It’s weird what following all of those travel accounts on Instagram can do to you. I was born in the Philippines and lived there for a few years. Somehow, it wasn’t until the era of Instagram that I heard of El Nido and Palawan. All of a sudden, I started seeing it blasted all over my Instagram feed nearly every day.
I was already backpacking through Southeast Asia, so I figured why the hell not? I impulsively booked a flight to the Philippines from Vietnam and decided that I had to see what all the hype was about. I’ve never been a tourist in my own country, so I was excited to actually see what home had to offer. To be honest, after exploring Thailand’s southern islands and the wondrous Ha Long Bay, I was expecting more of the same: incredibly beautiful scenery ruined by mobs of rambunctious tourists.
Nope. I was pleasantly surprised at how undeveloped the tourism industry was. Although popular among travelers, the over-tourism had yet to take a firm hold on El Nido. There are some resorts and hostels, but you won’t feel overwhelmed by hordes of tourists like elsewhere in South East Asia.
El Nido was like a dream. Massive limestone karsts dotted the clear blue ocean. White sandy beaches made for beautiful sights above the water, while impressive coral reefs wowed you beneath it. Seeing the first glimpses of the beautiful seaside mountains after a bumpy six-hour minivan ride through a monsoon was love at first sight.
For the more rugged traveler or adventurous backpacker, El Nido is perfection. There are plenty of things to do in the area, and an abundance of islands to explore. El Nido is a popular destination for Scuba divers, but even if you just want to chill by some pristine beaches and swim in perfect waters, then you can’t go wrong with a vacation here.
It feels like an escape from the real world. Or at the very least, an escape from the Western comforts that you probably found yourself reverting to while experiencing the “culture” of Southeast Asia. I’ll admit, backpacking through Southeast Asia was too easy and catered way too much to Western backpackers. You didn’t have to eat local food if you didn’t want to and wi-fi was ubiquitous. You could sit on Instagram and Facebook all day instead of experiencing the new world that you have flown to.
El Nido was refreshing and was exactly what I was hoping to get out of Southeast Asia. Don’t like local food? Suck it up, because there are not too many restaurant options in El Nido. Don’t be too upset because the Philippines has some of my favorite food in the entire world. I recommend going to the beach and having someone grill a fresh fish or squid right in front of you. For 200 pesos ($4 USD), you get a whole fish, and rice, and vegetables. Ballin’ on a budget.
If you’re a budget traveler, get used to being uncomfortable. El Nido only recently got 24-hour electricity. Hostels don’t have the best amenities and don’t even think about wi-fi. The Philippines isn’t exactly known for its high-speed wi-fi, but El Nido takes you back to the stone age with how difficult to find wi-fi is. When you finally find a cafe or hotel advertising free wi-fi, it will be completely unreliable. It was refreshing not caring about the outside world for a while.
The nightlife in El Nido does leave a little bit to be desired. Regardless, I had some incredible nights out while I was there. The main bar that everyone goes to is Pukka Bar. The music is good and the dance floor is usually packed. It’s not just stinky backpackers that populate the dancefloor either. We Filipino people love to party. In comparison to other countries in Southeast Asia, the Filipino people are much more fun and friendly. It is impossible not to make friends with a few Filipino people on every night out.
I’m not going to say that El Nido will provide a super authentic, non-touristy, local experience, but it is as close as you’re going to get for something as breathtakingly beautiful as Palawan. I have no doubt that there will be a massive increase in Palawan’s popularity in the future. Everyone’s always looking for that new exotic and untouched destination like Bali once was a long time ago.
I believe that El Nido is going to be that place soon, so I strongly suggest that you move it towards the top of your bucket list before it becomes another festering pit of tourists and selfie sticks. Now is the best time to go to El Nido.