Beach and nature lovers, do yourselves a favor and plan a trip to El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, pronto!
According to the El Nido Resorts website, “Palawan is an archipelago of 1,780 islands on the western part of the Philippines. It has the most concentration of islands, but is the most sparsely populated region in the country. Because of its scenic landscapes and high bio-diversity, Palawan is known as ‘The Last Ecological Frontier of the Philippines’.
“The northern part of Palawan province is blessed with crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches, and a wealth of flora and fauna. It is here that El Nido is located. Spectacular ancient limestone cliffs tower over marine sanctuaries teeming with species of tropical fish and coral, as well as endangered sea turtles. Lush forests abound with more than 100 species of birds. It is a truly exotic destination.”
I say, “Amen”!
I recently spent a glorious 4 days and 3 nights with family at Miniloc Island Resort, managed by the Ayala Group’s El Nido Resorts.
I highly recommend that you book El Nido Resorts, and specifically Miniloc Island Resort when going on your Palawan vacation.
It is not inexpensive, but it offers great value — full board, land and boat transfers, comfortable air-conditioned accommodations, complimentary use of snorkeling equipment/kayaks/paddleboards/hobie cat/wind surf, even travel insurance! Best of all, the package includes as many as 10 different fun activities including island hopping and I enjoyed all of them!
The 1-hour AirSwift flight from Terminal 4 in Manila to the new tree-lined El Nido airport is smooth and on time, and our guide Andy is already waiting for us when we touch down.
A quick hop from the airport is the Lio pier where our party of 10 is greeted by Palawan women singing local songs as we partook of native palitao (coconut-covered ground sticky rice snack), fried bananas and cold drinks, before we board the boat for our onward 45-minute ride to the resort.
It’s a scenic 45 minutes on the outrigger to Miniloc, with Andy briefing us about El Nido and Bacuit Bay, and offering to take our solo photos in front of the boat.
We occupy a couple of seaview rooms with lofts, and a family garden cottage. Each can fit up to four persons. The accommodations have thatched roofs and woven split bamboo walls, for a rustic feel.
All rooms have airconditioning, which you really need because it could get hot and humid.
Beds and linens are comfortable, we all slept soundly.
I slept on a loft bed in one of the seaview rooms. I suspect the seaview rooms are made for young families, and the lofts with vaulted ceilings are designed for kids age 7-13. It can be a tad difficult to go up and down the circular stairs when you’re a 50+ adult!
The room shows some wear and tear but the view from the the porch makes you forget the less than perfect accommodations.
On Day 2, I wake up at 5:30 a.m., make myself a cup of coffee, and enjoy this serene view on the daybed right outside our room. Priceless.
If feeling lazy, you can stay put and pleasantly pass the time on the seaview room porch’s daybed reading a book, listening to music, spotting an egret, or checking out the schools of fish swimming by.
Among the El Nido Resorts, Miniloc may not have the most well appointed accommodations, but it has the best location. It is located less than 10 minutes by boat to El Nido’s most popular attractions, the picturesque lagoons.
You can snorkel, swim, kayak, spot exotic fauna, and watch the jackfish feeding right in front of the resort. You save time on motorboat rides and enjoy nature and the scenery longer because they are right there on Miniloc’s doorstep.
For me the main point of an El Nido trip is to get around and take as many sights as you can.
Again, the excursions to the lagoons and other islands, and the sunrise & sunset cruises are included in the price you pay.
But the big bonus is that resort staffers are able to schedule these excursions before or after tourists from El Nido town swarm the areas, making the experiences more pleasurable and amazing.
Upon arrival at the resort, we are refreshed with cold towels and this festive tropical welcome drink.
Resort staff sing a Palawan song for our group.
We are handed this activity sheet to help map out our day-to-day activities.
ACTIVITIES FOR 4 DAYS, 3 NIGHTS
Here’s how we spent our four days and 3 nights in this tropical paradise:
Arrival Day is not too eventful, we use the day to relax, go around the resort, and plan our excursions.
After a buffet lunch and a nap, we were off on a sunset cruise. A speedboat takes us to the best spot to watch the sun set on El Nido.
The must visits in El Nido are the Big Lagoon and the Small Lagoon, so these are on top of our must-do list. We are informed that these beautiful lagoons are so popular that more than 90% of visitors to El Nido would include the lagoons in their itinerary!
The lagoons can get very crowded as the boats from El Nido town tour operators are in the area around 9 to 11 a.m. so it is best to go early.
We request to visit the lagoons before breakfast at 6:30 a.m. (1.5 hours ahead of the usual schedule set by the resort). It is not difficult for the resort to accommodate us since the Big and Small Lagoons are only about 7 minutes away by boat. And joy of joys, we pretty much have the lagoons to ourselves!
To get to the Small Lagoon from the Big Lagoon, one has to kayak through a small opening — even the smallest speedboat just won’t fit through the hole. Swimming through the gap is not recommended as Andy said box jellyfish abound in the area during summer.
The arm and shoulder work out from kayaking to and around the Small Lagoon is worth it. Inside, the water is calm, the rock formations are stunning, and the atmosphere is peaceful and quite magical. It is an exhilarating, soul-feeding experience.
After our lagoons excursion and buffet breakfast back at the resort, it is time to watch the fish feeding right in front of Miniloc. This happens twice a day and only takes 5 minutes each time, but it is a lot of fun to watch the lively and colorful fishes being fed with tuna chunks.
We are then whisked to another El Nido Resort, Lagen Island which is 30 minutes away by motorboat from Miniloc.
Lagen Island is nestled between a lush forest and a shallow lagoon. It has a more contemporary feel than Miniloc, with spacious water cottages on stilts connected by a boardwalk lined with pretty, colorful bougainvilleas.
