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Updated: Jan 9

Fear is one of the biggest factors to missing out on experiencing life's fullest potential.

A lot of people started discouraging me when I mentioned that the Philippines was my next stop.

"It's not safe."

"You're gonna get kidnapped."

"You can't go there!"

It's true. When I tried to research more and read about safety in the Philippines online, that's exactly what I came across too.

But if you strictly go by what you see online and what you hear, and you let that stop you, then you are the one missing out on more than you can imagine.

I personally felt like I would not be disappointed, as I have never met one Filipino I didn't like. Surely enough, everyone I met on my trip was just as friendly, happy and nice.

How did I end up in the Philippines, you ask?

A girl that I had met in real life through mutual friends, told me, "Come meet me in the Philippines, I'll show you my country." This is an invite she generally gives to her friends and coworkers. When I accepted her invite, and told her I was coming, she was shocked, as this was the first time anyone she had invited was serious about taking the trip over. How could I not seize the opportunity? Who knew when it would come again? The best way to see a place is with the locals. That is where our friendship began.

The first time someone had invited me to the Philippines was for a celebrity wedding and as I couldn't make it at that time, I was quite disappointed I hadn't gone, but did not want to miss the occasion once again. I did all I could to make it the second time, even if my time was tight and I only had a week to spare.

I traveled to Manila, via Japan. I arrived quite late at night. She came to pick me up and introduced me to her sister. Her friend book us a night at the Sheraton, by the airport, as we had an early morning flight to the islands.

Though we wanted to go to El Nido, we flew to Puerto Princesa with Cebu Pacific, as it is the budget-friendly alternative.

We spent 1 night in Puerto Princesa at Canvas Boutique Hotel.

On the first day, we spent time at the SM City Mall and went to get a massage, which only cost us $10 before tips. The one shop that stood out for me most was Kultura, a sustainable shop that supports local artistry and craftsmanship.

We then went to Nagtabon Beach for sunset. I especially loved that it only had locals. We played cards with them and enjoyed the peaceful escape.

We had a seafood feast for dinner at Badjao Seafront Restaurant. I would recommend visiting for lunch to enjoy the view more, as the floating restaurant is built in a mangrove. The entrance to the restaurant is quite nice, as you walk down a narrow wooden path surrounded by tall mangroves.

We booked a night tour to go firefly watching at the mangrove. This tour was quite fascinating. We took a boat down the river in pitch darkness, where we saw fireflies glowing in the dark, illuminating the trees. We also got to see the bioluminescent phytoplankton.

The next morning, we crossed the street and checked out the souvenirs at MCA Market Mall Pasalubong Center. Sam, our local guide and the Tuk-tuk driver we met on the first day, took us to his family's village and home in the municipality of Roxas, approximately 2 hours away from Puerto Princesa, by car.

The unexpected tour turned out to be one of my favourite experiences. We spent time playing with the local kids, and I even learned how to ride a motorcycle. We rode the water buffalos (locals call it carabao) in the rice fields.

From Puerto Princesa, you can go to Balabac, which is considered as the "Maldives of the Philippines." However, for us, our next stop in Palawan was El Nido. We booked a shared van transfer from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. It took us about 5 hours to reach. We spent 3 nights/4 days in El Nido.

The purpose of our trip to El Nido was to go island hopping. El Nido is a popular tourist destination, offering breathtaking landscapes, crystal-clear lagoons, beautiful beaches, caves, limestone cliffs and more.

Most tours in El Nido offer the same type of excursion, with stops at different islands throughout the day with a licensed tour guide. You can choose between 4 options for the tours; A, B, C or D. We booked 3 out of 4 tours (A, B, C) with SeaTours Palawan. In addition to the tour costs, there is an environmental fee that each person must pay. The cost at the time of our visit was 200 PHP (approximately $4.80 CAD).

Here's what to expect from the different tours:

Tour A - Lagoon Galore

Tour A is usually among one of the most popular, thus you can expect a bigger crowd of tourists. Most people book this tour for the lagoon, one of the highlights of El Nido.

Stops on this tour includes Corong Corong Beach, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and the Seven Commandos Beach.

When you get to the Big Lagoon, you have the option to go kayaking for an additional cost. We went kayaking in the lagoon with a guide and had a wonderful experience, as they took us around the lagoon, to places inaccessible by the larger boat. In my opinion, it's also the best way to fully experience the lagoon. We stopped for a picnic-style lunch at Shimizu Island before cooling off with one last swim at Seven Commandos Beach.

Tour B - A Hole New Whole

This tour is ideal if you prefer to go off-the-beaten path and beat the crowds.

On this tour, you can expect to visit some of the most pristine beaches, at Entalula Island, Popolkan Island, Snake Island and Pinabuyutan Island. The tour will also give you the chance to explore some caves, such as Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave.

I enjoyed our first stop, as we were treated to a beautiful view of the crystal-clear waters and white sand. There is a big rock near the beach which also makes for the perfect photo-op. I also quite enjoyed our lunch stop at the sandbar, on Snake Island. When the tide is low, you can get the chance to see the sandbar shaped as a snake. This island also had a nice trail. After lunch, we went for a walk and got to enjoy the view from the top.

Tour C - Beach, Please!

As you might have guessed, you can expect to visit some more beaches on this tour. However, other stops on the way also include the Matinloc Shrine. I did not visit the shrine, thus I can't comment on whether I liked it or not, but I did enjoy the beaches.

I found it particularly hard to get to the Hidden Beach and the Secret Beach, since the boats park a little further away. From afar, you can't see the beach. Instead, you will get a view of the limestone rocks only. You need to climb over the rocks in the water. It can be slippery and water shoes are strongly recommended.

As for the Secret Beach, I had to swim through a very narrow path between the rocks to get in, but once through, the view made the struggles worth it. You can expect to see a lot of marine life on this tour, if you decide to opt-in for snorkeling.

Stops on this tour includes Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Tapiutan Beach, Helicopter Island and Matinloc Shrine.

Tour D - Below the Surface

This tour is perfect for you if you love snorkeling. This tour tends to be less-popular as well, thus you can get the lagoons to yourself and feel at peace. Stops on this tour include Small Lagoon, Cadlao Island, Pasandigan Beach, Nat Nat Beach, Paradise Beach and Bukal Island.

I did not have enough time to try this tour out, but if I ever go back to El Nido, I would love to experience it. From El Nido, you have the option to take a ferry to Coron if time permits. As I had to fly back, I was not able to do so, but would love to check it out next time.

We used the remainder of our time in El Nido to explore its many beaches, small shops and the beach town.

Some of the beaches we went to included Duli Beach, Lio Beach, Nacpan Beach, Las Cabanas Beach and Marimegmeg Beach.

I am glad I took the long trip over despite being pressed on time, as it was worth it and an unforgettable experience. I am already counting down to my next visit and to all the beautiful islands I want to explore!

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