|Not such a Superferry.|
Obviously we chose option two. If you do, make sure your passports are somewhere waterproof and consider wearing your raincoat. On the way, we saw a breached passenger ferry - oops?
The beach in El Nido is crowded with guesthouses and battered day and night by the ferocious waves that roar in from the South China Sea. The town itself is basically a long strip with a small cross-street, full of guesthouses and restaurants, set at the mouth of a bowl-shaped bay.
All of the tour operators in town sell the same beach-hopping/snorkeling packages for the same prices - basically, you are loaded into a pump boat with some other tourists and shown the sights of an area in the Bacuit Archipelago, the marine park surrounding El Nido. We took tour ‘C,’ which takes you to some of the sites farther from town, the day after we arrived, and we took tour ‘A’ a few days later, which hits some of the lagoons and beaches closer in.
This whole area is stunning: limestone karst islands jutting up from impossibly clear water, white sandy beaches littered with coral (ouch), and lots and lots of marine life. This is now a protected area, so there’s no longer the cyanide fishing or dynamite fishing that blights the seascapes of many other regions of the Philippines. The snorkeling we did here was the best I’ve ever seen.
Highlights on our tours were:
The ‘Secret Beach’ featured on the C tour. Here, the boat stops alongside a cliff, in water that is roughly seven metres deep and full of beautifully coloured fish and bright corals. The water is absolutely clear - like being in a massive fishbowl.
|The entrance to Secret Beach|
From here, we swam through a small opening in the cliffside (below the water, it looks like a purpose built laneway, while above it’s barely more than a crack) into a hidden lagoon where the corals look like crimson brains, and the shallow water is calm and serene. We sat on this beach for a half hour before leaving to play in the fishbowl a while longer.
On the ‘A’ tour, both the Big and Small lagoons were gorgeous - deep green water with big limestone walls and stubborn trees at the tops. The boats go right into the Big Lagoon, where we snorkeled despite some pesky little jellyfish. The Small Lagoon is another swim-through. Both delightfully calm after an afternoon on the waves.
For a break from the crowds, we also spent a day in a two-person kayak. We didn’t go very far, but fortunately just around the headland from El Nido’s bay is a string of gorgeous beaches, all of which are untouristed apart from the famous “Seven Commandos Beach” that all of the ‘A’ tours visit. We spent our day paddling from beach to beach, snorkeling where the water was clear. Slipping along the shoreline away from the noise of the boat motors, we could hear the waves break on the cliffs, the hiss as the water tried to escape from the holes in the limestone.
Late in the afternoon, we could see storm clouds rolling over the islands, obscuring them one by one. We took shelter on an empty beach and huddled under a rock overhang as the rain pounded the beach. I fell asleep with my head on my knees, while watching the little ghost crabs scuttle over the tide line again and again, searching for tasty treats in the sand.