it took a while for the cook to finish all their orders.

After breakfast, Kuya Ryan met with us and we took a tricycle down to the beach where a lot of pump boats were docked. Then off we go for our tour of the islands.

We had the whole bangka to ourselves. It was just me, the Boyfriend, Kuya Ryan, and two boatmen. We initially picked tour A (Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, & 7 Commandos Beach), but since we opted for a private tour, to maximize our use of the bangka, Kuya Ryan added tour B's Snake Island and Cadugnon Point and Cave.

We went kayaking around the Small Lagoon, went swimming at the Big Lagoon, took pictures at the Secret Lagoon and Cadugnon Cave before heading off to Snake Island. There we hiked up a little hill which provided us an amazing view before heading back to the bangka to eat our lunch. After eating, the Boyfriend and I went walking along the sandbar at Snake Island, all the while taking a lot of pictures before heading back. Our last stop for the day is the 7 Commandos Beach, where we ate mais con hielo, and spent hours swimming and just bumming around.

Later that night, we walked around El Nido, and since we weren't hungry, we just grabbed a couple of burgers at a cafe.

Day 4, March 11 - Inland tour, back to Puerto Princesa

On our fourth day, we woke up early since we only planned to do a half day tour before heading back to Puerto Princesa.

We hired a tricycle to take us to Nacpan Beach, which took about an hour's drive. What's disappointing is that because of a land dispute, we weren't allowed to go up to where we can take a picture of the twin beaches. Nevertheless, Nacpan Beach was by far my favorite spot. There were very few tourists, so it felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves. The water was so clear, and the sand felt so fine.

The Boyfriend spent a lot of time swimming, while I alternated between taking a dip and lying on the sand and getting a tan. We had lunch early, then we decided to head back. But before dropping us off at our hotel, we had one last stop. 

We spent maybe a maximum of 20 minutes at Las Cabanas Beach. This is the only beach we visited where we didn't do any swimming -  we just sat there taking in everything, and appreciating the view. There were lots of tourists around, and it was fun seeing them enjoy in one of our country's most beautiful places. Come to think of it, around 90% of tourists I see in El Nido are foreigners. 

When we had our fill of the view, we went back to our hotel to have a quick shower and pack. Then we met up with Kuya Ryan again at the terminal to catch a ride back to Puerto Princesa. We arrived at around 5 PM, and checked in at Edezer Pension. It's small, but clean, and the staffs are all so nice. And it is conveniently located very near to the airport. There, we parted ways with Kuya Ryan, as he won't be accompanying us to our Underground River tour the following day. 

Since we had time to kill, we took a tricycle and went to MCA Pasalubong Center. We were supposed to buy only a few trinkets to give to our families and friends but we ended with up a box full of goodies - from cashew butter to cashew polvoron to cashew pastillas, we just took a little bit of everything.

Later that night, we had dinner at Kinabuch Grill & Bar, which is located just right across the street from where we're staying. The place was packed, which explained why the service was slow.

Day 5, March 12 - Underground River

Of course, one can't go to Puerto Princesa without seeing the Subterranean River National Park, or more commonly known as the Underground River. The van picked us up at our hotel, and we joined several others for the tour. A two hour van ride going to Sabang, followed by a short boat ride to the entrance beach. The river tour itself lasts for about 45 minutes, followed by a complimentary buffet lunch.

We were back at Puerto Princesa by 3 PM. We were supposed to have the Iwahig Firefly Watching Tour that night, but due AirAsia changing our flight's time the following day (with no prior notice; we only found out because I went to their website to buy additional baggage), we had no chioce but to cancel our tour and fly back to Manila that night, or risk missing our connecting flight back home to Tacloban the following day.

That was such a big disappointment for me, since I was really looking forward to firefly watching. I was a big fan of the teleserye Dolce Amore, and that TV show gave me some serious #alitaptapgoals. Not to mention, I wasn't able to try Puerto Princesa's delicacy, the tamilok. Tamiloks are shipworms, which can be found in rotting mangrove wood, and is served as kinilaw. I was supposed to try it that afternoon, but due to the AirAsia debacle it slipped my mind.

Mind, it was our first time flying AirAsia, and despite a long conversation with their customer service, they were unable to offer any solution other than rebooking our flight to that night. So, left with no choice we forfeited the payment that was settled for our last night's hotel stay along with the Iwahig tour. Needless to say, we are not flying AirAsia again.

After packing up our things, we went to the airport to catch our flight back to Manila. We landed at NAIA at around 9PM, went to the condo to drop off our things, and since we've got nothing better to do, we got a massage. 

We went to Hue House Massage, since it is near our place. I went for the Lavastone Massage Package D (1 hour Swedish Massage, and 1 hour Lava Stone Massage), which I recommend. By the time I got off the massage table, I was feeling so relax that I didn't even care about the AirAsia fiasco anymore.

Day 6, March 13 - Manila-Tacloban

Last day of our vacation, we packed our bags and headed to the airport. I didn't want our trip to end (I mean, seriously, who does?) but the real world is calling. 

This trip ranks up to one of my favorites, though. El Nido did not disappoint. I've been to Coron, and while I was impressed, El Nido is by far more beautiful. Even though we went over our initial budget, it was all worth it. El Nido was everything I ever expected it to be, and more.

Also, Kuya Ryan is an awesome guide. Everything was arranged by him - from our transpo to our accommodation to all the tours - we haven't had a single problem. To contact him, visit his Facebook page or call/text him at 0926-038-7378 or 0947-617-3708.

Kayaking at the Small Lagoon
Cheers to more travels together ♥

Just look at how clear the water is.

Beach bummin' at Nacpan Beach.

Rock formations at the Small Lagoon.
Overlooking Snake Island

Apparently, this monkey is a fixture at Snake Island.

Las Cabanas Beach

Crystal clear waters at Nacpan Beach

Entrance to the Big Lagoon

Nacpan Beach. Feels like we had the whole place to ourselves. 

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