I had first heard of the beauty of the Philippines when I was backpacking around south east Asia around eight years ago. I remember being told stories of unspoilt paradise and incredible diving. I had always vowed to visit. Eight years on and I am here, albeit for a whistle stop tour of two weeks- unfortunately work gets in the way of travel these days 🙄 my biggest regret is not going when I had heard about it those eight years ago as it is now one of the most touristy destinations I have visited. I am blaming the rise in 😄instagram pictures hashtagged with #lifeisbetterinthephilippines
It was full of hoardes of people barely appreciating the natural beauty around them but instead posing for photos with go pros and professional cameras. I can’t deny that the amazing tectonic rock formations make for a dramatic background against the clear turquoise water. It is a destinations where truly no filters are needed. Although I have had an amazing time in Palawan I did feel overwhelmed by the tourism.
So what I did here in Palawan.. I flew into Manila international airport arriving early morning and transferred to the terminal for local flights. I then took a flight to Puerto Princesa airport which took about an hour. Now the first stop on my itinerary was El Nido. For some reason I didn’t book a flight directly to here so instead had to get a six hour van journey up! So as you can imagine I was super exhausted upon arrival but managed to book a trip to Bacuit Bay for the next day.
Day one- woke up early and got a tricycle (tuk tuk) to the beach front for the tour. Us and plenty of others were then herded off onto different boats. Tip- make sure your camera has a waterproof case or bag- it will get wet on this trip.
Now the scenery was stunning, however it was spoiled somewhat by the herds of tourists in bright orange life jackets so bear in mind all photos are carefully taken or cropped to minimise these intruders! The instapics you see really are very staged- one couple were doing a version of the famous ‘followmeto’ and they were posing for hours, it looked fairly ridiculous and not at all spontaneous. Like most people I did a few poses and took a few pics but I preferred to focus on soaking up the surroundings (mentally blotting out the orange life jackets around me!)
The tours are nice enough, with freshly cooked fish for lunch. There are four main ‘island hopping’ tours of the bay, covering slightly different places in Bacuit Bay with some focusing on lagoons e.g tour A and others beaches e.g tour D. However, it is a bit disappointing when your boat that pulls up at the same destination as about ten others. Most tours do involve some swimming and snorkelling and if you don’t partake in these activities you will be left on the boat so I suggest you take the plunge. I particularly recommend kayaking through the amazing blue/green lagoons on tour A. We had some people on our boat who couldn’t swim so they were sat looking a bit miserable and bored.
My overall experience of El Nido is that it was a beautiful place but that my experience was marred by the vast amounts of tourism. If I had longer to spend in El Nido and was alone I would have preferred to try and explore the area on a private boat tour and arrived slightly earlier or later than the tour boats or gone to more obscure locations. However due to budget, time and my slightly less adventurous travel partner I was confined to the tours.
After two days of ‘island hopping’ tours and evenings spent in the reggae bars on the beach (make sure you walk up the beach to coco bar and the bar with live music a bit further along) we made our way back down the island to Puerto Princesa (yes another six hour van ride!) as we had a flight to catch! En route we stopped off at the ‘underground river’. This was another tour which made it a lot more expensive- again try and do things yourself if possible. It was overall a fun day though we went zip lining and the jungle scenery on route is absolutely mesmerising.
The underground river is in a national park, again it is busy – you have to go in a cave by boat (again so many tourists in life jackets everywhere!) and in twenty minutes or so you explore the cave formation with a guide. It is an amazing cave system.
Afterwards we were dropped off at our hotel ready to start our next day afresh to fly to the next island on our whistle stop tour- Cebu.
I probably sound a bit negative but bear in mind I have had two backpacking trips of six months each and usually go on holidays to more obscure places travelling rather than going on tours. I’ve backpacked Colombia alone, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil. And barely did any organised tours at all.
I’ve backpacked India and South East Asia. So I was just hoping for a more authentic experience and a slice of lost paradise which I didn’t get. I can’t deny though that the scenery is amazing, and bear in mind we went to the most touristy places on organised tours. I suggest coming to the Philippines for at least a month and choosing a maximum of three islands to explore in this time and trying to do things independently.
But if you’re just after perfect instagram photos then yes you will find them here as the scenery and turquoise waters do lend themselves to an incredible photo, however be prepared that the reality isn’t quite like the picture, and you will be finding angles to avoid orange life jackets and tourists!
What was your experience of Palawan? Was it what you expected?
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Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.