Sep 23, 2020
AFTER RETAKING FIRST PLACE for islands in this year’s World’s Best Awards, Palawan is back in the global spotlight. But residents of Southeast Asia have known of Palawan’s charms for years—specifically those of its hard-to-reach island resorts dotted off the coastline of El Nido municipality. Humble little El Nido Town, the jumping-off point for those far-flung paradises, has been slowly but steadily carving out its own identity, and, with renewed interest in Palawan’s promised lands, seems set to flourish even more.
Unlike its exclusive upscale neighbors, this small fishing village is more denim cutoffs than caftans. It’s definitely not a castaway idyll, what with its cement structures covered in sea-battered paint. However, the island vibe reigns, fueled by warm smiles, cold beers and breezy beachfront living.
Most who arrive in El Nido Town are drawn by the “wild, untouched beauty of its surroundings,” as Sava Beach Bar’s co-owner Vicki Abary Farol tells me, but thanks to the town’s easy unpretentiousness, many end up staying longer than they had intended. “It’s a vibrant local community that continues to grow and change,” she says, “and that offers all kinds of experiences unique to the island.”
Alongside local entrepreneurs are expats from around the world bringing their own flavor. El Nido has hosted spinoffs of Survivor for France, Spain, Russia and Israel, making it popular with travelers from those countries.
“It’s very bohemian, sort of like Siargao and Tulum,” says Manila-based chef Aaron Isip, who fell in love with El Nido Town a few years ago and recently purchased property here. “There’s that surf-yoga-spiritual-energy coupled with a relaxed and fun party lifestyle epitomized by sunset sessions over at Panorama or Maremegmeg. Then in the evenings heading out after dinner to Sava and little dive bars.”
The place is not your typical beach-party hub, though. Beyond the compact town area is a verdant environment with lush jungles, hidden waterfalls and mysterious caves embedded in limestone cliffs that plummet into turquoise waters. In these diverse surroundings you’ll find a plethora of nature-driven activities, including diving, hiking, island-hopping and even surfing—the perfect mix for maintaining equilibrium.
“The highlight of El Nido for me is natural beauty of the islands,” Isip tells me, and I have to agree, even if my favorite way of appreciating it is on the beach with a cocktail in hand.
Your Guide to El Nido Town
Where to Eat
Because sometimes there’s nothing better to accompany a sun- soaked day than a good pizza. Trattoria Altrove cooks them in a wood- fire oven, and also has killer gelato. Pizzas from P320.
The open kitchen offers a great view of the fresh ingredients that make up the café classics. They make a serious burger, big salads and hearty pastas. Food and drinks for two P1,000.
Enjoy grilled freshly caught squid and a tangy kinilaw—the local version of ceviche, with fresh ginger and chili— along with an ice-cold beer for a seaside lunch. Lunch and drinks for two P2,000.
Where to Drink
Republica Sunset Bar
A bikini-forward venue on Corong-Corong Beach that offers great music, hearty Spanish and Asian tapas plates and happy hours. Beers for two P160 and cocktails for two P600.
Nurse a drink while nursing your sunburn in this chill bar in the middle of town. A perfect place for a nightcap after dinner, complete with funk and soul DJ tunes. Cocktails for two P600.
Sava Beach Bar
Even when the sun goes down, the party continues with barefoot beach dancing and expertly mixed cocktails. Usually open until the wee hours— check online for their reopening date. Cocktails for two P700.
Where to Shop
With sustainably sourced local fashion, accessories and products, this artisans’ compound near the airport is worth the drive for some fun shopping. fb.com/kalyeartisanobypiopio.
Looking to update your resortwear? This store offers a broad selection of swimwear from their in-house brand as well as pieces from Brazilian fave Vix. An online shop based out of Makati lets you stock up while you’re still in isolation mode.
What to Check Out
Skipper Charters offers speedboat island-hopping trips that include gorgeous beach picnics. Private charters also available. Tours from P3,500.
Where to Stay
A clutch of three luxury boho-style tent suites on the hills over Maremegmeg Beach. Dining on site at The Nesting Table offers spectacular views of Bacuit Bay. Check the website for rates and reopening date.
Situated on Corong- Corong Beach just a short drive from the main town, this cute boutique hotel is well appointed with excellent service. frangipanielnido.com; doubles from P3,500.
Wabi-sabi-chic huts nestled in big palms offer comfort and barefoot luxury. Enjoy sundowners at their beach bar, known for having the best sunset sessions around. Doubles from P6,500.
Maremegmeg Beach Club
Contemporary rustic décor with rooms facing the sea and direct access to the beach. Their Beach Club is the best spot for all-day lounging and drinking. Doubles from P16,000.