El Nido is firmly on the tourist trail in the Philippines so I had read a lot about it prior to my visit and I was really looking forward to it. I had seen beautiful pictures of pristine beaches but upon arrival it was a very dirty, smelly, busy ramshackle town. Having not spent any time in South East Asia for 9 years it was a really shocking awakening and I remembered quickly how grotty Asia can be (and thats saying something considering I had just got off the plane from Africa).
Luckily I booked accommodation right on the beach so we had a nice view…..of about 100 boats and all I could smell was sewage. So straight away I knew this was not a beach to swim at.
All of the restaurants in town were western food and it was all seriously expensive. It was pizza joint after pizza joint, some of them you even had to queue for! Pizza’s and a drink would set you back somewhere between £15-20 for two people and in Asia if I’m paying that I know I’m getting ripped off.
The one restaurant where I saw locals eating at gave me food poisoning. So the food in El Nido was well below average!
The constant bargaining with the tricycle drivers drove me insane because their prices were extortionate. Every time we wanted to go somewhere it was a constant battle back and forth until they agreed on a fair price. They often started their prices three times the price of what we actually ended up paying. I get it, being in Asia it’s all about the bartering, I should know I lived in Thailand for a year and got my bartering skills down to a fine art but still just to get anywhere was a frustrating process.
The whole town is geared up to diving and the place is full of dive centres, again not that cheap. The other main draw card of El Nido is the different boat trips you can do. There is tour A, B, C and D which take you to some of the nearby islands, lagoons, caves and beaches.
We chose tour A, the day we did the tour it started off really nicely but soon it poured with rain, it was freezing cold and it was full of youngens getting pissed, smoking like trains and acting like morons so it wasn’t exactly an overly enjoyable day.
The first stop was this lagoon where by you could climb through a small space in the rocks to reach a lagoon where it was sheltered.
The second stop was a lovely beach where we were served a lunch of fish and fruit. As I don’t eat fish I just ate fruit and a bowl of rice, pretty boring stuff. The snorkelling at this spot was the best of the whole day, the water was super clear and there was a lot of fish to see.
The next stop was a very long lagoon which they dropped you off at one end and you had to swim down it. At this point it rained…heavily. The lagoon was very shallow so we couldn’t actually swim we just waded around in the rain before retiring to the boat that had no cover and continued to freeze.
The following stop of the day was….yep you guessed it another lagoon. This one must of had at least 20 boats parked up and I didn’t even bother to get off the boat because at this point I was done! Dan however got it and I got this lovely photo of him so it wasn’t a total loss.
The final stop of the day was a beach on a small island where you could buy drinks and participate in a swing that went into the ocean. We grabbed a beer and hung out at the beach along with all the other boat trips from that day for about an hour.
So me and El Nido didn’t exactly click. It was beautiful at times but the noise, pollution, expense and general business certainly was not what I was looking for.
There were some positives to the trip
Los Cabanas Beach was stunning and we enjoyed two lovely days here out of our week in El Nido. The beach was clean, had some great bars on the shore and beautiful views over the surrounding cliffs.
We came back to the same restaurant/bar called ‘The Beach Shack’ on the beach twice as the food was good and the views were of course stunning.
There is a great little bar at the entrance of Los Cabanas beach called ‘The Sun Bar’ where you can sip cocktails whilst watching the sunset.
So unless you are super into diving I would suggest going to places other than El Nido on Palawan. Or literally stay a couple of days to do the boat trips you want to do and then get the heck out of there because there are so many other more beautiful and cheaper places in the Philippines.
After the lovely Modessa Island Resort, El Nido wasn’t quite the paradise I’d imagined. The infrastructure, smell and expense made me really not fall in love with it and of course the weather was so changeable it did affect our days in El Nido.
Next stop: New Zealand