El Nido: First Impressions

There I was, finally, at the beach of El Nido staring at the iconic Cadlao island.

Accommodations all settled and our first island hopping tour not until the following day. I appreciate having some leisure time whenever we travel. By leisure, I mean allotting a few hours just walking around with no particular destination.

And so we walked.

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The main town of El Nido is small and can be easily covered on foot. There are three main roads that run parallel to the beach where most of the hotels and restaurants are: Calle Hama, Serena St and Calle Real.

Given the small size of the town, hotels and other establishments catering to tourists (and the tourists themselves) are practically everywhere.

The streets inside the main town of El Nido are narrow. Further congesting the streets are motorbikes, tricycles and private vehicles parked along the side of the street. Add the foot traffic of both locals and tourists to the mix and it can become a bit problematic. I dodged a couple of motorbikes and tricycles myself. Hehe! No wonder they no longer allow the shuttles from Puerto Princesa from entering El Nido’s town proper.

The best time to walk around is early morning and early evening when there aren’t that many vehicles on the road. Despite being a major tourist area, a number of establishments still retire early.

The powdery, cream-colored sand along El Nido’s main beach and the picture-perfect views would be a huge selling point at any beach resort, but we’re talking about El Nido here and people visit El Nido expecting only the best. I guess that’s why there are very few who bathed and frolicked along El Nido’s main beach.

I can only assume the diminished appeal of El Nido’s main beach is mainly in anticipation to the promise of uninhabited, unspoiled beaches, coves and lagoons on the island hopping tours. Unlike Bali, structures occupy almost all of the beach. The ubiquitous outrigger boats docked along the shore also doesn’t help in this cause.

Filipino courtesy and hospitality is legendary and known the world over. This is especially true in the provinces. The slightest of smiles can open up a hearty conversation and even an invite to upcoming fiestas. :)

A really good friend and I often share sentiments that when you’re in the province chances of getting swindled are slim to none. This is true during our entire Palawan trip, except for one occasion when a tricycle driver asked for more than the usual payment. Remember Php 30 will get you to and from any point within the town.

Other than that one time, everybody was so helpful and accommodating. From the hotels, restaurants, stores, bakeries, eateries, tricycle drivers and tour guides and operators.

We really enjoyed the home cooking at Gawad Kalinga. There are, of course, a wide number of options of places to eat, from budget eateries to pricier casual dining. Many of the restaurants near the beach specialize on certain cuisines, catering to the many foreign visitors. You’d find the more local-oriented and budget-friendly ones as you head closer towards the center of town.

El Nido Skyline Grill and Restaurant is quite an institution in El Nido, being the only one (according to locals we asked) that serve Nido soup. Food is good and affordable. You can have a meal here for less than Php 50. The Nido soup is a bit pricey at a little over Php 200. It tasted like your normal chicken soup with egg. The Nido have a slight umami taste with a texture like that of soft chicken cartilage.

I am a fan of bakery bread, and Midtown bakery sells really good bread. There’s often a line outside their store. They also close rather early.

Both places we stayed in proactively delivered flashlights and candles during the two times there was interruption in power which lasted for only a few minutes.

There is a Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) branch in El Nido with two ATMs. The only two in town, so I still suggest to bring enough cash with you. Wikitravel suggests sending yourself money online via wire transfer or remittance and picking it up at authorized remittance establishments should you run out of cash.

There’s good signal for both Globe and Smart networks, even some of the islands during the island hopping tours have okay reception. Great for posting all those Instagram worthy moments. :)

If you enjoy walking, like myself, you’ll find El Nido a charming little town to take a stroll in. There are tons of restaurants, stores and other places of interest to keep you occupied. Should you get tired from walking, you can always lounge by the beach and marvel at the magnificent view.

I remember reading somewhere, where El Nido is being compared to the early days of Bali, when it was fairly new on the backpacker’s trail. As more and more foreign tourists discovered the island paradise, establishments also started switching from selling/serving local wares, products and dishes to accommodate and lure in foreign business. This is also the trend in El Nido. Restaurants serving foreign cuisine outnumber local ones by a good margin.

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There is, of course, nothing wrong with having variety. To have something that reminds you of home after a long period on the road can be very comforting. The wonderful thing about El Nido is that it’s still able to maintain that small provincial village vibe. For now, at least.

With massive road construction of the route from Puerto Princesa to El Nido underway and Palawan consistently topping travel destination lists, major changes are to be expected. Let’s all hope it’ll be for the best. :)

26 June 2016 – Add information about newly opened BPI branch with two ATMs

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