El Nido – Diving !

Day 50, Wednesday 15 Feb, El Nidoc- Diving !

After the island hopping tours, diving is the number one activity in El Nido. With numerous limestone islands and white sand beaches scattered around the bay there are a vast number of wall, reef and beach dives to be done – and are a number of companies willing to take your money and get you diving. For no specific reason I chose Palawan Divers.

I overslept a little, so up at 7.30 and no breakfast after yesterdays near debacle, grabbed a bottle of water on the way out the door as a bit dehydrated from last night, though not feeling hungover. I got to the dive shop on time for 8 and hung round for thirty pointless minutes before gathering that they had not written my booking up on the board. Luckily there was only a couple of people going today, or I would have been left dry and  furious !

Fortunately that was the only dodgy part to the day and the rest of the organisation and dive management practises were good, and the dive masters were fun too. We had three dives scheduled for the day at three different sites, but for good reason we only ended up diving in two of those places.

The first dive was at a place called Populcan forest , as you can see from the location photo it is right near a vertical cliff face, so it was a boat entry. In Borneo we dived off proper dive boats, but here we were diving off the traditional bangka outrigger, which introduced a new set of challenges as they are quite narrow – and there is a lot of gear !

Once in the water we dropped down the wall to the bottom at around 20 metres, slightly deeper than my licence “allowed”, but the sea doesn’t always obey PADI rules! The forest is a reef dive through some interesting coral, the visibility was OK, a lot of plankton in the water – which proved to be an awesome thing ! There was a reasonable amount of sea life, not a huge amount and the coral was Ok.

I was thinking that this was no where near as good as the diving we did in Borneo when AJ our lead dive master started banging on his tank with a metal rod (used for pointing out things of interest) I was right behind him and looked to where he was pointing and approaching us in the gloom was a massive whale shark !! I don’t think awesome can describe how exciting this was – fortunately I knew whale sharks are very safe only eating plankton. The shark passed about 7-8 metres from us and we followed it for as long as we could keep up. It was a real wow moment – and another trip highlight.

The whale sharks can grow up to 20 metres long, so this one, at around 5 metres was a juvenile. They are common in Feb / March in some locations in the Philippines but apparently quite rare in El Nido waters, AJ has logged over 1000 dives here and has never seen one, so we were all extraordinary lucky – and got some major cudos back in the shop at the end of the day !

We carried on with our dive and were heading back to the boat when I spotted the shark coming back our way, I grabbed AJ’s flipper and we all stopped and watched it pass by again. After a few under water hi-fives we surfaced to much excitement and got back on the boat for a very animated hour between dives

The crew proposed we flag dive site two and do the second dive here, but dive the wall rather than the forest, with the hope of seeing the whale shark again, us customers were very happy with this option. After an hours break we donned gear and dived the wall, staying around 10-15 metres where we saw the shark the last time. Alas, though it was a great dive we did not see the shark again.

We motored over to Dilumucad Island (well the dive was called that, no idea what the island was called, assuming the same !) and had a nice lunch on the white sand beach. The sun was so bright I could not see the screen on the back of the camera so missing the front of the boat – I should have brought the GF1 with the view finder! But you get the picture – its pretty nice here !

The dive site was at the end of this point, yeah I know – doing it tough 🙂

After the required number of hours break (and no – I didn’t work it out myself – fun dives with professional dive masters – are supposed to be fun!) we dived a sloping reef. This was definitely the best dive site of the day, some great coral and lots and lots of small fish life, tropical fish tank stuff, but lots of it and all around you !  We had quite a bit of sun on this dive so visibility was very good –  and I found a decent size turtle, which we followed for a while.

I think of all the dives I have done I was the best in the water on this dive, my buoyancy was about right for the whole dive – this is quite hard to achieve !!! I also used very little air as well, which meant I moved efficiently in the water, so very pleased. It is so much easier underwater when you have the basics right!

El  Nido from the sea

After the dives it was back to the shop to do log books (great thing with tour dives is they clean the gear !) and then to the hostel for beer, dinner and an early night.

Another good day !

El Nido – tour B

Day 49, Tuesday 14 Feb (Valentines day !), El Nido

Once the racket from the restaurant stopped and the Russians stopped screaming at each in the street I actually got some good sleep- untill the power went off at 6 AM and the room started to heat up. I got out of bed and got myself organised for my island hopping and snorkelling tour which left the guesthouse at 9.00. I got to the cafe at 8 and ordered breakfast, waited, waited, got my coffee, waited waited, got my shake, went and did a couple of chores, at 8.55 my omelette arrived, at 8.56 the tour people arrived… gulped breakfast, which was quite nice and ran out the door.

