El Nido is a small sleepy town on the Northern coast of Palawan island. It's quite remote and getting there is nothing exciting.
To get there you need to take a minivan (overpacked with people and stuff of course) from Puerto Princesa (costs about $12 pp) and take a trip through mountains, rock formations, virgin jungle forests, and about 40km offroad. On the way the driver will probably pull over to show you the Avatar rocks where Cameron had his fun filming the movie in 2008. It's truly impressive and in combination with wild wild jungle it does create a very surreal picture, just imagine Pandora in real world.
El Nido has about 4-5 streets connecting the beach with the number of shops, eateries and even bars. Accommodation is mostly on the beach which makes it a great chillaxing place, we stayed at The Alternative guesthouse and paid about $10 per room with private bathroom and veranda facing the sea - one of our favorite places to stay. The scenery is amazing - every day you wake up and enjoy the sea, white beach, huge rock formations hanging over El Nido and crowning the horizon. The electricity in town is limited - you can only have it from around 4.30pm to 6am, this means that during no electicity time there is no Internet, no music, no fan or aircon, no fruit shakes (or anything that needs blender or other device) We used this time to go walking around and to kayak to the closest island which was really fun. I even saw a giant turtle swimming about 5 meters from us.
Our favorite food place in town was Marber's place on the beach - the owner is German living in El Nido with his Filipino family for a long time. Their pancakes, curries, grilled fish and home made spaghetti are great and reasonably priced. If you visit them you'll probably meet Monica - a cute little beast, granddaughter of the owner, who will be at your table the moment you have food on it - she just likes to eat!
We made friends with the owner of our hostel as well - Jun (from Junior) and his brothers, especially Israel and Apokalypsis (yes, those are their real names) and cousins took it as their own personal responsibility to entertain us. We used to sit together for a long time on the veranda and just talk, tell stories and laugh. The guys could easily finish 2 bottles of Tanduay (Filipino rum), go for the third one and feel fine in the morning - quite a competition to Russians :) Jun has 12 kids, aged 1 to 15 years old, and he has recently lost his wife during child birth, nevertheless he is an amazingly fun, kind and sincere guy who just likes to see you smile.
Jun has organized us a 2 days trip to his family owned beaches on more remote island where they treated us like some VIP guests. They sometimes take tourists there and provide a quite expensive trip package for 2 days. We got the same thing but at a ridiculous discount as friends of the family - so nice!
We did some shopping before going and bought some food and drinks, the food was unnecessary, they tried to feed us at every opportunity even when we insisted that we have our own stuff (which eventually got all chewed up by a sneaky chipmunk)
The trip was truly amazing - I can't even describe how beautiful were the islands, rock formations, beaches and marine life. The trip to Jun's beach takes about an hour by a small fisherman motorboat and during this journey you'll see an overwhelming amount of spectacular sceneries, you literally can't put your camera down.
The beach where we stayed was surrounded by cliffs and had a beautiful emerald color lagoon with plenty of coral life underwater, and a cave where people say the Japanese used to hide their gold during WW2. When the boat was heading toward the beach we had to ask several times - "Are you serious? Your family lives here?" as we couldn't believe it. The beach had 3 bungalows at the back, a kitchen, couple of tables, outside bathroom, hammocks and that's it. We chose to sleep in a no-walls/open bungalow right on the beach - this was just a bamboo platform on stilts with a palm leaf roof, matrass in the middle and mosquito net around. Waking up in a place like that at sunrise is something unbelievable.
We kayaked a lot around the nearby beaches, the guys took us to a more distant fishing village, Snake island and freshwater spring. We also did a lot of snorkeling and since we were surrounded by massive cliffs the seaworld beneath was just amazing - it looks like an ancient city with stone carved castles, seaweed forests, coral barriers and alien looking mushroom-like formations. All this comes with plenty of colorful fishes, sea stars and sponges, mini jelly fish and all sorts of other creatures. Highly recommend for snorkeling!
In the evening the guys made a big bonfire on the beach, cooked us fish and rice, sang songs for us and generally made it a cool party by the bonfire.
Next day on the way back the guys also took us to see the famous Big Lagoon - narrow water tunnel through huge majestic cliffs - really impressive.
El Nido is definitely high on our list and its mostly because of Jun and the family's hospitality and kindness. Same as with Charlie and Tailana we hope to see Jun and the family again.
Next - Saigon, Vietnam.