As I was searching for flights to Asia I just remembered my two weeks holiday in El Nido, Philippines, with a 2 nights transit in Manila. Compared to what I’ve seen in my life, with Rio de Janeiro even, El Nido village / resort in the island of Palawan in Philippines is heaven on earth.
It is for me a 5 stars destination, that is becoming more and more touristic and maybe it will affect the ecosystem and quality of life there.
It is far enough to be hard to visit by mass tourism, though it can be really busy sometimes as it is a favorite week-end destination for wealthy Filipinos and Chinese people. El Nido is the birthplace of the well known nest soup, so loved by Chinese.
Manila is not great – a crowded, polluted, loud, dirty, dangerous for foreigners and a poor city that somehow manages to make you fell in love with it! I can’t explain this but I want to come back and stay longer. It is mostly for the people, the simple ones, cause no great things to see and view like in Europe. If you know a little bit of their history you can understand why it is so Spanish and then USA linked, why so less of a Filipino identity. It is also for the street night life of a buzzing city, the food and the parties, the late shopping. Here I saw some interesting parts of the chicken becoming food, though in Europe we throw away. I tasted and loved it, less the rotten eggs – balut.
For Europeans there is a shock to see children in the streets late at night, wondering or working, also little girls and boys with westerners that can be their grandpas. When I looked for a shampoo in the 7/11 supermarket I was confused too see half of cosmetics range with a particular characteristic – skin whitening. A Filipino explained that whiter people have more chances to succeed in life.
Well, too short to understand more of Manila, after two nights, I went for El Nido by plane to Puerto Princessa, the capital city of the island of Pallawan. In my circuit I have planed also Boracay Island but after seeing El Nido, I decided to stay there all my holiday. Never regretted, though arriving was such a hassle.
But let’s start the list of don’ts:
- don’t go to Philippines without checking in advance for visas. Also have a travel insurance, I strongly recommend it, copies of your papers to take them out and leave originals in hotel, addresses of hotels in the local language for you to show to taxi drivers, some local cash if possible ahead, dollars not euros, a debit card with a maximum reasonable amount, though I would recommend two cards. Check for ATM’s at the airport, it is cheaper than exchanging money, if not try to exchange just the taxi ride.
- while flying keep your valuables, money, papers, chargers, electronics, and some spare clothes with you. It is always safe like this in case you lost your luggage. It happened once while travelling to Bangkok from Singapore and at I had a minimum of clothes and money to go shopping.
- there is no need for vaccines but there are some red areas. Also be aware of the drug use and absolutely avoid or don’t visit if you cant. Don’t visit the areas not fully controlled by the government and where is a risk to be kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), in the Southern parts of Philippines.
- don’t worry about language as English or Spanish are widely known. They are also friendly and try to help you.
- leave at home your valuables – this is not the place to show off your wealth, by the contrary. Be modest and avoid unnecessary hassle.
- don’t over pack, take the minimum in clothing, no need for fashion. Even in El Nido I found Strepsils in a pharmacy so If you forgot something you can easily buy, and is cheaper. The same for sunscreen lotion, food etc.
- it is cheap – very cheap and this is so great. Finally a country to be relaxed about budget, that depends also on your level of expectation.
- don’t over plan in Manila or in Pallawan, except maybe for the 8th wonder of the world, the underground river. I like it cause not a lot of touristic things to see or do, except some marketing ones, and it feels so relaxed and I have a sense of freedom to enjoy only the beach and the scenery.
- don’t make savings on flights and transfers like I’ve done. I was flying to Puerto Princessa and then a 6 hours small bus ride to the north of the island, packed with tourists. I’ve stayed with my 30 kilos suitcase in my arms.
- At return I took a private transfer, but still 5 hours on a bumpy road. So what I saved on flights I was spending on a private transfer, but the time I could not save and the quality of travel. The only positive thing is that you see real life in the island, and sometimes the turquoise waters between the palm trees.
- don’t stop at the Fort Isabel – it can be interesting but not too much for you to pay the entrance ticket.
- so, take a direct flight that operates on the El Nido airport from manilla – you will not find it on momondo or other search engines, just look on the web. It is worth every penny.
- don’t plan a night in Puerto Princessa – not worth the trouble, after Manila. You are there for the beaches and this is not a beach destination.
- while in El Nido, remember there was no ATM machine, only exchange. There was a gas station where you could withdraw money, but based on advanced request and depending on their daily cash turnover. I was really stressed about this every day, luckily I had some cash.
I’ll do a part two cause it is becoming too long, more about El Nido itself.