Ok, if you are going to the Philippines, you probably already know that El Nido and its surrounds are at the top of everyone’s list (including Conde Nast’s 20 Best Beaches of 2017). There’s good reason: the islands and beaches are incredible and most certainly rival places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The interesting thing to me about El Nido is that until 10 years ago there was very little to know tourism in the area. That means you are less likely to find The Beach as it is in Koh Phi Phi and more likely to find The Beach as it was described in the beach. Not only are the resources are less damaged by the constant stomping of decades of tourists’ feet but among the expats and locals that run business catering to travelers, sustainable tourism is the way forward. With this attitude, the natural beauty of El Nido and the surrounding islands may be preserved for lucky visitors for years.
I am focusing on Corong Corong Beach because this was our base camp and we never needed to venture into El Nido town as we were only around for a couple of days before heading out to sea.
As long as you are able bodied and ready to climb a few stairs, you must book a few nights at The Birdhouse El Nido. What an absolutely spectacular concept and space. When newlyweds, Mark and Camillie Villaflor, came to the Philippines during their 16-month honeymoon around the world they decided to purchase a piece of land in the hills above Maremegmeg Beach. With an unstoppable vision and some strong workers, the couple built an eco-hotel that consists of a restaurant and five platforms kitted out with luxury bell tents. Bring your bug spray and your stair climbing legs and prepare yourself for unbeatable views of Bacuit Bay.
SEE & DO
Although there are worst ways to pass a day than spending the day lazing on Maremegmeg Beach, for those looking for a serious workout, rent kayaks from the beach bar and paddle over to Papaya Beach. Papaya Beach looks like the beach one only dreams about – powdery white sand and azure blue water. Shady palm trees provide shade to a little coconut stall below sheer limestone cliffs. If you still have energy, keep paddling to Seven Commandos beach where you can get a bite to eat.
Back on dry land, it’s hard to miss the tiny specks flying through the air attached to a cable suspended above The Birdhouse. It’s not a bird or a plane, that’s a tourist strapped in a harness on flying down the 750-meter long zip line to a small island offshore. Make sure you really want to do it because the only way back is on the zipline!
Everyone goes island hopping in El Nido. Rather than selecting Tour A, B, or C, we took island hopping to next level abroad Serenite. Booking a skippered sailboat through Airbnb allowed us to see incredible places with no one else around, frolic on private beaches and dive with no one but the fishes. I highly recommend it!
EAT & DRINK
As I said, we weren’t in Corong Corong long, but we did eat at Maremegmeg Beach Bar more than once. It’s the perfect stopping point for a drink or a snack on your way back up the stairway to the sky. We also enjoyed the atmosphere at La Plage, a French place with yummy cocktails, a great view and a plunge pool to boot. Whether you are staying at the Birdhouse or not, their name sake restauant set among the “nests” and the canopy is worth a visit. Everything is locally grown and totally sustainable.