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Exploring the Hidden Treasures of El Nido: A Backpacker’s Guide, The Philippines

Escape to a tropical destination tantamount to paradise. That’s what’s in store for you when you travel to El Nido, a majestic island in the northermost point of Palawan, Philippines. With an ecosystem that never fails to bewilder—ancient old limestone cliffs, countless species of marine creatures, and over 2,000 hectares of mangrove forests—it surely belongs to the bucket list of any avid traveler.

The only catch? El Nido is an expensive place. Or so you think.
This is actually the biggest misconception people make about this place. As a local who has been here a dozen times, I could tell you straight that it’s not. It’s all just a matter of research and planning. When you get it right, you’d find that it’s not pricey at all. Here’s how.

First, pick a date. Many would tell you that the best time to go would be during the summer season from March to May. Enjoy El Nido for its all glory under the wonderful warmth of the sun. But the prices are not so forgiving. Better travel during off-peak seasons but avoid the months of July and August when rains are a daily staple and the seas are choppy. Opt to travel on June, October, and November.


Next, choose where to stay. This is actually the trick. Many people think that the only option in El Nido would be those posh resorts with skyrocket high prices. What they don’t know is that you can actually stay at the town, where there are a lot of budget inns that won’t set you back as much. Anyway, you’ll be going on virtually the same tour as those tourists staying in the resorts. Here’s a quick list of cheap places to stay that you’d want to consider for your vacation:

1. Chislyk Beach Cottages
Mobile: +63 919 879 9333
E-mail: Rates: PhP 500 to 800

2. Rosanna’s Beach Cottages
Mobile: +63 918 693 7428
Rates: PhP 700 to 1,000

3. Tandikan Beach Cottages
Mobile: +63 927 562 6350
Rates: PhP 500 to 900

4. Rico’s Cottages
Mobile: +63 915 402 3587
Rates: PhP 1,000 to 1,500

Lastly, don’t eat out (too often). Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of superb restaurants spread all over the town of El Nido with Art Café topping my list. It’d be nice to eat in these places once in a while but if you’d make it a daily activity, your bootstrap budget just won’t survive. If possible, find an inn that has a kitchen so you can cook your own meals.

If that’s not your thing (and you’d scowl at me and say, “Hey, I’m on a vacation, no cooking for me please!), there are some cheap canteens around town that not only serve delicious food but would also love to cook for you whatever dish you want with an extra cooking charge of course.

When my family and I went on an island hopping tour in El Nido a few months ago, we asked this lady from the canteen where we always dined to cook our outing meal for us. That (very early) morning of our tour, we went to the wet market and bought seafoods fit for a king. The lady at the canteen gladly cooked all these for us. We picked the cooked dishes an hour before the schedule of our trip.

So that’s it. If you wish to see El Nido and find out what people are raving about but don’t have the money to go on a luxurious vacation, these are some of the things you can do. And you’ll see, El Nido is such an awe-inspiring place, it really doesn’t matter where you stay or what you eat, you’ll still have the best time ever.

/// Written by Wendelou Valerie Garcia, The Philippines

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