Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 3: Swimming with the Fishes at Simizu and Last Run for Seven Commandoes

Our trip to El Nido did not really start with Tour A, but after going through it we realized that the destinations included in this trip are guaranteed A++. Rephrasing, it is A for a reason: A for adventure, A for excitement and A for satisfaction guaranteed.  Definitely, definitely start your trip with Tour A!
The waters of El Nido: full of life, full of wonder! #elnido #simizuisland

Tour A covers the islands of Simizu, the famous lagoons of El Nido and the beach at Seven Commandoes. This post covers the first and last destination of the day: the island of Simizu and the beach of Seven Commandoes. I'll save all the lagoons for the next post, so watch out for it! #elnido #simizuisland

Mornings at El Nido, always a great way to start. #elnido #elnidosunrise

Since Tour A is power-packed, it's always better to start very early so you'll have the time to linger and breathe in the wonders of the islands, restful and easy not hurried and wearying for a memorable El Nido trip. Around 7 or 8 am is preferred. #elnido

The first stop for the day was Simizu Island. It was a small island with rocky cliffs on almost all sides, small patches of white sand beaches and scattered rocks all over the shoreline. The view from the sea approaching the island was definitely picturesque, one of those living-in-a-postcard moment!  #elnido #simizu

If this is your first island at El Nido, it very much sums up everything you've heard of this piece of paradise: jade waters, towering cliffs, green mountains, blue sky, white sand beaches, calm waters....and with you in it? dolce vita!....#elnido #simizuisland

But why are we anchored on water 20 ft deep when the white sand and rock formations on shore are within reach? You see the boatman knew best. Ha! he had his pockets ready with small pieces of bread then threw them out in the water! You said what? then a frenzy of colorful fishes just popped out of nowhere! #elnido #simizu

My friends wasted no time putting on their vests, snorkels and fins to throw themselves out in the water too, following those pieces of bread. Confronted with life on sea, it was too thrilling not to get onto those see yellow, blue striped fishes....not fingerlings! like you're swimming in the biggest aquarium of all time! #elnido #simizuisland

We were screaming with excitement fish! fish! fish! (oh well, forgive the city boys and girls...), but the moment was just too crazy not to get too worked up! after a while, the mood changed from near-hysteric frenzy to one that is serene, calm and zen-like...#elnido #simizuisland

With the slow, easy waves, and the quiet lull of the sea, feeding the fishes at Simizu Island can be almost therapeutic. An offshore retreat surrounded by islands with sharp, jagged cliffs but otherwise scenic. Being one with nature, and just enjoying the tranquility amidst the busy but hushed chop-chopping of the fishes feeding on the bread at your fingertips, that definitely is what life is all about! if only we have saved some of that bread for ourselves....oh well! #elnido #simizuisland

Simizu Island, definitely a prime spot. One can stay here all day...snorkel, dive, kayak, rock-climb, feed the fishes or just sunbathe under the sun. Simizu is now officially on top of my list for best destination at El Nido. #elnido #simizu

The view of the islands on our way to the last destination of the day....those cliffs are like lofty guardians of the sea, simply breathtaking! #elnido

The Seven Commandoes Beach is still part of the El Nido mainland but only accessible through  sea. Well we didn't really know the story why it came to be called such, the boatman didn't know either. People have otherwise speculated that being the last track of land of the mainland and protected by thick jungle and high limestone cliffs, it became a sanctuary for rebels. Not even the boatman can confirm that story, so we just left it at that. #elnido #7commandos

Anyway, we came here almost sunset but people still dotted the beach. We can also hear loud music playing, a first in this trip. Looked like a store has opened up and expanded to entertainment. The lively, party sound was not really distracting, just different from the islands that we visited. Anyway, it was a nice change for people who wouldn't mind. We just walked along the beach to cool down from our action-packed day. #elnido #7commandos

As the sun set at Seven Commandos beach, we bided our time and relished the moment....#elnido #7commandos

It was time to go, all boats are required to be back on shore before dark lest they get lost and get struck at rocks protruding at some points near the islands especially when the tide ebbs out into the sea. #elnido #7commandos

There was a restaurant outside of town serving dinner, cocktails and a few alcohol where a full view of the sunset can be seen. Our friendly tryke driver took me to this little resto which I unfortunately forgot the name. They were friendly enough to take me in to get some pictures. Thanks so much but I'll research and ask around so I can write it down here. #sunsetatelnido

For the highlights of Tour A, read on to the next post...

