Palawan: Exploring the Last Frontier Last Stop: Island Hoppin’ in El Nido

When we reached the PP city proper, we were brought back to Marianne Home Inn.  Gladly, MD and I were allowed to use a vacant room to clean up.  We quickly showered and changed taking extra care not to mess up the room.  Once done, we went to the lobby to wait for the van arranged by Joaquin’s BnB… to take us to our final destination.

We still have some time and decided to go to the nearby stalls and buy bibingka and puto bungbong that will tide us through our travel.

The van picked us up around 5:00 pm.  A couple and a mother and daughter team would be joining us.  I started to feel feverish in the van.  I had to ward off the feeling of weakness.

When we reached El Nido way past midnight, I was running a fever and just wanted to flop on a bed.

Spanish for ‘the nest’, El Nido is sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs and Bacuit Bay.  It’s known for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs and as the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago, a group of islands with steep karst cliffs.  Miniloc Island is famed for the clear waters of its Small and Big lagoons. Nearby Shimizu Island has fish-filled waters. The area has many dive sites, including Dilumacad Island’s long tunnel leading to an underwater cavern.

Where did We Stay?

Most hotels and inns in El Nido can provide for all your needs, even tours for Underground River, Puerto Princesa.  Same thing with hotels or tour operators in Puerto Princesa, they can provide everything you need.  There will be differences in the price points and the offerings.  If you are on a budget, you can do a comparison.  Doing DIY might save you some money if you have the time to research and compare.  I didn’t realized earlier that we can have it all in one place until I finalized our bookings.  I ended up booking with three providers for our Palawan tour.  It might have its advantages like having the best of all options and disadvantages like different prices.  By having all activities and needs handled by one service provider, you can haggle prices and providers are more flexible if they can get bigger business.  However, you are stuck with their services and offerings come what may.

We had different bookings for accommodation because of my indecisiveness while making our itinerary for El Nido.  As I was choosing options for accommodation, I came across Organic Spa BnB which was relative new.  The rooms and the view look fantastic from the pictures.  At that time, it has no review so I was hesitant to book it.  Yet,t I kept thinking about the place.  I also kept delaying my decision until I noticed people started booking it and available rooms became scarce.  When I finally booked it, only two nights were available during our travel dates.  Compared with other accommodation options I was looking at, Organic Spa BnB is more expensive considering it doesn’t provide breakfast.  However, the one who manages the place, Ms. Janette, as well as her staff, are very nice.

I booked a 2-night stay at Organic Spa BnB for P2,500 per night (without breakfast).  I booked a tour package priced at P12,000  that includes 2 night-stay with breakfast (P2,000 per night), our island tours (Tour A – P1,000, Tour C- P1,100, striped Tour E – P900 per pax) and RT van transfer (P1000 per pax) with Joaquin BnB.

I checked the reviews of Organic BnB and Joaquin BnB as I was writing this and there are both negative and positive reviews.  I guess this is true for most low and mid-range accommodation options in El Nido .  Different staff serve each guest at particular times so the experience may vary…..

Let me share my own with the two accommodation options we chose for this trip …..

Joaquin BnB

We checked in at Joaquin and was ushered to a third-floor room.  When we entered the room, I was surprised to see so many beds when there were only two of us.  When I used the bathroom, it emitted the smell of stale water.  I wasn’t in the mood to complain.  It was late, dawn actually, and there wasn’t anyone in the reception to assist guests.  MD and I slept after freshening up.

In the morning, I woke up to commotion outside the room…. like people preparing using utensils.  I woke MD so we can prepare for our first island tour.  We went out for breakfast which is just outside our room.  The reason for the noise is our room is adjacent to the kitchen.  There was a table holding coffee and milo sachets and sugar.  We gave our order to the staff.  While waiting for our order, an elderly dark burly man in white sando and shorts who was sprucing things up would look at us with a smirk and not even greet us even if judging from what he is doing is part of the place.  The same man would be gentle and gracious to foreign guests even offering coffee.  Well, well, well…. am I experiencing discrimination?  Something I cannot just ignore considering the kind of reception we had so far!

