El Nido isn’t exactly easy to get to. It’s at the very tip of Palawan, one of the less developed islands in the Philippines. To get there, I had to take a flight to Manila, then a flight to Puerto Princesa in central Palawan, and finally a six-hour ride in a cramped van over bumpy roads. Once I arrived, I was welcomed with patchy electricity, nonexistent wifi and a teeny-tiny town without much going on.
But it was so worth it.
El Nido is a small, boring, touristy town, but what makes it special is its proximity to the Bacuit Archipelago, a cluster of massive karst islands ringed with perfect white sand stretches, hidden beaches, and massive lagoons teeming with marine life. The only way to access this natural playground, with its landscape straight out of Jurassic Park, is by boat on an island hopping tour originating in El Nido. There are four tours (A, B, C & D) focusing on different aspects of the archipelago like beaches, lagoons, and caves. Each costs about $22, including lunch, snorkeling gear, a guide, and five stops on the tour. I did Tour A, the lagoon tour, and Tour C, the hidden tour, and I was not disappointed. Everything looks like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs of course.
The Lagoon Tour took us to Seven Commandos Beach, perhaps the most perfect beach I’ve ever been to.
We also stopped at three lagoons–Hidden Lagoon, Small Lagoon, and Big Lagoon. My favorite was Small Lagoon, which wasn’t very small at all. But you had to swim through a (large) hole in the karsts to get there, which was pretty cool.
Tour C was no less impressive. This tour focuses on some “hidden” parts of the archipelago. Although there are a few stops at perfect white sand beaches like Helicopter Island, the main sights on this tour take a bit more effort to get to.
Perhaps the most terrifying was Secret Beach, only accessible through a tiny hole in the karsts. The currents were pretty strong, which made swimming through a bit of a risk (wouldn’t want to smash into one of the rocks!). I tried not to think of what could go wrong and was rewarded with a tiny, perfect beach, hidden from the open ocean by a massive rock wall. No pictures though. Taking a camera in would have been too dangerous with the currents.
Even more beautiful was Hidden Beach, which also required some swimming, although thankfully no maneuvering through holes in the rocks. Once we swam behind the imposing jagged karsts, a beautiful stretch of white sand with warm, calm waters awaited us. Before I saw Hidden Beach I had no idea a place this simultaneously dramatic and peaceful could exist in nature, but I’m so glad it does.
Aside from the tours, there are a few nice beaches in the El Nido area. Las Cabanas beach is about a 15 minute ride outside of the downtown. An hour away, over rough roads, Nacpan Beach rewards the adventurous with nearly-empty golden sands.
El Nido might be a hard place to get to, but it’s a must-do for every traveler to the Philippines.