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The rough truth. Before booking your flight, consider already that 2 days of your trip will be wasted just for land travel (Puerto Princesa – El Nido, El Nido – Puerto Princesa). It’s safe enough to book 4 days — 2 days for traveling and 2 days for the island hopping. This is because from Puerto Princesa Airport, it takes approximately 6 hours to go to El Nido if you’re taking a van, even more if you are taking the bus. The van will only have 1 stopover for a short meal and toilet break.
There are no ATMs in El Nido (and I’m not sure if there are establishments there that accept credit cards) so make sure you withdraw enough money before doing that long road trip.
All aboard. There are 4 main tours that you can take. Each tour usually starts at 9AM and ends at 4 or 5 PM so you can only do 1 type of tour in a day. The fee varies (PHP1,000+) for every tour and is already inclusive of the lunch and water supply for the whole day. The boatmen will freshly prepare all the dishes. If you want to reserve your slot, it is better to book directly to the boat companies rather than asking your hotel to arrange it because the price will be cheaper.
Also, there will be a one-time environmental fee of PHP200. This is valid for 10 days of stay in El Nido,
No dry moment. Protect your gadgets by bringing your own dry bag and waterproof cases. It’s great if your camera is already waterproof and not just water-resistant (yes, they are different) so that you can take advantage of camwhoring in every spot you find. Some caves are hard to enter (muddy, slippery, narrow, name it) and some stops will not be going near the shore (in order not to damage the corals) so you have been warned: YOU WILL GET WET. AND SO ARE YOUR STUFF.
Snake Island (Tour B)
Into the Wild. Fish feeding is not allowed so don’t pack bread or cooked rice so that the fish will come near you when you go snorkeling. The same thing goes with other wild animals that you might meet along the way like this monkey in the photo above. When in doubt, ask the boatmen first if they are safe to approach.
Protect yourself. The open sea is filled with creatures you haven’t met yet. Always be watchful for animals that may cause harm like jellyfish. Bring a first aid kit with you, including your medicines for allergies and bandages for small to large wounds. Some corals have sharp edges and are also home to some species of fish. You may startle them if you accidentally step on a coral. Also, if you’re not a good swimmer, it’s better to wear your life vest when you’re out there. Inform the tour guides beforehand that you’re not as skillful as a mermaid. They will be kind enough to swim and pull your life jacket in case the water is too deep to reach the shore or cave.
Where to stay. There are many cheap accommodations in Bacuit Bay, El Nido. If you’re traveling alone, there are backpacker hostels that are below PHP1000/night. Rooms for 2 can range from PHP1000 to PHP4000 depending where it’s located. Beachfront accommodations are fine if you don’t mind the occasional sounds from the restos and pubs which are open until 11PM or 12MN. Otherwise, try booking for the ones found in Calle Hama and Calle Real. They’re just a few minutes away by walking from the shore. Anyway, you won’t be needing much Bacuit Bay for swimming since it’s where the boats are parked.
If you want somewhere a little remote, book a lodge in Caalan Beach. It is 5-10 minutes away by walking from where the night life is. These lodges may be a little far but you get to enjoy the quieter and more serene part of El Nido. Me and my friend stayed in Makulay Lodge, a beachfront hotel in that area. There was a nearby platform there where I took this amazing sunset.
Here are some of my favorite islands from the tours:
Entalula Island (Tour B)
Inabuyatan Island (Tour B)
Seven Commando Island (Tour A)
Pinagbuyutan Island (Tour B)