Our 5 Favorite Moments In El Nido, Philippines
Would we go back?… YES!
El Nido stole our hearts and we fear when we return it will be a crowded beach town, once known for being amazing. But let’s stay positive!
There is something so innocent and raw about this island.
Everyone drives a motorbike, and if you choose, you can hire a trike/Tuk Tuk instead, which basically is a motorbike with a side cart made out of sheet metal.
We visited in July during the rainy season, when flips flops are always wet and most roads aren’t paved so mud finds its way up your legs. Fashion is forgotten.
It’s an island that makes you work to reveal its beauty. It’s hot and humid, but the ocean is the perfect temp.
Power outages are frequent, at least once a day, so you may find yourself in a hot (usually cold) shower in the dark.
You can get your clothes washed, but dryers are hard to come by, patience is a virtue as it will take 2 days to be ready.
You often find yourself cooped up at a bar just waiting for the storm to pass.
And everyone there is beyond happy.
They work hard but are always smiling, gracious, and kind.
They get it and we admire it.
It’s not about fancy things, it’s about living, just like our motto.
Please El Nido, don’t change, keep the innocence that makes you, YOU.
Here are our five favorite moments from our week in El Nido, Philippines and if you’re too lazy to read then enjoy our recap video below.
What’s the saying? The steeper the mountain, the harder the climb, the better the view? I don’t know, but somehow this quote applies to our journey. Regardless, Nacpan Beach was exactly the “off the beaten path” we were looking for. As if El Nido isn’t difficult enough to get to, we wanted something even harder to get to once on the island.
Contrary to our usual selves, we didn’t research much about our destination before we arrived. We had a rough idea and said it’s always best to talk to locals for their recommendations.
Our first night in El Nido we struck-up a conversation with a Slovenian chef sipping on a beer at our hotel.
“What’s your favorite area to go to whenever you want to leave El Nido town?”
“I usually ride my motorbike to Nacpan Beach about 45 minutes north of here. This time of year you might want to avoid it because of the mud.”
FYI…It was the rainy season. It pretty much rains every day, typically in the afternoon. Think summers in Florida. But just like that, we immediately knew we had a mission to accomplish.
We each rented motorbikes for a whomping $6/day (first time for Cyd), we cruised all around, hitting remote villages and other beaches.
Should we huff it to Nacpan? We asked ourselves.
Sky looks clear, fuck it, let’s do it!
So we drove north. Forty-five minutes later we spot the wooden sign for Nacpan that lead over a narrow bridge bookended with mud. We watched a handful of people brave the unknown depths of each puddle/pond, as we tried to memorize their tracks and went for it.
From the exit, it took another thirty minutes of mud-boggin’ to the beach. (could easily be a 10-minute ride if it was paved) We soon discovered this mud is more like clay. Our sandals were quickly swallowed up so we settled for a barefoot ride.
On arrival, the local trike/Tuk Tuk drivers giggled at us as we were covered in mud up to our shins, but the site in our distance made the mess all worthwhile. Picture only a handful of people on a beautiful, commercial-free beach with only one bar. That bar was about a 50-meter swim from shore. Yup, a handmade bamboo platform called Harmony Bar. It might have been the best bar we’ve ever swam to! CORRECTION: It is the best bar we ever swam to.
No that’s not a typo. Tour A is one of the most popular routes comprised of the originally-named tours: A, B, C & D. These 4 different tours are common amongst all the boating/touring companies that offer island hopping excursions. Each one has various stops but all offer amazing beaches, snorkeling, caves, lagoons, etc. If you want to see the islands surrounding El Nido (and why wouldn’t you?) these are the tours that are offered, unless you go privately but that can be pricey.
Tour A was easily our favorite (full disclosure: we only did A & C) and includes Shimizu Island, 7 Commando Beach, Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Secret Lagoon. 7 Commando is fun if you get there before the crowds arrive in the morning or as a final stop to hit the laid back vibes of its beach bar. The real magic was found at Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and the Secret Lagoon. Sooo many lagoons!
