El Nido, Philippines

El Nido, Palawan: The Last Philippine Frontier

Late Landing
Fisherman packs his bangka after anchoring on a beach on the outskirts of El Nido.
snake island
Bangka passengers go snorkeling on Snake Island.
Manual disembarkation
Tour guide secures his traditional boat on a Matinloc beach.
Speckled horizon
Silhouettes of the cliffs of the Bacuit archipelago rising from the South China Sea.
family network
Sisters have fun on a hammock in El Nido.
shallow dive
Native guide investigates the seabed on the remote island of Matinloc.
tropical anchorage
A bangka parked on an idyllic beach in Miniloc.
Sky Lark scooter
Small tricycle leaves El Nido airfield.
Guia rests for a moment of shallow snorkeling in a hidden lagoon in Matinloc.
somersault style jump
Kid exhibits water acrobatics in El Nido Bay.
walk on water
Visitors to El Nido roam the spit of sand that gives Snake Island its name.
on a lava beach
Bangka anchors between rocks of volcanic origin of the Bacuit Archipelago.
Lagoon in Miniloc
Passengers on a Bangka tour enjoy a Miniloc lagoon.
bangka at sunset
A traditional boat on a quiet beach near El Nido.
Bangka in translucent water
Small bangka anchored on an island near Miniloc.
pure smile
Smiling girl from El Nido.
Brown eyes
Bangkas await passengers on an island in the Bacuit Archipelago.
Plann. of Palawan
An El Nido resident decorates a boat in front of his house.
under the palm trees
Bangkas anchored on the beach at Seven Commandos.
mushroom rock
Isolated rock formation on a beach off El Nido.
One of the most fascinating seascapes in the world, the vastness of the rugged islets of Bacuit hides gaudy coral reefs, small beaches and idyllic lagoons. To discover it, just one fart.

Viewed simply, the journey north of Palawan could be the price to pay for the good to come.

The bus, a veritable folkloric relic, worked its way along the bumpy road that connected Tay Tay to El Nido. Loaded even further, inside the cabin and on the roof, it was easy prey for other vehicles that passed it and left it enveloped in a cloud of dust that clung to our pores.

Every time I packed for a few kilometers of progress, I would stop by the roadside to repair a new puncture or pick up passengers, a myriad of sacks and bags, and other out-of-format luggage.

Amid gentle hills, dry rice paddies and areas of Filipino savanna, we slowly made our way across the map as the bright colors of the bus painting and everything else on board were devoured by an implacable white.

The Dusty Entry into the village of El Nido

Almost sixteen hours after leaving Puerto Princesa, already at the El Nido terminal, none of the natives seemed to be surprised by the ghostly disembarkation. During the long summer season, it was like this, floured, that buses appeared in the village, jeepneys, aged vans and tricycles from the south.

Erika Mother

Jeepney overloaded with passengers and cargo makes a climb near El Nido in northern Palawan.

With about 30.000 mostly Christian inhabitants, 85% of whom live in rural barangays (parishes), El Nido is the gateway to one of the most exuberant scenery on the island of Palawan: the Bacuit archipelago.

Despite colonizing an uncharacteristic and improbable territory on the other side of the globe, the Spaniards came to find their old Moorish archrivals in the southern Philippines.

The Sino-Hispanic Past of Palawan and El Nido

In the second half of the XNUMXth century, friars based on Luzon (the country's largest and main island) sent missions to Palawan but were faced with strong resistance from local Islamic communities.

They then built churches protected by garrisons that allowed them to defend themselves from enemy attacks and managed to establish themselves until the Philippine revolution of 1898 and the passage of the territory to the possession of the United States of America.

Sisters, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Sisters have fun on a hammock in El Nido.

Around that time, El Nido and the area around the far north of Palawan welcomed the first Spanish families: the Canovas, Vázquez, Ríos and Rey.

At the same time, Chinese settlers arrived, some from the China others of Luzon and other parts of the philippines: the Lim, Chin, Liao, Edsan, Ambao, Que-Ke, Lim Piao, Yu His, Pe Phan and Pe Khen, among others.

Since the Sung dynasty – 960 to 279 BC – the Chinese visited the area to collect the abundant swallow nests (collocalia fuciphaga) disputed in the kingdom due to its numerous therapeutic effects and the taste of the soup in which they were made, considered a delicacy.

Around the 1954th century, the product had such a commercial value that it justified the emigration of collectors and intermediaries. But it was only in XNUMX that the village received the Hispanic name that it retains, inspired by the importance that the nests found on the surrounding limestone cliffs had for its affirmation on the map of the Philippines and the World.

Bacuit Archipelago, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Silhouettes of the cliffs of the Bacuit archipelago rising from the South China Sea.

If nests have always been part of the region's history, tourism only emerged in 1983, when a Philippine-Japanese partnership called Ten Knots Development Corporation opened the first resort on the island of Miniloc and an airstrip on the barangay Villa Libertad, on the outskirts of the city.

El Nido, the Convenient Starting Point for the vast Bacuit Archipelago

In 1996, Time magazine included the area around El Nido in a list that ranked top secret travel destinations. For a variety of reasons, this distinction did little to disturb the remote, wilderness aura of the Bacuit Archipelago.

Shortly thereafter, the Philippine government created the local Marine Reserve, which protected an area of ​​almost 100 hectares with a precious ecosystem that includes manatees, turtles of various species and dugongs, the Asian relatives of manatees.

Snake Island Tour, El Nido, Palawan to Last Philippine Border

Visitors to El Nido roam the spit of sand that gives Snake Island its name.

