5D4N El Nido, Palawan Trip on a Budget



After our exciting Puerto Princesa adventure, we decided to head to El Nido for more fun. Here's how we spent our days under the sun.


DAY 1


We were pretty lucky enough to get a van transport from Puerto Princesa to El Nido for a reduced price of P400 ($9) instead of the usual P500-P600 ($10-$12). I suppose bargaining is a lot easier if you are travelling in the Philippines at off-seasons (i.e. mid-January to early March and June to mid-October). 

If you're really on a tight budget, you may opt to take a bus located at the terminal, but for a price difference of P100-P200 ($2-$4), the convenience of availing a van transport might be a wiser choice (They do direct hotel pick-ups and drop-offs, not to mention that the terminal is pretty far from the city proper and you'd need to take a tricycle or jeepney to take you to the terminals).


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Transfer vans parked after use
The entire ride took about 6 hours, probably 5, if not for the lunch stopover and for the fact that our hotels ended up getting picked up FIRST and dropped off LAST due to location. 

Talk about bad luck! 

The road is pretty much under development so do prepare a plastic bag and some mints just in case you feel nauseous throughout the trip.


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A few meters from the beach
Upon arrival, we decided to settle down for a while at our room. 

Dayunan Tourist Inn is located at the far end of the beach, pretty near the pier. Due to its location, it's one of the cheapest decent accommodations one can avail at El Nido. For a price of P2,130, it included breakfast and a basic, but nice room. 


Book DAYUNAN TOURIST INN here:






Since it is partly surrounded by local residences, they have developed a nice wooden path to make the visitors feel more at ease, and of course, to conceal the unpleasant look of waste water canals...



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Wooden walkway to Dayunan Inn
Minor discomforts though that I think affects all establishments would be hard tap water (water with dissolved minerals) that makes soap bubble less than usual, power interruptions every now and then (one reason why all establishments have generators), and weak internet and mobile connection. 

Probably it's a good sign that this town isn't yet a fully pledged modern city. Gives a feeling that you are indeed away from the city.


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We then decided to explore the streets of El Nido and even went beyond the tourist beach line. There we found a cemetery, a humanitarian organization, and a few secluded high end resorts. It was about dusk when we headed back to the tourist area, and felt a bit creeped out with the candles flickering in the cemetery.



Before the first day ended, we decided to call Asia Travel to verify our booked tours for the next two days. However, due to poor reception and internet connection, we weren't able to make the call. 


DAY 2


Early next day, we had breakfast at 6AM and tried yet again to connect to Asia Travel. You see, this is one major drawback of booking online through a third party website. True, they offer amazing deals at times (we got Underground River tour for P1,160 instead of P1,550!), but there isn't a physical office/stall where you can confirm your reservations. You're left on your own to wait it out and hope that they haven't forgotten to process your reservation. 

We actually encountered a similar problem at Puerto Princesa Underground River, but since the reception there was good, we were able to resolve the conflict (they weren't able to forward our details to the tour provider). 



Also, for El Nido tours, especially during off-season, I do NOT recommend purchasing tours online because chances are, you might get the tours for a cheaper price once you start bargaining with travel agents directly. 

Online booking though often is cheaper than those in-situ. We got Tour A for P1,067 instead of P1,200 and Tour B for P1,189.50 instead of P1,300. 

In general, online booking is wise to do for peak season travels. Otherwise, stick to personally purchasing a tour package for better deals.



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We got tour D for P1000 each instead of P1,300 by scouring stores and travel agencies, before finally finding this purple store whose owner connected me to a tour. I reckon she's a relative of a boat driver, and that's how she got it for a lower price. 

You may reach her at 09470570810, or, just simply try to find the purple store as shown below:



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At around 8AM, the receptionist knocked to inform us that the transfer is ready to pick us up. It was a tricycle that took us just about 200m away from the hotel. 

To my surprise, he asked a payment of P50 ($1.25) for a distance that wasn't even that far! Apparently, the transfer isn't part of the payment we made and so I made sure NOT to make the same mistake again the next day by confirming meet up point and walking the short path instead. 

Also, Asia Travel's booking didn't include snorkel and fins, unlike offers from other parties (rental: P100 per item). Yet another drawback of booking online.

Tour packages A, B, C, and D are pretty much standardized all throughout the agencies. You'd get to see the same set of islands and buffet lunch regardless of where you booked, although different agencies might offer other freebies including fins, shoes and snorkel use. 

Tourists are also required to pay a  P200 eco-tourism development fee (ETDF), which is valid for 10 days.

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I've also heard that several island sites are given a 5-year recovery period to allow coral regrowth due to tourist damage. 

Yes, a lot of delicate corals get damage mainly by tourists who use aqua shoes and step inconsiderately on anything remotely hard. This is especially true with the long strait that leads to Secret Island during low tide and tour boats had to dock away from the entrance. 