Missed my post on the islands of Tour C?  follow the links below:
Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 1: From Helicopter to Snake with a Star in Between
Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 2: Matinloc Shrine with a Hidden (Lagoon) and a Secret (Beach)

If you need some pointers on going to El Nido, check these out:
A Piece of Heaven on Earth Called El Nido: My Best Shots 
A Piece of Heaven on Earth Called El Nido: Getting There and Other Things 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 2: Matinloc Shrine with a Hidden (Lagoon) and a Secret (Beach)

Although the cluster of islands included in Tour C are equally splendid and touristy, well....the islands in this post are fascinating. I considered them the highlights of the day! scroll down and judge for yourselves...

The Hidden Lagoon, with its idyllic waters and beautiful limestone cliffs....and the only way to get there? well, swimming! #elnido #hiddenlagoon

The hidden lagoon is a small beach enclosed in two towering limestone cliff islands. It has two waterways located at both ends, but are so small and shallow making it impossible for these boats to pass through safely. The waters at one end where the safest entry can be made are relatively shallow...about 9 feet, but are lined with corals and limestone rocks underneath. Swimming towards the sandy beach inside is the only way.#elnido #hiddenlagoon

The hidden lagoon, so beautiful yet so vicious. #elnido #hiddenlagoon

Well, you have to be a strong swimmer 'coz the lagoon is really playing hard-to-get to - the waves are ridiculous! they'll keep pounding on you like crazy! and be careful of those rocks!, according to the boatman, they can really cut skin. I have strong swimmer friends, but they were careful and opted to be pulled by our sea-boy guide. Well, just look at that wave! on a side note, our sea-boy guide was only about 13 or 14 yrs old, but golly how he swam! like he was born out there at sea with the mermaids and the mermen. #elnido #hiddenlagoon

If you are equally obstinate and strong-hearted (coupled with strong swimmer arms!) like the Hidden Lagoon, you will be rewarded with a majestic and impressive view! light sandy beach, shallow jade waters enclosed in soaring-high rocky cliffs.  My friend Andrew took this picture when they got there. I have seen this place on so many magazine covers, guess this is one of El Nido's prime spots! #elnido #hiddenlagoon

With all it's beauty, I don't have a sweeping, nice landscape image of it. If you're guessing the reason why? well, you're probably right, so there! I have a stubborn-heart but weak arms so I waited it out in the boat, took selfies and made friends with our boatman while my friends are having the time of their lives swimming, exploring, sunbathing, taking pictures of each all angles...bah! pathetic, them? no, me! #elnido #hiddenlagoon

The next destination is secret...shhhh! It's a secret beach according to our boatman. After a short boat ride, you go to the next island, stop in front of a high, flat limestone wall and wonder where the secret is. We also did not see it at first, but there it was...a small hole along the water line where only one person or two can pass through. #elnido #secretbeach

See? well, there were already people inside so it wasn't that big secret after all, ha! It was good that time because the tide was not yet high so you can still pass with your head up above the water. When its high tide, I guess you have to dive....another one for the adventurous spirit! yey! not me.... #elnido #secretbeach

Secret other option but to swim. But hey, it was tame compared to the Hidden lagoon. No waves here, no sharp rocks, only deep waters (if its good news for you). My friends swimming to the hole.....uhmm, I guess being dragged to the hole is a bit accurate...but they enjoyed it. See you later travel buddies, don't worry I'll guard the boat! That is our sea-boy guide! He is really a tough one! #elnido #secrebeach

