By our standards, we planned this trip in a rush. Flights were booked in January and we were off to Philippines on the 1st of March. So my usual meticulous researching and prep didn’t happen. If I did do proper research, I would have realized that two weeks is nowhere near enough to see all the amazing things there are to experience in the Philippines. But, alas, 2 weeks was all that I had in the the middle of a university semester. With our limited time, we had to accept that this would be predominantly a beach holiday. One thing we knew for sure, and that is that we had to visit El Nido!
From Porto Princesca to El Nido
We wanted to get to El Nido. As mentioned Previously, there are 2 main ways to get to El Nido – either by bus from Porto Princesa (PP) or direct flight from Manila with ITI. ITI being a private airline is pricey and was unfortunately out of our budget for a return flight (costing more than R2000 one way), so we conceded and took the bus from PP and returned via a direct flight.
We arrived in PP after taking a quick flight from Manila with Air Asia Zest. This costed R300-R400. From there, we pre-booked our bus ride to El Nido with Cherry via the website. It is not necessary to pre-book but it was far more convenient and it included the transfer to the bus station with a Jeepney. It costed about P500pp (less that R200). We arrived at the bus stop early and it wasn’t great. No halaal food but there was a Mister Donut (which we ate way too many of). The toilet was also pretty gross. We found a supermarket store similar to Makro where we picked up snacks and essentials for the long drive. We chose the 9am air-conditioned bus. This drive was terrible. The road was horribly bumpy to the extent that I was bouncing off the seat and needed some Ibuprofen after. It is best not to look at how the driver is driving as it looks pretty crazy. On the flip side it was quicker than I thought it would be (just under 6 hours). Many people choose to book a private transfer with Day Tripper Palawan for P850 – P950 (around R300) but the thought of the limited leg room in a minivan seemed very unappealing to me.
We eventually arrived at Porto Princesa bus terminus and we were a bit overwhelmed by all the tricycle drivers calling us. In the end a old tricycle driver charged us just P50 for a transfer to the town. Drivers usually tend to rip tourists off so it was quite refreshing when he didn’t try to charge us P200 for a 5 min ride. Our hotel offered to meet us at a cafe called Deli Nido where they gave us a welcome drink and called our hotel to inform them of our arrival. They soon picked us up with a tricycle. It was a scary drive with a tricycle on narrow lanes and on beach sand. Gladly it wasn’t too long.
Taiyo Beach Cottages
We arrived at Taiyo Beach Resort where we were greeted by our friendly host, John. He told us about El Nido, what to do and where to go. We were mostly excited to get to our rooms and have a nice shower after a long day of traveling (more like 3 consecutive days). We chose the 2nd most basic room as they were mostly booked out and accommodation is damn expensive in El Nido (poor value for money for South Africans). The cost of the room was just under R1000 a night including breakfast. We chose Taiyo mostly based on its Tripadvisor reviews which commended their good service.
When I walked into my room I was really disappointed. I’m not a backpacker and I don’t often stay at 5 star hotels but this room was the most basic that I’ve stayed in. There was an aircon, which was great. It had 2 double beds and a balcony. It was basic, no luxury. The bedding looked worn, the whole bathroom was a shower as there was no cubicle – so the whole bathroom flooded when you took a shower. They didn’t give beach towels, the curtains weren’t block out, there was no TV, but the worst problem was that the walls were paper thin so I could hear everything our neighbours did as well as all the animal sounds and noise from the locals on the property next door. I considered changing hotels but, in retrospect, I’m sure glad I didn’t.
Taiyo is quite a bit outside the town, a good few wins walk down the beach through a village-type-of-thing so this may disappoint anyone that likes to be in the action (around bars and restaurants). In truth, El Nido doesn’t have a party scene so most people are in bed early to get up early for island hopping. The perk about Taiyo is that it is far from the road so there’s no noise from those horribly noisy tricycles. The drawback is that its a long, dark walk at night so do take a torch.
What Taiyo lacked in luxury, it more than made up for in customer service. John was incredibly helpful and tried to accommodate all our requests. There is no halaal food on the island (none!) and even the seafood restaurants made pork on the same grill (we were aware of this and took our own supplies such as instant cereals, noodles and soup). We requested that Taiyo prepare our breakfast separately from any meat and provide us with hot water daily for our foods and they did so.