I would learn later that this man is the father of the one I arranged my booking with.  His son was nice to talk to and is friendly.  It’s just unfortunate that he and his family were traveling and he left the management of the place with this rude man during our stay.  Some of their staff whom I will not identify also revealed that the son and daughter-in-law are good stewards and employers but the dad is something else.

The view of the surrounding limestone formation and the nearby sea port where the ferry boats are docked from the dining area is a refreshing site.  The sea port, the take off point for Tours A, B and C, is as busy as can be…..

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Eyeing with envy those waiting to cruise off …..  soon, it will be us in there 🙂

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After breakfast, we went back to our room to prepare for our island tour.  We also had to check out since we will be transferring to another place.  While fixing our stuff, I went out to ask for plastic bags from one of the staff and was told to get it from their reception area in the ground floor.  I flared and asked the staff why they put us in the third floor in the first place when I have to get what I need at the ground floor.  I booked their place way ahead of time and even told the owner to give us a good room which apparently wasn’t granted.  I shut the door loudly and continued packing.  A staff, Angel, would come and tell us about the arrangement for tour A.  She told us she would assist us once we are finished checking out and she went her way.  When we’re done, I demanded (in this place one has to do that I think) that someone help with our luggage which a staff obliged with.

When we got to the reception, the elderly burly man was seated with an elderly lady.  I would be complaining to Angel who was at the reception about the room and the service.  The elderly man would butt in, bragging that they have hosted so many guests including foreigners and no one complained on what I was complaining about…. making my blood pressure shoot up.  I pointed out his bigotry back at the dining area. Fuming, I told Angel I would be cancelling the rest of our activities with them.  The man would disappear at this point.  The pleasant lady he was seated with would appease me and engage me in light conversation.  I would vent more my frustration with the service and the man.

After our not so pleasant start with Joaquin BnB, the staff from Organic Spa BnB where we would be staying for the next two nights would fetch us.  We were supposed to go back to Joaquin BnB on our last night.  I am not inclined to go back now given the treatment that the old man and some of their staff gave us.

Organic BnB

At the ground floor is Cafe Athena, a Greek and Mediterranean resto.

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The staff of Organic BnB brought us at their reception area on the second floor which is also the spa area.    Immediately, one feels at ease with the place.   Who wouldn’t be…. with this …..

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The spa area…..

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After checking in, we were assisted to our room.  There are only three rooms which are at the third floor.  The hallway leading to the rooms …..  Ours would be the last room.

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This is what greeted us upon entering the Amazon Lily Double Room, our home for two nights ….. yes!

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An unobstructed view ….. I can look out to this peace any day of the week…..20161212_173341

The place is immaculately clean and has its own bathroom which is our top priority.

While the view is fantastic and the place is strategically-situated, some amenities could be made available for the comfort of the guest.  The bathroom is small and didn’t have a heater.  There is no cabinet for clothes and not enough space to hang wet clothes.  MD’s and my swim wear were all bunched up in the small bathroom.  We put our wet aqua shoes on the roof overhang outside our window directly above the water.  There is a chance the shoes could slide to the water.

Overall, our stay with them have been pleasant since Ms. Janette, who runs the place, made us feel important and comfortable.  I was feverish during my entire stay in El Nido.  She made me feel better by asking her staff to provide me lemon water while we were staying with them.  The small gesture compensated for everything else that the place lacks in terms of amenities.

I tried to look for other accommodation option since Organic BnB was fully booked on our last night.  Ms. Janette tried helping us in finding a suitable place.  There were other options.  I tried to check Spin Designer Hostel which is one of those I shortlisted for this trip.  Unfortunately, no room was available.  Other options were either too expensive or not so appealing.

A break came because Angel informed us that the rude burly old man left the following day…. maybe she knows that the man is main reason I am cancelling.  I reconsidered my decision to cancel our booking with them because Angel and Anna who are staff for Joaquin’s travel agency are nice.  The boat crew are likewise good people and took care of us during the tours.  We were billeted in a better double room when we came back.

What did We Do?

An El Nido trip would be worthless without island hopping, kayaking, diving and snorkeling.  This haven is teeming with more than 900 species of fish and limestone cliffs that are at least 250 million years old.  Moreover, it has 45 islands and 2,654 hectares of mangrove forests.