The following images are Andrew's shots inside the secret beach. That's the view of the hole from inside. I guess the sea floor there is a bit rocky, shallow but rocky. #elnido #secretbeach

Its a smaller area compared to the hidden lagoon. You can swim in the shallow waters towards a small patch of white sand in the enclosed beach. The high cliffs really looked like walls guarding the area. This shot is also from Andrew. #elnido #secretbeach

Secret beach...access to it is literally through a hole-in-the-wall!  Based on Andrew's shots, I guess some parts are just knee-deep, you can walk around. Just look at the limestone walls. If you're thinking geological, that's really strange: flat, high, enclosing....unique! #elnido #secretbeach

Secret beach...a last look at that intriguing place. Enclosed waters protected by a flat limestone wall against a deep blue sea. #elnido #secretbeach

A view of the surrounding sea on the top of a medium-sized cliff at Matinloc Island. #elnido #matinloc

Have I seen this before? hmmm....looked like the view from Jeremy Renner's movie, where a flash view of Palawan was shown. #elnido #matinloc

Matinloc Island is also home to a shrine for the Virgin Mary. It featured a heart-shaped stone in front of the circular base of the Virgin representing Matinloc which they say is really heart-shaped...maybe at a particular angle, but not on google. Stories abound for the reasons on having an abandoned shrine in the middle of...nowhere. Well, its one of the few-man-made structures at El Nido that has become a tourist spot bolstered by visionary stories and a few creepy ones. We did not see the hidden museum beneath the altar, guess it wasn't there anymore or we were too tired.  The hidden museum reportedly has pictures and stories that tells of a vision of a heart-shaped island being the next Jerusalem. Even the dome constructed for the Virgin was reportedly part of the vision. Some find the island creepy, but I found it peaceful...with the shrine there, it resonated calm and retreat.  #elnido #matinlocshrine

Matinloc Shrine can be accessed via a cemented dock in the middle of the island, on a part where the sea boasts clear views of nearby being surrounded by them. If you're not aware of the legends and creepy stories (us among them!) that made this island famous, you will come to marvel at the view from this dock. The colors of the water when the sun is high ranges from blue, blue-green, aquamarine, turquoise, emerald and jade green....simply AMAZING. Love this part! #elnido #matinloc

The multi-tone waters contrasted beautifully against the black granite stone cliffs at the dock of Matinloc and the lush green of the nearby islands scattered around Bacuit Bay and Tapiutan Strait. Like a postcard hanging on a wall, this place is picture perfect...better take that selfies, group pics, jump shots or scripted shots you have in mind. #elnido #matinloc an integral part of the trip, can be enjoyed anywhere in El Nido. This was the end of Tour C, next on our itinerary was Tour A. My assessment? At the end of the day, you'll have sleepy eyes, tired muscles but a happy heart. Rest well for the night for the morrow comes another adventure! #elnido #sunsetinelnido

Visit my other posts on the wonders of El Nido:
A Piece of Heaven on Earth called El Nido: My Best Shots
A Piece of Heaven on Earth called El Nido: Getting There and Other Things
Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 1: From Helicopter to Snake with a Star in Between

Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 1: From Helicopter to Snake with a Star in Between

My friends and I decided to take Tour A and C for our 2013 El Nido Adventure. Gees, we should have planned for a longer stay to cover all the islands, but I guess we can always come back next summer. If you have all that stored up energy for an adventure packed escapade, then a week here is not enough. This place, with its rocky cliffs and hidden lagoons, is not really for the beach bums and those looking for a sleepy relaxing cruise. The islands are beckoning every traveller to explore its every nook and cranny sometimes requiring strong arms and a good swim to reach its hidden pride.
The tour starts early at 7 am. If you plan for your lunch, don't forget to drop by at the local market to buy some fresh catch. Take off points would either be right there at the beach front or through the back door (the beach at the opposite side of town near Corong-Corong. #elnido #elnidosunrise

