Adventures through Palawan! Port Barton & El Nido, Philippines
When you are scrolling through social media or certain travel sites and you come across a picture of the Philippines, it's 90 percent of the time going to be a spot in Palawan. Palawan is a massive tourist destination pulling in people from all over the world with its magnificent sites and out of this world beaches.
The travel from Malapascua to Puerto Princessa was another long journey. After walking five minutes to the small boat to take me back over to the main island of Cebu, I was completely dripping in sweat. Malapascua is seriously hot in summer! The local boatman tried to scam me and make me pay 1500 pesos($30) to get a ride over to the port, but I was adamant I would wait for others to come along and share the ride. I ended up paying 100 pesos($2) twenty minutes later and sat next to a lovely elderly Pinoy man who filled me in on his whole life story while introducing me to his entire family.
Once we reached the dock, I trudged along the pier a short 500 meter walk to the bus station where I patiently waited for twenty minutes for an AC Bus to leave. I paid 220 pesos ($4.45) for a four hour ride back to Cebu where I then took a Grab car AKA Philippines UBER to the airport for 175 pesos (3.50) . I chose a nice spot on the floor of the airport or so I thought.... at about 3am the lechon restaurant opened and the employees started hacking at a full roasted pig right above my head for the rest of the early morning with a meat cleaver. Even ear plugs couldn't help me in this situation. Oh, the joys of being a vegetarian in the Philippines. Our flight was delayed, surprise surprise (again you get used to Pinoy time after two months) and we finally reached Puerto Princessa at about 1pm.
Backpacker Traveler tip #1: Whenever you reach an airport, walk out of the airport to the main road to get a ride for half the price. Never book a ride from the airport to your next destination or you'll be right ripped off.
We walked out to the main road and got a tricycle for 30 pesos(60 cents) each. The driver tried to haggle, but with the intense heat and my lack of sleep I wasn't going to budge. He brought us to an ATM before dropping us off at the van terminal where we caught our 300 peso ($6) ride to Port Barton.
Pro Traveler tip: Visit the ATM when you reach Puerta Princessa as this will be one of the last ATMs you see before you reach El Nido.
Port Barton is a quaint beautiful little town with mellow island hopping tours, beaches and waterfalls. It's nicknamed the honeymooner's spot because of the limited nightlife compared to the rest of Palawan.
I got lucky and got to sit up front with the driver which meant heaps of leg room and strong AC. We had a nice chat about his life and family. He has four different jobs depending what season it is from island hopping captain to fisherman to van driver. He said he makes most of his money driving the van, but still only gets paid about 400 pesos ($8) per day. So crazy!
We reached Port Barton as it was rained cats and dogs! We purchased some groceries and cooked a delicious meal in our new home, Fernando Tourist Inn. It was such a blessing to have a kitchen after so many months of eating out. The next morning I gave my first shot at making shakshuka, a typical Israeli egg dish, before we headed to the beach to catch a long tail boat over to White beach. I laid in a beautiful hammock under the palm trees for over six hours. White beach is a beautiful spot to spend a whole day swimming, snorkeling and relaxing. Our boat captain didn't find us very funny when we wanted to stay for the sunset, but we all got home safe with smiles on our faces.
The next day we decided to rent a motorbike and drive to the nearby waterfalls. None of the roads are paved in Port Barton making the rides very bumpy and quite long. The walk to the falls is only about ten minutes and is 100 percent worth it once you jump in the cold pool. After about 45 minutes in the sun we heard some thunder so we decided to start walking back. Minutes later buckets of water started dumping from the sky. There was lighting and immediate thunder on its tail.
While weighing our options under the snack stand tarp over a bag of crisps we came to the conclusion it would be in our best interest to toughen up and leave before it got too flooded. On our drive back we had to cross a handful of gushing rivers, slick rock and mudslides. We even came to a point in the journey where lightning struck down a tree in the middle of the road. We had to pick up the bike and get it over the trunk. Deeda was a star and got through all the streams. The only time I was scared was when I had to get off the bike and hike down the muddy mountains with lighting striking right in front of me. We arrived in Port Barton completely soaked, but safe and sound two hours later. We had a lovely home cooked meal before heading out to the beach bars. The rain brought out the symphony of frogs and crickets gracing us with their lovely songs as we walked to and from Fernanco Tourist Inn. The amount of noise they created was absolutely mind boggling.
Port Barton is small and quaint. A perfect place to relax for a few days or even a few weeks. I enjoyed being able to practice yoga every morning and cooking my own food everyday.
What to do:
White beach- Great place to spend a day swinging in the hammocks and taking dips in the sea. You can access via motorbike or even more relaxing via long tail boat for 200 pesos ($4) there and back.
Mangrove forest- Beautiful little walk.
Island hopping 700 pesos($14) per day. We never made it to island hopping, but we heard it was nice especially for the price. Lunch is included.
Waterfall- A beautiful place to spend a few hours swimming in the pool. 20 pesos (45 cents) to park!
Motorbike rental- Rent a semiautomatic for the dirt roads. 500 pesos ($10) for a full day rental.