Tourists are then forced to WALK ON SHALLOW WATER without knowing that they are stepping on fully formed corals and not just some rocks. I am aware of this because I decided to skim the waters even though it was just around a foot deep. 


From my point of view, I was personally able to observe how people unwittingly step on brittle corals, causing several branches to get severely damaged.


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What they couldn't see from walking over "rocks" is the diversity of life even at a foot depth of water. There we found a magnificent anemone with three chocolate clown fish protecting it. Imagine how it would look like after your aqua shoes squashed it. 

This reminder isn't just for environmental reasons though; just in that foot depth of water, we were able to observe seven sea urchins clumped together in what might appear as a dark rock. I'm pretty sure those spikes could penetrate rental aqua shoes given a rather heavy step. 

I've also seen an odd looking stone fish that could deliver a fatal injection. For safety reasons: WALK ABOVE WATER PLEASE (or at least, should you really need to tread shallow waters, do so with care)


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Here's a summary on what's in store for each tour package as well as the cost, should you chose to avail of the packages from travel agents.





And here's a summary of our major expenses. 


I decided not include food purchases as it may vary heavily from person to person. We didn't spend a lot on food anyway because all tours include buffet lunches and the accommodation already included breakfast. 



All values are in Philippine Peso
I didn't really give much attention to details, but for our first tour day (Tour A), we've been totally drained out after Big and Small lagoons that the buffet lunch served on the third stop (Shimizu Island) felt like a deluxe Viking meal.


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The boatmen prepared the meals on-board, from the start of the trip until midday. It's rather amazing the way they prepare the fruits in a delicate way that you wont expect from brawny men. Since were just about 8 people in the tour, there was indeed more than enough food in most cases.



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Tour A ended with a nice view from the other side of El Nido beach, just beyond the big rock mountain that is visible on the left. 7 Commandos beach absolutely felt like a tropical paradise. We would have loved to book a room from that place, if not for the heavy price tag that starts from P20,000($500) per night.



No automatic alt text available. Since we were in a budget, we decided to skip beach front restos and instead ate at local food stores that sell meals for P60 ($1.3). We ended the day with a bottle of San Miguel beer and deep sleep.

DAY3


After meeting up at the rendezvous point, we were surprised to see the same faces on our 2nd tour. Apparently, since our reservations were handled by the same person. 


We actually booked a tour B, but due to some reason, they could find us a tour B ride so they eventually reassigned us to C (I think it's because there wasn't much tourists that booked a tour B that day under their office so they decide to mix Bs and Cs to one.


Tour C involved some rather nice land views anyway so I didn't find it bothersome. Be careful when climbing the cliffs tho: there was an accident early this year that left a tour guide in a heavy state of comma. In hindsight, I now feel bothered that I even dared climb that dangerous cliff on slippers


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These sharp jagged rocks are located just above Matinloc Shrine. While true, the view is awesome, but please please, take extra care when doing this. 

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There are other things to do in this island anyway if you don't consider yourself physically fit enough.

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Day three ended with a nice stroll along star beach. 

And yes, snorkeling again is possible on some areas. I actually did get the hang out of eating buffet meals and doing water activities after a while.

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DAY 4

We embarked on a Tour D adventure on our fourth day at El Nido. This time, the boat is smaller, and as a result, the seats are closer to the ear-splitting motor. I do advise you guys to bring along your earbuds. They're lightweight anyway and don't cover much space in your bag. You can never tell when your boat happens to be the excessively noisy type until it's too late.



Nothing really stood out when it came to this day, well, truth be told, I was focusing more on framing photos and making memories rather than keeping details in check. I guess i should be more actively checking names next time. At Cadlao Lagoon tho, should you decide to go snorkeling, its better to go just OUTSIDE the lagoon where the corals are more abundant. Care must be taken that you wont get run over by an incoming boat.


I must add, tour D had the best beaches mostly due to the relatively fewer tour groups coming in. At any moment there were just, at the most 4 boats that were docked at the wide stretch of beaches. I do recommend tour D for those who would rather have a relaxing time together with family and loved ones

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The abundance of relatively safe jellyfish at Paradise Beach sort of feels a lot stressful at first, but once you realize that the stings don't really have much effect, it feel nice swimming with these sea fairies.


As a reminder, its always a good idea to avoid making contact with any marine creature. Wear a rash guard or at least some clothing to avoid developing some skin condition that would potentially ruin you for the next few weeks

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Our last stop at Paradise Beach included a quick dive at the Coral garden in the middle of the sea. Due to the depth, these corals are essentially untouched and showed very little sign of damage. I sure hope El Nido manages to maintain a healthy condition of the corals in spite of the massive amount of tourists entering the waters.




I'm definitely sure you'll enjoy El Nido as much as we did. Please remember, be an environmentally responsible tourist! Don't step on corals. Use rash guards instead of sunblock to reduce sunblock usage on arms and body (sunblock dissolved in water causes coral bleaching and other effects. You may check this article for reference)



Come and visit El Nido soon! Welcome to the Philippines!




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