Palawan, named the “World’s No.1 Island” (at least that is what every single advertising sign said on the street), has become more and more attractive for tourists nowadays and I can understand why. Even though the weather was not the best whilst I visited this island, I still got to witness the beauty of it. I spent most of my time in a paradisiac place called El Nido. Located north in Palawan, El Nido is the perfect spot to enjoy beautiful beaches, limestones, go kayaking, snorkelling AND island hopping.
This is the story on how I got to El Nido, stopping first at the Underground River Cave in Sabang, in a cheaper way than in a tour:
There are flights from Manila (the capital of Philippines) to El Nido regularly, but they are certainly the most expensive ones. Besides, why would you like to get to your main destination so quick when there are so many things to see on the way? After doing a lot of research and reading, I decided to book a flight to Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan) instead. I got a cheap flight in Cebu Pacific Air for USD25 (up to 15kg baggage). I believe that you can get it for less if you book in advance or have no baggage.
Once I got to Puerto Princesa, I stayed two nights in a hostel called Puerto Bayview Backpackers for PHP350 (approx. USD 7) the night in a private room with fan, wifi and shared kitchen. I definitely recommend this place. The staff is friendly and the facilities are very cozy. Here they offer tours to places like Honda Bay, the Underground River Park in Sabang, a Lexus van ride to El Nido, firefly watching tours, and more. Even though it was tempting, I decided not to take a tour and do the Underground River Park (Sabang) and El Nido by myself.
Take these tour rates into account: PHP 1350 (approx. USD30) for private van to Underground River Park located in Sabang + lunch + boat + drop back to Puerto Princesa + PHP 500 for the Lexus van to El Nido. That gives us a total of PHP1850 (approx. USD 42). Not bad for a tour package, but I did it on my own for PHP 1.033 (approx. USD 22).
The day before my trip to the Underground River Park I went to the Colisseum in Puerto Princesa to get my entrance permit. Next morning, I took a Jeepney or shared taxi to the San Jose Station, alon known as New Market Bus Station. From there I got a public bus at 7:30am that dropped me at the Underground River Park at 9:25am for approximately USD 2. I used my “international student card” to get disccount. In Philippines is worth having one of those ISIC cards to get better prices.
Once I got to the park, I had to pay for an environmental fee and then get registered with a waiting list number. I waited for some minutes until they called my name to see if I wanted to share a boat with a couple of tourist for PHP 180 each (approx. USD4). We would only be four in the boat so I said ‘Yes!’ The total amount for the boat was PHP720, so the more people you get, the cheaper.
The boat will drop you in the island where you have to catch a smaller boat to go inside the cave (no worries, no additional fees). I got the front seat so I had the best view and had to control the flashlight. Inside the cave you get to live quite an experience. There are more than 8 species of bats inside that will probably pee on you, so whenever you look up make sure that you keep your mouth closed. The smell was also unique and not my favorite but its manageable. Some rocks inside the cave have shapes similar to Jesus, ships, peaches, women, and more, so be creative when observing.
The boat ride lasts 45 minutes and then you go for lunch. Tours take tourists to buffet restaurants near the port. Lunch costs PHP200 there, so I skipped it and went to a place called Canteen (also in the port) and ate some pork adobo with rice and a banana cue/fried banana for dessert, all for PHP 75 (approx. USD 1.63).
After lunch, dessert and a free coffee, I got a free lift to Salvacion by the nice tourists that shared the boat with me. Salvacion is the intersection between El Nido and Sabang (Underground River Park). While I was there, I waited for a Lexus van to arrive (I missed the public bus). At that moment, I met a Colombian guy who was on holidays. His name is Diego, a really cool guy that has been living in Germany for the past 10 years. We talked and decided that we would “not pay more than PHP 400” (Approx. USD8). Lucky us, we got our price when we bargained with the van driver and got inside the Lexus that took us to El Nido.
We got to El Nido around 7pm and found a very good room at Rovics Pension with a good view to the sea and great staff. I would recommend doing the Island Hopping in El Nido (Tour A and C are the most popular…bargain for a good price, its not fixed), rent a kayak and explore the islands nearby, catch sunset at Las Cabañas, drink San Miguel beer and go party at Puka after 12am (before there is nice live reggae music too). Enjoy El Nido, its paradise!!!
- Entrance permit to Sabang Underground River Cave: PHP250 (approx. USD5)
- Jeepney to the San Jose Station or New Market Bus Station in Puerto Princesa: PHP13.
- Public bus to the Underground River Park: PHP 100 (approx USD 2)
- Environmental Fee for Underground River Cave: PHP40 (approx USD 0.95)
- Shared boat: PHP 180 each (approx. USD4)
- Lunch and dessert: PHP 75 (approx. USD 1.63)
- Van to El Nido: PHP 400 (Approx. USD8)