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I Keep Coming Back to El Nido

posted by in Gypsetters Guide
View in El Nido town

We are definitely spoiled for choice when it comes to beach life in the Philippines, with over 7,000 islands to choose from. One island in particular has captured my heart, and that island is El Nido, Palawan. Gifted in natural resources, El Nido boasts of kilometers of pristine beach, picturesque limestone cliffs, quiet lagoons, hidden beaches and spectacular marine biodiversity which means fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving adventures.

Fly to El Nido via Air Swift. Don't worry, it's safe!

Fly to El Nido via Air Swift. Don’t worry, it’s safe!

Adventure jeepney!

Adventure jeepney!

My idea of El Nido used to be about booking through the exclusive El Nido Resorts which owns three islands in the area. My first trip to El Nido was in 2000 where I booked a water cottage on Lagen Island. As soon as I landed at the airport, there was jeepney waiting for resort guests to drive them to the dock five minutes away. From the jeepney we boarded a boat that would take us to the island.

Lagen Island, El Nido Resorts

Lagen Island, El Nido Resorts

Being a five-star hotel group, my stay was superb – if not a little pricey. All your meals were included in the room rate and this meant buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The room and facilities were modern. I explored the lagoons, enjoyed a private lunch on a secluded island and went scuba diving. Visiting El Nido Resorts is perfect for a romantic getaway or a trip with a group of friends.

In February 2015 I went to El Nido with a friend who really knew El Nido – and not just the company that ran the resorts. From the airport we turned the other direction away from the port and took a car which led us out of the airport and into a town. There was a whole other side to El Nido – one that attracted a growing community of travelers who have made this tranquil place their new home and created a cool vibe of interesting restaurants, bars, accommodations and services. It was incredible!

Since so many people have been asking for recommendations about El Nido, I’ve decided to put together this Gypsetter Guide compiled from four trips and counting. May you have an equally amazing adventure there as I always do!

Season: El Nido is divided into two seasons, dry during December to June and the rainy season July to November. To ensure you get beautiful sunny yet breezy days, best to go during December to February. In March the sun can get too hot – and if this happens, just cool off in the water and avoid high noon in the sun. Rainy season has a different quieter ambience around El Nido but it still gets good sun.

Beach essentials: a hat, a book, tanning stuff and a roomy bag that says "Blame it on my Gypsy Soul"

Beach essentials: a hat, a towel, a book, tanning stuff and a roomy, lightweight bag that says “Blame it on my Gypsy Soul”

What to pack: An open mind and good vibes for sure! This being an island, bring your beach and adventure essentials: sunblock, mosquito repellent, swimwear, beachwear, flip-flops and snorkeling gear. Since there is a bit of nightlife you can bring casual cool T-shirts for men and beach dresses for the ladies.

Lust: I’d love to get out of my comfort zone and have a remote island experience with Tao Philippines and visit some of the most remote islands in Palawan, get to meet local communities and cut myself off from modern civilization. Wouldn’t that be a challenge?

Dreamy Cadlao Resort

Dreamy Cadlao Resort

Newly opened Cauayan Resort on an island in Cadlao

Newly opened Cauayan Resort on an island in Cadlao

Stay: Depending on your preference and budget, there are many resorts in El Nido to book. If you want to stay right where the action is, you can stay at Sea Cocoon, Ipil Suites or Tarao Travelodge. Sea Cocoon and Ipil Place are newer and more modern but Tarao has a more rustic vibe – all with modern amenities like hot water, air-conditioner and flushing toilets. If you are looking for beachfront properties, check out El Nido Mahogany Beach or Orange Pearl in Corong-Corong, Las Cabanas Beach Resort in Marimegmeg or the new Cauayan Resort off Cauayan Island. Cadlao Resort and Restaurant has beautiful landscaping, gorgeous sea views and an amazing restaurant you can visit even if you aren’t a guest.

Fresh taningue kilawin and a sassy fresh coconut at Cadlao Resort & Restaurant

Fresh taningue kilawin and a sassy fresh coconut at Cadlao Resort & Restaurant

Mezzanine for pizza

Mezzanine for pizza

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With Anthony and Jo at Al Trove

Eat: Lunch at Cadlao Restaurant for Filipino food and grilled specialties, a fresh breeze and an unadulterated view of ocean and limestone mountains. With its stylish relaxed interiors (no slippers allowed!), waterfront view and pizza fresh from a wood-burning over, Mezzanine is a must! Best pizza I’ve tried anywhere in the Philippines, swear – my favorite is the Quattro Stagioni. Another Italian resto is Trattoria Altrove, which is so popular it has a line out the door. Its freshly-made al dente pasta makes up for any waiting time indeed. Happiness offers a good mix of Mediterranean cuisine, so says my friends, but I have yet to eat here. For day dining from breakfast onward, I love The Beach Shack – aside from killer sandwiches there is a good crowd of  people who come here to enjoy the beach and watch the sun go down. Be sure to come here early as seats fill up quick!