I am new to all of these as I am contented just bumming in beaches, not even swimming.  I had mixed feelings of excitement and fear…. but then again, I am here.   I cannot forego island hopping which is quentissential to a visit in EL Nido.  If I don’t snorkel, kayak or immerse in one of Bacuit Bays’ 48 Islands, I know I would be missing out on its turquiose waters and what the underwater world has to offer.

So let the adventure begin…….

As we gear for our first island hopping, Tour A, we would be catching a glimpse of the strategically-located Organic Spa BnB, the structure with green roof……

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Can it get any better than this ……

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The skipper of the boat and his crew….

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The talented and funny tour guide cum lifeguard cum photographer….

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The Helicopter Island of Tour C is easily the first island seen leaving the port ……

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Tour A is the most famous and the most availed tour package in El Nido.  It is also known as the The Lagoon Tour since it is comprised of expedition to two Lagoons of Miniloc Island — Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon. The Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commandos Beach are also part of this tour.

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Miniloc Island is right smack in the middle of Bacuit Bay.  The island’s jagged coastline is filled with pockets of white beaches and lagoons and caves, both shallow and deep.  Such wonderful sight instantly clears not only the lungs but most of all, the soul.  It is such a sight to behold …..

The Small and Big Lagoons are both situated near Miniloc Island Resort.

1. Big Lagoon

The Big Lagoon is the main highlight of Tour A.  For our first treat, the Big Lagoon gave us a grand welcome as we traverse through a channel smacked in the middle of two picturesque limestone walls.  The shallow entrance of the Big Lagoon is frequented by sea snakes and sea turtles.  I read that sea urchins also abound here.. so beware!

We came at the right time…. at high tide…. so our boat was able to navigate through its deep emerald water.  We feasted on a majestic landscape as we reached the lagoon, like we are in another world.

Boats cannot access the Big Lagoon in low tide, and renting a kayak can serve as a back-up plan on those times.  Kayak rental is Php 300 per hour.

2. Kayaking around the Small Lagoon

Next door is the Small Lagoon which is accessible through a small opening between two giant limestone rocks. Through this little gap, one can swim or kayak into the lagoon.  These cliffs, the rocks and corals in the shallow part of the area temper the waves, protecting the water in the lagoon from any occurrence in the open sea.  Sharp-toothed fish are a main concern here.  But fear not and enjoy the cruise.

Navigating the lagoon blows one’s mind away with the immense landscape of limestone cliffs, turquoise water and the lush vegetation surrounding the lagoon.

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A panoramic view of the entrance to the Small Lagoon…..

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The gentle waters of Small Lagoon make kayaking easy.  Yet, MD and I couldn’t pull it through.  We needed assistance which we got from the Captain 🙂

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Lagoons provide a breather to an island hopping adventure.

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We took our time exploring every nook and cranny of the lagoon. When we reached the small cave in one corner, we got off the kayak and swam. We got inside the small cave.  Its ceiling has this small hole where light peers…..

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We had fun wading in the cool water……just the refreshing change we needed…. We did a bit of snorkeling too …..

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3. Lunch Break at Shimizu Island

Shimizu Island is named after a Japanese scuba diver who died near the island.  It is believed that Shimizu led an underwater exploration around the island and discovered an incredible underwater cave.  Due to a sudden underwater earthquake, the water started to become very cloudy rendering the entire scuba diving group blind in finding their way out.  Few days later, rescuers found their bodies hanging on the walls of the underwater cave.  Only Shimizu’s body was found near the shore of the island.

The boat docked at the Shimizu shore.  The crew prepared lunch while we went snorkeling into the waters off Shimizu Island ….

This island’s extensive coral reef and marine life fronting its beach make it one of the most frequented snorkeling spots in El Nido.

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Here’s a sampling …….

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Quite sparse even for first-timers like me.  From my blog-reading, I learned that in the mid-2000, snorkeling in this island was breath-taking with its rich marine life and beautiful corals.  Sadly, the effects of the El Niño phenomenon, coral bleaching, and extensive tourism have taken its toll on the coral life through the years.

