El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Thought I would post some pictures from a family vacation we took in January to hopefully help other families that might be traveling to the area with kids.  The trip came about because of a family reunion (for my mom's side of the family) to be held in the Philippines.  My husband and girls had never been and I hadn't been back for 15 years.  So we knew we should take the opportunity to go since it would only get harder to pull the kids out of school as they got older.  Since we were flying so far (24-hours door-to-door!!!) we knew we wanted to maximize our trip by exploring some of the Philippines' more touristy island destinations in addition to visiting family near Manila.  After some research into Boracay and Palawan, we decided that El Nido, Palawan would be the best fit for us as a family.

We reserved our flights to El Nido through the travel center at the El Nido Boutique and Art Café.  That's right, we couldn't t even book tickets online!  We had to email the Art Café to arrange flights.  That made me a bit nervous - because hello?!  2016!!!  But once we got to the private airline terminal I could see this wasn't some shady operation.  The airline, AirSWIFT, is owned by the company that runs the El Nido Resorts, so the service at the terminal was top notch!  Upon arriving, they seat your party in a private sections and there is a complimentary buffet and coffee/juice available for all guests waiting for flights.

They even had a kids section with toys and books.  These two definitely approved.

The flight was only about an hour, but it was bumpy landing.  If you get motion sick, I would definitely recommend taking some medicine because I heard a few people behind me puking on their way to paradise!

The plane was small, but the not the smallest we've ever been on.  Two seats on each side of the aisle.  So the hubby and I each took a child.  Luckily I picked this one!!!  She rarely gets motion sick and was so busy playing on her tablet she couldn't even be bothered to look out the window!  Iz on the other hand gets motion sick very easily so it was a blessing that she fell asleep a few minutes into the flight and was sound asleep during the landing.

The airport is tiny and just what you imagine a small island airport to be.  Thatched roofs and even some local livestock as a welcoming party.  Not something we'd ever see at LAX!

When planning this trip, we scoured the internet trying to find the best hotel in our budget.  We looked into the El Nido Resorts and they were beautiful, but they were also super pricey and booked solid!  I stumbled upon a blog post about a new resort that was just a year old called the Mahogany Beach Resort and checked to see if they availability.  Lucky for us they did.  The place was perfect. Quiet, right on the beach and super private.  It is located on Corong-Corong beach, just a five minute tricycle ride into El Nido town.  As soon as we checked in the girls wanted to check out the beach and the pool...

And who could blame them?!  It was gorgeous.  And while strolling the beach, they found some discarded coconut husks.  Seriously.  If there was any doubt these were my children, this picture alone should suffice as proof they carry my genes and my humor.

We walked down the beach to a nearby restaurant and enjoyed this beautiful sunset on our first night in paradise.

Here are some better shots of the resort the next morning...
View into the resort from the beach entrance

There are seven bungalows on the property all surrounding the pool and gazebo common area

Aside from the main pool, these private dipping pools were the girls favorite part of the resort

The french press coffee served on our terrace each morning was my husband's favorite :)

I can't say enough good things about this hotel.  It really was quite a bargain and the service was top notch.  You can see my full review of the hotel on TripAdvisor.

Now one of the main reasons for picking El Nido was for the island hopping boat tours.  My husband loves the water, his family has been boating for generations and it's just in his blood.  Me?  Not so much.  I get sea sick, I'm a terrible swimmer and I'm what my husband would describe as an "indoor gal."  It's so true.  But I love the beach, I love the sun and I love new adventures with my family.  I had never snorkeled in my life until I was 25 on a vacation with my husband's family in the Caribbean.  It was terrifying and amazing at the same time.  The beauty of all the colorful life below the water's surface showed me how much I had been missing by staying above water all these years.  But still to this day, every time we snorkel I have a brief moment of terror before ducking my head underwater and taking my first breaths.  In the end I'm always happy I did it.  --  Ok, I went off on tangent there didn't I?!  Ha!

