I first visited El Nido three years ago upon the invitation of a friend whom I dated very briefly. I must have been living in a bubble all my life for I never knew how relationships with visitors worked. Since then, I treasured a hate/hate relationship with this destination popular amongst backpackers.
And so excited to visit a place that I only knew about from travel magazines, I booked tickets to the nearest major airport, not knowing full well about the harrowing land transfer between Puerto Princesa and this tiny town sitting on the edge of nowhere: six hours of commute on some of the roughest roads I knew. If you asked me now, I would pay anything to avoid spending a total of twelve hours that I could never get back on a backbreaking road trip.
You have to be brave to cross patches of West Philippine Sea and channels between islands as your tiny boat is tossed around large wave after large wave. Pray that the outrigger you were sailing in would stay intact or you might as well call it a life, then go.
(Please, banca owners, make sure your boats are in tip-top shaping before taking in guests. It’s not imaginary if everyone looks towards the same direction whenever your outriggers are making cracking sound as if your vessels were begging to disintegrate in the middle of the sea.)
You would be lucky to find a comfort room or lavatory on the islands. And if you ever got lucky to find one, there was no assurance that it was clean or had proper running water.
Brush up on your swimming skills, because not all stops are done on shallow waters. If you are not a strong swimmer, ask your tour guide for a life vest. It doesn’t look cool, but at least you will live for another day.
If you want a fuss-free El Nido experience, go fancy and spend a month’s paycheck to stay at the private resorts on the islands. Otherwise, you have to be open to the idea that it’s a popular destination mostly for backpackers, and not without a good reason.
It is definitely not Boracay or any of those fancy beach destinations around the globe, so nightlife was rather limited. It is still limited as of this writing, but at least there are a number of places to enjoy good music or a couple of drinks, such as the famous Pukka bar. It was overcrowded when I got there around midnight in my last visit; rhum Coke was okay (hindi pa uso ang sliced lemon). Amoy backpacker din 🙂
Three years ago, because we stayed on the town’s outskirts, we hardly knew of any decent restaurant apart from one that took all of 45 minutes to serve anything. At least now, there are some places that serve basic fare based on which country their owners come from or whichever place their chefs took inspiration. On the other hand, one cannot help but have the impression that whatever was served had that ersatz quality to it.And oh, apart from local Tanduay or Emperador, alcohol is rather expensive. I thought of getting a bottle of red from some of the liquor stores found around town, but had to change my mind when I realised just how much resellers had to jack up prices: roughly double that of liquors sold in Manila. That’s one disadvantage of being in a remote town, I suppose–you need to cover your investment around transportation, time, and effort in bringing in some basic necessities just to break even.
Worst of all was that power was out at least six hours a day and only switched back on mid-afternoon. At least now, six-hour blackouts are replaced by random brownouts throughout the day or none at all. There was no ATM either, so I had to watch my spending closely.