Sophie in the lagoon
by the secret lagoon
After the 7 hour incredibly scenic (but expensive 2,200PHP) boat ride from Coron Town to El Nido through a land that can only be described as Robinson Crusoe real estate, we all got off with our sea legs well and truly on.. it's amazing just how long it takes for the swaying sensation of being at sea to wear off!
El Nido is really small and easy to walk around in a few minutes so along with David from Israel and Dominic from Germany we set off to find somewhere to sleep for our time here. It was quite a bit more expensive here than we'd hoped, we'd all thought we'd find rooms for around 500PHP but the cheapest we could find (with rooms available) were 800PHP. This room was a lovely spanking new room on a beachfront location and owned by a super friendly family so it really wasn't so bad. We dumped our backpacks and went off to find something to eat and to sink a few beers to try and get rid of the swaying feeling in favour of a swaying feeling of a different kind!
The main attraction here in El Nido (and probably the
whole of Palawan) is to go and explore the incredibly beautiful Bacuit Archipelago. This really is a stunning part of the world without any question and it is quite easy to see why this is classed as one of the best seascapes on the planet. The few people who we'd met and had been here raved about how lovely it was and it's one of those places that will never disappoint, much like most places in the Philippines we might add.
So explore the Bacuit Archipelago is exactly what we did! There are countless different ways in which you can do this depending on the time you have and the size of your wallet. You can tailor banka boat trips from one to multi days, perhaps stopping at some of the many beautiful beaches overnight, or join one of the group tours which is of course the cheapest and therefore most popular way to do it. We opted for this way and after going with the tour offered by our guesthouse we were lucky enough to have small groups for our tours with just 2 other people on board.
There is basically a choice of 3 trips to
do, A, B or C with each offering a slightly different area around the Archipelago. These trips are amazing value for money at 500PHP, 550PHP and 600PHP respectively which is for a full day on the boat and includes a huge BBQ fish and salad lunch served on a beach along the way. Like most people we loved our first trip so much it wasn't a hard decision to make that we'd do all 3 and we even had a bonus trip too.
Each and every trip was incredible and jaw droppingly beautiful. We won't go into the run down of each and every trip but a little bit of information won't go amiss... Tour A
was a day spent sailing around the beauty of Miniloc Island and it's many beaches and lagoons. We also found this trip to be the best snorkelling of the 3 trips with our lunch stop being an area with so many fish it was literally like swimming in a huge tropical fish tank and the visibility was just awesome. After a great day we spent our final hour on 7 Commanders Beach which is actually part of the Palawan mainland but a
beautiful beach nonetheless. This beach is so called after 7 Commanders got stranded here when their plane crashed in 1967, this was before tour groups regularly came past here so after a few days stranded they decided to climb the sheer limestone cliffs to try and reach El Nido on the other side. Sadly they all fell to their death on the rocks and hence the name 7 Commanders with this being their final resting place. True or false?! The decision is yours! Tour B
was more about the beautiful small islands and of course the beaches which matched them and it was here we fell in love with one island in particular. We also got our first sighting of an octopus on this trip which was a highlight for both of us after both being so desperate to see one since we left the UK.. it was stranded in a rock pool but great to see all the same. Tour C
this tour provided the most stunning and dramatic scenery as you get to go along the Tapiutan Strait, a stretch of water between 2 islands with limestone cliffs towering over you from both sides which we
thought compared to a tropical version of New Zealands fjord land. We also got to experience what it would be like inside a washing machine as our little banka got knocked around by huge 6'+ waves which at times felt like they were coming from all directions! We ended this trip on Helicopter Island which at certain times of the year doubles up as the setting for the Survivor series in Europe.
So which was our favourite trip? All of them! For us each day was so incredible it would be hard to say that one was better than another. This area is so beautiful you could never get tired of seeing it and every time you set sail you discover new beaches and secret lagoons. Expats we met who lived in El Nido said that they still love going out there after 5 or more years in town. Our pictures could never possibly do this place justice in all its enormity but we hope they give you a little taste of just how beautiful it is.
So after doing all 3 of the trips and on our last day, Dale had a little surprise in store for
Sophie in the shape of a private trip just for the 2 of us and it really was the trip of a lifetime. We went to our favourite island, Pinabuyutan Island, this is one of the more photographed of islands and for good reason because it is simply stunning. Split into 2 huge limestone cliff faces, these tower over a coconut grove below and then a pure white sand beach at the front. Dale had organised for us to go to this island after all the day trippers had left so we had it all to ourselves which was the perfect setting for a perfect surprise...
We watched yet another amazing Philipino sunset and as we walked back to the boat Dale stumbled upon a half open shell and asked Sophie to take a look. Sophie picked up the shell and inside was something sparkling away... 'a ring
'! Sophie said in stumped amazement, then with no hesitation Dale got down on one knee and proposed! For those that know us we don't really go in for the whole romantic thing but on this occasion it was perfect and even though Sophie doesn't like surprises unless she's arranged them herself,
she loved this one! Of course she said yes! But it didn't end there... round the corner Dale had also organised for Felix our boatman and his brother the chef to set up a romantic beach dinner, so we dined on fresh crab washed down with a few San Miguels to celebrate this amazing end to our time here in El Nido. As we sailed back to town in the star lit sky we both saw a shooting star streak across the sky... aaahhhhhh!
As well as our water based activities we did also squeeze in a few land day trips around El Nido. Palawan is such a wild place and mostly undeveloped so it would be shame not to see the land side as well as the sea side. On one afternoon we did the 6km walk to Corong Corong Bay to watch the sunset next to one of the posh resorts, this was well worth the effort as the sunset was perfect and we got to see some of the other beaches along the way as we walked there taking it all in.
On another day we hired an off road bike and made the 30km
ride up to Bucana Beach which is towards the far North end of Palawan. The ride there was a very pretty but bumpy one though lots of farmland and rice paddies with friendly locals waving us on our way. We struggled to find the beach when we got to Bucana so had to ask a few people who directed us towards a tiny dirt path through some trees which did eventually lead to a huge golden sand beach which was completely deserted for the entire 2km stretch. Well it was deserted as far as we could see but there were people there because after spending a few hours enjoying this area all to ourselves we got back to the bike and found one of our helmets had been stolen. We couldn't understand why they'd just taken one until we returned the bike and found the one they'd taken was about 3x the price of the other one and of course we had to foot the bill which tainted our great day a little but these things happen and we were just thankful it was a helmet and not the bike!
After 6 perfect days here in El Nido we
had to leave as Christmas Day was nearly here and we'd booked a room in a little island a bit further south in Palawan to spend our 2nd Christmas away from the UK. El Nido has probably some of the most stunning scenery we have seen in the whole of South East Asia and will always be special to us for obvious reasons, but even without this it is a really beautiful part of the world which still retains an undeveloped charm. Something that no doubt will change in upcoming years as the Philippines becomes more and more popular as a holiday destination...
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