400km south of Metro Manila lays the unspoiled paradise of El Nido in Palawan. This incredible oceanfront town is home to breath-taking natural beauty, including white sand beaches, limestone cliffs, and lush green jungle. But doesn’t that sound a little like Boracay to you? Surely the Philippines cannot have two different islands of paradise?!
For some people, myself included, it could always be an idea to include BOTH El Nido AND Boracay in the itinerary when travelling through the Philippines. However, believe it or not, there is as yet no direct flights or passenger ferries between these two islands! Ferries from Boracay are routed via Manila (yep, Manila) and then double back on themselves down to Palawan, where you will find El Nido. This journey takes at least 32 hours (not including transit time in Manila), and then from the moment you arrive on Palawan (the port is near the Limancong region), you still have a 5 hour drive to get to El Nido in the north of the island, anyway!
Flying is also an option from Boracay Airport to Puerto Princesca Airport on Palawan, but this again is via Manila and is very expensive (at least £100 per person). When I think of the extensive ferry network in Indonesia (PELNI), it makes me grateful that at least one archipelago in South East Asia is capable of being explored – maybe one day the Philippines will move with the times and create a better tourist infrastructure?!
For many decades, Boracay was known as the ultimate Filipino island destination, and while El Nido has always been on the tourist radar, it was known as more of a pleasant eco-tourism destination, rather than a hangout for party-mad backpackers. Now, though, this all seems to be changing. As the beaches of Boracay get more and more crowded, people are flocking to El Nido as an alternative – and with cheap flights directly to Puerto Princesca from Manila, and internationally from Kuala Lumpur (but NOT from Boracay, remember!), who can blame them?!
Situated around Bacuit Bay, El Nido is now firmly on the horizon for intrepid travellers of all ages, though thankfully it remains nowhere near as busy as Boracay. Hostels are aplenty in El Nido these days, as tourism is the main source of income for the town. It wasn’t too hard to find accommodation even after arriving. You will be bombarded with offers of day trips to nearby islands (including Coron Island, which is a great diving place) as soon as you arrive in El Nido, but this at least allows you to realise that you are not as isolated as you in Boracay, where trips to outlaying islands are not really possible, meaning that Boracay itself becomes something of a tourist trap.
As far as eco-tourism and water sports are concerned, I think El Nido is an even better place than Boracay. There are amazing karst rock formations here, and taking a kayak out and exploring the turquoise waters is better than anything you can do above the water around Boracay – and El Nido even compares favourably with some of the southern Thai beaches like at Phuket or Krabi. There are also hiking trails, waterfalls, and even hot springs to keep you occupied if you want to stay out of the ocean!
The main point of interest at El Nido, though, is its glorious beaches. I was always under the impression that Boracay had the best beaches in the Philippines, but these here around El Nido are equally spectacular. The ever-popular Nacpan and Calitang Beaches, along with the obscure Marimegmeg Beach, are three to make sure you visit!
Surfing and snorkelling also seem popular pastimes in El Nido. I found that at Boracay, those kind of things are sometimes out of the question (along with windsailing or parasailing) due to the strong winds that prevail over that region of the Philippines, but here at El Nido, the seas appear somewhat calmer, allowing for more watersports to be offered year round.
So it must be asked, is El Nido really a true alternative to Boracay? I think it should be strongly considered if you’re planning to visit the Philippines. Prices are lower at El Nido, and yet you can do everything here (and more) that you can do on Boracay anyway. It’s just a shame El Nido is such a rigmarole to get to…