We flew into Manila and only stayed there one day before transitting to Palawan. Manila is a big city with so many Spanish, Chinese and American influences all mixed up with the native Filipino heritage. The city suffers from overcrowding, pollution, appalling traffic jams, and extreme poverty, yet there are parts that resemble affluent areas of the U.S. One of the nicest parts of the city is the Makati district, where we had dinner the one night we were there. Within the Makati neighborhood, there is a massive shopping area broken out in sections of many fancy malls and every kind of restaurant you can dream of called the Greenbelts. We spent most of our time in Manila in taxis stuck in traffic, so we didn't have many opportunities to take pictures of our surroundings, but from what we could tell, Makati is really the only place worth visiting.
What we are about to say is in no way meant to be disrespectful or offensive to any one... this is only a mere observation. To us, the Filipino language has a strong resemblance to the Minion language, and for those of you familiar with Despicable Me, you will know what we are talking about! It is uncanny how similar it is... so funny!
Our first impression of Filipino food was okay... not very complex and more on the unhealthy and sweet side. It is a lot of fried and BBQed meats with rice, which is good, but rather heavy when eaten every day. It is not our favorite food, but thankfully there was also a lot of fish and seafood, which was really quite delicious.
Okay, so how do we even begin to describe the perfectness of El Nido, Palawan! It is truly paradise that has all the makings for a perfect holiday. It is no surprise that Palawan was named the best island in the world this year, and El Nido is definitely the place to be!! It is by far our favorite spot of our trip so far!!!
El Nido Beach
El Nido town
Chillin' and enjoying the view
Christmas tree El Nido style (made out of recycled green plastic bottles)
the beautiful view from our balcony
When we arrived, however, Typhoon Queenie greeted us with super heavy rains, which raged all that first night. She was gone by the next afternoon, though, and when the skies cleared and the sun came out, you wouldn't have even thought that a major storm just passed on through. We had beautiful weather for the rest of our stay, and we could not have been more lucky!
Jens has really been wanting to do his PADI Open Water scuba diving certification for a while now, and we figured it was the best opportunity to do it while we were in town for so long. We signed him up the next day, and since I was still on the fence about whether or not diving was for me, I first signed up for a Discover Scuba Diving session. Jens had to start watching the videos and studying the theory right away, so I figured I would do it with him in case I decided to officially do it as well. I am SO HAPPY I did because after my DSD session, I really loved the whole experience and wanted to go all the way! It didn't take me long to catch up on the quizzes, and Jens and I finished our confined-water skills, open water dives and our final exams on the same day. We had so much fun celebrating with our instructors and the rest of our group... they are all such great people and we all instantly connected! We actually hung out with them often throughout the rest of our stay, which was such an added bonus! We would highly recommend the Submariner Diving Center to anyone wanting to dive in El Nido!! (Big shout out to Ronny, Stephanie, Aoibheann, Andre, Romi and the rest of the crew... you guys are awesome and we miss you already!! :-)) We did another "fun dive" a couple days later with some of our original group, and it was just so incredible! We swam with sea turtles and sting rays and cuddle fish, clown fish, angel fish, parrot fish, trigger fish, snappers, etc, etc, etc. We swam through beautiful coral reefs, as well as this incredible coral wall that drops down to 30 meters. We felt so much more confident and excited to be in the underwater world, and we can't wait for our next holiday where we can dive again!! Diving is seriously better than I ever imagined, and I have no idea why I even hesitated. Thanks to Jens' encouragement, we are perma-dive buddies for life! Woohoo!! ;-)
map of the diving sites in Bacuit Bay
Our instructors were the best!!
Our dive master Romi
On the days we did not dive, we would walk around town and along El Nido beach. We would sit and relax on our balcony soaking up the sun, the gorgeous view and marveling at how lucky we are to be there! We really just can't get enough of this place! One day, we decided to venture out and explore, so we rented a motorbike and drove to Nacpan Beach, which was really fun. The dirt road to get to the beach was super muddy, which made the drive quite interesting and a bit messy... Jens' feet were caked with mud by the time we got there. The water was a beautiful blue, the sand was super soft, and the remoteness was so inviting. Due to the fact that it's quite an effort to get to, not many tourists decide to go, so we almost had our own private beach. Later, we drove to Las Cabañas Beach to go swimming and to watch the sunset... it was absolutely beautiful! The palm tree-lined beach perfectly curved along the bay made for the most picturesque setting. And the sunset was really wonderful... we couldn't take our eyes off that vibrant orange sky! We loved Las Cabañas so much that we went back there another afternoon for more swimming and relaxing. Unfortunately, we had to leave earlier than expected because I got stung by a jelly fish on my lower leg as I was walking out of the water... another first to add to the list! It's not the most painful feeling in the world, but it was definitely shocking and it burned/stung quite badly. Thankfully, Jens was spared the task of peeing on my leg, since there was a nearby cafe that quickly gifted me a bowl of vinegar. When we got back to our place, I soaked my leg in warm water, and the swelling quickly went away. It took me a couple days to want to go back in the water, though!
our drive to Nacpan
Las Cabañas Beach
Jens swimming in the water
So, I'm sure many of you had heard in the news about Super Typhoon Ruby hitting the Philippines... since Palawan is the farthest west in the country, it was the safest place we could be. We were, however, supposed to fly into Cebu on the day that island would have been hit pretty hard by the storm, so we changed our flight to leave few days later. This was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed us more time in El Nido... we would take any excuse not to leave! It was a bit nerve-wracking, though, anticipating for a few days how this major storm would play out, but it ended up being really anti-climactic. The only effects we got in El Nido were cloudy skies, a little wind and some rain. We only pray for those people in the east and central parts of the Philippines who received the full force of the storm!
We absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED everything about this amazing little town... the people, the beaches, the diving, the ambiance... EVERYTHING!! And the best part of it was that we really felt like we were a part of this community. We stayed in El Nido for 12 days, and could easily have stayed longer! We seriously cannot wait to come back!
We love El Nido!!