More rooftop travel and the islands around El Nido

Trip Start Feb 21, 2010
Trip End Aug 12, 2010

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Flag of Philippines  , Palawan,
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Due to some problems finding a ´24 hour´ ATM in Puerto Princesa that was turned on at 6am, we arrived only 15minutes before departure for the 7 o´clock bus to El Nido. As with our journey to Sabang there were no seats left and so we were left standing about considering our options, which weren´t good - unbeknown to us before we had arrived tat the bus station there would be no other buses to El Nido that day, but we again had the option of rooftop travel, although the journey would take 8-9 hours which is maybe too long  to spend on the roof of a bus. But on the other hand we really didn´t want to waste another day in Puerto. In the end we decided to go for it and climbed up onto the roof. Within an hour of being on the road I had lost my beloved Viet Nam cap, whipped off my head by the wind. I was pretty annoyed at myself about this, until about two minutes later when a French fella on the bus, who shared my name as well as my luck, also lost his hat and I was able to laugh at our stupidity at trying to wear a hat on the top of a bus traveling at 40mph.
The journey was ok for the first few hours as the sun wasn´t yet at full blast but as we approached midday it was scorching even with the wind factor. To make things worse the sun lotion was in our big backpacks which were at the bottom of the huge pile of luggage on the roof and therefore inaccessible; we resigned ourselves to burning horrifically at this point!
Respite came from the burning sun with a heavy downpour. We both thought that this would quickly pass and so passed up the opportunity to shelter under a large tarpaulin, and as a result we both got soaked to the bone. Like a true gentleman I gave Rachel my coat, a decision I regretted as I sat there shivering and unable to believe that only minutes ago I was complaining about the ridiculous heat.
Being Palawan, the road hadn´t been fully concreted and there were sections that were still compacted mud, and with the heavy rain these sections got more and more treacherous until we reached a short but sharp hill. The bus started up the climb but lost grip before we got to the top and began wheel-spinning, then slowly sliding backwards. The bus reversed up, tried again with the same result. The bus took an even longer run up the third time and it looked like we were not only not going to make it up but were going to slide into a ditch as we slid slow-motion rally style towards the edge of the road, but against the odds the ancient bus made it to the crest of the hill to much relief from the 50 odd people on board. Only ten minutes later the bus got stuck in deep mud and sunk almost up to its axles. For some reason none of the trucks that went by whilst we were stuck offered to help pull us out and so the bus had to manage by itself. I thought we were going to have to get off and help push which would have been quite fun I guess but somehow the bus again defied the odds and pulled us through.
We arrived in the small town of El Nido at about 3. We were both looking quite sun burnt by the time we arrived and very happy to be off the roof of the bus as the novelty of roof-top travel had worn very thin indeed. Our oracle, the Budget Guide to South-east Asia had very little information on El Nido and so I left Rachel with the bags on the beach and went off looking for cheap accommodation. This was a bit of a fruitless search as El Nido is quite expensive, by our meager standards at least. Eventually I found a room in a hotel above a corner shop, with a balcony over-looking the beach. It was a bit weird as we had to go through the shop's kitchen to get to the hotel and the family were normally cooking or eating when we walked through!
El Nido was was really nice though with lots of fairly cheap restaurants right on the beach and set in lovely scenery with views across the bay towards a few of the many islands of the Bacuit archipelago. We ate on the beach most evenings and found a bakery that we bought bread and corned beef from so we managed to eat breakfast and lunch on the cheap!
Whilst we were in El nido we went on an island hopping tour, which is probably the most popular activity for tourists in the town. We went on a banca to 4 or 5 islands, and kayaked and snorkeled around for the best part of a day and enjoyed the spectacular scenery.The next day we hired a kayak and went off by ourselves to an island across the bay from El Nido which took about 40 minutes of paddling to get to. The beach we went to was deserted and beautiful so we spent a while there before paddling to another equally nice but less deserted stretch of sand and then heading back for home at about 4. That evening we had dinner with the French couple that we had met on the bus from Puerto and kept bumping into in El Nido which was nice and somewhat shaming as Olivia hadn't spoken any English prior to coming to the Philippines and now she could just about hold a conversation with us! It has been a bit of a recurring theme being shamed for our lack of foreign language skills by traveling Europeans and of course locals. Nearly all the Phillipinos speak English and so it has been very easy to get by, and we have rarely needed to resort to pointing and gesticulating when communicating.
We stayed in El Nido for three days in total and really enjoyed our time there as it was a really beautiful place, three days there was enough there wasn't a whole lot to do other than island-hop, and having done that a few times now we felt we had seen enough pretty islands, for a while at least. So we left El Nido for Coron, another long journey but this time by banca across fortunately flat seas.
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madeloblea on


I came across your blog when I was searching for "El Nido to Coron" and had a bit of a giggle when I had read about your roof top travels on an 8hr bus trip. You are both very crazy! But would've been a bit of an adventure.... I guess the novelty wears off after awhile! :P

I just wanted to ask you for some advice or tips. I am planning a trip to Palawan in the week following up to Christmas this year. And hopefully spend Christmas on one of the islands.

I have to catch a bus from Puerto Princessa to El Nido (which I believe is the only option besides hiring a van. Probably not an option for a lone traveller!) I just wanted to know how you get to El Nido to Coron.

Are there any flights? Or are they all by boat? I don't particularly want to get stuck in either town as I have a plane to catch back to Sydney from Manila.

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks Kindly;

Another fellow traveler - Madel :)

kevandray on

Philippine transport is definitely an adventure, that bus was fairly typical of Palawan travel! Their motto is definitely 'there's always room for one more'.
I think that there are normally a couple of buses a day going from Puerto Princesa to El Nido but you can't rely on them too much as they all seem to be old and unreliable. There did seem to be lots of minibuses which did the same journey, they are probably more reliable than the local bus but I think they are at least double the price. The most expensive option is to fly from PP to El Nido, I think it is possible but if you're on a tight budget then that's probably not an option! I would recommend getting the local bus but make sure you get to the bus station about an hour before it departs so that you get a seat. And try to get the earliest of the day so that if there are problems you can get on the next one!
We caught a ferry from El Nido to Coron. It was about 7-8 hours and luckily the sea was really calm. There are 3 companies which do the trip, and between them the journey can be done every other day. We bought tickets from El Nido Art House Boutique Cae (ridiculous name I know) but think they can be bought elsewhere in town. All companies are the same price, 2000pesos I think.
Again, also possible to fly between El Nido and Coron and if you book in advance then you might get lucky and get a really cheap deal. probably worth a look if you know exactly when you're going!
I hope that's some use to you, if you have any other questions feel free to ask! Hope you have an amazing time, we're both sure you will!
Kev and Rachel

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