When food was ready, the crew called and hauled us into the boat where we had lunch.  I was expecting we would be having lunch in the island.  Lunch was a buffet, no…. more like a boodle fight for grilled fish and pork, fresh tomatoes, veggies and fruits.  A specially prepared salad would be the centerpiece of this buffet.

Everyone was starving.  The headline reads “Food Gone in Record Time” ;D  What is it about the sea that makes tummies tumble 😀

Eat your heart out 😘

4. Unearthing the Secret Lagoon

If Matinloc Island (Tour C) has Secret Beach, Miniloc Island has a secret too 😉

After exploring the Big and Small Lagoons, and having lunch at Shimizu island, we were led to another magnificent limestone landscape.  Bruited to be the epitome of paradise with its tall coconut trees and big limestone cliff, the Secret Lagoon is one of the protected islands of El Nido from unauthorized or illegal collection of balinsasayaw’s nest (swift’s nest).  It was a surreal experience approaching this hard, spiky karst world.

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When our boat finally docked, the crew led us to a little opening in one of the cliffs, a huge wall with a tiny hole.  And that hole is the entrance to the Secret Lagoon, also known as Hidden Lagoon, of Miniloc Island.

We thought that the Secret Lagoon was the beach behind the giant rocks. Apparently, there’s another world behind the karst rocks on the other side….. The route to the lagoon is so hidden that I had to literally go through a needle’s hole.  The water leading to that small hole is shallow but the current is surprisingly strong that it can weigh you down.

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We were assisted by the crew in getting inside.  MD didn’t exert much effort getting through the hole.  I had to use all my might to squeeze inside that tiny hole surrounded by sharp rocky formation.

Inside the Secret Lagoon, the temperature is much cooler because it is shielded from the sun by the limestone cliffs enclosing it.  Although the water inside looked shallow, our boatmen warned us that it gets deeper as you go farther so we did not dare.

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5. Seven Commandos Beach

As we made our way to our last destination, MD enjoys a refreshing treat …..

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Magnificent view from atop the boat …..

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Vantage view …..

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Approaching Seven Commandos Beach, the place to chill and relax.   You could play volleyball with locals and other tourist in this beach.  Refreshment can be bought in stalls.  One can enjoy fresh coconut juice, halo-halo, and other refreshments.

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Chillaxin……

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While enjoying a panoramic view of its shoreline……

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We had a little incident here.

A boat crew found this makeshift swing on a single rope hanging  on a tree and decided to swing on it and everyone was laughing.  It looked so much fun that soon some of our co-passengers climbed the tree and sat on the swing pushed by our boatman.

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MD would be joining the happy bunch as I positioned myself to take her photo.  She sat on the swing ready to be pushed.  As soon as she is pushed,   a foreigner aimlessly walk directly into the path where MD would be swinging and was hit.  MD’s free fall would be broken and the foreigner, a white guy, would appear to attack MD.  I would bolt from where I am and stand in the way.  The boat crew also came.  The white guy was mad that he was hit by MD and was asking her/us to pay his camera which he claimed to be expensive.  MD and I would alternately tell him it wasn’t intentional as they were having fun.  I don’t even think that there was something wrong with his camera.  He didn’t even check it during this commotion.  I asked him why he wasn’t looking at the path he was walking on.  He would in turn ask if it is alright to do that Tarzan thing.  Without batting an eyelash, I said yes… this is a beach.  He kept on asking to be paid.  We were creating a scene.  I wasn’t backing until somehow we both halted.  MD pulled me away.  He went to his companion and their boat crew.

Their boat crew would approach us asking what happened.  I noticed that MD had a gash on her leg.  The boat crew would tell us that the guy is ok and wasn’t hurt but is concerned for his camera.  My gash!  I told them their guest is stupid guy for how can he be unmindful of his surroundings and blame someone for his stupidity.  Our co-passengers who were frolicking in the beach kept on asking if we are ok and would jokingly tell us to just signal if they are needed.   I shot back telling them I can handle it 🙂  I also told their boat crew I’d pay for the camera but the guy has to pay for MD’s medical care. They disappeared after that and went back to the foreigner and his companion.   They would soon leave …..

