This year has been my most fortunate when it comes to scoring travel deals. I thought that moving back to Toronto would mean that my days of jet-setting around Asia had come to an end. Perhaps I’d meander through my own country for a bit or head south of the border, I thought. China Eastern had other plans for me! Just over a year after leaving Korea, I headed back to Asia. This time I was lucky enough to visit the closest place to paradise I’ve found just yet: El Nido on the island of Palawan in the Philippines!
How to Get to El Nido
There are a variety of ways to get to El Nido (check them out here). In my experience, most people fly into Manila then begin to make their way around. My journey in the Philippines began in Cebu. I decided to fly from Cebu to Puerto Princesa and take the van. Many people I know have done the pilgrimage in a van and I figured I’d take it one way then fly back to Cebu directly from El Nido on AirSWIFT. Balance, right?
If you have the budget, I’d really suggest flying both ways. It is pretty pricy in comparison, but you’re saving yourself several hours in an over air-conditioned and severely cramped van. Imagine people sweating from the chills – no bueno. The Philippines can be more expensive than most people seem to blog about. From my perspective, it’s well worth the extra fare to be comfortable and to enjoy those additional 5-8 hours actually in El Nido.
Where to Stay in El Nido, Palawan: Outpost Beach Hostel
The highlight of my trip to the Philippines has got to be my time at Outpost Beach Hostel. I had been wanting to visit for YEARS and had even sent a couple of friends their way who wanted to go diving. Outpost Beach Hostel is a pretty special place. When I got out of the van (hours after arriving on the island of Palawan) I was disoriented and tired and just wanted a shower, a bed, and some decent eats. Head down the stairs and you’ll find a beach, but no hostel. You’ll have to make a left and walk along the beach for a moment before making it to Outpost. Once you get there, some pretty amazing people yell “welcome home!” before checking you in and showing you around.
Outpost Beach Hostel is located in Corong-Corong (“Sunset Beach” with a stunning view of Bacuit Bay) and is about a 10-minute ride from El Nido town. There are plenty of local trikes, so try to get a crew of 3 people to keep costs down. These tricycles will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go (even the airport, although we had 2 busted tires on the way there!)
I stayed in a 12 person mixed dorm with air conditioning. There was a big co-ed bathroom with 3 – 4 toilets and 3 – 4 shower stalls. Be aware: it’s a remote island. Sometimes the power goes out. Sometimes the water goes out when you’ve got shampoo in your hair. Fingers crossed it comes back quickly, but you’re on an idyllic beach in the middle of nowhere and a little shampoo in your hair for a bit isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Linens and towels are free, but I would suggest bringing your own blanket (I had a bamboo flat sheet which was perfect). Each bunk has a comfy bed, a big locker, an electrical socket, and a lamp. Don’t be like my neighbours who turned the lights on and off without a care in the world between 12 AM and 4 AM. Also remember you’re in a hostel and you never know just what personalities you’ll get in a dorm. If you’re really sensitive, go for a private room. My roommates brought their entire closets over from Ireland and didn’t make use of the lockers. That was their downfall when some dude mistook the dorm room floor (ie. their piles of clothing) for the bathroom.
There is Wi-Fi, but it’s only available in common areas (which should be where you spend most of your time!) We shared a sunset drink every night while enjoying the dazzling show put on by the sky. They really do call it Sunset Beach for a reason! There are nightly activities like beer pong, etc. To be kind of the neighbours, the hostel bar shuts down fairly early to encourage everyone to take off to the bars in town by 11 PM. SAVA and Pukka Bar were the most popular spots while I was there.
The most fun you’ll have while staying at Outpost Beach Hostel is during the day, in my opinion. I spent 2 days island hopping, making friends, eating delicious freshly-cooked buffet meals on the beach, and playing DJ on a boat with the Outpost crew. If you’re a solo traveler this is where your social life at Outpost begins. Each day alternates tours A & C and B & D which are consistent across all tour groups on the island.
Island Hopping in Palawan Tours A & C
Tour A/C takes you to a beautiful lagoons located around Miniloc Island (Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Secret Lagoon), Shimizu Island, Seven Commando Beach, Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, and Hidden Beach.
Island Hopping in Palawan Tours B & D
Tour B/D takes you to Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave, a snorkeling spot, Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, and Bukal Beach.
Feeling So Right in Corong-Corong
I honestly wouldn’t be able to call any of the islands by name if we were to return except Snake Island, but because it has a giant sandbar. They were all insanely beautiful and each had their own personality. A couple of the islands had hikes, but none of us really brought climbing-appropriate shoes. We were plenty happy to be out on the beach and wading in the water. The rocky islands stood out against the backdrop of crystal blue waters and perfectly blue skies. I was a little nervous that I’d get sea-sick, but ended up being fine the entire time.
I don’t think I’ve been that completely blissed out in quite some time. We had a soccer ball and a volleyball and on some of the sprawling beaches we kicked around for a while. I don’t know if Outpost screens its guests, but never have I ever seen so many great-looking, fit, fun guys playing on a remote island beach. Kudos.
Canopy Walk in El Nido
On our last day, we decided to do the canopy walk. I’m not super great with hungover heights or thirst traps for attractions without the highest degree of safety precautions, but there I was climbing metallic spider web. There were some pretty spectacular views and if you’re a sucker for heights then this is definitely the spot for you! It took only about an hour out of our day and, most importantly, we felt like we had accomplished something fitness-adjacent. Mission complete!
There are so many things do do in El Nido beyond just island hopping. I wish I could have stayed longer and done a yoga retreat, explored more of the town, or gone on any of the new tourist attractions which seem to be popping up all over the place.
Things to Note
This island paradise is a spectacular getaway! Here are a few things to note before going:
- The poverty is real. I’ve never seen such stunning stucco churches directly next to people living in shacks by the side of the road. These people are very hard workers, but I’ve never seen such extreme poverty.
- El Nido can be expensive. Traveling through SEA isn’t as cheap as it once was. See above, however. If you’re taking a trip across the planet, chances are you can pay a little extra to be a little extra. Sacrifice a couple of extra bucks for those who need it.
- Speaking of cash – ATMs are scarce, often run out of money, and charge high rates. I would definitely suggest getting cash before flying into Palawan. I doubt you’ll be able to use your credit card by now either.
- The internet is inconsistent at the best of times. Make this an opportunity to unplug and have some real conversations.
- The power is also inconsistent. Generators sometimes fail. You’re not at the Ritz, you’re on an adventure – deal with it.
- Make sure to book accommodations ahead of time. It’s not easy finding a place last minute.
I could have spent much more time meandering around El Nido. It’s really a place where you can slow down and just enjoy life. I personally have a ton of hangups about my weight and my place in life right now and being surrounded by such positive people and around such intense beauty pushed all of my insecurities away. If you ever have the opportunity, go to El Nido. Your perspective will most certainly be changed long after your departure.
*Certain elements in this post were provided in exchange for an open and honest review of Outpost Beach Hostel. As always, information and opinions are genuine, my own, and only places well worth visiting appear on The Toronto Seoulcialite.
Have you been to El Nido? Have I missed anything? Should I have taken that adorable puppy home to Canada? Let me know in the comments below!