A six-hour van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Palawan

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Earlier this year during a 10-day trip my cousin and I embarked on through Palawan, our first stop was at El Nido. It’s the place that gave rise to Palawan’s popularity, a local tour guide told me. At the end of our time there, it was easy to see why it’s such a highly-trafficked destination

Puerto Princesa to El Nido

To kick off the first leg of our Palawan trip, my cousin Chia and I arrived at the airport in Puerto Princesa near the middle of the day before taking a public van up to El Nido. The trip took about six hours, including stops along the way to pick up passengers. That amount of time isn’t too bad as far as commutes go: six hours is the time it takes to drive from Los Angeles to Sacramento along the Interstate 5.

But there’s a difference between the I-5 and the road linking Puerto Princesa to El Nido: the latter is filled with twists and turns and dips and bumps. That in itself isn’t horrible, but the way our driver maneuvered them sometimes made me feel like we were on some kind of amusement park ride, except it wasn’t fun because I’m not a huge fan of those. If you get motion sickness, it’s a good idea to gulp down some meds before going on this ride.

While the van ride itself was an adventure, the views outside were calming. If you live in a city and are surrounded by manmade structures most of the time, Palawan is literally a refreshing breath of fresh air. There was so much green! There were so many coconut trees and vibrant blue skies populated with bright thick clouds. I was especially amused to count several caribou along the way. I even saw a two small children riding one of them.

Because we were on a public van, the driver would sometimes pull over – abruptly, I’ll add – if he saw people that looked like passengers. A few came on board. We also had a few restroom breaks and stopped for dinner at a local turo-turo restaurant, where you basically point at the dishes you want to eat the way you do at Subway and Chipotle. The place is called Elfredo and it says it’s a manokan (chicken) and seafood restaurant.

It was dark by the time we got to El Nido. Vans aren’t allowed into the town (probably because the roads are super small) so they have to stop at a terminal. Then passengers have to catch a tricycle to get into the town. While we were in the tricycle on the way to our hotel, I periodically glanced at my phone to see how far away we were and I found myself a bit puzzled as to why the driver seemed to be making unnecessary turns that prolonged the ride. Once we arrived, the driver asked us for P100. That’s about $2. Not bad, and that’s the higher price they charge “foreigners” aka tourists.

Going to fast forward here a bit, but later on while my cousin and I were in El Nido, we decided to go to the palengke (market) to try to revive our phones, which were struggling to survive after taking an accidental a bath in ocean water :’( We had to take a tricycle there and only brought our wallets and sling bags.

When we got to our destination, the driver only charged us P30 – less than $1 for both of us. It probably helped that we passed as local tourists: we weren’t carrying around a lot of things and both speak Tagalog. But is that transportation fee insane or what?? The most insane part, though, is that the palengke was SO close to the transportation terminal where the van dropped us off! Chia and I guessed that the driver who brought us to our hotel the first night made our trip longer to justify what he charged us. It was a really amusing experience to see how the prices changed based on the clientele the drivers were dealing with.

Anyway, my cousin and I settled into our hotel that evening. It was a super tiny room and it is the actual definition of a budget hotel:

It felt like we were in a teeny tiny box room with a bathroom. There was probably less than two feet of space on the left side and bottom of the bed.

I thought I’d stayed in budget hotels before, but El Nido proved me wrong. Lol. Regardless, it was a pleasant stay. We could hear the soothing sound of ocean waves breaking on the shore from our room, and we didn’t spend much time in there other than to shower and sleep.

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