Today, perhaps El Nido lacks the charm that matches the surrounding scenery, as some visitors do. If genuineness is valued, maybe not.

Trapped between the Bay of Bacuit and huge sharp limestone cliffs, its poorly finished ground-floor houses welcome businesses geared to both locals and outsiders.

They come to live side by side, feed houses and other products for fighting cocks with small bars, restaurants and internet houses. El Nido is a pointy urbanistic case.

Although they used the name of the población and from the surrounding region, because they consider it unworthy, the two exquisite resorts on the coast allow wealthy guests to pass by by boat. This rejection impedes development, as we soon found out.

A Disused Jeepney and a Humble Family from Povoação

As we explored the bay's sand, we discovered a jeepney – the national vehicle of the Philippines, created from adaptations of the American jeeps left over from the 2nd World War – burgundy parked in the backyard of a wooden house.

We call the owner and ask him if it still works and what he does right there on his doorstep. Jolly Rivera responds between enthusiasm and disappointment: “I bought it to repair it and set up my business. But things in the family didn't go well and I still haven't been able to touch him."

Jeepney communion

Jolly Rivera (at the wheel), family and friends around the jeepney that the first one bought to recover and thus start his business in El Nido.

Jolly Rivera's mother is right next door. He fell ill, and returned from Canada to the indigenous shelter in El Nido where he now lives, in a wheelchair. Jolly spends too much money on his medications and appointments and hence the dream of jeepney remains delayed.

To serve as an SOS in these cases, there are some backpackers who, averse to spending large sums on luxuries, boost the savings of some native families every time they stay in guest-houses, feed from groceries and restaurants and hire the services of typical boats in the area to explore the Bacuit Archipelago.

Seven Commandos, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Bangkas anchored on the beach at Seven Commandos

The Bangkas for All Service

Various bangkas remain anchored in the bay in front of El Nido awaiting passengers. Once installed and recovered from the southern voyage, we charter one of these noisy boats and head out to the bay with the enthusiasm of those who know that the reward is just a few miles away.

On board were the local helmsman and guide Johnas and his assistant, plus Mona and Hans, a Swedish couple exploring the Philippines in backpacker fashion but with recurrent regrets for being away from their children and grandchildren for too long.

In the initial moments of the route, attempts were still made to continue the dialogue established on boarding, but the noise of the old two-stroke engine simply did not allow it. We are dedicated to contemplating the majestic nature around.

Sheltered Bangka, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Bangka anchors between volcanic rocks of the Bacuit Archipelago

We skirt the enigmatic Cadlao island. The vastness of the South China Sea full of islets and boulders scattered until out of sight.

The landscape reminded us of other, Asian and famous ones: Halong Bay from Vietnam, Guilin, China e Krabi in Thailand.

It has something additional. In addition to the limestone cliffs and the internal lakes, at the foot of the cliffs and hidden in its interior, with underwater access, miniature beaches with white sand and seductive sea appeared, one after the other, decorated by coconut trees in places so unlikely that they arrived to seem artificial.

Mushroom Rock, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Isolated rock formation on a beach off El Nido.

Johnas takes us to the most interesting places and gives information about each of the islands and mini-bays: Miniloc and Secret Lagoon, Lagen, Matinloc, Tapiutan, Seven Commandos beach etc. etc.

It stops from time to time for passengers to test the beaches. We enjoy each of these marine recreations until the last minute.

And the Distinguished Itineraries of ENPOOA through the Bacuit Archipelago

The number of islands, islets and rocks in the Bacuit Archipelago is such that ENPOOA (El Nido Pumpboat Owners and Operators Association) divided the archipelago into four distinct routes.

He assigned each of them a tour to be carried out preferably starting at nine in the morning and ending around four in the afternoon.

Even when taking pictures, the sunny days are so lazy and lazy that they generate remorse.

Snorkeling, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Native guide investigates the seabed on the remote island of Matinloc.

Hans and Mona almost completed these itineraries: “My friends, we never feel so good in our lives doing nothing”, confessed the most communicative wife. We agreed without reservation.

In one of the afternoons and tours, we landed in Matinloc, on an apparently deserted beach, lost in an extraterrestrial setting, made of solidified lava. We jump onto the beach and then into the water.

Guide rests in a moment of shallow snorkeling in a hidden lagoon of Matinloc

On our way back to the beach, we noticed a group of men in work clothes, squatting Asian-style in the shade of the trees. 

The guide says that they are nest catchers. We approached, greeted the group and discovered in their hands the set of tools that always accompany them. A shoulder bag, a flashlight and a knife. A bottle of rice whiskey completed the set.

Out of nowhere, we come face to face with the raison d'être of the El Nido name. Johan asks one of the men for a piece of nest and hands it to us: “Amazing isn't it? ” exclaims. "That's why they risk their lives."

In the middle of the afternoon, Johnas and his assistant returned to grilling freshly caught fish that we shared by the sea in lively conversation.

Snake island, El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Bangka Passengers Snorkel Snake Island

We then disembarked on the south coast of Miniloc to visit a new lagoon, this time the Secret Lagoon, as the name implies, hidden among some of the highest and steepest limestone cliffs in the archipelago.

Until four in the afternoon, we still stopped at a delightful inlet on Simisu Island and climbed to a nearby ridge to look down on the dotted expanse of the Bacuit Archipelago.

El Nido, Palawan the Last Philippine Border

Fisherman packs his bangka after anchoring on a beach on the outskirts of El Nido.

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