Jake and I knew we’d get there at some point but not at a week’s notice. He somehow scored bargain roundtrip tickets and we had that short span of time to gather up whatever spare cash we could get our hands on. I, for one, needed to catch up with a good friend already based in Puerto Princesa hence the stronger need to go.
Looking online and chatting with friends, so-called budget backpacking has become quite popular around the tourist destination. As usual, we treat everything we read or hear as purely subjective. Apparently, gone were the days when people say, “El Nido? Yeah, it burns holes through your pockets.” We could only afford to put it to the test so we did… that or… doom.
So, as of September 2014:
To Puerto Princesa – Palawan’s main city. If you’re lucky, you could score it for as cheap as P1,000/2-way. The usual fare goes from P3,000++/1-way depending on where in the Philippines you are flying from.
You could do the whole boat ride thing from Coron if you want but it’d cost more or less the same with seasickness as a cherry on top. Or you could charter a direct flight – but you’re out of this challenge.
Then there’s that grueling 6-8Hr bus ride to El Nido. They raised ticket prices when we got there at P400+/1-way. You’ve got not much of a choice but to cough up. We got the ticket from Puerto Princesa to El Nido at the usual P300+ price but they informed us of the increase ahead of time so we could still avail of the old price on our trip back.
Heading back from El Nido to Puerto Princesa, they tried imposing the new price on us but we stood our ground and pleaded. Thankfully, they yielded. Certainly, if you’ve got someone to drive you all the way to the northern tip of Palawan… for free… wouldn’t that just be peachy?
Traveling in groups always helps when backpacking in El Nido. There are numerous budget hostels popping up around the area and you could save a couple pesos spilling into a nice non-air conditioned family room with one toilet.
If that’s not your thing, no worries. The cheapest accommodation (so far) we’ve encountered a walk’s away from the beach was priced at P600/2-pax. I’m sure we would’ve even hit a lower bargain if we bothered scouring around for an entire day at least.
Of course, there are more than generous sprinkles of popular luxury resorts everywhere but if I bother talking about their rates I’ll just foam in the mouth.
If you search online, there are a good number of budget accommodations in El Nido. Some nice ones, others nice only in photos, others just plain eh. But it’s not until you get there and walk around that you discover ones that are worth your hard earned cash. Recommending that! A lot of these great backpacker’s places aren’t even on the internet.
Our group had to split in 2 as there were contrasting opinions on where we could bunk for the night since the popular backpacker’s hostel we agreed on prior to arriving was… less than satisfactory. We were, shall we say, begging the question “Why would anyone in their right mind recommend this?” in a collective silence.
4 of us decided on a well-maintained family-owned lodge just a few meters away from the beachfront while the others walked off to another decent looking hostel just across the street. We took the big air-conditioned room and an extra mattress for less than P500 each/night. Spoiled, yes, but comfortable nonetheless.
Tricky, tricky. Turn your radar up for street side eats. Most restaurants cater to tourists – specifically Westerners – so they have offer inflated prices of P100+ per dish. Sometimes, they aren’t even that special? Best be raiding the bakeries and tapsilog places (they sell breakfast plates of rice, meat and egg) as well as buying water, coffee, supplies and toiletries from nondescript sari-sari stores. But of course, you already knew that.
Buying fresh produce from the market and prepping your own special feast never fails too. Lucky for us, we’ve got some fantastic cooks in the group. We didn’t find those “delicious” scorpions the locals raved about though.
On the downside, we… kind of… nearly starved on some meals and splurged like sultans on others – leading to consecutive nights out in local beach bars. Better luck next time, self.
If you’re like any of the regular folk that visit El Nido, a huge bulk of your travel expenses would have to go to Island Hopping. They have these four tour packages to choose from – A, B, C, D – all of which are regulated by the local government. Besides the fact that you’d have to shell out for compulsory environmental fees (for good reason), the individual tours themselves can get pretty pricey… with the basic rate of P1,200+/pax as of the moment.
What do you get? Lunch buffet, life jackets, snorkel sets, a boat. And someone to take photos of you. Just ask nicely.
We did weather- and money-permitting tours A and C.
For free? Walk around, sunbathe, skinny dip (kidding) – err – night swim, share a plate of food with a new friend… their treat.
Not quite free? Climb the jagged limestone mountains, rent a motor bike or Vespa, take the inland tour to beaches and waterfalls – tour E if I’m not mistaken, sing karaoke, pig out in all-you-can-eat buffets, go fishing, rent a GoPro, rent a kayak, rent an entire boat for yourself. Oh, heard there was surfing out North too. What else? Beats me – we didn’t do any of these other things.
“Our photos were our best souvenirs” is the best way of saying we held on tight to what we had left so we could go home. Couldn’t afford tiny grams of bird’s nest anyway. If you can spare it, why not?
In conclusion, we managed to pull off backpacking in El Nido with minimal damage… and proved to ourselves that it can *indeed* be done. FACT!
Considering you personally think P6,000/pax – give or take – is a pretty doable budget for 5 days 4 nights in Palawan (Puerto Princesa and El Nido). On a side note, methinks we cheated since our Palawan-based buddy did us a solid and helped us in more ways than she can imagine. Perhaps, we’ll find ourselves back in El Nido soon. No cheating next time.