The main tourism activity in El Nido is island tours, there are four tours to do, imaginatively named A, B, C and D, with multiple operators doing each tour, the Palawan government has fixed the cost of the tours so no real need to shop around.  I chose tour B as it was supposed to have some good snorkelling, though I suspect  they all do…

We left on the Bangka at 9.00, myself a young couple from Melbourne, an older Italian guy with his Philippine GF and four Norwegians. I pretty much hung with the Norwegians all day, but chatted to the Aussies over lunch – they had similar music taste to me! Alex the Norwegian was as keen on doing as much snorkelling as possible, which suited me as that was why I was there.

The first stop was on an island that I cannot remember its name, the snorkelling was great ! I took the small camera so I could use it underwater, it is rated to 3 metres and managed to survive the day OK. I was actually reasonably happy with some of the shots, though it is quite hard to take photos while underwater and holding your breath – and the damn fish don’t stay still ! some of the coral was pretty cool too !

From there we went to Snake Island, and walked up a small hill to look down on the sand bar – supposed to look like a snake, the water was so clear here, but unable to swim due to jellyfish.


Next stop was Cudugnan Cave, the cave was cool, but nothing compared to some of the caves I have seen ! 

We had a snorkel here as well, I used flippers to get some depth and didn’t take the camera, a very good reef here, so enjoyable snorkel. 

I meant to pack a t-shirt to swim in this morning, but totally forgot, so got quite burnt on this snorkel, Alex and I were out for quite a while.  A great lunch was served here and then on to Cathedral Cave. We were not allowed into the cave here unfortunately, but would have been an awesome place to snorkel. I really like the way the sea has eaten away at the limestone here, a lot of the small islets are like this, it is most extraordinary.

Finally we stopped at Pinabuyutan Island for more snorkelling for those of us who wanted to snorkel I cannot believe people didnt! I got a few reasonable shots here, and got Alex to grab a couple of me as well.

The Bangka got us back to the hostel for six PM, so a good long day and well worth the $40 or so it cost. The snorkelling was really good and a very promising sign for the diving tomorrow!

I had dinner with three of the people I met in Puerto Princessa, and then French Vanessa and I  went for a few drinks at the local music bar Balay tubay, where I drank too much considering I was diving in the morning ! But Vodka tonics did make the covers band sound so much better –  even that bloody awful Hotel California was survivable – and it is my most hated song.

El Nido

Day 48, Monday 13 Feb, Puerto Princesa to  el Nido

I am writing this post in the semi-dark, two days later in el Nido after a few vodka tonics in a local bar and a couple of beers with dinner, don’t expect Hemingway – I am not that drunk !, but short and possibly incoherent post.

Up early after a lousy sleep, the van to el Nido was supposed to arrive between 7 and 7.30 but was uber early at 6.45 and I was only gazing sadly into my coffee at that stage, so mad rush to get out the door.

Van ride was Ok, the road was not as bad as I expected for the first five hours and I had a wee bit of leg room, though I think our driver was trying to set a record for a van ride with 13 tourists, lets just say he drove like me and used all available road space! It did feel safe though.  We stopped a couple of times, the last stop was at Taytay, where we picked up a woman who squeezed in next to me and went to sleep on my shoulder. The concrete road ended here, the new roads in Palawan are made from foot thick concrete, as the tarseal just falls apart too quickly.

The van arrived in El Nido, in the north of Palawan just before 1 PM. My Finnish friend and I were immediately set upon my tricycle drivers and it took a while to extract ourselves from the melee and consult on trying to find accommodation. We took a tricycle out to where one of his countrymen was staying and they had one bed left which he took. I got the tricycle back to the centre of town, checked out a couple of places on the way and ended up getting a room for the night at the “Alternative” a guesthouse on the bay – and I mean ON, under the deck is THE bay. It was actually my original first choice, but it is more guesthouse than hostel – but it had a good bar and an excellent restaurant which was a plus, the minus was it was not a great backpacker hang out, so not many people to chat too.

El Nido is located on the Bacuit Bay and was initially made famous for its diving, and beauty, by Jacques Cousteau back in the 70’s. Scattered throughout the bay are numerous limestone islands. Tourism hasn’t really hit the town in a big ugly way yet, though tourism is its main money earner, so there is still a good feel and a rustic charm to the place – for instance there is no electricity in town from 6.00 am to 2.00pm !

I wandered around town for a bit and booked myself an island hopping/snorkelling tour for tomorrow and a dive trip on Wednesday. The view from my hostel deck.


They are filming the final in the “Bourne” series in El Nido, watch out for this boat in the movie…

Boat (bangka) building – Philippine style…

El NidoLots of pawn shops on Palawan, I did not see these in Malaysia. My hostel was just up the road.

Can you tell I used two cameras for these photos !

I had a very nice vegetarian meal and a couple of San Miguels and went to bed, where I listened to really, truely awful music from the restaurant until almost 1.00!