Philippines | Travel | Life | El Nido

Philippines: El Nido Arrival + Tour A

March 19, 2024 | 7 minutes

There's something about the anticipation of exploring new places that sets my heart racing. And amongst all the exciting experiences lined up for my trip to the Philippines, the island hopping tours in El Nido were what I looked forward to the most. I had spent hours watching YouTube videos, imagining myself amidst the stunning landscapes unique to this part of the world. But when the moment finally arrived, I made a conscious decision: to immerse myself fully in the experience, to live each moment rather than view it through a lens or screen. This decision meant that while I had initially planned to share my journey in real-time, laden with photos and videos, I chose to be present, to truly live the adventure with Mika, the special person I had traveled so far to meet.

Arriving in El Nido

After the excitement of Puerto Princesa, and long winding ride north, we landed in El Nido late in the afternoon, ready for the next chapter of our adventure. The Airbnb greeted us with a stunning beach view and a pool that seemed to invite relaxation. But first things first—food! Mika's choice? "McDo!" she exclaimed, eager for a taste of the Philippines' take on McDonald's.

The trike ride to McDonald's was an adventure in itself. El Nido's streets buzzed with these unique vehicles, a motorcycle with a creatively modified sidecar. Each one bore the emblems of different car brands, from Mazda to Mercedes, giving them a quirky touch that was distinctly El Nido.

Sitting on McDonald's second floor, we observed the hustle of trikes below while navigating a menu that blended the familiar with the local. Spaghetti with hot dog, fried chicken with gravy, and the intriguingly named BFF fries size—it was McDonald's like I'd never seen before. And then there was the soda adjustment—no Diet Coke, just Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, and the occasional Coke Light that seemed to be branded like Diet Coke but taste like Coke Zero.

Our evening continued with a stroll through the beachside shops, hand in hand, making our way to Maremegmeg Beach. Known also as Vanilla Beach or Las Cabañas Beach, it offered us a perfect spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink. The beach's soft sands and the soothing sounds of the waves were the ideal prelude to our upcoming island adventure.

As the day wound down, we hopped back on a trike to the Airbnb, hearts full of anticipation for the early morning island hopping tour that awaited us. Little did we know, the islands of El Nido were about to unveil their natural wonders to us, creating memories that would last a lifetime.

A Serene Start to a Day of Exploration

Our day began with an early start, a necessity to make the most of what lay ahead. After getting ready, Mika and I strolled along the beach, reveling in the morning quiet. The tide was out, leaving boats marooned on the sand, against a backdrop of limestone cliffs veiled in a morning haze. It was a scene of peaceful anticipation, a perfect start to our adventure.

Breakfast was a delightful affair at a hotel restaurant we stumbled upon during our walk. There's something about sharing a meal with someone special that makes even the simplest dishes memorable. Soon after, an ApeTours trike whisked us away to where our tour would commence.

Embarking on Tour A

Getting to our boat was an adventure in itself - a kayak ride across waters dotted with numerous vessels. Once aboard, we were briefed on our itinerary: Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and Seven Commando Beach. And then, there was the amusing episode with the life jackets - 'Filipino-sized,' as we joked, highlighting the warm, light-hearted moments that would define our day and a term that would come back often through the course of my entire stay in the Philippines.

Big Lagoon's Majestic Beauty

The Big Lagoon was nothing short of spectacular, starting with the unique approach to it. Kayaking our way in added an adventurous twist, allowing us to glide through the water at our own pace and really take in the surroundings. The entrance to the lagoon is like nature's grand gateway, with towering limestone cliffs on either side, making you feel like you're entering another world.

Once inside, the lagoon opens up, and you're greeted by tranquil waters that are a stunning shade of turquoise, so clear that you can see down to the underwater rock formations. The sheer size of the cliffs surrounding the lagoon is awe-inspiring, making you feel small in the best possible way. It's a place that makes you appreciate the power and beauty of nature.

The calm waters of the lagoon are perfect for kayaking, letting you explore every corner at your leisure. You can paddle close to the cliffs and see the intricate details of the rock formations or just float and take in the serene atmosphere. The sense of peace in the lagoon is palpable, with the only sounds being the gentle lap of the water against the kayak and the occasional call of wildlife.

It's a spot that invites you to slow down and savor the moment, whether you're an avid kayaker or just there to enjoy the scenery. The time with Mika, the laughter and shared wonder, was heightened by the absence of distractions, making it a truly intimate experience. The Big Lagoon is a natural masterpiece that showcases the stunning beauty of El Nido, making it a highlight of any island-hopping tour.

The Enigmatic Secret Lagoon

Our next destination, the Secret Lagoon, was a marvel hidden behind a crevice in the limestone cliffs. It felt like stepping into a secret world, an enclave of natural beauty untouched by time. The towering rocks around us, the serene water below - it was a moment of awe, a reminder of nature's grandeur.

Lunch and Discovery at Shimizu Island

Shimizu Island offered not just a feast for the senses but a literal feast, courtesy of our ApeTours crew. The spread was a testament to Filipino hospitality and culinary richness. Post-lunch, we ventured into the waters for some snorkeling. While Mika bravely tried to embrace the experience, her discomfort was a reminder of the newness of this world to her. For me, snorkeling was an introspective journey, a peaceful exploration of the vibrant life beneath the waves.

Enjoying Seven Commando Beach

Seven Commandos Beach was all about chilling out and soaking up the sun. It's the kind of beach you see in postcards – white sand, clear water, and palm trees. We didn't layout on the beach, but we did splash around in the water a lot. And yeah, I did play the rold of 'Instagram boyfriend' for a bit, snapping pics of Mika, but I can't complain. It was fun, trying to get those perfect shots with the beach vibes in the background. We also just hung out, talking and laughing, enjoying the fact that we were in this beautiful place together. It was a great spot to relax and conclude a day of hopping around islands, just cooling off in the water and watching the world go by.

Reflections on a Day Well-Spent

As we returned to El Nido, tired yet exhilarated, I couldn't help but reflect on the day. It was more than just an adventure; it was a shared journey, a series of moments that Mika and I have together. That evening, over a hearty meal at a local Filipino restaurant, we relished the day's experiences, our conversation filled with laughter and mutual understanding.

The next day promised a well-deserved rest and an opportunity to explore El Nido further. But for now, the memories of Tour A, of a day spent amidst nature's wonders with someone special, filled me with gratitude. It was a reminder that sometimes, the most profound connections are forged not through words, but through shared experiences in beautiful places.

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