It can be a bit overwhelming if you’re traveling to El Nido for the first time. It can be a totally different culture for you but really, the whole experience depends on how you make it. Most people enjoy their travel in this part of the world and some others don’t.
It’s not El Nido, it’s them. It’s just a matter of having the right perspective and flexible attitude. In the end, that’s what travel is all about, right? Being open to new things. Being open to a life-changing experience. If you keep these things in mind, you’ll become a more relaxed and pleasant traveler in Palawan.
Reserve your El Nido tour in advance
Sure, you can always go straight to El Nido town and book everything yourself. It’s way cheaper that way. Gambling might work out for some, but for travelers who deserve comfort and convenience, it’s not worth all the hassle. Right when you arrive, you will be bombarded with a lot of choices as you stroll amongst the young backpackers. You’ll only end up feeling more confused as to which tour operator to book your El Nido island-hopping tour with. During peak season, it can get crazy crowded whether in town or Big Lagoon. For a hassle-free travel experience, you should book the right Palawan tour package in advance. It is the smart way to make sure that your Palawan trip goes the way you want to, instead of possibly ending up on an unsafe boat that does not have a license to operate. A Palawan itinerary expert, an insider who knows the ins and outs, can make sure everything is right before you even arrive in El Nido.
Do your research
There are a lot of destinations that are made out to be scary when they aren’t, thanks to the news propaganda. It happens everywhere. In this day and age, you are old enough to know what to believe or not. Old enough to make your own choices. Thankfully, Palawan is a generally safe place to travel to. If it’s not enough of an assurance from an insider, by all means, feel free to do your research.
El Nido is a small town in Palawan filled with diverse community-minded people. It means that they are happy, friendly and helpful people with no mental issues. Massive crimes or school shootings never happen in this town. Although you’ll find loads of security and tourist police everywhere in the Philippines, whether in SM Mall or Lio resorts, it does not mean it’s not safe. There are just plenty of jobs for plenty of people.
Regular power outages
Yes, that’s the reality here. Unfortunately, El Nido is not as developed as Copacabana or Miami beach, yet. There’s a regular power outage in El Nido because it seems that the power company only tries to fix the lines just when it’s rainy season. For some reason, locals like to suffer more. Anyway, are you here to stay in your hotel room or go to on an El Nido island hopping tour? You know, to see the magical lagoons and pristine beaches like you’ve never seen before? You’re traveling to El Nido for its nature. The Philippines is known for its natural beauty, not for its cities. Not for the über developed electric power system. Although the locals in El Nido have long survived without the comfort of having a stable power, they do wish for things to get better. You can ease their pain by not complaining too much during your travel and by just enjoying the simple pleasures Palawan has to offer. So go out, enjoy the nature and be happy.
Get around using tricycles
If Thailand has Tuk Tuks, the Philippines has tricycles. It is the most common way to get around. Sure it is not posh, but it is cheap. You can go around in El Nido town or go to other beach destinations like Nacpan beach as there are plenty of tricycles willing to give you a ride. If you’re up for some cultural experience, then go hail a tricycle. I’m sure they are right there before you even call them.
There’s only one thing that ticks me off, tricycles that overcharge. It is not everyone but if you have a local expert to tell you the right fare, then it will not be a problem. You’ll be a smart as hell traveler if you know the little things right off the bat. And if you prefer to be picked up at the airport by a tricycle instead of a private car, then that can be arranged too. Getting around on a tricycle gives you a more authentic experience. You’ll feel more connected to the local way of life.
The locals are nice but not all
I’m sure that you know by now the thing in this world, there are good and bad people anywhere you go. The whole “the Filipinos are nice” can be downright tiring at times. I’ve read all the glorified travel blogs out there and it makes me cringe. The locals are lovely, fine. I am lovely. Never underestimate their power to only look and sound nice. There might be some vendors overcharging you, people always trying to sell you something, those treating you like a walking atm, some scammers, occasional friendly thief or whatnot. Those things also exist in Prague or anywhere else in this world. It pays to be careful wherever you are.
There are touts trying to make a living in El Nido town and they can be annoying as hell. As a tourist, you can either be polite and say “no, thank you”, or just ignore their existence. They are used to being ignored so it’s not such a big deal. Perhaps, you can even test your character through your reaction to these little things.
Most tourists think that they are a major source of income, but please, get over that idea. Locals have long survived without tourism. They used to happily live their simple lives off coconuts and fish. Thanks to the ‘introduced system.’ If they are being bad or trying to rip you off, remember to look at the bigger picture.
The thing about toilet paper
Toilet paper is always and should be available in hotels, resorts, and some bars and restaurants. Wait, some bars and restaurants? Yes, that’s right. It means that you might enter a public place in El Nido, then lo and behold, no toilet paper? Nada. Toilet paper is such a big thing in the west, it’s like a basic need. There’s Bidet in Japan then soap and pail with water in the Philippines. Different strokes for different folks. Surprise! Not everywhere is the same. Another part of your travel experience is finding out what works in other worlds.
The locals probably can’t afford to ruin the environment by throwing more toilet paper, or clog the pipes and ruin the undeveloped plumbing system. Some people cannot afford toilet paper. They figure that it is probably more hygienic to use soap and water. However, if you are not the type, then make sure to bring your own toilet paper anywhere you go. Make it a habit while traveling around El Nido. Little problem solved.
Crowded for a reason
El Nido is now filled with tourists for a reason. As the cheap flights, travel blogs, guidebooks, and world population increase, the tourists in El Nido also increase. There must be an apparent reason why they all flock to the lagoons, beaches, and islands. I’m sure you would not go to a restaurant where nobody eats.
No matter how much you crave to be away from the crowd, chances are, there will always be people. You travel not to be isolated, there’s plenty of isolation time when you leave the Philippines. There are no massive highways and wide landscapes here. People are more community-minded as they live in close proximity to each other. It means that they like being with people. Helping others, being with others. Feeling happy with others. Welcoming others. People are more welcoming to foreign visitors due to Philippine’s collective culture.
Bad wifi connection
You just can’t live without wifi, can you? I feel you. The good news is that there’s wifi in El Nido. Most of the hotels, resorts, bars, and restaurants have wifi. The bad news is that it is not such a high-speed connection. However, there’s the fiber internet being installed in town now and you can rejoice for that. Lio beach has a better wifi signal. You can get 30 minutes of free wifi, it used to be one hour. You can always get a Globe network sim card and load it with some credits. Globe 3G connection works fairly well in Lio. A Palawan itinerary specialist can guide you with finding some wifi connection in town or getting an unlimited data connection on your mobile phone.
If you are just relying on public wifi, then it might not always work. There are a lot of people connecting at the same time. This is probably the best time to get that much-needed social media detox and unplug time. Remember that you come to El Nido for its nature, enjoy your free time while it lasts. Use your Palawan holiday for some ‘me time’, quality time with loved ones, or for that much-needed solitude in nature time.
Karen is the local expert and itinerary specialist of Palawan AlterNATIVE. When she’s not traveling, she likes to immerse herself in a good book or blog about her life. Parts geek, parts scuba diver. Her other obsessions include things-to-do lists, cycling, solitude, and cryptocurrency. She currently lives with her cat in El Nido.