El Nido is booming. With an airport terminal at Lio (which offers free merienda to departing passengers), a direct flight via Air Swift, and new establishments opening daily, there’s no reason to skip this beach town.
Here are five things to do now:
Go for a dive
Palawan is a hotspot for divers, thanks to its rich marine life and coral gardens. Try scuba diving or free diving with companies like Palawan Divers, which offers classes to newbies and intermediate level divers.
There are plenty of dive sites within reach, with a diverse mix of depths—from walls that drop down 40 m, to shallower sites.
Stay at a design hotel
Lagun Hotel, situated within El Nido town across stunning limestone cliffs, was designed by Cecile Ravelas.
Inspired by El Nido, Spanish for “the nest,” key design elements were taken from birds’ nests, which can also be found peppering the limestone cliffs.
Ravelas created a foyer that evokes the interior of a nest, with its warm wooden tones, bamboo ceiling and mix of rattan furniture custom-made for the hotel.
Colorful SZ Vizcarra hanging lamps dot the area, while a large wooden table anchors the space. A prow-shaped desk at reception mimics the spatial dimensions of a bird’s nest with its overlapping wooden frame. Glass walls provide a backdrop for the limestone cliffs.
A pool, located at the deck on the topmost floor, offers one of the best views of the cliffs.
The rooms feature details evoking the island’s native elements, like a reef pattern above the bed, or a modern blue-tiled bathroom.
Though the look of the hotel is its primary allure, along with its view of the cliffs, make sure to make time to eat at their Habi restaurant, which has some really good Filipino food. From grilled squid and seafood sinigang to binakol to tinutungan, a chicken dish cooked in a gata made from toasted coconut, their selection is surprisingly substantial and well-made. Perfect cap to a day spent island hopping.
Call 0917-1561507, folllow @lagunhotel on Instagram.
Take a private tour of the islands and lagoons
Palawan is famous for its tours — infamously labeled tour A, B, C, D, which covers both Big and Small Lagoons, as well as various spots like Snake Island, Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Cathedral Cave, and more.
We were lucky enough to get a private tour through Lagun Hotel, which arranged a private boat for our group, which took us to Kadlao Lagoon, a majestic patch of aquamarine water and cliffs.
At Big Lagoon, we kayaked (with the help of our guide, who—let’s be honest—actually did most of the kayaking). It’s about a 15-minute boat ride from El Nido beach. Our boat, a large bangka that could comfortably seat 20, offered views of Helicopter Island, and fish and turtles.
We spent half the day on Ipil Island, a private beach with soft, white sand. Ipil Waterfront, which has a house you can rent for P25,000 a night (which means you have the whole island to yourself), can be accessed through the private tour of Lagun. Spend the day sunning on a rock (there are plenty on Ipil) or floating in one of the many lagoons of Palawan.
Call 0908-8802866; follow @ipilwaterfront on Instagram.
Eat at Tambok’s
Bacolod-based Josef Sagemuller was invited by Bea Zobel to set up shop in El Nido. The Negros native opened a grill, inspired by his grandmother Lina Montilla’s recipes.
“Her place was like an open house,” Sagemuller said. “Anyone who was hungry would just come in.”
His grandmother’s signature leche flan recipe is on the menu, alongside banana and jackfruit turon with homemade salted caramel sauce.
Tambok’s is primarily a grill, and Bacolod-style chicken inasal is one of their mainstays along with their fish-of-the-day specials. Try the sisig burger, made with atchara, fried egg, tomato, aioli and an atsuete oil-basted bun.
Call 0926-0785343, follow @tambokselnido on Instagram.
KalyeArtisano is divided into three spaces. “Cogon House is entirely dedicated to the local Palawan artists in residency. In this building, the artists have set up shops targeted toward tourists and local business owners as well as offering workshops and immersion programs,” Paloma Zobel says.
“Rattan House is our food and beverage outlet. It offers visitors a taste of Filipino cuisine.
“Bamboo House is a hostel and co-working space, which offers visitors the chance to not only visit, but a chance to immerse themselves and interact with the community over a period of time.”
At Cogon House, you’ll find Paloma Zobel’s brand Piopio, alongside shops selling local wares. I found locally woven bags, art, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil soap, bamboo toothbrushes and even fried taro chips.