Reggae Bar- Fun nights out with live music and great atmosphere on the beach.
Where to stay:
Moon Resort- Beautiful resort, way out of my budget, but lovely accommodations.
Ferranco Tourist Inn- Only 400 pesos ($8) for a double private room. Great family and access to a kitchen.
Use this link to reserve your place on Booking.com and get $25 off! https://www.booking.com/s/21_8/595c81a1
The hype for El Nido is big and you’ll understand why once the winding road opens up to the sea with massive basalt mountains topped with greens jutting out of the horizon. The views are immaculate and similar to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but on steroids.
We stayed at a friend’s hostel called Rasta family home stay located just outside of the main town in the jungle. It was a lovely quiet place to come home to with beautiful double and single rooms, incredible hosts, puppies and now a new baby! It is only a five minute drive into town and if you don’t run out of gas on the way like we did you'll be there in a jiffy. Rosie and Loic were very welcoming and great to hang out with. She provided vegan breakfasts for us every morning while we relaxed in the hammock and Whitey their dog begged for attention. Whitey was about to pop out puppies when we were visiting and would hide my birkenstocks late at night, practicing to protect her own young when the time came. She ended up giving birth two days after we left and Rosie had her beautiful baby girl two months following!
We ate at the Art Cafe three days in a row, going the first time for the WiFi on a very stormy day and the few times after that for the delicious pizza, sandwiches and lovely atmosphere. They have live music at night and incredible staff that takes great care of you! From there you can venture to Pukka Bar or Save the two main bars where the fun continues. It was extremely stormy in El Nido when we were there with epic downpours causing the whole town to flood. It seemed as though every time Deeda and I tried to do something we got stuck in a small shop on the side of the road waiting out the storm.
While in El Nido you must go island hopping. I recommend getting together a group of 8 people to do a private tour. In the end it is the same price as the regular tours, 1800 pesos ($28) or could even be less depending on how many people you gather. You will not have to be around forty other tourists wearing life jackets blocking your views with their iPads snapping photos and you get to choose which destinations you want to see. Your group can mix and match tours A, B, C and D. Tours A and C are the most popular and for good reason. The big and little lagoon are straight out of Jurassic Park with cliff jumping and incredible rock formations.
Our guide, JZ, was one of a kind with no teeth and little English knowledge. One of our first stops was Tao Philippine’s where there was a private white sand beache and a massive reef to snorkel with the fish and turtles. We saw more than ten turtles while swimming in the crystal clear waters and there wasn’t another boat or soul in sight for our time at Tao. The silence was impeccable.
The only time we came across other tours was when we had to stop in the small lagoon to get some Coca-Cola for our Tanduay Rum and there were fifty boats tied up to one another, bustling with crowds and far from relaxing. Later we learned it was Tour C we witnessed and all the boats go to the same spots at the same time if you book the regular tours. These tourists don’t get to enjoy the tranquility and beauty that the Philippines has to offer. You can't go wrong with a private combination island hopping tour with a delicious lunch provided and incredible views.
The sunsets in El Nido are out of this world. Outpost Hostel has a supreme location with a bar and balcony to enjoy a free sunset shot and fun atmosphere. Las Cabanas and Corong Corong beach also hold a number of beach bars to enjoy the beauty of El Nido.
The only downfall is the water sanitation. El Nido is a small village and doesn’t have the capacity to host as many tourists as it brings in each year. Instead of building new wells they choose to dig their wells deeper allowing for more bacteria and toxins to enter the water causing almost everyone to get sick while visiting. I am not exaggerating when I say every single person we spoke to and both my friend and I experienced a terrible bat with the food poisoning. Essentially everything you eat there is washed in the water, the ice cubes are made with the water and there is no escaping it unless you make you own meals. Bring hydrolized salts and drink and eat with caution. Be weary of the drinks you order at bars because this is what we think got us. Rely on water bottles to get you through for the safety of your stomach and ask for no ice in your drinks.
What to do:
Corong Corong Beach- Cool little beach to hang out on.
Las Cabanas Beach and Zipline- Great beach full of bars and restaurants! You can do the zipline if you want as well.
Island hopping Tour- I recommend doing a private combination Tour A & C with other people you find in El Nido.
Save Bar- A good place for a night out.
Pukka Bar- Another great bar for a night out.
Where to stay: Use this code to get $25 off your booking on booking.com - https://www.booking.com/s/21_8/595c81a1
Rasta family home- 600 pesos($12) per person per night. Include breakfast.
Outpost Hostel- 1000 pesos($20) per night. Fun atmosphere, great location and beautiful facilities.
Green View Paradise Inn- 300 pesos($6) per night. In the quiet strip near the resorts, but mediocre accommodations.
Where to eat:
ArtCafe- Great food and amazing service. Their pizzas, salads, sandwiches, pasta and asian cuisine was on point.
Happiness- Great atmosphere and delicious food, but a bit more expensive.
Habibi- Delicious cuisine, great location.
Alfrezzo's Pizza- Best pizza in town!