We woke up to excellent weather on Day 2. Tours usually start at 9, so we didn’t have to wake up very early, but that didn’t stop us from being up and about as early as 7AM. After eating breakfast and changing into our swim wear, my friends and I headed to the beach to start Tour C. I think it’s kinda funny how the tours sound so generic. Tour A, B and C. No fun names. No pretentious words, just letters. I think that’s a nice metaphor for El Nido. While there are luxury resorts in different islands, the town of El Nido is simple. It didn’t need crazy shops, 5-star restaurants or all sorts of amenities. The only thing it needed was the basics and El Nido’s surroundings will be more than enough to wow anyone who visits it.
Similar to our first day, we joined another group tour. Our companions on tour C are two Australian friends and a Filipino backpacker. We kept our tour guide from yesterday’s tour, Joseph. Tour C will take us to El Nido’s secret beaches and will end in Matinloc Shrine. After introductions and prepping our gear, we were off.
Our first stop was Helicopter Island, which we passed by yesterday when we went on Tour A. Helicopter Island offers great snorkeling. The water is clear and marine life is lush but I guess you could say that for all of El Nido. Anna, the Filipino backpacker we were with, said she saw a turtle swim by—a pawikan. The Aussie friends described huge jellyfishes that they saw. Why didn’t I see any of that? Probably because I didn’t venture too far out. I love the beach and the sea, but swimming out into the open ocean scares me. That’s something I wish to overcome next year.
The second stop for that day was Secret Beach. I think this is where I truly fell in love with El Nido. Our boat entered a narrow strait between limestone cliffs. It was low tide, so we had to get off the boat and wade out to the Secret Beach.
After a few minutes of wading through waist deep water, we saw it. I heard an audible gasp, later realizing that the sound came from me. It’s stunning. When we got there, a set of tourists was just leaving so we had the place to ourselves.
I felt a little sad to leave Secret Beach, but we were only on the first half of our tour. There was still more of El Nido to see. It was past noon, so we headed out to Star Beach for lunch.
Star Beach is a small stretch of beach in an island that faces another island forming a sort of estuary that would meet the ocean. The water here is still and when we were there, hardly any boats disturbed the surface. The place was quiet—tranquil.
After our delicious lunch and a bit of downtime, we headed on to the Hidden Beach. The hidden beach is exactly what its name implies. You will not see the beach from a boat. You access it by swimming through a hole in the lime stones.
When we were there, it was already high tide, so the entrance wasn’t very visible. The water is deep. Since our companions on the tour were divers they had no trouble swimming from the boat through the hole and to the other side. With life vests on, my friends and I jumped from our boat and did our best to swim against the current. The effort was worth it. I was reminded so much of the movie The Beach. I heard wows from my friends when they surfaced inside the cove.
I love how startlingly beautiful this place is. We asked if we could stay here for a while and our guide agreed. We had the place to ourselves for a good 30 minutes before another group arrived. They did not stay long, so after they left, we were left with the quiet of this beautiful place.
We had one more stop for the day, so with a bit of hesitation, we waded through the shallow part until we reached the part where we had to swim through the hole into the ocean where they docked our boat. Our next stop is Matinloc Shrine.
Matinloc Shrine is an abandoned property situated in a heart-shaped island. I saw some pictures of the place in its heyday and I lamented the disrepair the place has been left in. Even at the state it was in, you could easily see how majestic this place used to be.
The island has its own private port, a nice little piece of beach, a grotto and a modern-looking house. It felt like such a waste. After exploring the place and taking a few pictures, we left the island and headed back to the town.
When we got back to the town, we said farewell to the people we met on the tour. Anna, the solo backpacker had become a friend. She was leaving that night hoping to get a chance to see the Underground River the next morning before her flight to Manila.
That night, we decided to try out the Art Café. My friends had read a lot about this restaurant and we were intrigued. The first thing we noticed when we got inside was that except for the servers, we were the only Filipinos there. For the first time, I felt truly out of place in my own country. I suppose the place catered more to foreign tastes with a westernized menu, but still, it made me feel uneasy. The food was great, although, a bit more pricey than what we expected. All in all, it was a great night. We slept early because we were leaving 4AM the next day for Puerto Princesa. We had made arrangements with the hotel to reserve seats to a van going there. The van picked us up on time the following day. We got to Puerto Princesa just a little before lunch time, so we ate at Ka Lui Restaurant before heading to the airport.
El Nido is such a beautiful place. It truly is breathtaking. I can’t begin to count how many times I exclaimed, “ang ganda!” (how beautiful!) when we saw the new places. And yes, El Nido did stand out. Whatever it was that I felt I needed to see the first day, Tour C showed me. I want to go back to El Nido and I probably will someday. If ever I do go back, I’ll go on all the tours and I’ll try to stay at Corong Corong beach, where I heard the views of the sunrise are the best. (Yes, I’m a sucker for pink skies!) I’ve read people asking which was better, Coron or El Nido? I don’t think that’s an easy question. They are both beautiful places and it’s hard to compare. Or is it? I’ll probably hear some negative comments about this, but here goes. El Nido to me is Coron+. I don’t know if that makes sense. If you don’t mind the travel time going to El Nido, you will feel rewarded. It has the lagoons, it has the beaches and then there’s more—the secret, the hidden, the quiet. El Nido literally made me catch my breath.
(This is another retro post. This trip took place April 13-16, 2012.)
This is a 3-parter. Check out the other parts at the links below: