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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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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El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers

SGMT

Image by Jdkoenig [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Jdkoenig [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person left in the Philippines who still hasn’t been to El Nido but it sure feels that way sometimes. Countless friends have gone and come back gushing about the paradise they found out west, in what’s been dubbed the Philippines’ last frontier. And it isn’t just Filipinos either — so many foreigners have found their way to this previously little known paradise that prices have, inevitably, adjusted themselves accordingly. Nonetheless, there are ways to vacation in El Nido on a tight budget — Rappler has a nice article detailing a 3D/2N stay for PHP 5,010 and Google will nudge you towards numerous other blogs’ budget itineraries.

This month I will finally get to visit El Nido myself. (Yay!) My Bali travel buddy Hershe and I were able to take advantage of a Cebu Pacific seat sale and bought round-trip tickets to Puerto Princesa for only PHP 1,322. (For those who don’t know, Puerto Princesa and El Nido are both in Palawan island. Flights to PPS are cheaper and more frequent, so most people fly to PPS and then take a bus/van/coach to El Nido.)

This time — cheap plane tickets aside — I’ve decided I’m not gonna be stingy. I mean, I’m not gonna go all out and stay in Miniloc or Lagen or even Vellago, but my theme for this trip will be nice, easy, and stress-free, even if I have to pay a bit more. That means, for example, pre-booking the van to El Nido and opting for hotel pick-up, even if I could presumably get a lower price if I go to the bus terminal and haggle. That also means, for example, booking a twin room with ensuite bath in the best hostel in El Nido, even if there are undoubtedly cheaper options. Again, the goal for this trip: nice, easy, and stress-free.

I’ve already crunched the numbers and will share my budget in the next article. First, let’s talk about what we will need to budget for. Here is our:

6-day Puerto Princesa and El Nido Itinerary

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Itinerary_Day1

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Our flight gets in mid-afternoon and what with possible delays (* cough * Cebu Pacific * cough *) and baggage claim, it might be late afternoon before we get out of the airport. Puerto Princesa to El Nido is roughly 6 hours by land. We could still get to El Nido before midnight but I figured it would be less stressful if we just spent the night in Puerto Princesa. It’ll be a good way to make the city’s acquaintance, however passing, and maybe try out one of Puerto Princesa’s best-loved restaurants.

I chose to stay at Orchid Lagan Place Palawan for several reasons. One, it’s well-reviewed at both Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Two, it offers free breakfast and a free airport shuttle. Three, it’s located in a street just off Rizal Avenue, which is where a lot of the good restaurants are; Kalui, for example, is only 450 m away and Kinabuch’s is even nearer (270 m). It seems Rizal Avenue is where it’s at, so to speak, so staying nearby will give us a convenient base for catching our first glimpses of the city.

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Itinerary_Day2

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El Nido Paradise is an incredible one-stop shop for everything El Nido. I was asking my friends for island hopping ideas and one of them mentioned El Nido Paradise. I checked out the ENP website and was impressed by their professionalism. With a lot of travel agencies, you’re immediately greeted by a busy, bold-faced barrage of all the tours they’re trying to sell you. In contrast, check out El Nido Paradise — you can tell they know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it in a classy way. They have a Blog section with a lot of helpful, practical articles about El Nido and their Activities section is extensive. Aside from the usual tours, they offer cool stuff like a cultural encounter, overnight camping at secluded beaches, and a drop-off/pick-up service where you can just pick an island in Bacuit Bay, have yourself dropped off in the morning, and then get picked up in the afternoon. All for reasonable prices too — read about the Combo Tour I booked later in this article.

Anyway, all that is a roundabout way of saying that I booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. The van transfer itself costs PHP 550 per person and there’s a PHP 50 surcharge for hotel pick-up. PHP 600 is pretty much the standard rate anyway, based on my research, though I suppose you can talk it down a bit if you want to go through the hassle of haggling.

For accommodations in El Nido, Hershe and I agreed right away that we wanted to stay at Spin Designer Hostel. As its name suggests, it’s a hostel but an upscale one, offering both private rooms and shared accommodations. It’s ranked #1 in TripAdvisor and is very highly rated in Booking.com (9.1 out of 10). The hostel is in the center of town — the beach and wharf are a walkable distance away — but it’s not too central as to be utterly chaotic. We booked a Twin Room with ensuite bath for around PHP 2,600 per night (PHP 1,300 per person) and the price already includes free breakfast. They also have a Standard Room with a double bed for roughly the same price — great for couples — as well as 4-bed female-only and mixed-gender dorm rooms that are a wonderful option for solo travelers as well as families or friends traveling together.

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Lastly, after check-in, we plan to take a tricycle to Marimegmeg beach. It’s a west-facing beach 4-5 km from town and will be a great place to witness our first sunset in El Nido.

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