El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

El Nido is a major access point to unlocking the beauty of Palawan’s Bacuit Archipelago, which is known to have some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world. There are remote, uninhabited islands across the entire stretch of northern Palawan, and travelers will have no trouble finding stunning beaches, private coves and untouched lagoons . The town of El Nido has hospitable residents that will cook you hearty meals (either on land or during your boat rides across the islands) and welcome you graciously to their humble town.

El nido private beach

Palawan was my first destination in The Philippines and it set the bar very high for my future trips – the hues of the water against the karst backdrop, the people, the hidden lagoons, and the amazing diving experiences for scuba lovers. I joined a Filipino family of twelve to see Palawan’s Underground River on my way to El Nido, and took a seven-hour ferry ride from El Nido to Coron. It was a blissful meditation experience to converse with a Filipino navy officer on the deck of the ferry while taking in beautiful views.

El Nido Limestone cliff

When to Visit El Nido:

Always check for typhoons, as the country is unfortunately prone to them. For the best experience, I recommended going anytime in June-August, which is off-peak season. You are taking a risk with the weather, but you can island hop without excessive crowds. Even off peak, expect at least seven to ten other tourist boats while island hopping. If you like to go off the beaten track, look up TAO Adventures and sign up for their island hopping tours that range from three to five days. They operate closer to the peak season, and take travelers to private islands.

El Nido View of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands from the boat just before my night dive near Cudlao Island

What you need in El Nido:

Bring cash! El Nido is a small town and credit cards are not accepted everywhere. Bring your bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, clothes to keep you cool, and a book. Snorkeling and scuba gear can be rented but the quality is inconsistent. If you have dietary restrictions, keep those on your list of packing priorities. There aren’t too many healthy or eclectic packaged goods available at the tiny shacks here.  Remember to hydrate and do not drink tap water.

El Nido Dusk view of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands

How to get to El Nido:

Your options depend on your time and budget. Direct flights from Manila (MNL) to El Nido (ENI) are few and expensive for SE Asia standards (approx: $250-300). But if you are short on time, take a flight. If you have a relaxed schedule, then you have a few cool options:

1) Take a flight from Manila (MNL) to Puerto Princesa (PPS), a city at the center of Palawan. Not a whole lot to do here, but you can definitely spend a night and have a nice meal in the country’s cleanest city. You can then take a direct eight-hour road trip by minivan or bus all available at the city center or through your accommodation.

2) Travel 50 miles north of Puerto Princesa to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Explore the Underground River for a few days before you make your way up to El Nido.

3) Travel to El Nido by ferry from Manila. Ferries in The Philippines are quite comfortable (air conditioning, entertainment and food) but the rides are long and often delayed, so this is an option for the traveler with plenty of time.

Best things to see in El Nido:

Island hopping around El Nido is the number one attraction here. Rent a private boat through your hotel or private companies in town. Explore the 7 Commandos Island for snorkeling, the Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Talisay Island, Matinloc Shrine and Helicopter Island. El Nido itself also has some beautiful beaches accessible by foot or tricycle (their version of a tuk-tuk). These are Marimegmeg Beach/Las Cabanas Beach, 7 Commandos Beach (accessible by boat and part of one of the island hopping tours), and Corong Corong Beach. Matinloc Island now has a resort with facilities to ferry you to El Nido and back, about a 15 minute ride. This is a great stay option if you want to avoid crowds. More adventurous travelers can rent kayaks to go from El Nido to Matinloc. Scuba enthusiasts can use the company Palawan Divers to set up a dive. During my night dive, I saw a blue-spotted stingray, an egg cowry, three types of seahorses, and several nudibranchs – all quite rare. Coron is also a very popular dive spot with actual WWII wrecks to explore.

The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island
The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island

Getting around El Nido:

Transportation is easy, as El Nido is small and you can walk to most places. Additionally, most people speak English here. If you’re staying a bit further away from shore, there are tricycles (small tuk-tuks) everywhere always looking for your business. Also, this tiny town was hit badly by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, so a lot part of their economy still depends on you. Haggling with the tricycle driver is not needed, as unlike in Manila, they will quote you a fair price and will go out of their way to ensure you’re at the right destination.

El Nido Shuchi karst at Shimizu island
Thanks to Shuchi Vyas, a New York-based travel expert, entrepreneur, and nonprofit consultant. Shuchi spent all of 2015 globetrotting – combining her love of travel with engaging with local communities. She assisted several organizations ranging from a small organic farm in Vang Vieng, Laos, to a large Southeast Asian nonprofit based in Manila. Her favorite experiences include diving with sharks in Malapascua, zip-lining in the northern jungle of Laos, hitchhiking in Sulawesi, and biking through villages near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Follow her on instagram @shuch_a_wanderer


Kawasan Falls, Cebu, Philippines

The aquamarine waters of Kawasan Falls can be found in Badian, a municipality on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Badian is 60 miles south from Cebu City and is a stark contrast to the commotion of urban life seen in the city of Cebu. A visit to Kawasan Falls, the crown jewel of Badian, starts with a hike flanked by rich, jungle canopy on one side, and a clear blue lagoon on the other. The structures that lead up to the falls are reminiscent of an ancient civilization’s lost temples-perfect for those seeking an Indiana Jones type adventure.

Kawasan Falls, Philippines


When To Visit Cebu

May and the first half of June are both great months to visit Cebu. While travelers should expect rainfall during every month in Cebu, the heavy rains tend to be from late June to December. The month of May will still have some rain but it avoids visiting during the stifling heat of the dry season (April is the driest month in Cebu). Traveling during the start of the rainy season is also a plus because school sessions usually begin in the first week of June in the Philippines. Thus, it is less crowded, as locals are back at home. During my stay, my family and I had the waterfalls to ourselves!

What you need at Kawasan Falls

Humidity and heat prevail in the Philippines, so make sure to wear clothes that keep you cool. Mosquito repellent is also a necessity, just incase you encounter the critters. Wearing swimwear underneath ur clothing is always a good idea, since swimming in the falls is allowed. Bring plenty of cash, no credit or debit, if you want to use any of the services available (souvenirs, food, cottage rentals, room rental located next to the falls). There is also grills if having a barbecue next to the falls is something you wish to take part in. From the entrance, it is a 1.5 km hike to the first waterfall, so make sure to bring shoes with good traction. It is best to visit during the day, but if visiting in the evening, bring a flashlight for the hike as the path can be dark.

The hike

How to Get to Kawasan Falls

One hour direct flights to Cebu from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (airport code: MNL) to Mactan Cebu International Airport are available year round. Once on the island of Cebu, you must travel to Badian. From Cebu city, travelers can take a bus to Badian-ideal for comfort and air-conditioning. Visitors also have the option of taking a jeepney or taxi as well. The travel time is close to 3 hours from Cebu City, depending on traffic. The hike to the falls begins at Matutinao Church in Badian. It is about a 20 to 30 minute hike on foot from the church. The easiest option for out of town travelers is to get assistance from a tour agency either at Mactan Cebu International Airport or in Cebu City (which is a one hour drive from Cebu International Airport).

Best things to see in Cebu

During your visit, make sure to stop by Cebu City, indulge in the local street food, visit Fort San Pedro and experience the local culture. Visitors can also travel to the seaside province of Cordova, which is ideal for island hopping on a traditional banca boat. Tumalog Falls is also a great option-not just for viewing the beautiful waterfalls, but also for swimming with whale sharks. Visiting Aguinid Falls is also popular, as well as taking a trip out to Pescador Island.

Author: Veronica Holganza