It’s hard to size up the “best beach destination” that is El Nido. It’s garnered the attention of a few prestigious magazines, and has been high on the list of go-to destinations in the Philippines, as well as S.E. Asia, for the last few years. I’m not quite sure why El Nido is getting all the attention when it’s really the Bacuit archipelago everyone is talking about.
For starters, the town beach itself isn’t much to write home about— the scenery is nice, but it’s not a gleaming white sand beach, and the water is murky. Plastics kiss the shoreline, and if you want to take a dip from the beach, you’ll have to share the bay with a couple hundred bangkas.
Tourists—domestic and international alike— are seen as walking dollars, so the locals are forever trying to bag ya into going diving or on a island-hopping tour or to rent you a motorbike. You can barely walk down the street without hearing a chorus of, “hey mister,” and after a while the touts start to blur together.
And finally, El Nido doesn’t have that beach-town vibe, that feeling of idyll which accompanies the best beach towns. Maybe it’s because of all the damn honking traffic, maybe its cause there aren’t many palm trees hanging around (they’ve all been mowed down to make room for ‘civilization’).
But, El Nido is also chock full of luxuries many tourists appreciate on their vacations: cafes and restaurants, a wide range of hotels for every wallet, beach bars with happy hours and reggae music, fiery sunsets, stuff like that. Stores offer plenty of souvenirs to stock up on, flimsy tank tops imported directly from Thailand, and even designer clothing stores for those looking to spend serious amounts.
And that doesn’t include what is waiting just a boat’s ride away offshore… Sure, the island-hopping tours are on the pricey side—1200 to 1500 pesos per person (around 30 USD)—but there is no disputing the beauty of the Bacuit archipelago.
The karst formations, the white-sand island beaches, the glowing blue-green lagoons, the colorful fields of coral, and the clear waters that turn into every shade of blue. Each and every destination is exactly what we all gape at on TV and in magazines. Pa-ra-dise. If the weather is just right, the tour fees will seem paltry in comparison to the natural phenomenons that abound.
Furthermore, there’s a handful of other things to do around El Nido, besides the island-hopping. Neighboring beaches, blissfully free of bangkas, are there for our perusal. Plenty of places offer kayaks for rent (bring snorkel gear) and I’ve read that hiking can also be undertaken at a few of the islands. Renting a motorcycle and exploring the surrounding areas can be nice, but be careful— we’ve seen more than a few people with horrible cases of road rash!
So, to conclude… It’s hard to appreciate an overcrowded fishing town, and even harder not to feel guilty about being a tourist when we see firsthand the damage we are doing by following the masses to every popular destination. But damn, the archipelago is jaw-dropping gorgeous, and we have no regrets having visited Bacuit Bay.