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.
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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 04

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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

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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

SGMT — 
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

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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.

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SGMT — 

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.
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  • 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.
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  • Sleep if you can. Most people do. Bring sleep accessories if you like, such as a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.
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  • 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.
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  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Bonamine an hour before ETD.
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  • Bring water and food you can snack on if necessary.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • If you want, you can have an entire van all to yourself. You can arrange this with El Nido Paradise as well.

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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

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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.

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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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What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU (2016)

25 June 2016 | What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU

DFA Cebu - Online Passport Application in Cebu

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Good news! You can now apply for a passport online in Cebu and elsewhere in the Philippines. Now there’s no need to start standing in line at the crack of dawn.

Previously, the DFA online appointment system for passport application/renewal only worked in selected DFA offices. Now, the online appointment system has been expanded to include the following DFA Regional Consular Offices and Satellite Offices in the Philippines:

  • Angeles
  • Bacolod
  • Baguio
  • Butuan
  • Cagayan de Oro
  • Calasiao
  • Cebu (yay!)
  • DFA Manila (Aseana)
  • DFA NCR East (Megamall)
  • DFA NCR Northeast (Ali Mall)
  • DFA NCR South (Alabang)
  • DFA NCR West (SM Manila)
  • Davao
  • Dumaguete
  • General Santos
  • Iloilo
  • La Union Legazpi
  • Lucena
  • Pampanga
  • Puerto Princesa
  • Tacloban
  • Tuguegarao
  • Zamboanga

Take note: you still have to go to the DFA office to submit the required documents and have your biometric data captured. The good thing about the online appointment system is that while most DFA offices outside Manila operated on a first-come-first-served basis before — prompting people to start lining up as early as midnight — now you can just show up at your appointed time. Plus, you can now fill in the necessary information online, which saves time at the DFA. Easy!

Online passport application in Cebu

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Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the passport.gov.ph Home page to read the instructions.
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  2. After reading the instructions, click on Schedule an Appointment on the gray bar at the very top of the page (or just click HERE). There a few more instructions on this page. After making sure you understand everything, check the box next to “I have read and understood the instructions and information on this page, and agree to the Terms and Conditions on the use of this online appointment and scheduling system.” Then click on the blue boxes for either Start Individual Appointment or Start Group Appointment.
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    • You can book an appointment for up to 5 people using the Group Appointment function.
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  3. Fill in the necessary information.

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Where to Stay (or Staycation) in Cebu: 8 Newtown Blvd

SGMT | Cebu Airbnb
Where to stay in Cebu_8 Newtown Blvd_1200x630

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Last week, my family and I made the most of the final days of summer by having an overnight staycation at 8 Newtown Blvd, the three-tower complex of luxe condos located at Mactan Newtown. H is a little water monkey — he can spend hours frolicking and jumping into pools — so I was looking at either a beach resort or a hotel with a nice pool for our staycation. A friend of mine suggested booking 8 Newtown Blvd through Airbnb and it turned out to be perfect.

What we loved about it:

  • Location. Mactan Newtown is just a few minutes away from Mactan Cebu International Airport, which is where my father works, so it was very convenient for us. He could stay in, go to work, and then come back and enjoy.
    • The beaches of Mactan are also nearby, so 8 Newtown Blvd makes a great base for divers, people who plan to go island hopping, guests at a beachfront wedding…basically anyone doing anything in Mactan.
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  • Convenience. There are a lot of dining options within the Mactan Newtown development. Our favorite, only a couple of meters away from 8 Newtown Blvd’s lobby, was Conching’s, which serves delicious manok Bisaya (native chicken). There’s also a McDonald’s in the next building, a 7-11, a coffee shop, and ATM machines for various banks. We were staying at the 18th floor of 8 Newtown Blvd, so it felt like we could just descend to reality whenever we had to and find everything we need nearby, and then go back up to our little cloud and just chill.
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  • The people. The building staff were all very courteous and professional. It was obviously part of their training to always greet guests with a smile. And Seiko and John of Capitarise went out of their way to make our stay in their apartment comfortable.
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  • The apartment itself! We stayed in a unit with one bedroom, one bathroom, one toilet (separate from the bathroom), a living/dining area, and a small kitchen. The smart layout — together with the floor-to-ceiling windows and the liberal use of mirrors — made the apartment feel very spacious, even with four of us staying there. The windows also provided nice views of the sea and the distant mountains, which I loved; nothing like the sight of sunlight breaking through clouds and the varying hues of mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains to lift one’s spirits. There was a cable TV and DVD player; the WiFi was reliable. The kitchen had a huge fridge, an electric kettle, and a microwave. And the apartment had a legit Japanese toilet with all sorts of nifty buttons, which delighted me to no end. 😀
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  • And our favorite: the pool. The clean, new 60-m long infinity pool was perfect for doing laps, while the endless supply of green and yellow lounge chairs was perfect for doing nothing. There was a separate smaller pool for kids but even the big pool had steps and shallow-ish parts where kids can stay safely, gradually becoming deeper towards the “infinity” edge. And we had the pool to ourselves when we were there so…perfect.

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A few pics from our stay at 8 Newton Blvd:
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You can book the condo we stayed in here.

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Where to Stay (or Staycation) in Cebu: 8 Newtown Blvd (Cebu Airbnb)
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Verified as of 14 June 2016.
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Where to Stay in El Nido: 15 Great Options

Need help deciding where to stay in El Nido? Here’s a quick guide to some of the best accommodations in the area — from budget to splurge.
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Where to stay in El Nido

Image by Fabian Irsara [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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Our choice to stay at Spin Designer Hostel was unanimous and pretty much an instant decision. As I mentioned in El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers, Spin ticked a lot of boxes:

  • It’s centrally located — far enough to be non-chaotic but near enough for the beach to be walking distance.
  • Previous guests love it — the #1 specialty lodging in TripAdvisor (4.5 rating) and with a Booking.com score of 9.1 (out of 10).
  • It has an affordable twin room (PHP 2679) with ensuite bath, perfect for friends traveling together. Couples can go for the double room (PHP 2679), groups can stay together in the 4-bed dorm rooms (PHP 982 per bed), and solo travelers can opt for either.
  • The room price includes breakfast.
  • The property is new so there ought to be no problems with rusty pipes or anything like that.
  • It’s beautiful. Look:
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Where to stay in El Nido - Spin Designer Hostel

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You can book a room/bed at Spin Designer Hostel HERE.

Update (July 2016): We did stay at Spin when we were in El Nido last month and I thoroughly recommend it! Try to include a Sunday so you can join their Jamming Nights. 🙂

If you can’t…

Here are other well-reviewed accommodations in El Nido — from budget to splurge.

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