It all felt a bit surreal. I was on a bus going from Abu Dhabi to Dubai airport. Passing all the enormous and shining buildings. I was just about to fly to the furthest place on the western hemisphere that I’ve been so far. Only by myself. I was so excited! Philippines – the land of paradise beaches, coconut trees, colorful reefs, lush jungle, and friendly people was waiting for me.
Leaving UAE behind
My friend Mokhtar met me at the airport to have dinner and spend some time together before I left the country for a good while. After Asia, I was planning to come back to Abu Dhabi just to pick up my bags and then going straight back to the UK. I didn’t know if and when I will be back to UAE. It was my second long stay in that place, and again I liked it mostly thanks to the people I met. It’s not bad – everything is clean, new and shiny, but I’m more “the nature girl”, so cities are not my favourite place and not seeing much greenery around didn’t give me good vibes either. But now I was going to the Philippines – lots of green was waiting there for me.
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I flew with Cebu Pacific – cheap Philippines airline. It was 8 hours flight, no food or drinks on board and my seat was broken, which was preventing me from a good sleep. But I was still happy. Hey, I’m going to the Philippines, nothing can make it bad! At least the cabin crew was trying to entertain us in Filipino way -they were singing and asking the passengers for the name of the songs and then giving us presents. That was funny!
I arrived in Manila at 11 am in the morning, losing some hours due to time zones differences. I had my next flight to Puerto Princesa in Palawan soon after. I walked a few steps outside of the airport, but I was informed that I don’t have enough time to walk further. And it was VERY hot. So I came back to the airport, which was very well equipped with many various restaurants and shops. I changed some money and went to have some food. I was so looking forward to the famous Filipino street food!
I ended up in a Filipino place that was serving mostly rice and different types of meat. I was just going to discover, that this was the food Filipinos liked the most (but not only!) – Adobo chicken – very tasty. Another thing, that I noticed was great coffee – I was so happy to see good iced coffee on every corner after “not-so-tasty” coffee from UAE.
A good thing to learn before coming to the Philippines – domestic flights get delayed. Almost every time. Then the plane is usually at the wrong gate, so all the waiting passengers need to follow the stewardess walking with the plane name, like a flock of sheep. Surprisingly, everyone is smiling, no one is angry – this is the Philippines!
One thing that I loved straight away after landing on Filipino land – people. They are genuinely friendly and always with a smile. They want to get to know you, are interested in your background, why you are visiting their country and they will always give you some useful tips.
First Filipino, who I met was Kaiser from Mindanao. We talked when I was waiting for my delayed flight and he was telling me about his island, inviting to come there and showing pictures of his kids. Travellers are usually a bit skeptic about Mindanao and don’t choose it as their holiday destination. It’s because of some incidents that happened there some time ago. Most of the population on the island is Muslim. However, as I could see from Kaiser – people are really nice there and there is still unspoiled natural beauty. Maybe next time I’ll be able to visit!
Off to Palawan paradise
I boarded my flight with Philippines Airlines (PAL). This time we got some drinks and a sandwich. The journey went smoothly with amazing views behind the window and a nice chat with my neighbours travelling to Puerto Princesa for some engineering work.
Traveling to El Nido, Palawan Island
Since this was only travelling day, I got off the plane and went straight to the van going to El Nido with a group of Filipino teenagers going there for a long weekend.
El Nido is a small town in the north of Palawan Island – named as the best beach and island destination in the Philippines because of natural beauty and ecosystem. It’s located in Bacuit Bay that has many uninhabited paradise islands and amazing marine life! I was anxious to find out!
Since it was already after 6 pm, we were driving through windy roads in darkness, imaging the mountains around and looking at the stars above, listening to some old Filipino music hits, that the driver was playing. It’s pretty common with those private vans to do stops for dinner or snacks, so we also stopped in one of the eateries by the road.
El Nido, Palawan
We got to El Nido around 11:30, which was pretty good timing, normal driving time is usually 5-6 hours.
But now there was a difficult part – how to find my hostel. Before I came to Philippines I booked a place in El Gordo’s guesthouse, who as one of not many, had good prices for the bed in the dorm room. Since I was travelling alone, the cheapest option for me was to find beds in the dorm rooms. For bigger groups or couples there are some other cheap options – check at the end of the article.
Dorm room had only 4 beds and the guesthouse was located directly by the seaside in the local area, so it was pretty nice. However, it was really hard to find it, as the path to it was leading through wooden bridge, in between huge limestone rocks, hidden behind local houses, that didn’t have any light around. Luckily, my driver and his friend helped me, asked everyone around and walked me straight to the hostel doors! Did I mention, that Filipino people are amazing?
I met Gordo – hostel’s owner, and went straight to bed. It was already after 1am and it was second night, that I didn’t have proper sleep. Also, I was planning to wake up at 7am in order to be at the pier before 8am to catch the boat for island hopping – after all, I didn’t come there just to sleep and wanted to see all the best attractions in the Philippines!
The adventure was starting 🙂
PRACTICAL TIPS ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES
How to go around the Philippines?
The most common options are ferries or local flights. Flights are usually quite cheap when booked in advance. I chose that option, because of the really short time that I had. I just used ferry once. Ferries are cool also for longer routes, they are usually cheaper but takes really long and are weather dependent – I’ve heard about many ferries being cancelled due to bad sea conditions – so if you are tight on schedule or planning to catch the flight overseas – I wouldn’t rely too much on ferries.
How to get from Puerto Princesa to El Nido?
There are several options – the best ones is to take a public bus or private van.
Public buses (RoRo or Cherry Bus) departure from San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa city. They usually leave in short intervals (1-2 hours) until 6 and then the last one is at 10 pm. Fare is around 500PHP. They are nice, big buses, with space for legs, but they stop on the way to take passengers.
Private vans – they are smaller vans for maybe 12-14 people. They leave if they have enough passengers on board and they are a bit less comfortable than public buses (because they are smaller). The good thing about them is that they don’t stop on the way to take passengers and that they leave straight from the airport. I wanted to get to El Nido as soon as possible, so it was the most convenient way for me to take already full van straight from the airport leaving immediately to El Nido for the same price! (500-550PHP)
Accommodation in El Nido
Be aware that during high season, there can be problems with places in good spots! When I was there, due to bad weather some of the ferries that were supposed to leave to Coron were canceled and people were trapped in the city – struggling to find accommodation because everything was booked!
It’s highly recommended to book in advance during high season, especially if you want to stay in “town proper” and close to the sea. If you don’t mind where you stay – you will be usually able to find a place in Corong-Corong, but you will need to spend a long time on getting to El Nido town or pier where the boats for island hopping departure from.