Steep Limestone cliffs rising from the sea. White clouds lie behind them, floating in the deep blue tropical sky. Welcome to El Nido, north Palawan’s not so secret destination. To reach this Karst scenery up close, one must take a tour.
There are four tours, labeled A, B, C and D. Most people take A and C, which run daily in peak season. The boats are called bangkas, traditional Philippine double outrigger canoe. All these craft are well adapted to calmer sea travel.
Now the fun starts. In my tour D, the boat was not near the shore, so we had to wade out in water about 1.5m deep (5 feet). Sometimes they anchor in water over 10 meters in depth (33 feet). You must swim up to 200 meters (650 feet) each way, while dealing with strong currents. This is no problem for an experienced swimmer, but difficult or even dangerous for anyone else. In some cases kayaks were available at extra cost. Life preservers are carried for less capable swimmers.
The bottom of the ocean can contain sharp coral, rocks and even stone fish. Stone fish give a nasty, painful sting. Again, this was not made clear on either of the two tours I took. Special shoes can rented in El Nido.
The trips themselves are excellent. You’ll rarely see a more spectacular ocean setting. The snorkelling is a bit disappointing. Carry a waterproof case for your phone or camera or use a waterproof camera like the Go Pro. Test the phone case first in a sink by placing a tissue or paper inside of it and submerging it. My tours served a buffet lunch consisting of shrimp, chicken, salad, rice, watermelon and mango. Overall, the crew was great. You’ll see lagoons surrounded by cliffs and only accessible through a hole in the vertical cliffs. Filipinos are on hand to pull you through.
El Nido reachable by plane from Manila and by bus or van from Puerto Princessa, Palawan’s capital.
El Nido’s location