How to spend 2 weeks in El Nido & Coron - The Philippines
The Philippines has been on our go-to list for a while now. One of my best friends Nina is part Filipino and she always raved on about how amazing it was, so, of course we had to come see it for ourselves! After spending two great weeks in Japan we were super keen for some tropical living, this is our honeymoon after all! The short 4 hour flight from Osaka to Manila had us arriving in Manila mid-afternoon. We were a bit anxious about spending time in Manila due to some recent press regarding high incidence of crime, and hence decided to spend just one night. Luckily enough we got to meet up with Nina's brother Robbie, whom is living in Manila. He took us around to some cool bars and certainly made us feel more comfortable in a city that screams chaos from the moment you land. If it wasn't for him, we would not have seen how cool Manila was! The Philippines is still a developing country, and it is starkly evident in the capital city. Picture luxurious hotel, skyscrapers and high rise casinos, mixed together with slums, chaotic traffic, street markets, and thousands of overpacked Jeepneys (the Filipino version of a public bus). Although it was good to see Manila, this was not the reason we came to the Philippines.
Our next stop was El Nido. The cost of direct flights to El Nido were ridiculous, so we took the common route, flying directly to Puerto Princessa on the Island of Palawan ($75 each with AirAsia) . As we were in no rush we decided to spend 2 nights here. To be honest, If we had our time over I would have flown straight to El Nido. Puerto Princesa doesn't offer a great deal. However, If you are after the serene, aqua blue beaches with white sand your best option is to spend a day island hopping Honda bay. We hired a private boat which cost us about 1700PH ($45) for the day, this includes up to 4 islands of your choice, lunch on the beach and all of the entrance/environmental fees. Being our first island hop we didn't realise how great this price was ( El Nido private island hopping tours quadrupled in price! ) We wanted to relax, so we only chose 2 islands to visit, the first being the iconic Starfish Island, and yeah the small amount of starfish were cool but the water and coral was dirty and damaged. My personal recommendation would be not to visit this island and head straight to Pandan Island. It was beautiful! You will find palm trees, bamboo huts, pristine turquoise waters, white sand and more beautiful sea stars! If we had of known the sea stars were here as well we wouldn't have bothered with the first stop! If Puerto Princessa is on your list and you are after a quiet, non-touristic beach, Pandan Island is your go-to! HOT TIP: Get there before lunch time so you score yourself a cute little bamboo hut for the day.
After spending 5 bumpy, windy hours on a bus we arrived to El Nido. Straight away we were engulfed by the island vibe. Our first stop was happy hour at a trendy little water-front bar. After spending most of the day on the bus we couldn't think of a better way to chill than to have some drinks whilst watching the sunsetting over the bay - it was magical, straight away we felt relaxed. Our accommodation, which we booked through Agoda, was a handy 2 minute walk to the main street.
Island hopping was again the highlight of this town. We soon learnt this to be true of most places in the Philippines. It is no surprise that El Nido has won the Best Island in the World by Conde Nast Traveller for the 2nd year in a row. We chose tour A, as we were told it was the best. We certainly were not disappointed. The natural beauty of El Nido is hard to describe, I think this is where the term Tropical Island was coined.
Given it was our honeymoon, we decided to splash out and get the "fast" ferry to Coron, our next destination. For the sake of a few dollars we would save about 3 hours of travel time. Similarly to most things we found in the Philippines, time is merely a concept. This "fast" ferry took us 5 hours (it was advertised as 3 hours) - apparently there was a problem with the engine (at least we made it!).
Coron itself is a small, but lively town. We spent some time walking the streets, playing basketball with the locals, and trying some interesting foods. However, once again the highlight was the Island hopping tour. Coron Island, which is a short boat ride from where we were staying on Busuanga Island, is probably the most beautiful place we have ever seen. Type "Coron Island" into Google images and you will understand why I say this. Every time you turn a corner, or trek a hill we were gobsmacked with the postcard-like views. It was pleasing to see that the locals have put measures in place to preserve the islands beauty.
3 days was probably too long in Coron town. If we had our time again, we would have shortened our time here. We purposely left 2 spare days at the end of our Palawan itinerary, which we decided to spend in a secluded river-side resort on the eastern side of Busuanga. This was just what we needed. After spending 4 weeks surrounded by tourists, it was so good to have some peace and quiet. The Riverhouse resort is the perfect getaway, and for 1,500PH per night ($40) with a deal from Agoda we were stoked. From here we visited a local island for a picnic lunch. It was great, we had the entire island to ourselves! We definitely felt like we were on our honeymoon here!
One of our favourite parts of our entire 2 weeks in Palawan was spending a day in a local village. We jumped on board a little boat that carried us up the mangrove-lined river to a little village in the middle of nowhere. We learnt how to build roofing from palm tree leaves and bamboo, toured the rice fields on the back of a buffalo, and spent some time drinking coconuts with our new furry friends. These locals were a reminder to us that we don't need material things to be happy, they were as happy as anyone we had ever met.
Looking forward to our next stop - Cebu, and then Siargao! Keep an eye out for the next post!
Have you been to the Philippines? Comment below, we'd love to hear from you.
-Images shot on our Sony a6000 (with 18-105mm lens), DJI Mavic Pro drone, and GoPro Silver 4.