You forget you’re on Planet Earth when you’re in El Nido. Floating past one of the forty-odd islands and islets on Bacuit Bay off the town of El Nido on Palawan Island in the Philippines, you can easily imagine that you’re visiting an alien world, with karst cliffs resembling upside-down icicles and brilliant white-sand beaches lurking in hidden lagoons.
But El Nido’s appeal isn’t strictly limited to the sea. Read on and find out what other adventures you can pull off when visiting this out-of-the-way town in the northern part of Palawan that’s been dubbed the best island destination in the Philippines.
Hop from one island to the next
There are at least 45 islands and islets in the protected area of Bacuit Bay off El Nido. The area’s seclusion, gorgeous limestone landscape, and riotous biodiversity all combine to make El Nido a playground for sea-going adventurers, and you don’t even have to know how to swim to have a good time.
Motorized outrigger boats are available all around town for island-hopping around Bacuit Bay. Most resorts around El Nido offer their own craft for hire, or will otherwise recommend a trusted boat provider. The same rates apply all across El Nido, as services and fares have been standardized by the El Nido Pumpboat Owners and Operators Association.
Your adventure depends on which island you decide to visit. You can lose yourself in a lagoon on Miniloc Island; rediscover Matinloc Island’s “secret” beach; and traverse “Snake Island’s” curvy sandbar at low tide.
Dive at over twenty known underwater sites
The seas surrounding El Nido make up the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area, a nature preserve covering over 36,000 hectares of land and 54,000 hectares of marine territory. Thus, Bacuit Bay’s waters are about as unspoiled as you can get.
You can arrange a meeting with the odd El Nido sea turtle or riotously colored coral reef at over twenty known dive sites around Bacuit Bay’s waters—to visit them, make arrangements with one of the many dive companies headquartered on El Nido. Most dive packages include the use of a dive boat, basic dive equipment, two dives and the services of a dive master.
Go on a hiking adventure
Your hotel or resort will be happy to arrange a hike for you, if you want to find adventure a little further from the sea. The rough cliffs around El Nido are shot through with hiking trails, with many interesting stops and views hidden within their crannies.
Licensed guides from the El Nido Tour Guide Association can arrange a hiking adventure for you, inclusive of a packed lunch and a tricycle ride to the jump-off point. Destinations include the El Nido cliff overlooking the town and Bacuit Bay, Makinit Hot Springs, and Nagkalit-kalit Falls.
Kayak to the beautiful lagoons
Apart from boats run by the local pumpboat owners’ association, motorised watercraft in the El Nido protected zone are strictly forbidden. But it’s all for the best—for places like Miniloc Island’s big and small lagoons, kayaks are the only way to ride. From your perch on a kayak, you can peacefully gaze at the marine fauna swimming past, or look upward to marvel at the orchids growing from the spiky limestone cliffs surrounding the coves.
You can ask to be brought to Miniloc Island with your kayak to save paddling time, or you can also kayak from El Nido town to beaches closer by, like Ipil Beach and Seven Commandos Beach.
Dining by the beach
After dark, the beach in front of El Nido town transforms from a sleepy base for boats and resorts to a dining street facing the sea. Nighttime al fresco dining at restaurants like Sea Slugs serves up caught-just-that-day seafood in a variety of ways—from grilled squid to garlic shrimp to chili crab. If you’re in town with a loved one, you’ll relish the romance of dining together by the light of the stars and nearby tiki lamps, your toes sinking in the coral-white sand.