Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sorta backpacking El Nido (The Preliminaries, Part I)

11-15 March 2013. Palawan.

Contrary to popular belief, one can visit El Nido without spending a fortune. Yes, one can backpack this amazing place.

El Nido was months in the making. I booked the trip way back June 2012, a month after I gave birth to Zac and my travel fund was near expiration. Cebu Pacific was on sale so our airfare to Puerto Princesa was around Php5,000.00. I searched the web for a reasonably-priced hotel/resort/inn, and I did find one, but upon the recommendation of a good friend from work, I booked a four-night stay at Makulay Lodge for Php5,200.00 (Php1,300.00/night). All rooms at this lodge are fan rooms, without hot shower. The bath water felt like sea water, and the power generator was busted when we were there. Electricity in El Nido runs from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until 6 o'clock in the morning; but during our stay, there was a night when we had no electricity until 12 midnight. Fortunately, the lodge has a solar-powered fluorescent light. Despite these drawbacks, will I still recommend the place? Definitely, if one has no qualm over cold baths and fan rooms.

The lodge staff are friendly; we personally met Kalikasan and his mom, the lodge owners. Our room, simply called Room C, had a wonderful view of El Nido's rocks and waters from the balcony. The calm blue waters were the first thing we saw in the morning, and the golden sunset, the last thing we glimpsed at night.

How to get there: from the terminal, take a tricycle to Lally and Abet Beach Cottages (Php50.00/ride). Take the narrow alley all the way to the beach. Turn right, and you will pass by three more establishments, the last of which is El Nido Corner. Continue your walk until you see an abandoned guardhouse. Makulay Lodge is the first thing you'll see as soon as you make a turn. Bring a flashlight with you for when you return home late at night because there's only one lamppost from El Nido Corner to the lodge. Makulay Lodge is located at Calaan Beach.

Contact number is 09172573851. Look for Kalikasan.

When in El Nido, about the only activity to be done is island hopping, which necessarily includes snorkeling. A kayak may be rented out during the island hopping for Php700.00/day; but I saw an advertisement at El Nido Corner for a kayak rental at Php500.00/day. Kuya Mar was our boatman / tour guide for our 3-day island hopping, and he prepares the best lunch ever. Since it was our first time in El Nido, Jas and I decided to have a private tour of the islands. Besides, we were still way within our budget considering our airfare and accommodations. Kuya Mar recommended Tours A, B, and C for our island hopping and he charged us Php10,700.00 for our three days of island hopping, two days kayak rental, sumptuous lunch, and hours and hours of fun. When we say private tour, Kuya Mar delivered. He made sure we were the only ones on the island; and if it couldn't be helped that there were other people touring as well, he made sure we visited the island first or last, which meant we almost always had the islands to ourselves. We left when we wanted to. We also had Kuya Mar's attention all to ourselves - swimming with us to the islands when the boat couldn't dock on shore; climbing the rocks with us to the view deck; and preparing our delicious lunch with gusto. He does group tours. For those who wish to do group tours, there's a published rate of Php700.00/person for Tour A, Php800.00/person for Tour B, and Php900.00/person for Tour C. The rates include lunch although I have no idea how lunch goes with group tours. Snorkeling gears have a separate fee of Php150.00/person. I suggest you bring your own gears.

Kuya Mar's number is 09192879520.

From Puerto Princesa airport, a van was waiting for us to bring us to El Nido. Van sharing has a rate of Php700.00/person for pick-up and drop-off at the airport. Php600.00/person is the rate should one ride or stop at San Jose Terminal (Puerto Princesa). The dispatcher of Eulyn Joy was kind enough to slash off Php100.00 per person from our fare, both ways, so we paid a total of Php2,400 for our transportation from Puerto Princesa airport to El Nido and back. Eulyn Joy services may be contacted at 09173488078 / 09267165903.