Our first stop is Helicopter Island. From afar it looked like a helicopter with a bulbous head and a long tail. Well, my friend actually saw the head of Homer Simpson, maybe from a different angle. Its the first island you'll ever see whether you take Tours A or C...oooh! that rhymed, ha! #elnido #helicopter

Helicopter Island has a nice long beach with powdery, light, tan sands. If the waters of Bohol are emerald green, the waters in El Nido are a gleaming jade. #elnido #helicopterisland

The expanse of powdery tan sands in the long beach of Helicopter Island is a good place to play games in. You can go snorkelling in the waters too. #elnido #helicopterisland

The far end of the island is a bit rocky, can be explored but beware of the waves. It can go wild sometimes. Better stay on the sandy part where the waves are still at the category of fun. #elnido #helicopterisland

We had one other island before we proceeded to Star Beach for our sumptuous, castaway lunch. I'll reserve the other island in my next post so I'll just go directly to Star Beach in the Island of Tapiutan at the Northeastern cluster of islands in El Nido. #elnido #starbeach

Now, Star Beach is situated in an enclave of two islands, the other one being very, very small which appeared like you are passing through a canal. The beach also offers lush vegetation, which includes shady trees....good for that castaway lunch under the shade. #elnido #starbeach

Star beach has a relatively small-sized stretch of sand, just good enough for a boat or two. You can almost have the beach by yourselves sometimes, cooking your food and enjoying lunch. The beach has that nice and easy combination of sand, water, vegetation and rocky towering cliffs.....very El Nido #elnido #starbeach

I'll skip further towards the last destination for the day: Snake Island. Actually, this was part of another cluster of islands down south of El Nido. We paid extra just to see the snake, with it's long winding sandbar extending towards another can walk along it's line, looking like a bridge or a dam.  #snakeisland #elnido

There's a view deck that requires a little hike...just a minute or so, no big deal! From the view deck, you'll have a perfect view of the winding sand bar. You can also look at the other side of the island and see the towering islands of Malapacao, Lagen and Cabugnon and the beautiful blue-green sea. #elnido #snakeisland

It looked like a nice walk from here to there, maybe early when sun is up. Even at sunset you can see the depths of the waters around Snake Island by the different colors that it reflect, from deep blue to jade green. Another perfect Island for a dip, a swim and a photo...#elnido #snakeisland

That's me in the left photo, soaking up the sun at Helicopter island. That's my friends and our boat at the right at Snake Island at around sunset. The dog is among the guardians of the snake! nah! they live there, maybe owned by the island caretaker. #elnido #snakeisland

Now these islands are just a start. Check out the other islands in...

A Piece of Heaven on Earth Called El Nido: Getting There and Other Things

Going to El Nido has become easier through the years. With more flights going to Palawan, roads going up north from Puerto Princesa paved and maintained, tourism strengthened and coordinated with the tour operators, transport providers and hotels and resorts, more and more resorts and even small lodgings now offer bookings over the net....well, there's no reason not to go to El Nido anymore. Everyone should take time out to come here. For the unseasoned traveller, here's some things to keep in mind in planning your dream vacation to El Nido...

A wonderful mauve sunset, boats on the water for a night's rest. #pink sunset #sunsetinelnido