Republika for sunset cocktails

Republica for non-beachfront sunset cocktails

Drinking at Kalabar

Drinking at Kalabar

Refreshing white sangria; SAVA Beach Bar

Refreshing white sangria; SAVA Beach Bar

The current scene at the SAVA Beach Bar Pop-Up, The Beach Shack. Photo: Melanie Alvarez

The current scene at the SAVA Beach Bar Pop-Up, The Beach Shack. Photo: Melanie Alvarez

The team behind SAVA Beach Bar (missing Brigitte) - we hope to open April 21

SAVA Beach Bar site visit with the team in January 2016 (missing Brigitte) – we hope to open April 21!

Drink: There are so many places in El Nido to have wonderful cocktail, each with its own ambience! It it here where I must now make my shameless plug: together with some partners, I am opening a bar in downtown El Nido called SAVA Beach Bar (Follow us on Facebook and Instagram!). It has been a long journey but I’m excited to announce we hope to open next week! In the meantime we have been serving cocktails at the SAVA Beach Bar Pop-Up in front of The Beach Shack in Marimegmeg from 12PM- 6PM daily (it’s the best beach to watch sunset). Should you be in the area, you must try our refreshing white sangria or 2 for 1 happy hour cocktails! Another sunset spot is Republica with its Spanish tapas and cool Ibiza-like tunes. I love Kalabar at The Bazaar for its specialty drinks like ginger and pear mojitos.

Go island hopping or kayak in the lagoon

Enzo and Chloe enjoying island hopping with Tita Amy; kayaks for rent in the lagoon

Be like Ian and take a bike or be like Marga and me and ride a trike

Be like Ian and rent a bike or be like Marga and me and ride a trike

Checking out Snake Island; can you fit through that cave hole?

Checking out Snake Island; can you fit through that cave hole?

At The Bazaar: table tennis and Sunday DJ sessions

At The Bazaar: table tennis and Sunday DJ sessions

Do: Nature lovers, party animals, night owls and early birds all love El Nido. Go island hopping by banca or speedboat or do a land tour and rent a motorbike to discover new beaches. For those who like to travel in style, visit Skipper Charters where you can charter a speedboat for up to eight people around El Nido’s islands and even to more remote destinations like Linapacan. and The more adventurous can go spelunking, zip lining, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. You can play darts and table tennis at The Bazaar. I love watching the sun set in El Nido (didn’t you know I am awfully fond of sunsets? Read a previous post on it here). For those who enjoy the nightlife, climb 100 steps to find a secret club and last but not the least, attend a moonlight or cliff party.

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Eclectic The Bazaar

Shop: El Nido has cute boutiques where you can buy cover-ups and cut-off denims, handmade jewelry; curated tees and bags; flip-flops; hammocks and more! Find a one-stop shop at The Bazaar, a boho collective of shops, bars, restaurants massage center and Skipper Charters. Of course there are vendors selling everything under the sun- El Nido T-shirts, waterproof cases, sarongs, beach toys for kids, fresh fruits. There are even pharmacies and convenience stores.

Sarah, Anthony, Vicki and Amy

Our first trip together: me, Sarah and Amy; SAVA

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Somewhere in the middle of nowhere

Next trip together with Jofer and kiddos Enzo and Chloe

At Nacapan Beach with Jofer and kiddos Enzo and Chloe

Book and Soundtrack: The Beach by Alex Garland who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. “Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”

In the know: Though you get to enjoy the pristine beauty of El Nido it does come with its share of pitfalls such as sand fleas and jellyfish during certain times of the year. Make sure you always sit on a beach mat or towel when lying/sitting on the sand. If you do enjoy swimming n the sea, bring a rash guard to protect yourself from mild jellyfish stings. Last but not the least, bring enough cash. There are only 2 ATMs in the whole town, which get wiped out pretty quick. Most establishments accept cash only. Ask your hotel if they accept credit card.

El Nido's incredible limestone cliffs

El Nido’s incredible limestone cliffs

Morning

Morning at Marimegmeg

Noon and dusk

Noon at Cadlao, dusk at Marimegmeg

Sunset at Marimegmeg

Sunset at Marimegmeg

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Vicki
Vicki
"For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome.” - Alex Garland


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We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.

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