Is This Real Life? – Finding (Sur)reality in El Nido

Just like the limestone cliffs that surround El Nido and give it it’s charm- our journey there was a rocky one. After spending a couple days in Cebu- a lively city with less chaos than Manila (so I’ve heard), we were itching to get out the city and into the paradise awaiting us. In order to get to El Nido, we were to fly from Cebu to Manila, have a quick little layover, and then head straight to Palawan, the Island where El Nido is located. All was fine and dandy- we went through security, boarded the plane, we even started our descent and could see land! All of a sudden, we were no longer descending- we were going back up, very very quickly.

Everyone was quite confused at first, especially since there was no announcement made by the pilot. Maybe the runway is full, or something. Five minutes later, we were told that they were unable to land the plane due to extremely strong winds, so we were to head back to Manila. Our reaction? Laughter. That’s all we could do at this point! Although naturally we were a bit annoyed of course. So, we made our way back to the airport in the city we planned on spending the least amount of time in. With that being said, that made the decision to leave the airport, or sleep at the airport, an easy one. Everyone should sleep in an airport at some point in their lives, right? We grabbed some pizza, found some “comfy” floor space, and made camp for the night. Pashmina scarf as a blanket, eye mask, and earplugs, I was set! Ok, it wasn’t quite that glamourous, but at one point I had 3 hours of nonstop sleep! At 11AM the next morning, we boarded our plane for the second time, and it actually landed where we wanted it to land this time. The only thing we had left to do was the 5 hour bus ride from the airport to El Nido. This place was well worth any amount of layovers or bus rides.

Corey, Tom and I. Quite accurately depicts our sleep that night.
The Town of El Nido
Disregarding the abundance of natural wonders surrounding El Nido, the town itself is quite a gem. It is what some literally call “The Last/Final Frontier of the Philippines”. Although tourism is the town’s primary resource, it neglects to feel touristy in comparison to other places. It is a quaint and rugged beach town, with plenty of home owned shops nestled at the base of the limestone cliffs.  At night it transforms into quite a social atmosphere, with beachfront bars and restaurants bustling with people. We stayed in an area called Corong Corong, not directly in the town itself. The only way to get from point A to B was to either walk, or take what Filipinos call a tricycle. Taxis do not exist in El Nido- how refreshing! A Tricycle is basically a tuktuk equivalent- a motorized rickshaw, seen in the second picture below. The ride was about 10 minutes into town, and cost 50 Philippine Pesos (approximately $1.42). Yay for cheap transportation!


Where We Stayed in El Nido
We stayed at a place called Island Front Cottages, which is actually divided into two: a lower end and a higher end. We had originally booked at the lower end side (called Island Front II), however upon arriving they told us they had made some sort of mistake, and that we would stay at the high end side for the same price. Wicked! After staying in luxury for one night, we simply couldn’t go back. So, for the rest of the week, we treated ourselves. Plus, they upgraded us to a sea-view room for free! We really lucked out with this place. We booked it on a whim, reluctant since it wasn’t right in town, but we saw that it had it’s own beach. Sold! The beach at our hotel was far more beautiful and cleaner than the one in town, and town was only a short (and cheap) ride away if needed. Breakfast was included everyday, and not just a typical free continental breakfast! You could choose from omelettes, eggs/toast, smoothies, etc. They also had a restaurant and bar where you could order from and enjoy your food and drinks on the outdoor patio overlooking the beach.
 View from our room
Sunset from Island Front
Enjoying some beers on the outdoor patio (Photocred: Mark B)


Sunset watching on the patio (Photocred: Mark B)
Highlight of El Nido- Island Hopping
What draws many people to El Nido are the abundance of surrounding Islands and how accessible they are. Our time in El Nido would not have been complete without this island hopping experience. I have never been so blown away and in awe of Mother Nature. Hence the inspiration for this post’s title, “is this real life?” Our guide and captain picked us up at 9:00, and we headed to sea. We managed to book a private tour since there were already five of us, for the same price (1200 Philippines Pesos- $34). I still can’t believe the prices in Southeast Asia, you get so much for a small price. Our guide, Ronnia was fantastic. He knew the timing of the other tours, so he did his best to avoid going at the same time. This resulted in the ultimate experience- less people, less busy, better photo ops, etc. Our first stop- Secret Beach. We anchored our boat, hopped out, and immediately realized why it was called Secret Beach: a hole in one of the limestone cliffs, the perfect size to climb through.


Heading through the hole!
Inside Secret Beach!


 A magical place with the most fascinating reflections on the rocks
Inside Secret Beach was quiet and peaceful- you almost felt the need to whisper. Sounds became amplified, the slightest tread of your body against the water becoming more noticeable. Surrounding us, giant limestone cliffs creating an almost perfect circle of water. The water and light not just reflecting against the rocks- but dancing and sparkling across them. We waded for a while, taking in the surroundings, and headed out of Secret Beach and back to where our boat was anchored- this beach beautiful in itself. Our next stop on the Island hopping tour was the place we would be stopping for lunch- our own private beach! While our guide and captain cooked lunch, we had time to do some snorkelling and exploration of the area.
Our beach for lunch
Our Captain cooking us some lunch in the cave
Lunch is served! Fresh grilled fish, chicken and pork with copious amounts of rice and fruit. Delicious!

Our third stop was Big Lagoon. This is the one that left me the most speechless. There was something so breathtaking and unique about it, the right words escape me.

Photocred: Mark B


The last stop on our Island hopping journey was Papaya beach. It was nice to simply relax and lay on the beach, float in the water, and reflect on the day.
The Philippines was never at the top of my travel list. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned she was going there that I started to consider it a possibility, and I am so glad I did! The natural beauty is astounding, and it is quite less touristy than other places but still has the benefits of a place frequented by backpackers. For example, cheap everything: hostels, food, transportation, activities, etc. If it isn’t on your list already, I highly suggest putting it on there!
Whew! That was a lengthy one. For those of you who made it to the end of this post (or even halfway through)- thank you. Thank you for taking the time to travel with me and continuously encouraging me to share my journeys.
Next Up: How I Spent Lunar New Year in Seoul!
Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “Is This Real Life? – Finding (Sur)reality in El Nido

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  1. Kiddo,

    In one word: WOW! No need to apologise for such a thought provoking blog post filled with such beautiful pictures. You inspire me and let me live vicariously through your journey!

    Wonderful….thank you for this gift….this peek into the new world you find yourself experiencing 🙂

    Love you Lots

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