The love month (February) of 2017 had been very busy for us. After our amazing winter Seoul-searching tour in South Korea, we rested for a week and excitedly longed for our sunny backpacking trip to El Nido, Palawan. Below are some money-saving DIY travel tips we could share with you from our recent El Nido ALventure. 😉 Hope this helps.
Score a Cheap Flight
You don't have to be rich to go to El Nido. Thanks to airline promos we enjoy nowadays, traveling doesn't need to be expensive! We booked a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan for only PHP 16 per way per person base fare.
So this booking makes our round trip airplane tickets cost less than PHP 600 per person (PHP 586.84 to be exact), without baggage allowance. Travel light, so they say! We didn't book for a luggage allowance since I just wanted to secure the sale seat by paying right ahead and besides, I can go ahead and manage my booking at least 4 hours before my flight to add a check-in baggage allowance if there's a need.
In my travel experience, hand-carry baggage is enough if you are just traveling for less than a week. But of course, it depends on your travel style and if you are bringing things that are only allowed for checked-in baggage. My husband needed to bring his GoPro pole and it will not be allowed for hand carry so I booked for additional luggage for him, PHP 257.60 per way.
This fee already includes government taxes and carrier-imposed fees.
Puerto Princesa to El Nido
From Puerto Princesa, you need to travel by land to reach the paradise of El Nido. Van transfers are ranging from PHP 500 to PHP 700 per pax (one-way ticket). Travel time is around 5 to 6 hours. Traveling by bus is a bit cheaper option but it takes longer time. We booked round-trip with Eulen Joy Transport c/o our hostel to get the 500/head price. But you can arrange with them directly. You may contact them through the ff.:
- Contact numbers: 09985515041 / 09158293735
- Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Someone welcomed us warmly at the airport (with matching full name and all smiles). 😀 He courteously escorted us on our way to their ticket office, and then to the vehicle.
Damages per head: PHP 500 x 2 = PHP 1000 (Round-trip)
Where to stay in El Nido?
Bacuit Bay (El Nido) Sands Inn (PHP 600/night good for 2-3 pax)
It's burdensome to find an accommodation near the beachfront at a very reasonable price, especially if you're not familiar with the place. Good thing I have a recommendation from a colleague who had been to El Nido with his family. Shout out thanks to Mr. Alex M!!!
- Fan room: PHP 600/night
- Air-conditioned room: PHP 1300/night
I don't know about you, but waking up with this view (refer to photo slide below) made me fall in love with this Inn. It's no surprise a lot of foreigners choose to stay here. The terrace is amazing! You can just take a seat with your feet up then enjoy the scene. Hayahay ka! You will be relaxed! The location is perfect. Go downstairs and you're at the beach front. It's very easy especially if you are getting ready for your tour. If you're a social butterfly and you want to get some drinks or party at night, Pukka bar is nearby.
When I was searching the net for a place to stay, a good review from awanderfulsole, made me feel that this inn is it! Quoting her as follows:
This budget inn is devoid of anything fancy unlike other hotels in the entire town but it is cheap for the price of P600/night and you get yourself a fan room good for 3 people. Shared toilet and bath is not something to be upset about as it is clean and well maintained. Staffs are very friendly and helpful too. ~awanderfulsole
Want to see the inn's location? Click here, they are marked as number 13 on the map. For reservations, you may contact nanay Letty through her mobile number: SMART: 0998 565 0952.
Note: If you are planning to go during the holy week, Sands Inn may not be able to accommodate you since the owners usually go to El Nido to use the guesthouse during this time. They don't admit other guests for privacy purposes. However, you may still check (the availability) with nanay Letty as early as the second week of March, because there are times that the owners go somewhere else for their holiday.
A few other beachfront affordable options with good reviews are as follows:
- Relucio Traveller's Pension
Air-conditioned room ~ PHP 700/night
Contact: 09262196640 | 09154382485
- Ogie's Beach Pension
Fan room ~ PHP 900/night
Globe: 09167070393 | 09178638482 | Smart: 09989881236
- Marina Garden Beachfront
GLOBE: 0917624 7722 | SMART 09088843711 | SUN 09257222777
Island Hopping Tours
Island hopping tours will help you appreciate this haven. Tours A, B, C and D will take you to different world-class destinations which make up El Nido, Palawan. One Tour is good for a day with amazing lunch buffet, drinks, snorkel gear, a life vest and a tour guide. Locals usually recommend Tour A and Tour C. These are the most popular among the four tours. Know more about these at El Nido Paradise website.
We went to visit El Nido during its peak season so we expected that there's no way we could haggle. We booked our tours with nanay Letty, the caretaker of Bacuit Bay Sands Inn. We were able to secure a constant communication with her since a week ahead of our reservation. We asked her about the tours. She invited us to book with her and surprisingly, she said that if she will be able to group us with other guests of Sands Inn, then maybe she can give us a discount.
We only had 5 days and we wanted to climb Mount Taraw. So we can only book 2 tours. We chose, of course, A and C. (Haha!) Here are the damages per head:
- Local Tourism Fee: PHP 200 good for 10 days.
- Price for Tour A: PHP 1200 ~ Our Discounted rate: PHP 1000
- Price for Tour C: PHP 1400 ~ Our Discounted rate: PHP 1200
When we were there, she said that prices for tours can drop as low as PHP 600 per head during non-peak season, that's about June to early August. But at your own risk because the sea can be rough during these months.