Back to my point.  We chose El Nido for the boat tours.  There are four main tours where they take you to different lagoons, beaches and snorkeling spots only accessible by boat.  Since we had a lot of people in our party, we were able to directly hire a boat for just our group and it came to the beach right in front of our hotel to pick us up and drop us off.  First we did Tour A which took us to the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon and Secret Lagoon on Miniloc Island, lunch on Simizu Island and ending on Seven Commandos Beach.  I didn't bring my big SLR with me and I didn't really take many pictures during the boat tours because I wanted to be present and enjoy the day with the kids not through the lens.  Part of me regrets not having captured how beautiful this place really was with my SLR though!  I did bring my phone and waterproof cover so these pictures will have to do!
Secret Lagoon all to ourselves

We rented a kayak to explore the Big Lagoon.  The boats couldn't come in because of the low tide and the lagoon is too large to swim and explore.  The kayak was a perfect way to see the whole lagoon.

Av found her happy spot on Seven Commandos Beach :)

Looking for our boat to head back

All smiles after a long day out

Needless to say they feel asleep pretty early that night after all that swimming!

For any families looking to do boat tours with kids, make sure to plan ahead!  I had emailed our hotel a month prior to ask them if the boat operators had child-size life vests or snorkel masks and they said no.  So we brought the kids' life vests and snorkels with us from home.  So happy we did that.  Gave me peace of mind to know they were safe and the kids felt comfortable going snorkeling.

The second tour we did was Tour C, which took us to Secret Beach on Matinloc Island, snorkeling near Matinoc Shrine, lunch on Hidden Beach and ending on Helicopter Island.
My monkey of a husband.  The girls' love of climbing definitely comes from him!

My little adventurers

No big deal.  Just my then 4-year old snorkeling on her own in the ocean!

The girls made friends with some locals on Helicopter Island while mom and dad went snorkeling off the beach :)

We also did a day trip to Nacpan Beach.  It was beautiful!  It was a 40-minute van ride from the hotel and we got there early enough that it was pretty empty when we arrived.  I think most people take a tricycle or rent motorbikes to get to Nacpan, but I would definitely recommend renting a van.  There are lots of dirt roads and I can't even imagine having to go there on a motorbike.  This is also the beach I was eaten alive by sand fleas, or what they call nik-niks in the Philippines.  I didn't notice until after lunch that I had these tiny little black spots on my arm.  I thought it was sand or something, but when I wiped them away, I saw blood on my hands.  Only then did I realize it was tiny little bugs!  Ahhh, bugs!!!  Why do they love to bite me?!?!  I had sprayed my legs and arms with Off, but didn't think to spray my back.  OH-EM-GEEEEE my back.  I got so many bites.  And they didn't really start itching until that night.  I'm serious.  It was awful.  I think I had over 50 bites just on my back alone!  So advice to you all if you're going to Nacpan, don't forget the bug spray!  And spray it everywhere.  Everywhere!

We hiked up the hill connecting the two bays

Nacpan, you're stunning, but you made me very very itchy!

This is also the beach where I decided to order a pineapple smoothie at lunch and paid for it dearly that evening.  We had all been drinking bottled water, but for some reason I didn't think ice in a smoothie would be a problem.  Stupid.  We ordered smoothies for the kids too, but thank goodness they didn't really drink more than a sip so they were ok!  I, on the other hand, was itchy, puking and had the runs.  Yes, I know that paints a lovely picture.  But I'm keeping it real.  Don't be like me.  Stay away from any water that isn't bottled, including ice!  Also to note for Nacpan, there is an outhouse/bathroom, but no toilet paper (as with most locations in the Philippines) so always bring a roll with you on excursions!

For the thrill seekers, there is a zip line in El Nido on Las Cabanas beach.  The hubby took Av and they went tandem, while Iz and I stayed down on the beach to watch.  Av loved it so much, she asked to go back two days later.  And for 20 bucks, why not?!
The zip line travels over the water to the island on the left

Waiting for big sister to fly across

First zipline for Av

High above the water halfway through the zipline

The beach at Las Cabanas was beautiful too
We took a trike back to our hotel...
Better than walking back!

We went into El Nido town for dinner one evening and really that was all the time we needed to see the place.
We all squeezed into a tricycle, with John riding side saddle behind the driver!

El Nido town

El Nido Bay where most of the boats dock

We really loved our stay on Palawan.  We stayed for six nights and it was plenty of time to relax and explore.  Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the airport and to fly back to Manila for some more visits with extended family.

The Departure gate!

Walking to our plane

Bye-bye Palawan! We loved your white sand beaches and crystal clear water.  But I won't miss the nik-nik's, puke and diarrhea!

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