Farmboy and I spent two weeks in the Philippines over the December holidays in 2010. Even though that was a few years ago, the following information is still relevant and all the links have been updated to help you in planning your trip. We spent a total of 5 days in Puerto Princess (click here) at the start and end of our trip, and the rest of the time we spent in El Nido.
I have been told that there are now direst flights to El Nido, but when we were there we had to take a 7 hour mini van trip. That trip was pretty horrendous as we were packed into a van with a number of other people and it was terribly uncomfortable. But it was cheap and that was the idea. We hadn't booked any accommodation before arriving, and so spent the first few hours walking from place to place in search of a room. We spent one awful night at a place on the beach called Spider Pension (AVOID AT ALL COSTS!) which consisted of a dingy room, hole in the floor for a toilet and cockroaches and flies everywhere. After that awful experience we set off early the next morning in search of anything better. We eventually found some newly build cottages set off the main road and part of Rosanna's Pension. Clean and cheap it was the perfect place to base ourselves for 3 nights. From there the restaurants and cafes were a short walk into the main part of town.
We ate a lot of our meals at Art Cafe; a wonderful laid back spot that served great food and drinks all day.
As it was the holiday period and it seemed most of the nicer places were fully booked but we eventually found a place with 2 double beds and air-conditioning. Although El Nido at the time was running on generators which turned off in the middle of the day and the middle of the night, something to keep in mind if you need to charge things or plan to have a hot shower at a particular time. We managed fine though and barely noticed the power outages.
El Nido itself is gorgeous. When we were there it was still very undiscovered, with only a few restaurants and cafes. I think there is much more variety now, but friends have told us it is still magical and not over crowded like Boracay. From El Nido you can take boats out for the day to hundreds of different islands and spend the day seeing no one. Pure Bliss!
We booked a 3 day 2 night island hopping tour with Tao which was both incredible and disastrous at the same time. Incredible because of the sights, but disastrous as we were served pork which had not been kept cold and gave us all food poisoning...not something you want when spending the day on a boat traveling from island to island. Even though we were all rather queasy throughout the trip, it was an incredible experience. It costs us at that time about $250 per person for all meals, boat rides and accommodation in basic local lodging.
Once back in El Nido it was New Years eve and we welcomed the new year in the woven basket pods surrounding The Alternative restaurant. We then spent 2 days hiring scooters and traveling around El Nido where there are more beautiful beaches to discover, our favourite being Nacpan Beach. Hiring scooters is a great way to avoid the crowds and it's very inexpensive too.
After our fill of beaches we headed back to Puerto Princessa by the local public bus for our final night. We spent it the one and only 'fancy' hotel we could find, for some well deserved luxury (at the time it was $65 for a room for 4 people for the night). We did some last minute shopping at the pearl markets, and finally headed back to the bustling metropolis of Manila, and finally home to Korea.
USEFUL TRAVEL INFO FOR THE PHILIPPINES
- 30 day visa free entry for citizens of South African, USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia (and a number of other countries...click here for more info).
- Pack an emergency medicine kit. As this was only our second trip to Asia, none of us had packed the basic supplies like flu/stomach cramps/pain pills. After the food poisoning I went and got full on flu and just had to live through it for the last 4 days of our holiday...make sure to pack some nose spray/decongestants to help with any flu symptoms you may have. Rather be safe than sorry!
- Use travel apps like Orbitz to book hotels/hostels if you can (they often give discounts for using the app and you can score some great deals!)
- Pack a travel towel/cotton sarong that you can wet at night and sleep under if you don't have airconditioning. This will help keep you cool if you only have a fan in your room (and this will especially help you sleep at night if you have no fan/electricity).
- Buy a waterproof bag to store your valuables in when going on boat rides. At the very least have a few spare ziplock bags handy to store passports and cash in, just in case your bags get wet.
Do you have any recommendations of things to do and see in Puerto Princessa? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!