Well, planning for a sea adventure for El Nido requires that you check the weather. It should be on top of everyone's list. Schedule the trip when its Amihan time.  That's when the wind a.k.a. stormy winds come from the eastern board of the country, leaving the west storm-free...well, most of the time. Also, consider the number of people trooping to El Nido each season. Summer is still best but it’s also the time when most travellers head out to the beach. We went this February, not too windy, not scorchingly hot, still a lot of travellers around but not that asphyxiatingly crowded. Well, 'twas a great time for a boat adventure....#elnido #sunsetinelnido
El Nido can be reached directly by air via SEA Air and Zest Air if you don’t mind the hefty price.  You can also book your flights to Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, which was what we did. Vans are available at the airport for P600 per pax for a 6-hour ride. Nice, air-conditioned buses are also now available at the San Jose Terminal, cheaper at around P400 but for an 8-hour ride.  Bus trips are scheduled at 5 am, 7 am and 9 am. We didn’t try the bus so better check other sources for the cost and time of departure. Vans can be arranged where you booked your lodgings. One cannot estimate how much people are going to El Nido at a particular time. It was February, months away from summer yet almost all lodgings were full. Better arrange for sure transport and lodgings than be sorry.  If you skip this part, well, there’s always the 6-hour van ride back to Puerto Princesa…no problem, right? #elnido

Don't worry about food along the way, the vans and buses has their designated 'lunch' stopovers. They were clean, not cheap but still affordable.

After a 6-hour ride, you'll see this sign, now time to wake up and open your groggy eyes for your first sight of El Nido.

Settle in first in your lodgings, assuming you had followed my advice on booking ahead. The town of El Nido has a crowded line-up of resorts, lodgings, accommodations of all sizes, price range and stars. Whatever suits you, whether your fancy or your wallet...just have patience and you'll find it on the net. Look for lodgings near the beachfront, though most of the time they are the most expensive.  There are some accommodations still available farther in town, but if you ask me, it doesn't matter if you are willing to pay a small price for trykes (which are everywhere!) and a few minutes (3-10 min at most) before you get to the beach. I said it doesn't matter because the beach you see is not the prize...its the appetizer! you still need to hire a boat to get to the islands #elnido

When you get to El Nido, it will be easy to find a tour operator. Your hotel might have their own “suki” so try asking them first. You also need to buy lunch at the local market and your boatman and guide can help you cook it for a satisfying grilled-over-the-rocks island meal. The tours are arranged based on the clusters of islands for easy navigating.  Here’s a rough sample of their tours:

Tour A: Simizu Island, Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Seven Commando
Tour B: Pangalusian Island, Snake Island, Cadugnon Cave, Pinagbuyutan island, Cathedral Cove
Tour C: Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Tapuitan Strait
Tour D: Cadlao Lagoon, Helicopter Island, Paradise Beach, Natnat Beach, Bucal Island

Now food, let's talk about food. there's a lot of restaurants and eateries in town. You won't get hungry. There are also bars that are open up to midnight. Now what is most interesting is the food you'll take to the islands!

If the tour operator includes food in his price and if that suits you, then no problem at all!. The boatman will prepare the food for you, grilled or packed lunch.

We kinda' liked a castaway sumptuous lunch so we bought our own fish, salted eggs and eggplant for grilling. If you're like us, you can drop by at the local market to buy fresh fish and vegetables for grilling! The tour operator was kind enough to shoulder the cooked rice, so we just went hunting for big fish for the market, not the open seas! 

Gear? Well, you better come prepared! Depends on your chosen adventure, your gear should suit you. Protection? Mosquito-repellent is a must! Some parts of the islands have been reported to have malaria-infested mosquitoes; sunscreen, the higher the UV protection the better (cannot get enough of this!), remember, you’re gonna go island hopping and not all islands have coconut trees for shade and sleeping; water gear: better check-in those fins and life vest (though all boats are required to have them on-board), snorkelling and scuba diving gear if you plan to dive (though these can be rented in town).

Now you're all set: hotel (check!), tour (check!), food (check!), gear (check!)….now what else? Hmmm….guess we have ‘em all. Now all we need to do is relax on the beach, wait for that glorious sunset, have dinner, head home to your lodgings, rest and wait for the excitement on the morrow…
Ready to see the islands? Browse through my next posts
Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 1: From Helicopter to Snake with a Star in Between
Images of El Nido, The Island Series Part 2: Matinloc Shrine with a Hidden (Lagoon) and a Secret (Beach)

Now check my other post:
A Piece of Heaven on Earth called El Nido: My Best Shots

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