Food is expensive in El Nido when you dine in the restaurants along the beach front. I find it more expensive than my food options in Seoul! 😀 But you know what, let me break these tips for you:
1.Bring your own favourite energy drink or 3-in-1 coffee solo packs because hot water is free in every hostel. Sands Inn served free Lipton tea during our stay. You can save from PHP 25 ~ 300 per cup of coffee. Also, we brought with us cup noodles from our Seoul trip because we still had that Korean hangover at that time! 😛
2. You can cook your own meal in El Nido Sand's Inn (not sure with other hostels), just pay PHP 50 as your share for the gas which runs the stove. Go to the public market and buy your fresh ingredients. Say hello to seafood! Fish at an expensive rate go at around PHP 120 per kilo. Did you hear me say it's is already at their most expensive rate? Also, you can get a kilo of prawns for only PHP 150.
3. Go to a local eatery in front of the local church. 🙂 They serve regular Pinoy cuisine at a cheap price. Price range from PHP 25 to PHP 60 for a single order. 😛
4. Sizzling rice meals (PHP 99) and Silog breakfast meals (PHP 89) are available at El Nido Silog Republic. They also have Combo meals for at most PHP 189.
5. For your fresh fruit shake, go to THEANDREI Shakes and Burger Store along the street where Cebuana Lhuillier is at. They serve the cheapest but delicious and fresh fruit shake in the area. Try Guyabano shake when in season! Really tastes good! Don't buy at the burger store next to Relucio's Pension. They will blend in even the non-fresh bruised part of your chosen fruit. Price is also significantly higher.
6. For land tours, rent a motorbike/scooter for only PHP 500 for whole day use. You have to return it on or before 7:30 PM otherwise they will charge you for an additional fee per hour. You'll be given a map as your guide for your destination option.
Things To Bring
What you need to bring
- Cash ~ Restaurants and eateries only accept cash. Credit cards are hardly acceptable since there is a difficulty in finding strong data signal in the area. There are now a couple of ATM machines on the island. BPI can be found alongside the street where Cebuana Lhuillier is at. You may also withdraw cash via Palawan Pawnshop for a fee.
- Sunscreen Protection
- Swimsuit ~ and a lot of pairs (depends on you)
- Underwater camera
- Aqua shoes
- Snorkelling gear (if you own one, if not, don't fret, it's provided with the tours) ~ the world under the water is so rich you can't afford to miss it
- Climbing shoes (if you will climb Mt. Taraw)
For climbing the famous Taraw cliff, we went to the police station and booked Reynan, a licensed tour guide. I can give you his contact details if you're interested. According to him, the local policemen depend on him during rescue operations. Sometimes foreigners climb Mount Taraw without a guide. Most guests get lost during the descent as it is much more difficult than the ascent.
Guide fee has become expensive after the recent accident from the cliff. From the old blogs I read, your PHP 400 is good for 2 to 3 persons before. Well, not anymore. Regular rate is now PHP 500 per head but when we tried to haggle, Reynan agreed for PHP 400 per head. However, in the end, we gave him the full PHP 1000 as he deserved it. He took care of us on our way up and down.
05:45 Meet-Up at Police Station
06:00 Start trek
07:00 Cliff summit/ Enjoy the view/ Photo Ops
08:00 Start descent
09:00 ETA Buena Suerte town
The climb to reach the peak, according to local guides, takes around 45 minutes. We took it for an hour, we were cautious about our safety. You can adjust your start-trek time depending on the time that fits you. Some starts trekking at 3 am and they wait for sunrise. But of course, it's more difficult because of darkness.
Reaching the peak gives you an awesome panoramic view of Bacuit Bay from the top. It was a no joke climb. Challenging but rewarding. I did it so for sure, you can do it too! You will enjoy it if you're a mountaineer because there are 90-degree spots but you have to be super careful especially in your descent. The rocks are sharp. Listen to your tour guide's advice. There were 2 foreigners who climbed here and they almost fell when the man tried to propose to her girlfriend. But it's their tour-guide who fell trying to rescue them. As of this writing, the tour guide is still in a coma. So to those who are planning to have a unique proposal, don't do it without extra precaution here!!! Safety first! ^_^ Enjoy, guys!
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Related reads: Coron Palawan On A Budget
God's Not Dead
Our actual travel schedule was from Feb. 21 - Mar. 1, but after some schedule conflicts, we thought we were just going to cancel than spend another airfare. However, God's hands are really at work. If it's His will for you, then it will happen. Cebu Pacific sent an SMS informing us about a planned schedule delay of the flight. They do this often times so I know that with this, you have a chance to rebook, refund or store your money to your travel fund.
So I called and asked for a refund but it was taking time. I had to call after 2 days to check the status and when I called back, the request was untouched and they had to send another email to the concerned department and they had me call them again after 2 days without any result. Waiting in the queue to get someone to talk to you from their hotline is a pain. So I was unhappy and dismayed. The departure date was nearing, I decided (with my husband's approval) to have it re-booked and they agreed right then and on (without any charge) to a new schedule which was preferable for us, that was Feb. 24 to Mar. 1.
Since our holiday schedule was squeezed into only 6 days, we had no choice but visit El Nido. We will just tour around the islands in Puerto Princesa City (PPS) next time. We had a 10 am flight to catch going back to Manila on our last day and the travel time from El Nido to PPS is 5 to 6 hours. The earliest van schedule is 4~5 am but we didn't want to gamble it! Thus, we returned to PPS on February 28th.