The last frontier as they call it. This was it! The reason I absolutely had to go to the Philippines. For the last two years Palawan was named the number one island in the world by Travel & Leisure and many other travel magazines. I had to come see what all of the fuss was about!
Getting around the Philippines is almost a science in itself. If you improperly plan your trip (as I did) you will end up spending a fortune on flights backtracking all over the country to get to your next destination. To get from Boracay to Palawan is only about 95 nautical miles. But to get those 95 miles was one of the most ridiculous days of traveling in my life!
I woke up and packed my bags like any other day, hopped onto the tricycle and headed to the port. After a short ferry ride and I was to the mainland. That was followed by a 2 hour mini bus ride to Kalibo. (There is a much closer airport but the bus ride saves you a cool $75) From Kalibo I had to fly to Manilla for a 7 hour layover. The international terminal in Manilla are amazing! The domestic terminal is not so pretty. There is not much to do, the food choices are burnt pizza or pot noodles. I made the best of it and walked laps around the waiting room and watched the Chicago Bulls game on the television with some local guys. Basketball is kinda a big deal in the Philippines. I was then notified that my flight was delayed an hour. Its pretty standard in Asia. I don’t think I have had a flight leave on time yet. That hour went by and we started to board the plane.
After we all loaded the plane they then informed us that we would be delayed again because of runway traffic. Another 45 minutes later the captain came on the intercom to say those three magic words. Prepare for takeoff. After about 45 minutes in the air we began our decent for what seemed to be our landing. Another hour of the plane jerking side to side and the engine jets boosting and then not making noise I knew something was NOT right. The plane at one point was nose up in the air and you could just feel it float in the air. After two more unsuccessful attempts to land the captain gets on the intercom and tells everyone that the weather was to bad in Puerto Princessa and that we would be returning to Manilla!
By this point I thought I was going to have an actual heart attack! We turned back and half way to Manila he turned off the autopilot and we flew the next 30 minutes at the hands of Mr. Captain. The planes wings turning side to side for the rest of the flight. At this point I came to terms and realized that this guy had absolutely no clue what he was doing. After thirty minutes of this nonsense and the plane dropped to the runway like a skid of bricks and screeched to a stop. Everyone on the plane got up to get their bags and I needed to figure where I would sleep that night now that I was back in Manilla again. The stewardess advised us that they wouldn’t let anyone off of the plane. As you would expect that went over very well with the people on the plane.
A guy sitting next to me was speaking English to someone on the phone in Puerto Princessa and they said that not only was there no weather but there wasn’t even any wind. Another 30 minutes went by and they announced that the flight crew would be giving us some food. Their idea of food and mine are a bit different but they brought us all some kind of chocolate snack cake and water. Another 30 minutes passed and I see the pilots and the entire flight crew leave the plane. As the pilot was leaving I said “hey buddy, first time?” He just put his head down and walked off the plane. I got a chuckle out of that. A few minutes later an entire new flight crew and captains entered the plane and announced that we were going to Puerto Princessa. At this point all I could do is laugh hysterically in disbelief.
Another hour went by and we successfully landed to a beautiful summer night in Puerto Princessa. So 16 hours and $300 later after Air Asia put my life in jeopardy for what should have been a 90 mile boat ride (that doesnt exist) I finally arrived. This want going to be my last run with problems from Air Asia. And they are supposed to be the “good” airline! But it was in the past. They say the adventure getting there is half of the fun. That day I had enough adventure..
That night I stayed at the Airportside Inn. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clean, it was quite run down but it was close to the airport and it was almost 12pm at night at this point. I had a 12 person dorm room all to myself with no locker so I spent most of the night waking up to see if my computer and camera were still next to me. I have a cable lock that I used to locked my small bag to my arm. The next morning I took a tricycle to the bus terminal to get the mini bus to El Nido.
It is a 5 hour ride in a cramped mini van local people trying to get across the island. Some of them transporting huge sacks of rice and spices. One girl had a lap full of picture frames. The AC worked and to me that was all that mattered. English is one of the recognized languages in the Philippines but you will see that the further you get from the cities the less and less English was spoken.
