After a peaceful and scenic 8-hour bangka (fast wooden boat) ride that showboated some of Palawan’s desert islands and mountains, we arrived in buzzy El Nido.
As a busy tourist hub, El Nido isn’t the most scenic of bays, but still offers karst scenery jutting out from the town, and a little bay of sand (albeit covered in tour boats awaiting their next adventures). We found a cheap little guesthouse run by a sweet Filipino family, and they welcomed us in with coffee on the terrace and some jokes about how beautiful their ‘daughter’ is, who happened to be a lady boy! She was really beautiful, so we agreed, much to their amusement.
We booked onto a two-day tour for the next day which would take us around the highlights of the Bacuit Archipelago via boat over two days, camping on a desert island for the night in between. It was a little more expensive than we’d been advised by other backpackers, but at 40 quid for two days including accommodation, food and the tour, PLUS all-you-can-drink rum for the desert island, it was a pretty good deal!
The next day we waited on the sand for everyone to arrive, and met our tour mates – a really fun group of people similar ages to us, many from the UK but also Canada and Australia. We boarded our tour boat and it became apparent it wasn’t the best run boat (we didn’t have enough snorkels!) but the skippers and cooks were all really fun, and cracked some jokes with us about surviving on the desert island with ‘just a guitar’ as they didn’t have any tents. What jokers!
The first day was really great (although FAR more crowded than Coron) and we went to some beautiful beaches, lagoons (‘secret’ and ‘hidden’ lagoons being some of the busiest places!) and got involved with snorkelling, swimming down shallow streams, and taking in some amazing rock formations. We saw some cool fish while snorkelling, including lots of clown fish, trigger fish, sturgeon fish, angel fish and groupers. We also encountered some very territorial fish that tried to attack us, and some even more territorial kayakers who were insistent on trying to run us down as we swam through the lagoons!
The night on the desert island was really fun, and pretty much made the tour. Although the sites had been beautiful and we’d all got on well throughout the day, it was the night on the island that really bonded us. We stayed on a tiny island inhabited by only one very sweet family who had a few tents that were rented out to tour groups. There were a couple of cute kids in the family that were probably the happiest kids I’ve ever seen in my life, giggling non-stop at everything!
The family cooked us a big meal of rice, pork and veggies and provided us with 6L of rum (between only 10 of us) and we spent the evening playing drinking games, singing, chatting, buying yet MORE rum (I think we averaged a litre each in the end), then, inevitably, stripping naked and going skinny dipping. The sweet family had put on a show with a fire twirler, but we were so wasted and feeling super boisterous, swimming in the sea and looking at the stars was about all we could manage! At one point we were just passing around a bottle of rum and swigging from it neat, in the sea. What class!
The next day, we were HANGING. We all woke up covered in sand, and having lost a lot of our stuff. I couldn’t find my bikini top, which was gutting seeing as I’d only bought it in Thailand and it fit like an absolute dream! The sweet family loaned me a snorkel to look around the bay, and despite finding another pair of pants and a dress (!) on the ocean bed, it was nowhere to be found. RIP, lovely new bikini. RIP.
After a brekkie of tea and toast, our boat came to pick us up for day 2 of the tour. Unfortunately, day 1 had been the more ‘relaxing’ day with more beaches, and day 2 was the more active snorkelling day of lagoons. The first stop – Helicopter Island – was some of the best snorkelling I’ve done in my life to date, and I was so transfixed that I managed to stay under for most of the stop, despite feeling like I was going to vom from hangover dizziness and dry mouth. Sam fell asleep on the beach resulting in us nearly leaving him there until we realised he was missing!
We had yet another amazing lunch on the beach and visited more lagoons and lakes (some of which were a real effort!) and a nice little lookout point with a random temple (!) where we took some good photos.
The boat trip home was one big singalong of karaoke and pop classics, warming ourselves up for our planned night of karaoke later on. After a quick rest (and chocolate bars for dinner, due to laziness!) we met up on the beach. We tried a karaoke bar but it was pretty dead, so we just drank beers on the beach instead, being entertained at one point by a couple of local kids who wanted to play games and show off their toys to us.
We somehow managed to stay out til 4am (?!) despite being hungover and exhausted, and the next day we were told off by our guesthouse mum for coming home so drunk! ‘If you’re that drunk, first the guys on the street will get THESE, then they’ll get THESE!’ she motioned, touching the ‘balls’ area of Sam’s crotch, and then his wallet. Bless.
The last day was spent on nearby Coron Coron beach, a short trike ride away from El Nido. A really pretty, if a bit busy, beach – it was the perfect place to wile away our last hungover day. We also had a ‘double burger’ breakfast and lunch, but the less said about that, the better. Onwards and upwards! Down the island, to travel hub town Puerto Princessa….