Setting aside this unfortunate incident, we were lured into swimming in its calm water…..

This is a testament to its moniker.  I know it’s tacky but what the heck 😄

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Back to El Nido Proper after this last destination.

Following day is for more adventure.

I’ve heard so much about Tour C  and I am excited to uncover secret and hidden beaches.  It is a favorite among tourists.  This tour entails hopping to different islands and beaches: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, and Hidden Beach.

Well, this day we are greeted by overcast skies that threatens to make this a much wetter adventure.  We set out to go where angels fear to tread ….. into the twilight zone 😉

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The Explorer…..

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6. Helicopter Island

The Helicopter Island, has a long stretch of blue water and white sand beach with the beautiful Cadlao Island as backdrop .  Also known as Dilumacad Island, this beach is a mere 20-minute boat ride from El Nido town and normally the first stop for Tour C like for us.

The island gained its name from its shape. From a distance, it resembles the shape of a helicopter. On one side, people can enjoy snorkeling and see fringing reef and different kind of fishes. It is also ideal for beach bumming even in the afternoon because of it’s massive mountain and rock formations blocking the sun rays.

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Approaching Helicopter Island …..

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On two  …….

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Then, off to the next paradise …

While cruising in the middle of nowhere, we passed by this beautiful limestone formation  ……

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7. Matinloc Shrine

Matinloc Shrine is an abandoned site hidden at the foot of towering karst cliffs on the western coast of Matinloc Island.  More formally known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc, it was built in 1982.  In spite of being neglected and abandoned for years, visitors still come here, as this place is considered to be a spiritual oasis.  In this island, you can opt to do a short hike to get a fantastic birds eyeview of the nearby islands.

“Matinloc” is a local term for beautiful.  This island offers an awesome view of some neighboring islands and islets in El Nido.   The way to the viewing deck is kinda dangerous as it is not cemented and the improvised stairs is not so safe.  So take extra caution if you’ll try it.

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Our guides said we can go inside and climb the cliff for a view of El Nido.  There is an entrance fee of P50.  MD and I aren’t so keen.  Our co-passengers are surprisingly not interested as well.  Since the crew allows us to climb the roof of the boat, we all decided that was enough for us.  Saved us a hundred bucks ;D

We went snorkeling around Matinloc Island instead which all of us can’t get enough of. Who wouldn’t want to snorkel and experience the underwater world of El Nido?

This is my first time to try real snorkeling.  I couldn’t get it at first since I don’t know exactly how to bite into the snorkel mouthpiece and MD was getting impatient with me.  Plus I was coughing.  Once I got the hang of it though, I was unstoppable:)

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As we immensely enjoyed swimming among the fish and other marine life and marveled at the colorful corals, our boat crew prepared lunch …..  They are so skillful and resourceful in preparing a feast for us ….

8. Lunch at Talisay Beach, Tapiutan Island

In this island with towering cliffs as backdrop , you will love getting drenched in its turquoise water.  Facing the West Philippine Sea, this island has a rich marine life and is also famous for snorkeling.  This is a lunch area for island hopping tours.

Again lunch would be in the boat…..

Like yesterday, that beautiful feast was gone in seconds….

After lunch, we were back to snorkeling ….  We found Marlin who wouldn’t leave his home….

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Upon close examination, we found out that his Nemo is inside …..

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Let the pictures speak for themselves  ……

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The star of the ocean …..

After all the snorkeling, we wanted to see the Hidden Beach and Secret Beach.

Hidden Beach
This beach is located on the other side of Matinloc Shrine. A popular habitant to local and migratory birds and rich marine life.  With its calm waves and nice beach covered by limestone cliffs, this area is an ideal spot for camping and stargazing at night.

Secret Beach
Located in Matinloc Island, this beach can be accessed by swimming through a small hole that divides the Secret Beach and the huge bay surrounding the island.  At times, there are tourists who are unable to experience this because of huge waves and high tide.  So if you’ve got your chance, be thankful. Once inside, the water is calm, warm and waist deep.  It’s like a mini paradise.  There are no huge trees here but the entire beach is surrounded by towering limestone cliffs.

