El Nido and the Palawan Basic To Do

7 Commando Beach, Palawan

My feelings on the Philippines.
So many yet so few and more importantly, I made it out unscathed! 😅 The Philippines are one of the places you often hear warnings about, but as always, you have to be alert and keep your head on a swivel. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I also didn’t feel super safe. Either way, as a solo female traveler, it’s important to stay vigilant, no matter where you are. Now, my typical “slow” travel style has taken a quicker pace. I have less than three months left of this crazy Asian Adventure and I have places to go and things to do. I only spent nine days in the Philippines not including the two travel days (on each end) and it seemed like I was mostly traveling anyway. Like anywhere in Asia, getting from point A to point B takes time and I took some bus, boat, van, and plane rides on the regular.
With such a short visit, I don’t have a great summary of this varied country, but I can say the nature I did see was stunning. Here are my main thoughts overall:

Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines
Amazing islands, amazing beaches.

1. Filipinos listen to an inordinate amount of “soft rock” from the 70s and 80s. It plays on the radio everywhere you may go. From Cebu to Palawan to public busses and local restaurants, you could often hear Boston, Chicago, Air Supply, even Led Zepplin, and many others. I actually didn’t mind it. It reminded me of home, my mom, and some of the tunes I remember her listening to when I was a kid, Total Eclipse of the Heart being one of them. When I asked some locals about it, they really couldn’t explain this phenomena of the popularity of soft rock, it just is!

Fish Filet and Pumpkin Curry
Pumpkin and potatoes have some healthy nutrients!

2. Food. Ugh. Meat and fat and rice. Sounds like a good keto diet minus the rice but all so unhealthy. I had some vegetables on a few occasions, and that was restricted to mostly eggplant and pumpkin. So much of the meat is full of fat and the Filipinos like their pork! (But, the boat tour BBQs were awesome). As an RD it’s a little concerning as heart disease and diabetes rates must be pretty high (although I never looked). And while in the West we think of Asians as typically being slender, that’s not the case in many places and that goes for the Philippines as well. Sorry, but I see a lot of unhealthy people and lifestyle practices here.

Filipino Beach BBQ
Part of the bbq we had while on Tour A in El Nido.

3. Transportation. I’ve seen so many styles of transportation with a motorbike of some sort as the main base and in the Philippines, they use “tricycles,” a sort of covered motorbike car with an attached seat. Honestly, I thought they were quite ugly yet many of them are well kept, painted with various designs, and some even have real car ornaments on the front. They are a cheap way to get around the cities and towns on the islands and I felt most drivers were pretty honest with pricing (I always asked locals average fare before I headed out).

Filipino Tricycle
A funny looking tricycle.

4. Christianity. Having spent the majority of the last 16 months in predominantly Buddhist nations and a few Islamic ones, it was different seeing churches. I don’t know how religious the Filipinos are, but I saw a lot of churches and make shift churches everywhere I went.

5. Interesting conversations with locals about my physique: While pointing at me, one man asked, “Oh wow, do you play… Do you play dumbbells?” And another, our “Tour A” guide: “I like your muscles. Do you play KFC?” There was a chuckle about the crowd, then the guide laughed, “Not KFC, UFC!” So, I’m a non-fighting UFC and dumbbell player in the Philippines!

Kayaking In El Nido
Not playing dumbbells, but getting a back and shoulder workout nevertheless!

6. After 11 days, I still want to spell Philippines with two Ls and one P.

Those random things are my take home thoughts as well as the beauty I saw at my main destination: Palawan, one of the more northwestern of the 1,700 Filipino Islands. Puerto Princessa is the capital of Palawan, and after spending a full day there, I can tell you, skip it. It’s best as a transit point and is just a busy city without any real beaches. And don’t go to “Pristine Beach.” It’s far from pristine, take my word for it. I’ll spare you the pictures.

Mantinloc Island, Palawan
Keep it clean and pristine!

El Nido is magical but a growing area, so that in and of itself brings up issues my brain cannot ignore. How do you preserve such a pristine place while people want to visit it? I’d actually read some posts telling people NOT to go because development and tourism is ruining the ecosystem there. But I had to… In my defense I skipped swimming with the whale sharks on Cebu as that also affects ecosystems, but I won’t lie, a part of me regrets skipping it. Feeding animals alters migratory patterns and teaching them it’s ok to approach boats could eventually get them injured. But who doesn’t want to swim with the biggest fish in the world?!
One of the things I liked about El Nido, aside from the obvious beauty of visiting tropical islands, was that the boat tour guides actually tell you not to touch things, not to touch coral, not to touch animals, and not to take anything. They also don’t feed the fish and have support from the World Wildlife Fund (who also recently declared 1 million hectares of marine protected area in Palawan) to promote ecotourism to draw visitors to the area instead of exploiting the land and sea. In developing countries this happens no matter what, but hopefully with the right partnerships and focus, this can be minimized. There’s a huge benefit. El Nido and Port Barton, the two places I visited, were truly stunning. The coral reefs are lush and vibrant and have very little to no trash in them. In this day and age with all the trash in the world, that’s nearly unheard of. Plus, coral reefs are the birthplace of so much of the life in our seas and oceans. That’s a huge part of the food chain.

Fun in the sun.
Fun in the sun.

I really enjoyed all of the activities on the boat tours I went on. It’s the thing to do, especially when limited on time. Hop on a tour and take a closer look. In El Nido I went on Tour A and Tour C, all in all, simply island hopping. Despite the rainy season, I was lucky enough to get some sunny days and see the sea and islands in all their rays of sunshiny glory!
While my time in the Philippines was short, I did enjoy it and hold dear the experiences I had. Seeing islands like Palawan is just a dream come true, even for me, someone who has been traveling for nearly a year and a half now. If you ever make the trek that way, please do some advance planning (unlike me). There was more I could have done but just didn’t have the time. Check out the Underground River, Port Barton, and Coron. Maybe vary it up and fly into Puerto Princessa and out of El Nido or Coron to somewhere else. It’s more expensive, but a time saver. In El Nido, check out Spin Designer Hostel, http://spinhostel.com. It was the most expensive hostel I’ve been to in Asia (about $17/night), but it’s new, clean, spacious, and all rooms only have four beds and air conditioning.

Spin Designers Hostel
The common area at Spin.

There is a daily breakfast buffet complete with an egg station and they provide free coffee in the afternoon as well, which is nice after a day out on the boat! It’s a great place to mix, mingle, and meet other travelers, even when you’re the 39 year old granny of the group. 😆 I also enjoyed having a burrito at the “Burrito Bar” in the small downtown area. It’s not really Mexican, but close enough. There is a gym as well, “Peak Gym,” which was great for my rainy down day. Swimming and kayaking on the sea and weights in between. Oh, and just beware WiFi is limited at best, so don’t plan on being too connected while in town.

Asia Gym
Another basic gym in Asia, but at least I could play dumbbells. 😆

So, all in all a good time and mainly, I saw some of the beauty on Palawan, met new people, and made some new friends. I got in more workouts than expected, stayed in some really nice places, and got some work done as well so no complaints from me!

Author: Tiffany Batsakis

Registered Dietitian
Fitness Fanatic
World Traveler
Food Lover
Weimaraner Owner

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