On our second day at Taiyo we were struck with terrible food poisoning (from a vegetarian burrito of all things!) and John and his mom offered to send their staff into the town to get us medication. Pretty above and beyond service in my opinion.
The best part of staying at Taiyo was definitely their island hopping tours with the wonderful Mark (which I will get into in my next post). So if you are headed to El Nido and you can manage without any luxury, then do stay at Taiyo. There are however more modern hotels in the town centre but be warned that it gets very noisy due to the tricycles.
Misadventures in Nacpan
The day after we arrived in El Nido, we planned to visit Nacpan beach or the “Twin beaches” which are made up of Nacpan and Calitang. Nacpan is constantly voted as one of the best beaches in the world. It’s not only due to the magnificent views (which are amazing btw) but the serenity. If you move away from the beach bar you can enjoy entire stretches of the beach, all to yourself. The sand is soft and white and the water is a stunning shade of blue (a bit colder than the water in Thailand though but still pleasant). However, before you can enjoy the beach, you need to get there.
There are 3 options of getting to Nacpan beach:
- With an escorted tour (Inland Tour E)- costs around P800 and includes the waterfalls.
- Hiring a tricycle for the day. Usually you just flag down a tricycle driver in the town (or they flag you down) and negotiate a price. This costs upwards of P1200. However, a long stretch of the road is unpaved and these tricycles have about zero shock absorbing capacity so you are in for a bumpy ride. If you are tall, this is not the best option as you will knock your head on the roof for about 20 minutes.
- You can hire a scooter or a motorbike for around P700-P1000 from bike shops in the town.
We opted for the third option as we had done this before in Thailand and it gives you some freedom to do things at your own pace. We were warned that the road was unpaved and very bumpy but we thought it would be manageable. So we got a scooter at Chislyk Bike Rental which costed P600 for the day. We are inexperienced with off road motorbikes which is a much better option. We set out on our journey expecting it to take just over an hour. The first half of the way was nice and easy. The road was smooth and it was fun to drive by the villages. Eventually the road got worse and for more than half an hour we were off road bouncing on our scooter and the poor little thing was labouring up the hills. Our drive there was a pretty fun experience. Eventually we found our way to the ticket station where we had to register as guests and pay an entrance fee.
That is when the drama started! The bike cut out and wouldn’t start. We waited at the ticket station and tried again after it cooled down to no avail. Some of the guys from the town tried to start it and played around with it but no luck. It was dead!!! So we tried to phone the bike shop but then realised we had a data only sim card (duh!). We managed to send him a text though and they called back to say they will be there to assist us. The guys looked after our bike and we went to the beach (no point wasting a stunning day on the beach) and it was magnificent.
We swam and enjoyed ourselves but we were constantly worried about how we would get back. The bike shop guy came after about an hour and worked on the bike for about 4 hours. At some point I was convinced he left us stranded on the beach but eventually he came back and told us he couldn’t fix it.
We had no alternative other than all three of us getting on his off road motorbike and heading back to town. That was a hell drive for me. My husband sat in the middle as I was not keen on being that intimate with a guy I don’t know and I sat at the back on the plasticky piece of the seat which was terribly painful after a while, especially on the rocky, unpaved road. I thought I would fracture my coccyx on all those bumps and my groin was burning with strain from trying to hold my position. Definitely the longest hour of my life!
I was so relieved when I got off that bike. You might think that this day was a terrible disappointment but these adventures make up the memories that make traveling such a life changing experience. Would I do it again? Probably. Just with a much better bike! Nacpan is a must see.
Read part two for info on where to eat and island hopping tours.
Philippines 13 day itinerary
Day 1: arrive in Manila at 4pm. Overnight in a nearby hotel.
Day 2: Catch the 6am flight to Porto Princesa (Air Asia Zest). Then a 6 hour bus ride to El Nido.
Day 2-7: 5 nights in El Nido
Day 7: Fly with ITI from El Nido to Manila at 8am. Then From Manila to Caticlan airport (Boracay).
Day 7- 10: 4 nights in Boracay
Day 11: Fly from Kalibo to Manila
Day 11-13: 2 nights in Manila
Day 13: head home