Palawan: Exploring the Last Frontier Bummin’ in El Nido’s Off-Beaten Tracks

On the third day of the adventure, we were supposed to take Tour B.  After Tour C, my body is aching all over, my voice is hoarse….and Tour E seems enticing….

MD and I pondered over our options a bit. We decided that it would do our aching bodies some good if we just engage in some serious beach bumming. While El Nido is famous for tours to the islands dotting the Bacuit Bay and its hidden lagoons, white sand beaches and magnificent karst landscape, I’ve read about previously hard-to-access inland beaches that are getting their fair share of the spotlight lately.

It was raining in the town proper that morning.  I think we made a wise decision. I am crossing my fingers that it is not raining where we are going. We bought some blueberry muffins and breads for breakfast and snacks.

We waited for our ride at the travel office of Joaquin BnB.  Soon, our trike will arrive and we will get going…..

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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, 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 …..

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Palawan, Exploring the Last Frontier Second Stop: The Mystical Underground River

I’ve been to Palawan, maybe twice or thrice, and had not taken advantage of the opportunity to explore this mystical place until now.  Even if our Palawan adventure was really about El Nido, we would not miss going to the Underground River, for anything.  I put that in my itinerary way ahead of the island tours in El Nido.  Glad that I did.

Tour package vs DIY?

The question foremost in any tourist mind.

I was trying to make an itinerary that includes an overnight stay in Sabang before our El Nido tour.  Unfortunately, our original travel time did not allow me to make such arrangement because of the uncertainty of transportation to Sabang from Puerto Princesa at night time when we were supposed to arrive.

We ended up booking a tour courtesy of Marianne Home Inn, our host in Puerto Princesa.  Their tour package is priced at P1,685 per pax, discounted because we are guests.  The standard rate is around P1,800 which includes RT air-conditioned van transfer, RT motorized boat transfer, buffet lunch, fees and permits, an audio device, and licensed tour guide/s. Although a bit expensive, working with travel agencies is the most convenient way to enjoy the underground river tour.

Others may opt for a DIY.  You have to secure a permit first at the Puerto Princesa Underground River  (PPUR) Office located located at the City Coliseum.  You have to present a valid ID and pay the fee to get your permit.   The PPUR Office is open on weekdays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and 8:00 am to 12:00 noon on weekends.  Once you reach Sabang port, you go to the Tourism Office, present your permit, and then pay the environmental (P40) and boat fees.  At the cave entrance, you’ll also need to pay for the audio device/guide.  You may check this post if you intend to DIY.

The cost of a UR tour is summarized below:

  1. Permit/Entrance fee that includes the paddle boat going inside the Underground River.(Filipino Adult – P175, Filipino Minors (13-20yo) – P100,  Foreigner Adult – P250, International Minor (13-20yo) – P150)
  2. Motorized boat from Sabang to the Underground River cost P1,100 which is good for 6 persons.  If your going to share the boat with other tourists you’re just going to pay about P184 per pax.
  3. An Audio Device that provides all necessary information during the tour costs P85.
  4. If you’re coming from city proper, the van ride going to Sabang costs P140 for Filipinos and P200 for foreign tourists.
  5. If you’re planning to do the Jungle Trail, the Entrance Fee is P200 per pax that includes your “Trail Guide” (optional)

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Palawan, Exploring the Last Frontier: First and Last Stops: Food Tripping in Puerto Princesa

I got an email from Cebu Pacific informing me that our flight going to Puerto Princesa in December was reset… I would call them for our final sked moving an evening flight to a morning flight.  A welcome change actually as it will give us more time to explore the city.

The preparations for this trip had been long.  Starting from the time when I was scouting promo airfares to arranging a 6D5N itinerary.  I booked our flight in September.  There was enough time to save up for the trip and do my research.  I did a lot of blog walking to ensure that my middle daughter (MD) and I would have the best deal in what might be our last island hopping together for a quite a while.  She would be in her last two years in her medical study and she would surely be busy having more hospital-based tasks.  That is sad for me as among my children she is the one who takes after me in being a lakwatsera (wanderer).  I had to make sure that the experience would be something she would cherish during the time she can’t go places.

I got a lot of information for this trip.  I was weighing the pros and cons of doing a DIY and having the trip arranged by tour operators.  In the end, the best arrangement for us, being first timers, was a combination of both.  I made a lot of calls to tour providers, hotels, transport service.  I scrounge travel reviews, must visit places and restos, to-dos and a lot more.

My sources are:  The Pinay Solo BackpackerCORON VS. EL NIDO? WHICH ONE IS REALLY BETTER?, Palawan: Untouched Beauty In The Philippines , Palawan Travel Guide 

After looking at my options; considering sked and budget, our itinerary  would be as follows:

  1. Day 1:  Arrive in Puerto Princesa, Overnight Stay at Marianne Home Inn, Food Trip
  2. Day 2: Underground River Tour, Travel to El Nido in the evening, Overnight stay at Joaquin’s BnB
  3. Day 3:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Check in at Organic Spa BnB, Island Tour A, Dinner
  4. Day 4:  Island Tour C, Dinner at Art Cafe
  5. Day 5:  Check out at Organic Spa BnB, Check In at Joaquin’s,  Chill at Nakpan Beach, Dinner
  6. Day 6:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Travel to Puerto Princesa, Lunch at Ka Inato

In the morning of our flight, two wanderers set out early.  We made sure that outfits and apparatus were complete when we packed the night before.  It was easy getting a Grab car thankfully.   I made sure there will be no unpleasant surprises and told the driver to go through SLEX.  Traffic to the airport was pleasantly light.

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