The tireless crew of these boats can also be the highlight. They worked hard, told jokes, and cooked amazing food. They definitely deserve a shout out.
Each has their own unique vibe but if we had to choose one, the Small Lagoon is the winner! Check out our recap video below to see what we mean.
HAPPINESS EXPRESS RESTAURANT & BAR
While traveling, it’s not often we eat at the same place twice. But holy shit, this place was amazing. Happiness is located in the middle of El Nido town that can easily be spotted by the wooden swing-seats at the bar. The menu is Mediterranean vegetarian but don’t let that fool you. We ordered a couple different types of pitas, falafel was our favorite, and at no point did we crave meat in our dish.
We would have come back solely for the quality food but they made it much easier because the vibe is infectious. The wooden swings used at the bar are welcoming and so is the staff. The bar overlooks the open-kitchen and we were amazed at the efficiency and cleanliness demonstrated. The owners made us feel very welcomed, told us stories, and even got us drunk. Shocking! Oh, did I mention the music? They were kind enough to provide us their playlist and have listened to it a couple times since. Definitely takes us back to sitting on those swings while waiting out the rain storm, watching the motorbikes fly by, maybe an occasional electrical fire next door, conversing with that couple from Chicago or the diver from Belarus, pounding Red Horse beer, or other alcoholic concoctions dreamt up by the owners. These guys deserve more locations!
THAI GREEN CURRY
How can you put a Thai dish in a list about the Philippines?
I can, and I will….because it was to die for!
I don’t think we had a bad Filipino meal during our stay but this dish knocked our socks off. How can you really get to know a dish unless you try it many, many of times? This is one of those dishes that if I see it on a menu, I must order. During our 3 weeks in SE Asia, I must have ordered Thai green curry 4-5 times. Yes, that’s including our time in the mother land of Thailand. However, that green curry from Cadlao Restaurant was delectable. So far, nothing came close to the richness, complexity and whatever magic sorcery they put in that dish. The Cadlao Restaurant is located at the Cadlao Resort. Luckily, we were staying down the road at an awesome hotel (don’t worry we will get to you Makulay), but often indulged in hanging at the Cadlao pool (shhh our family was staying there.)
Listen, some people always order a burger, steak, etc., whenever they go to a restaurant and I would gladly welcome their recommendation when I want a good burger. If you want good Thai green curry, trust us, go to Cadlao Restaurant. Just promise you won’t forget to eat the local Filipino food as well.
MAKULAY LODGE & VILLAS
Before we had a chance to lock in our hotel our family booked their stay at Cadlao Resort. A beautiful resort, but too secluded and rich for our taste. We stumbled upon Makulay Lodge & Villas that ended up being only a 5-minute walk to Cadlao and 10 minutes into town. We didn’t know what to expect from this place before we arrived. The pictures looked great and provided good reviews but we soon realized we found a diamond in the rough. You can read all the reviews and look at all the pictures until your eyes dry out, but the vibe of any accommodation is visceral, underrated, and extremely hard to put into words. You need to experience it for yourself.
A short walk down a dirt road from El Nido town will take you to this quiet and cozy lodge. They offered a simple but quality menu and the views from their property were stunning. Most of the time when we relaxed for a drink or meal we felt like the whole place was ours. Chill beats played most of the day and conversations with the staff were enlightening. The manager and his staff hung out in the evenings and provided us great recommendations for food and sites to see. They will help arrange transportation to the airports or to rent your own motorbike.
The decorations were inviting, lot’s of books to swap from previous travelers. Movie night, live bands, you name it, this place has the vibe you want when you need a little more seclusion, with a side of excellent conversations. Oh did I mention they have shisha? Luckily, we didn’t have to search for another place but we learned from visiting Saudi Arabians that this was the only spot in the area offering it. More about the Saudis in another blog.
If you want a rowdier scene, stay in El Nido town. If you want chill vibes, good conversation, all while drinking a cocktail on a bean bag overlooking Bacuit archipelago, then this is your joint. Hopefully, we make it back soon before El Nido really explodes!
P.S. shisha is tobacco….sinners.