El Nido itself is a very small populated town on the ocean. The magic of El Nido happens in the sea! I stayed one night in the town at the Austria’s Guest House to get a feel for the town. Its a nice place a block from the beach and only cost 500 pesos ($10) for a private room with a fan. There is also a legit fruit and pancake breakfast with coffee included and a restaurant on the property to purchase lunch or dinner.
I spent the next three days aboard the Palawan Secret Cruise boat. This was a bit on the pricey side of a backpacker budget but it was really worth it!
The cruise included three meals a day, a tour every morning and afternoon, and a sunset cocktail. I slept in a bunkbed on the sea overlooking Snake Island. There was kayaks to use and a beach bar on land at the end of the sand bar of Snake Island. Other then that we were alone in paradise! During the day a few tour boats would visit the bay to see the island.
The first day we took a tour to snorkel some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life! I saw sea horses, parrot fish and my first puppy fish.
The evenings were filled with fresh seafood and cocktails with my new friends.
The morning we woke up to breakfast and a tour of the big and small lagoons. As we entered the small lagoon local guys brought us out kayaks to rent for —- pesos. Inside of the lagoon was truly a sight to see! Rock walls on both sides. Deep green waters underneath of me.
As I was paddling into the lagoon I started to see jellyfish. Big ones and lots of them! They looked exactly like the stingless jellyfish I had seen in the photos. The only place on earth I am aware of these things exists was in a lake in the island of Palau and on the island of Surigao in the Philippines. The lagoon in Surigao had recently been shut down because the population of jellies was almost completely gone in a few short years by tourists swimming in the lagoon. So maybe these guys migrated from there. I bet there was 100 of them I saw swimming near the surface. It was unbelievable!
When I reached back to the boat a spoke to the captain about what I saw. He said he had been to this lagoon many many times and he had never heard about any jellyfish there so I felt pretty lucky!
After arriving at the large lagoon if you arrive at low tide you have to walk down a valley of rocky shallow water to get to the lagoon. I swam in with a snorkel and paddled out to the middle of the lagoon. All was well until I put on my mask and looked down. I couldn’t see the bottom, not a fish, not a thing! Just the dark abyss. It was a really erie feeling!
I wrapped an amazing day up with a Coconut delivered to the boat by a fella on a raft for 50 pesos.
The following day we took a tour of Papaya beach. If you book tours on the mainland they all leave at the same time and they all arrive at the same time. The beauty of staying on this cruise was they were determined to get me to see the sights before anyone else arrived! We had the beach to ourselves.
I even got a game in with some local kids working on our boat. Im not real sure what the rules were but everyone got two shots and you didn’t have to dribble unless you wanted to.
There was one bamboo hut that someone lived in and another that they sold coconuts and rum out of. Two bucks for a coconut full of rum? Ill take two.
Im not sure if there was a school somewhere in the jungle or if the kids that lived in that hut had to take this boat to school but what a way to grow up!
I would highly recommend staying on this boat for a couple nights when you make it to el Nido! It was the highlight of my Palawan trip!
After returning to land I spent one night again at the Austria’s Guest House and booked my ferry boat to Coron. From there I woke up at 5 am for the 3.5 hour speed ferry to Coron.
It’s not often you get the pleasure of seeing the real paradises of the world before they have been taken over by hotels and bars. I spoke to one gentlemen from the USA that had been living there for 13 years. He told me about a time when there was no streets and almost no travelers because no one knew about the place. Tourism will in time kill a lot of the beauty of El Nido but if you get the chance you must see it for yourself..
Getting in and out-
-Flight to Puerto Princessa from Manila plus 5 hour mini bus ride. From Boracay I paid almost $300 and spent a whole day traveling to get to Palawan. Don’t do what I did! Plan your flights properly.
-Flight to El Nido from Manila.
Where to stay-
Austria’s Guest house- $10 per night
Palawan Secret Cruises- $130 per night.
Where to eat-
Art bar- Really good food a bit on the pricey side and the best wifi in El Nido. (I promise you will pay $1 more for a chicken with good wifi)