Two days before my birthday back in the year 2011, I had one of my fainting episodes at home. I don’t suffer from any serious illness but once in a while I faint whenever I have dysmenorrhea (I’m telling you, it was brutal). While my Mom would usually brush it off like my previous episodes, she brought me to a clinic to have me checked up by a doctor, just in case I need medications. The doctor had a better idea though, he had me confined in a hospital to run some tests on me because he thought that I might be epileptic. I ended up spending my birthday in the hospital with negative results for the tests, proving that I’m not epileptic and that I needed a better doctor.
Now, I’m not the type who celebrates my birthday with a lavish party. I normally spend it with an intimate family lunch or dinner, but that 2011, I had GRAND plans. I was going to what would have been my first ever budget travel in the Philippines – a 5 day trip to El Nido, Palawan that I planned for 5 months with excruciating detail complete with Excel files! Back then, El Nido had a reputation of being an expensive destination but during one of my blog readings, I stumbled upon a blog by We Are Sole Sisters that talked about their 7k Extreme Challenge. I was inspired to try it out myself despite not having any budget travel experience.
Since we already missed our flight to Palawan, we ended up rebooking our flight and instead went to Boracay since my cousin wanted to go there again. I didn’t mind even if I’ve already gone there a couple of times, but I would have rather spent my birthday in a less crowded and more peaceful island.
With my dream to go to El Nido getting postponed, I cried in my hospital bed on the exact time of our flight to Palawan, thinking that 2011 was my worst birthday ever. I promised myself that one day, I will go to El Nido and I will make it up to my sick 2011 self.
Where was Beep during that time? We were mere officemates, working in the opposite areas of our Makati office. I called him Kuya Beep back then.
Fast forward to the year 2014, three years after my hellish birthday spent at the hospital, I got a chance to finally go to El Nido, Palawan thanks to a seat sale that only cost us PHP911 for roundtrip plane tickets to Puerto Princesa. I was already with Beep and I was a better budget travel planner. It didn’t take me 5 months to plan our El Nido trip but I still planned it with detail like I always do. Beep, our three friends and I ended up spending less than PHP7,000 (all-in) each for a 5-day trip.
In the summer of 2015, I went back to El Nido with Beep, this time we brought along my entire family! The experience of planning a family trip requires an article dedicated to it, but to make the long story short – it was definitely a challenge!
EL Nido is dubbed as one of the best beaches in the world and was the inspiration behind Alex Garland’s novel The Beach (and adapted into a Hollywood film starring Leonardo Di Caprio). You might be wondering why the film was shot in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand instead of El Nido. According to our guide, the government didn’t want El Nido to be associated with illegal activity.
What is it about El Nido that makes me come back for more and why do I think that every Filipino should, too?
I was born, raised, and have spent my entire life in the Philippines yet I wanted to travel to other countries – just like a lot of Filipinos. That first trip to El Nido made me realize how beautiful my own country is. El Nido made me fall in love with the Philippines and made me want to see more of it. I know a lot of Filipinos would rather travel to other countries, but trust me, when you see El Nido with your own eyes, you will also want to explore more of what our country has to offer.
I make sure that for every El Nido trip, I have a different set of companions, so that more people will be in awe of its beauty and share their experiences to family and friends. They fall in love with it and plan a trip with another group, and I help them as much as I can to do it without spending too much. I feel that the more people I convince to go to El Nido, the more Filipinos fall in love with the Philippines and want to see more of it.
Sadly, a lot of Filipinos are yet to visit the “Philippines’ Last Frontier”. The number one reason is the notion that traveling to El Nido would be expensive, way more expensive than Boracay. When Filipinos think of a beach destination for the summer (or when foreigners Google for a place to visit in the Philippines), majority flock to Boracay. Yes, I know, Boracay is beautiful in its own way too but why isn’t El Nido the first choice for locals, especially?
In our first El Nido trip (it was in January), we noticed that aside from the locals, we were just one of maybe 2 or 3 tourist groups that are Filipino, the rest were all foreigners.
When people ask me for a place that I recommend for their next travel, I always say El Nido, Palawan. 100% of the time, I get the same response: “It’s too expensive!”. Then I tell them that we only spent less than PHP7,000 for a 5-day trip, all-in. I go through the details of how we did it and they’re sold.
A trip to El Nido, Palawan does NOT have to be expensive. Trust me. I’ve been there twice already and I didn’t need to shell out more than PHP10,000 for each trip (all-in)!
If you’re on a budget, book during a seat sale to Puerto Princesa. El Nido will be just a 5-6 hours ride from there. You don’t need to stay at expensive island resorts. There are plenty of budget accommodations to choose from.
We, Filipinos, are so blessed to have this amazing place right at our own backyard. So please, give El Nido a chance and make it your next travel destination. It doesn’t have the party scene like in Boracay but it has it’s unique charm that you’ll want to come back to again and again.