At Lagen Island, one can enjoy a forest trail hike, but most of us choose to enjoy the good sized swimming pool with a view before lunch.
Lunch at Lagen Island is at a bright and airy building overlooking the swimming pool and the sea. I especially enjoy the grilled large wild oysters, which are super-fresh, flavorful and tender to the bite, no chewiness at all.
From Lagen Island Resort, we have the option of heading back to Miniloc at 2 p.m., or stopping and staying at the Entalula Beach Club for another couple of hours.
Glad most of us proceed to Entalula. The sand is powdery, the fronds of the tall palm trees sway with the wind, and the waters are clear and warm, perfect for wading or swimming.
If the afternoon heat is a bit too much for you, you can laze away in the shade on one of the hammocks and cabanas facing the Entalula beach.
At 4 p.m., we return to Miniloc Island Resort, and we recharge with a nap in airconditioned comfort in our rooms before dinner.
Post dinner, we repair to the conference room for an hour or so of videoke, then it is time for bed. Our first full day at El Nido has come to an end.
We wanted to catch the sunrise, so we are up early and at the dock at 5:30 a.m. for our sunrise cruise.
It is cloudy, but nevertheless we enjoy this lovely sunrise in El Nido
After breakfast we head to Shimizu Island (named after a Japanese diver who explored the island many years ago), one of the best snorkeling areas in El Nido. Shimizu is another popular spot, and yet again we get there before the crowds arrive.
We enjoy viewing the colorful fish, corals and even spot a sea turtle feeding on sea grass!
Next stop is the Dibuluan Beach Club where we enjoy the view under cabanas with hammocks as we wait for our next meal.
At Dibuluan, my jaw drops as the staff bring out one huge grilled talakitok (trevally) after another at lunch. Wow, the fresh-caught fish is out-of-this-world delish!
Our excellent lunch at Dibuluan Beach Club is capped with coffee and toasted ensaymada.
Our next stop is the Cudugnon Cave where again one has to crawl in and out of a narrow opening. Sunlight filters through the top of the cave making for some awesome photos.
Our last excursion for the day is at Snake Island, so called because of its long sandbar formed by opposing waves forming a long solid sand pile. It is not quite low tide so the sandbar is actually under a few inches of water when we get there.
You can climb up a forest trail to get a spectacular view of the sandbar, but we are quite tired and choose to just chill at a makeshift “bar” on the sandbar selling pinacoladas, rhum, and our drink of choice, coco water sipped straight from coconut shells using bamboo drinking straws.
Our most activity-packed day is done! We deserve our nap before dinner, and post-dinner all-OPM (Original Pilipino Music) videoke.
It’s gently raining on our departure day. Many of us want to sleep in and finish packing. The bags will be collected at 12 noon for our afternoon flight back to Manila.
A trip to the Secret Lagoon is on the agenda at 9:00 in the morning, but only three from our group go.
I hear this place can get packed but there’s no one else around when we get there on a quick boat ride from Miniloc. The opening to the Secret Lagoon fits one person crawling in at a time. The entry rock ledge is already quite smooth from the number of people going in and out of the lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon is more compact than the Small Lagoon, and one can wade or float on the cool and shallow water. (There are rocks on the sea floor so aqua shoes are recommended.)
Our guide Andy even asks us to do a floating pose for a top view photo, climbing on rocks to snap this shot.
What utter luxury to have this grandeur of nature to ourselves on our last few hours in El Nido!
Our post-lunch departure is hassle free as our check-in bags for the return flight have already been taken to El Nido airport.
There’s cuchinta (native rice delicacy with shaved coconut), coffee, juice and water at the Lio airport, the only Philippine domestic airport I have encountered that offers free pre-departure snacks.
RATING THE SERVICE
The El Nido Resorts staff is friendly, well trained and warm. I felt their sincerity and eagerness to please guests, in fact from reservation procedure through send off for our return flight.
All of them are stars, providing excellent, efficient and friendly service.
But among the most memorable ones for me are:
1) Our group’s assigned guide Andy Maghinay, who is knowledgable, informative, helpful and made us feel safe. He patiently coached the first timers how to kayak and snorkel. He knows all the best photo spots in the many attractions we visited, volunteered to take our family’s many photos and videos, and is adept in taking panoramic shots. I didn’t even know my phone was capable of taking a panoramic shot!
2) F&B supervisor Roy, who saw to it that our group was served a special plate of lamayo (dried fish, a Palawan delicacy) on our last breakfast, when I asked about it a day before our departure. We certainly appreciated the thoughtful gesture.
3) Gee, one of our guides at Snake Island. He was funny and actually helped us scrape coconut meat from the shell when we had difficulty doing so with our makeshift scrapers fashioned from coconut husk.
RATING THE FOOD
All meals are buffet style, and there is a good variety of food including grilled seafood at the Miniloc open-air restaurant facing the sea.
We enjoyed freshly squeezed fruit juices every morning, and sweet pineapples and mangoes with almost every meal.
You have the option to have lunches in other locations for a change of scenery, picnic style by the Entalula or Dibuluan beaches, or country club style at Lagen Island.
Filipinos based abroad on holiday here would be delighted with native fare options like champorado and tuyo, fish kilawin (ceviche), green mango salads, or fried camote (sweet potato) served with muscovado or caramel sauce.
You are spoilt for food choices at El Nido Resorts.
Good food is an important component of a vacation, and El Nido Resorts’ kitchens more than satisfied our palates and tummies.
El Nido has to be one of the best vacations ever for our family!
Maximum enjoyment on the scenery, excursions, relaxation, food, accommodations — gifting us with beautiful memories for a lifetime.
I’d definitely love to come back.
I would highly recommend that you book El Nido Resorts soon!
El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island
El Nido, Palawan 5313 Philippines
Tel: +63(2)902 5985