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Monday, February 12, 2018

El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours

Being in the water is so enlivening that I just had to start my weeklong birthday trip in Palawan. As one of the  Philippines' most popular island destination, it's where one can enjoy beautiful beaches and a clear, vast underwater world teeming with colorful fishes and corals. 
island hopping in El Nido, Palawan
Even if I was traveling alone, the steady influx of travelers in this island paradise made it easy and budget-friendly for me to go island hopping. Unless you want a customized itinerary, there's no need to hire your own boat. You can either ask the receptionist at your lodging or look for a reliable operator in town and they'll find you a group to join.  
road to El Nido town proper
Northern Hope Tours,  a tour operator in El Nido took good care of me on this trip. From Manila, I took a flight to Puerto Princesa International Airport. Located in the provincial capital, it's about 5-6 hours away. You can commute by public transpo which can be a hassle.  Making it more convenient, Northern Hope had arranged for an aircon van to pick me up at the airport, along with other clients. (NOTE : Air Swift offer direct flights from Manila to Lio Airport in El Nido  but schedules are limited and fares can be expensive. Given the time and budget, I'd like to try this option in the future.)

With two nights in El Nido, I was able to join one island hopping tour and a private trip to Nacpan beach. I could have done more but this relaxed itinerary gave me plenty of free time. I was able to walk around town and try different restaurants and cafes (being a foodie and coffee addict, how could I not?!). 
Helicopter island, first island stop in Tour C. 
In El Nido, there are 4 types of island hopping tours called A, B, C & D. Tours A & C are the popular ones - which also mean, more people. B & D according to our very funny and knowledgeable guide Kuya Lito are just as beautiful and less crowded.

Being a water baby, I went with tour C, recommended  for those who love snorkeling and dipping in the water. We had to do a little trekking and some diving underwater in two of the islands which is really fun though a bit strenuous (depending on sea conditions). I remember, my feet barely touched the sea floor in most of the islands we visited. They do provide you with life vests but I never liked wearing one when in the water because I want to be able to move freely. 
Lunch :)
Rate for Tour C is 1,400 Pesos/head inclusive of a filling lunch and 5 island stops - Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach (NOTE: If going to Matinloc Shrine, you need to pay an entrance fee of 100 Pesos). 

Rates for other island hopping packages offered by Northern Hope Tours are here.  
With the new friends I met on this tour. Most of them are from the Northern Hope basketball team who
are in town for a tournament. As a former athlete myself, I find it so cool to be able to travel and play your fave game!
The next day, I was picked up by a tricycle driven by Kuya Nelson. He took me to Nacpan beach,  another popular beach destination an hour away by tricycle/motorbike from El Nido town. What a ride it was. The first part was scenic, passing on a road carved  on a mountainside and some plantation fields. The latter part of the ride was on a super bumpy, dirt road which Kuya expertly navigated. Though most parts were dry, we still struggled on some sections as the road was so uneven, like surfing on hardened marshmallows! 

The tasking ride rewarded us with a beautiful beach. No wonder it's very popular. I wasted no time getting in the water. It was quite wavy so I stayed close to shore. The sand felt soft and powdery. Scooping it with my hands, it felt like holding whipped cream. :)
Nacpan beach
After swimming, I sat at one of the rental beach chairs (it's 200 Pesos for two beach chairs). Set up near the water, you can lay down while enjoying the breeze and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. 

While Nacpan beach still has a raw appeal, there are already some development around the area. I do have mixed feelings about this but if it will help more people earn a decent living, why not? I just hope they keep the resorts as far from the shoreline as possible.  During my visit, I saw at least one hostel and some rental cottages (thankfully, both were within reasonable distance from the shore) and a couple of stores where I ordered lunch - buttered shrimp with rice (220 Pesos) and buko juice (80 Pesos) (Suggestion : get two sets if you have a big appetite, hihi). 

After the short trip to Nacpan beach, Kuya Nelson took me back to my lodge. There are  plenty of other things to do around El Nido like the Canopy walk, sunset viewing and more (See Lakas ng Trip's post here) but like I said earlier, I wanted a very relaxed pace on this trip. I just took it easy before I returned to Puerto Princesa the next day. 

DIY (Do It Yourself) trips are fun and give you the freedom to move at your own pace but when traveling to a destination like El Nido, it's really much more convenient  to avail the services of a tour operator,  especially if you're going solo on island hopping trips. 

***Blog post to be continued***

This hike is part of my week long birthday trip. Hope you can also take the time to read my other posts on this. :) 
Leg 1 : El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours (You're here!:))| Walking Around El Nido Town (to follow)

ACCOMMODATION IN EL NIDO
I stayed at Overcomer Lodge which is just a short tricycle ride from the town proper (it's easy to get a trike here). There are cafes, stores and restaurants nearby so it's not isolated. Rooms are very basic but comfortable. No icky vibe. Rates at 1,300++ to 1700++. All rooms have aircon and a private t&b. You can see the room photos and book discounted rates on Agoda here.

TRAVEL INFORMATION ON EL NIDO, PALAWAN
Reliable tour operator in Palawan : 
Norther Hope Tours
E-mail: northernhopetours@gmail.com
Mobile Numbers :
(+63) 939-902-2216 (Smart) | (+63) 927-735-3221 (Globe) | (+63) 942-375-2441 (Sun)

Facebook Page : https://www.facebook.com/northernhopetours
Services : El Nido island hopping & land tours, accommodation, Van transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back (600 Pesos/person, one way), private van (6,000 Pesos/van, one way), Puerto Princesa Tours

Helpful Blogs : 
Lakas ng Trip | Top Things to do in El Nido  
Travel in Boots | El Nido Travel Guide

NOTE : While most of the expenses on this trip are from my own pocket, Northern Hope hosted my tour and accommodation in El Nido & Puerto Princesa. Thank you! :)

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