Dolphins are always a good idea

Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa | SGMT
SGMT Palawan Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa 03

Who doesn’t love dolphins? (No, seriously, who doesn’t?) We had the chance to go dolphin watching on our last day in Palawan and it was absolutely one of the highlights of our 6-day Puerto Princesa/El Nido itinerary.

Our flight back to Cebu was scheduled to depart Puerto Princesa  at 3:20 PM and at first we had nothing planned for the day. We figured we would probably just use the time to shop for pasalubong — we were staying at Holiday Suites, which is conveniently located right across Robinsons Palawan — or simply lounge by the hotel pool and enjoy our last vacation day before plunging back to reality. However, while researching Puerto Princesa tours, I stumbled upon a group offering a half-day dolphin watching tour and it just seemed to fit perfectly into our schedule, so we went for it.

A guide picked us up at 6:30 AM and drove us, along with half a dozen others, to the Puerto Princesa Baywalk, where we boarded a boat staffed by another guide, a boatman, and a dolphin spotter. As we headed out to the Sulu Sea, the guide explained that the tours were seasonal (April to October) not because the dolphins were only there for part of the year, but because we were going out to open sea and the waters tended to get too rough for comfort during the rest of the year. She said they can’t guarantee that we would see a dolphin that morning — but, she added with a wide smile, the chances were around 95%. Hurray!

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Nacpan Beach: To Go or Not To Go (and Spend P1500)

El Nido Nacpan Beach 00

I’ll be honest: if the tricycle driver hadn’t offered to take us to Nacpan Beach for P1000 — instead of the usual P1500 — I might never have gone.

Nacpan Beach has been described in superlatives ranging from “the best beach in El Nido” to “the most beautiful beach in the world.” Friends who’ve been there told me: absolutely, I should go. And yes, I’d seen that oft-shared overlooking image of the twin beaches, Nacpan and Calitang, separated by a stripe of palm-tree-lined blinding white sand. Nacpan is nice — no question about that.

But sometimes, the more a place is hyped up, the more I hesitate. I feel like if so many people I know have already been to a place and unanimously agreed that it’s great, then there’s not as much motivation for me to go and see it for myself because…what could I possibly add to the discussion? And superlatives are all very well but I have to admit I’m a bit cynical about them, especially here in the Philippines where a surefire way to go “viral” is to tell us Filipinos we are the best at something. Online poll results I take with a grain of salt, particularly ambiguous awards like “best” or “most beautiful” because, well, how do you define good or beautiful? It’s all subjective. For me, it’s less informative being told that Nacpan Beach is the best beach in El Nido (or the world!) than being told exactly what makes it good, what people love about it.

So…in the end I went to Nacpan Beach. And in case anyone out there is also wondering whether it’s worth the P1500 asking price, let me tell you what I liked about it so you can decide for yourself.
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Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

SGMT | Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach — 
Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to El Nido, set aside at least one day for beach bumming. Spend a lazy afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach and stick around for the sunset. You won’t regret it.

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 04

It was more bed weather than beach weather, the day we arrived in El Nido, but we didn’t want to waste the chance to spend the afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach. Never mind that the sun wasn’t likely to put in an appearance that gloomy day. Never mind that we weren’t likely to witness one of Marimegmeg’s spectacular sunsets. Plans are not plans which alter when they alteration find, as they say, and a little drizzle wouldn’t hurt us.

How we got to Marimegmeg Beach

We found a tricycle driver — or rather he found us, standing outside the office of El Nido Paradise. Tricycle drivers have to hustle a bit in low season and Jack at first approached us with an offer to take us to Nacpan Beach for ₱1500 ($32). When we didn’t bite, he mentioned Las Cabanas — the other name for Marimegmeg Beach — and this time we eagerly agreed.

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Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C

It was our first time in El Nido, and it wouldn’t be our last
 — or so our guides assured us. According to both Jack, the tricycle driver we engaged on our arrival in town, and Sam, the boatman who led our island hopping tour the next day, most of the people who come to El Nido almost inevitably come back.

First, they go home. They tell everyone they found paradise out west, at the very edge of the Philippines. And then they return, many with a new batch of first-time visitors, fresh converts, in tow. If El Nido were a secret — and it isn’t, not anymore — it seems to be a secret no one can, in good conscience, keep to themselves.

And after going on the island hopping tour myself, I could definitely understand why.

El Nido Paradise - Island hopping combo tour A and C

The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands to its name, and island hopping tours here are a dime a dozen. The ones around El Nido, though, are special — even to those of us who’ve lived our entire lives in close proximity to swaying palms and white sand beaches.

For one, the seascape is different. Dozens of towering limestone cliffs dot the seas around El Nido. There are strips of white sand aplenty, but many of them are nestled between rocks of gray and clumps of green and glittering blue seas.

