El Nido and Puerto Galera
Despite getting food poisoning and having a few bad experiences, the Phillipines is quickly becoming one of our favorite destinations.
We flew into Puerta Princessa on the island of Palawan and stayed there for one night before heading to El Nido at the north end of Palawan. We arrived on Good Friday and as the Philippines is a very Catholic country it was amazing to see all of the people spilling out of their churches and holding small worships in makeshift altars on the sides of the roads. In the evening we had our first much anticipated filipino meal at a BBQ spot where we shared pork sisig and drank the local beer, San Miguel Light–they go perfect together. The drive to El Nido takes about 6 hours with vans leaving every hour or so, it’s extremely straight forward. With beautiful limestone rock formations jutting from the coast and creating islands along the bay, El Nido reminded Megan a bit of one of her favorite destinations in Vietnam, Halong Bay. The tourism business is booming in El Nido, especially with other Filipinos. As we were there for Holy Week, there were many families visiting for vacation. The typical thing to do here is to take one of the 4 standardized tours of the bay bringing you to different islands and lagoons for snorkelling, swimming, and overall soaking in the beauty of your surroundings. We chose to do tour A one day and tour C the next day. We were a bit disappointed in tour A because there is a set price which says you visit the small and large lagoons, however once you get there you actually need to then pay more to utilize a canoe in order to enter these locations. Regardless, the beauty of the locations you visit is breathtaking and difficult to capture with photos. We preferred tour C as everything was included with no additional surprise costs. In fact, there was one location where you would have had to pay additional, but our guide suggested we go somewhere else and that was much appreciated. Outside of Bora Bora, the water and beaches in El Nido are hands down the best we’ve seen. Crystal clear water and gorgeous white sand. We pulled up to numerous locations where we could see to the bottom and were nervous to jump from the boat because we couldn’t gauge the depth only to realize it was incredibly deep and safe to even dive. All of the tours include a lunch prepared on the boat and local entrepreneurs have created a business with utilizing canoes as a floating bar, going boat to boat selling rum, beer, and sodas. These two days in El Nido were probably some of the best we’d had in a long time, and then things went south quickly. We both became really ill with food poisoning the night before we were supposed to leave. We were in no shape to travel and ended up having to change our flight from Puerta Princessa to Manila for two days later and a cost of $250 USD–ouch. This also put a huge dent in our travel plans as we had planned to immediately head south of Manila to Tagaytay to do some hiking. We ended up having to skip that (we may make it a day trip from Manila at the end of our time in the Philippines).
Since we skipped Tagatay we kept our original travel plans for after that and headed further south to Puerta Galera on the north of Mindoro. It’s a 2.5 hour bus ride from Manila to Batangas followed by a 1.5 hour ferry to get to Puerto Galera. We chose to stay on Sabang beach because it’s significantly cheaper than the other locations we looked at and we quickly learned why. We are staying in a prostitution hub, filled with old white men and young groups of Koreans who are all here to partake in the “girly bars” and everything that goes along with it. Our initial research into Puerta Galera was that it’s a dive location and hence also has great snorkelling, but we should have dug a little deeper into the differences between the locations. Without going into details, we were not a fan of our initial accomodation related to the above observations. However, luckily (or unluckily) Markus’ stomach bug began to come back so we spent a good deal of time in our room. We then changed accomodation to what can only be described as an Austrian mountain castle. An Austrian man, his Filipina wife, and their teenage kids run a hotel close to the beach that is clearly a labor of love, the Tropicana Castle Dive Resort. Our room had a giant four-poster bed and was filled with crush red velvet, loads of wood furniture, and a bathroom covered in marble. We honestly didn’t see much of Sabang or Puerta Galera, partly because Markus was ill, but also we had a lot of experiences early on that made us less interested to venture much further than our rooms. I’m sure there is a lot more to the location, unfortunately we just weren’t feeling up to it.