Alas, today is not our lucky day as these two destinations are off limits for safety reasons…  This is why we couldn’t go to more secrets 😦   The crew wouldn’t want to take the risk ….

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Because I did not uncover the secret, I must go back ………

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9. Cadlao Lagoon

We were brought to the Cadlao Lagoon instead.  Water is mostly shallow therefore it is a perfect site for swimming and snorkeling.  So gear up those goggles and flippers and explore the wonderful creatures and corals underneath this lagoon.  And since this is a lagoon expect that the water here is calm.  With its aqua blue water and towering limestone rocks, one will also have a nice chill time kayaking around the lagoon.

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Well done 😀

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For our last tour, we were supposed to be going to Tour B.    Weighed down by fatigue and sickness, we decided to just beach bum in the beaches of El Nido.  If island hopping was bristling with excitement, these off-beaten tracks lifted our ebbing spirits. The beautiful experience deserves its own post.

Where did We Eat?

When part of the package like for Joaquin BnB, we had breakfast at the hotel…. It’s the usual ‘log’ breakfast.  On our first day, I had bacon while MD had corned beef.  Meal includes egg, garlic rice and coffee or milo.

When breakfast is not part of the package like for Organic Spa BnB, we bought pastries and bread from the famous Midtown Bakery.

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This bakery has been constantly mentioned in several blogs because of its delicious blueberry muffins and other pastries.  One referred to it as the Bread of Life in El Nido.

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We had to try for ourselves what people have been raving about.  Its blueberry muffins priced at P40 are indeed heavenly.  Other breads and pastries are priced from P2 to P25.  Some are better than the others.  Overall, its breads and pastries are good value-for-money options.  Really a relief for budget-conscious travelers.  We bought muffins and other goodies more than once for breakfast and baon.  We even bought blueberry muffins home for pasalubong.

IMGP1227 Lunch is part of the tour packages.

Dinner is when we explore.  We tried some roadside eateries.

All food served to us are generally good.  I was sick.  I told MD I just want soupy and simple dishes.  The sizzling squid is yummy.  The big shell soup is soothing but the shell meat is a bit tough.

We ate at another roadside eatery on our last night called Kaptain’s KD Diner that comes with a caveat…. that customers should be willing to wait for them to cook the food that they will serve.  In return, they assure patrons that they will serve good food.  Fair enough… We were willing to wait.  We ordered grilled liempo and fish.  The batchoy was bought from the batchoy shop just beside KD Diner.

We also tried the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe which was always full.  We would be wait-listed on our first try and couldn’t wait so we went elsewhere.  The second time, we were wait-listed again and decided to wait since this resto is in my must-eat list.  While waiting, we went to check the Trattoria Altrove, bruited to have the best pizza.  Had tables been available, we could have just dined there.  But it’s the same story.  I was amused at the sight of slippers left outside its doorway.

El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe……

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Its extension at the beachfront.

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We went back to El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe .  When we got there, it was almost our turn.  Soon, we were led to our table.  Being accommodated here is like winning a lotto.  Now, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  Let’s see…

Overall, the pizza and pasta are good and reasonably priced.  We spent around P650.  The ambiance is relaxing.  I read that breakfast here is good.  I will be trying that next time.

After dinner, we called it a day …

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El Nido is as beautiful as it can be… no doubt about it.  One would be hard-pressed picking a fave spot.  The choice may be as far as your eyes can see  ….. there are just endless possibilities.  This is the place to have it all….. adventure, food, sights and sounds and even little misfortunes.

I am longing to go back even if I have not left it yet.  Its picturesque landscape forever embedded in my soul…… If in San Francisco, one leaves his heart, El Nido got stuck in mine.

You may also want to check out …

  1. El Nido is Next Level Beautiful
  2. Discovering El Nido, Philippines:  Your Complete Travel Guide 2017
  3. Philippine Gem:  A Complete Guide to El Nido, Palawan
  4. Confessions of an El Nido First Timer
  5. El Nido, Palawan- 3 Days and 2 Nights Itinerary
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2 thoughts on “Palawan: Exploring the Last Frontier Last Stop: Island Hoppin’ in El Nido

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