Another difference: a sense of space. The town of El Nido itself is cramped and necessarily busy, as one would expect of a place descended upon by busloads of tourists everyday. But out in the sea, there is an unfamiliar vastness. You feel like you’ve come to the edge of the known, that a Dawn Treader-type adventure was waiting just beyond the horizon, if you would only dare to go forward.

El Nido Paradise combo tour A & C

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How to Survive the Van to El Nido

2016 July 02

El Nido

The sharp, harsh, imposing limestone cliffs and the sparkling, placid, impossibly blue waters are just some of the reasons people are determined to visit El Nido at least once in their lifetime.



El Nido, Palawan is paradise on earth, but as with most paradises, it’s a little tricky to get to. Visitors with a generous budget can fly direct to El Nido via AirSwift; everyone else must fly first to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, and from there take a 6-hour ride by bus or van to El Nido. The long travel time in occasionally cramped quarters can test the patience of even the most motivated travelers, but survival — and even an actually enjoyable experience — is quite possible with a bit of preparation.

  • Book ahead and specify — insist! — that you want to reserve the seats in front, beside the driver. This way you’re likely to have more legroom and less likely to develop motion sickness. We were able to book our van transfer through El Nido Paradise for only P550 — we recommend them. Instead of you having to go to the bus terminal, El Nido Paradise can arrange to have the van pick you up at the airport (no extra fee) or at your hotel (for a P50 surcharge). They can also arrange your tours in El Nido and accept payments via PayPal, which rids you of the necessity to bring too much cash during your trip.
  • Sleep if you can. Most people do. Bring sleep accessories if you like, such as a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.
  • Alternatively, bring entertainment. A 6-hour stint in a van is the perfect excuse to finally read those books or watch those movies you’ve previously been too busy for. Make sure to charge your phone and/or laptop before boarding, and if you have a power bank, bring that along too.
  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Bonamine an hour before ETD.
  • Bring water and food you can snack on if necessary.
  • Six hours can be hell on the bladder; take advantage of the pit stops. The van will stop 2 or 3 times during the journey so people can buy food and do their stuff. Fair warning: the bathrooms along the way aren’t exactly 5-star-resort quality but you’ll be fine.
  • All vans from Puerto Princesa stop at the Corong-Corong terminal in El Nido. A tricycle (tuk-tuk) can take you the rest of the way to your hotel for only P50.
  • On our way back to Puerto Princesa, the van we booked was scheduled to leave at 9:30 AM. We got to the terminal in Corong-Corong at around 9:10 AM, and an earlier van that was about to leave invited us to fill its last two seats. We agreed. Unfortunately, they were at the very back of the van — not even the last normal row but in the space where the luggage should have been — and we spent the next 6 hours in a very tight space. We could feel every bump in the road too. Don’t make the same mistake.
  • If you want, you can have an entire van all to yourself. You can arrange this with El Nido Paradise as well.

The van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido won’t be the absolute best 6 hours of your life but it’s survivable and El Nido will be worth it.




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No, I’m Not Always Traveling

And other common misconceptions about people who love to travel

Northloom_Passport Holder_Backpack

I’ve just finished preparing a rough budget for a trip I plan to take next year with my family, and against every fiber of yearning in my body, I’ve come to accept the inevitable conclusion: I can’t afford it.

I started saving for the trip last January. It wouldn’t have been till April next year, so I still have nearly 10 months to save some more. I found a really good price for the plane tickets (and it doesn’t even involve Sheremetyevo). And I actually earn an okay income for someone who works part time.

But despite all that, I still can’t afford the trip.

Just…can’t. Not next year anyway.

And so because I’m feeling really frustrated about it at the moment, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the most common misconceptions that people have about people who like to travel.

No. 1
No, we don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around.

Some people are born into money and go globe-trotting even before they are potty trained.

Most of us aren’t those people.

Most of us are able to travel because we save for it.

Sometimes we really, really, really want to go somewhere and we can’t because we don’t have the budget for it. Sometimes it takes us years to save for one trip. Sometimes we save for years and it still isn’t enough. And that’s okay — not asking for sympathy, but not gonna apologize either for those times we are able to save enough.

Travel, really, is just one of those things that you decide to do and then you try to find a way to do it. It’s like when you decide to buy, say, an iPhone or a car or a house — none of which I have, by the way — and you find a way to fit the monthly payments into your budget. It’s not something you just have, it’s something you work for.

It’s funny because sometimes, when you’re traveling, people will say, “oh, wow, you must have lots of money,” and they just don’t realize that at that exact moment, you’re actually feeling like you’re practically bleeding money because you’ve spent so much already and you know it will take you a long, long time to earn that money back.

There are exceptions, obviously, but most of us — we don’t travel because we’re worth a lot, we travel because travel is worth a lot. The experience is worth the money we lose doing it.
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