Not more than 45 minutes by plane from Coron is El Nido; a conglomeration of islands sitting on the northern tip of the Palawan province. Flying into Lio Airport, it’s not hard to see why it’s garnered the nickname “Heaven on Earth.” Now is probably a good time to talk about my transit methods for this trip, which consisted exclusively of flying. Drag me for not thinking about the environment, but if it’s any consolation, most of the local transits were done on little ATR 42 turboprops which I can only assume are far more economical than larger mini-jets like the A320 or 787.
There is an express ferry from Coron to El Nido which is said to take around 4 hours, but with my focus on maximising my downtime and getting the most out of this trip, I bit the bullet and bought the flights. To be fair, these regional flights are pretty comparable to what I would pay for domestic land and sea travel in Korea, so I didn’t mind paying slightly extra for the far quicker transit times.
After negotiating the sweltering midday heat I found my way to the lodgings for this part of the trip; RC Villas and Resorts. They were kind enough to let me stay here as part of a hosted stay for one of my clients, so it’s only fair that I talk a bit about what they’ve got to offer.
RC Villas and Resorts consists of eight luxury suites that overlook the bay towards Dolarog Beach. The units are exquisitely spacious with warm touches of wood throughout, the freshest white linens and unbeatable views, especially at sunrise. The real showpiece is the infinity pool at the breakfast bar, a prime spot to relax after a long day of travel. I personally enjoyed the 90s urban playlist at every breakfast; it took me back to a time when things were… simpler.
The great thing about staying at a boutique resort such as this is that they’re generally able to arrange any amenities that you might need, which in my case, was transport. The first thing I noticed was that prices here are marginally higher than Coron. I can only attribute that to El Nido’s status is a more popular tourist hotspot. They know what they’ve got here, and they can command more. This goes for most things across the board; food, tours, transport.
After arranging a steed, I decided to hoon it down to Nacpan Beach, about 20km from Corong Corong town. The ride down to the beach was once again an expedition in itself, waterlogged and muddy in most places. Once at the beach, I was rewarded with some scintillating sunset views and a pristine stretch of coastline. Paradise is a difficult thing to quantify, but the sheer sense of serenity that washes over you as you walk up and down this beach is right up there as far as travel experiences go.
The next day, I booked Island Tour A, the most popular of the tours in El Nido. This tour covers the following sights:
7 Commando Beach
7 Commando Beach
The one island which we didn’t get to see was Simizu Island, which was replaced by Miniloc Island. I wasn’t disappointed by this, if anything Miniloc Island was an even more spectacular snorkelling site than I imagined it to be.
A few things to note about the island tours, both in Coron and El Nido. It helps to be a strong swimmer. Yes, you get life jackets for buoyancy, but to really get the most out of the snorkelling and diving experience, being a strong swimmer is vital. You’ll also burn a ton of calories during these island tours. Being out in the sun all day and expending so much energy will leave you feeling absolutely knackered at the end of the day.
The food on the tours is far from gourmet, but it certainly is wholesome and filling. You generally get a mix of chicken, meat, fish, fruit, seafood and salads. And, of course, tons of rice.
I ended off the day by stopping off at Las Cabanas beach, only a couple of kms from the resort where I was staying. With most of the beaches facing west, the sunsets here are truly spectacular.
Day 3 in El Nido consisted of a late brunch at a grill house in the Las Cabanas centre, after which I went in search of one of the attractions which I’d seen on numerous flyers; the zipline. Now, this zipline runs between two islands so you would think that it would be impressive, but if anything, this was far more underwhelming than I expected. For starters, you need to take a short walk along Las Cabanas beach before you reach a tiny hut where you buy your tickets. You then go through a construction site and take a short, steep walk up until getting to another ticket office where you have to present your ticket and wait in line for them to strap you in. The drop simply isn’t sharp enough to generate enough speed and by three-quarters of the way in, you’re left hanging for someone to fetch you. Here’s the kicker, by the time I reached the other side, I found out that there was a secondary zipline with a bigger drop, which no-one had told me about. And if you don’t do the second zipline, you’re left to negotiate a rocky, slippery beach on your way back, as there’s no real path to Las Cabanas beach. Needless to say, this attraction is one that I would skip.
Disappointed but not defeated, I headed back to my hotel and packed in a few items for an outing to Kuyawyaw Falls. These waterfalls are about 35km outside of Corong Corong, so not too taxing but will definitely require some planning.
For all the disappointment of the zipline, Kuyawyaw Falls surpassed my expectations. I was a little bit sceptical, but being the only person (along with my guide) in this tropical paradise was truly breathtaking. The hiking route takes you to three waterfalls, each increasing with size as you ascend the trail. They’re all great for swimming and, thanks to the recent rains, were flowing at full force. The drive to the falls is also a treat, the wide open roads and serene countryside really put you at peace. You’ll pay about PHP500 in total for this, which, all told, is a fair amount for what you get. If you have time, be sure to make a day out of it and consider having lunch at a restaurant nearby the falls.
Along the way back, I caught a flat tyre and was lucky enough to be assisted by one of the locals. Again, I can’t begin to explain just how kind the locals were. It was refreshing to travel a destination where English is widely spoken and break down some of the communication barriers that I’d had in other Asian countries.
It was around late afternoon when I’d returned from the outing, so I cleaned up and headed out to get some drinks in town. Later the evening, I met with some friends who’d also made the trip over from South Korea. It was a rabble-rousing evening, one in which I don’t remember all the details, but good fun nonetheless. The bar we patronised was Pukka Bar, playing some great live reggae music. As much as I’m averse to crowds, the bars and streets here were not packed to capacity and bar staff were friendly and chatty, which is sometimes what you need as a solo traveller.
As I arose from my groggy stupor the next morning, I got some final pick-up shots of the resort, filled up on breakfast and headed to Lio Airport around mid-morning for my flight to Boracay.
El Nido was quite a wild ride, and for the most part a highly satisfying leg of travel. I would have enjoyed an extra day here – and as my Boracay leg was to prove, perhaps spending an extra day in El Nido wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.