El Nido

I adored El Nido and ended up spending five nights there. Although I’ve enjoyed most of the places I’ve visited, El Nido was one of the few where I could imagine living for at least a few months (the others were Kuala LumpurCanggu, and Gili T).

I have a big sweet tooth, and one of the benefits of staying in El Nido was the number of shops offering great desserts. My favorite was a Hong Kong waffle made by Cocolush. I got a “chocolate bomb,” which was frozen yogurt served with M&Ms, Oreo pieces, and chocolate sauce. It was the kind of sugary monstrosity six-year-olds dream of, and I had no problem polishing it off.


Bikini diet?

If you’re in El Nido, you’ll probably join at least one island-hopping tour. Operators offer four tours labeled A, B, C, and D. Tours A and C are the most popular, and some companies offer a one-day combined tour with highlights from both. Since I had a few days in El Nido and was in no rush, I did tours A and C on separate days.

Tour A is photogenic, with stops at lagoons and beaches. Our first stop was the Big Lagoon, which felt like an assembly line due to the number of boats. Still, the scenery was undeniably beautiful.

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We anchored by Shimizu Island, which was my favorite stop. The water was an incredibly clear aqua, and wispy clouds were overhead.

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When we jumped in, the water was the ideal temperature to peacefully float around.

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We later pulled up to the Small Lagoon, where we were able to kayak. My Swedish tour mate expertly led us through crevices and swerved around other kayaks. I “helped” by dipping my paddle in the water a few times.

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Our group was supposed to go to Seven Commandos Beach for our last stop, but our tour guide noticed that a nearby beach was deserted. We jumped at the chance to have a beach to ourselves.

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Beware of tourist road kill while island hopping in El Nido.

Tour C focused more on snorkeling. This is obvious, but be sure to bring a GoPro or other waterproof camera if you go on an island-hopping tour. Touts in El Nido also sell waterproof sleeves for phones and dry bags. Sadly, I forgot my GoPro, so photo opps on Tour C were limited.

Our first stop was the appropriately named Helicopter Island. As we snorkeled around the island, I saw a small sea snake, which eased through sand and coral.

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We later visited Hidden Beach and waded through water and over rocks to access the beach itself.

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Entrance to Hidden Beach

I went diving around El Nido with Submariner Diving Center, and it quickly became my favorite dive spot. The reefs were stunning, and our dive master Jojo was able to spot marine life that I hadn’t seen before. Most notably, we saw an octopus and cuttlefish, both of which changed colors before our eyes. We also saw a moray eel (always my favorite), turtles, and a small ray. I went diving for only one day, but I should have signed up for more dives.

Although I enjoy diving, maintaining proper buoyancy was always an issue. I finally felt comfortable underwater in El Nido. I didn’t bring a camera for my dives, but I was fairly confident I would have been able to manage one – a first for me.

Submariner was an excellent diving center. The dive masters were easy-going and professional. Although there were at least 20 divers on the day I visited, we were split up into small groups and received personalized attention.

One lazy afternoon, a small group from my hostel decided to go to Las Cabanas, a beach on the west side of El Nido, for sunset. Las Cabanas was about a 15-minute drive from the town center, so we haggled with a few tricycle drivers. We could see dark gray clouds gathering in the distance, and it was clear a storm was coming. Out of curiosity, one of our group members asked the drivers if it was going to rain. Eager for our business, the drivers replied with a resounding “No!” I died from laughing, but no one else from my group seemed to find the drivers’ response nearly as funny.

We negotiated a rate of 50 PHP (about $1) per person for the ride to Las Cabanas. As our driver pulled up to the beach, the rain started to fall. We sought cover at Sun Bar and ordered a couple of drinks and ice cream. We anxiously checked for patches of clear sky, but the rain built up to a downpour. To kill time, we watched a couple of dogs that had also found refuge at Sun Bar.

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OMG, that sandy nose

Miraculously, the rain stopped at around 5 PM, and we were treated to the most striking sunset I’d seen on my trip.

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My hostel Spin was a big reason why I enjoyed my time in El Nido. The staff members were all stars who worked tirelessly to make sure every guest was having a good time. They hosted events (barbecue, painting, beer pong) every night. The dorm was huge and had comfortable beds. The shared bathrooms were clean, and the staff was constantly tidying them. The free breakfast was easily among the best I’ve had on my trip, with freshly made pancakes and eggs, fruit, toast, and Filipino cuisine. Spin was pricier than other hostels (1175 PHP/$23 per night for a four-bed dorm), but it was absolutely worth the money.

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