El Nido, Palawan: Paradise Soon Gone?

wanderlass
wanderlass @wanderlassAugust 2019 · 9 min read
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Warning: This isn’t my usual all-happy travel blog and guide. It contains anecdotes of my unpleasant experience on an island I once called “Paradise”. Do not continue reading if you’re a sensitive Filipino who’s just all proud of our country (our beautiful islands and its inhabitants are not perfect), or if you are a tourist guilty of exploiting foreign places and have no regard to locals (which I bet is rare in this travel community).

My first time in El Nido was in 2012, I went back earlier this year to celebrate the New Year. Since 2012, a lot have changed and I did not even recognize the town. Hostels and Inns were in every corner. This must be a good sign for a place with developing tourism. But is it?

A typhoon has just left the area when we arrived and some streets were flooded. Flooding was previously uncommon but I suppose the sudden rise in infrastructure may have contributed.

El Nido Town with Limestone formations in the backdrop
El Nido Town with Limestone formations in the backdrop

Luckily, the flood subsided as soon as we arrived. However, ferries going to Coron were cancelled for the next days. That meant more stranded tourists in El Nido.

We arrived at night and went out to have our first cooked meal after 5 days in a detox retreat center. We felt deprived and didn’t stop there. We drank until, I can’t remember, must be until 4am. Drinking after a detox retreat wasn’t a good idea but we were on party island before the New Year. I just recall my friend dropping me by the hostel. I had to climb the 3rd deck of the bed. I tightly gripped on the rails thinking to myself it would be stupid if I fall on this due to being so drunk. I successfully got to the bed and fell asleep, face down with my small backpack still on me.

It has transformed into such a great party island. It reminded me a bit of Boracay before its rehabilitation. While it is indeed fun, is it really good for long-term? Imagine drunken people vomiting on the shore, trash everywhere. The good thing is that liquors are banned near the shore so you would not accidentally step on broken glass of beer.

No liquors near the shore. This could have been avoided if people were responsible enough not to leave their used bottles just anywhere.
No liquors near the shore. This could have been avoided if people were responsible enough not to leave their used bottles just anywhere.

Maremegmeg Beach and itchy waters

The following afternoon, we went out to the nearby beach called Maremegmeg. My friend went for a swim while another friend and I went for yoga. On a side note, I highly recommend trying out a yoga class at Birdhouse El Nido! I was in awe at every inhale and exhale as I look over the islets from the “birdhouse”.

Try the sunset yoga for amazing views
Try the sunset yoga for amazing views

While we had so much serene time at this place, we found our friend with inflamed and itchy skin. Our tour guide the following day said that it was just normal and those were sea insects that bit him. However, judging by the color of the water, it doesn’t look as crystal clear as it used to be. So was it really just a normal insect bite? It looked more an allergy from something unclean.

Maremegmeg Beach, El Nido
Maremegmeg Beach, El Nido

Surprise! More fees

Our New Year’s Eve was a blast. We had so much fun and we were partying on unknown streets with locals. We didn’t make it to those private events that sold tickets for the countdown. Nonetheless, we had a better experience than them. A lot of people were saying that they didn’t have fun in these closed events. It was a good idea that we just walked around and crashed a local family’s New Year’s party. I’m stating this to say that I still had a great experience despite what I will recount next…

The following day, we had our island hopping tour which was a combination of great and not-so-great experience. We arrived at the port area thinking everything has been settled and paid with the tour operator (my friends decided to book a private tour and I got in free!!). However, they were asking us for additional fees. This was okay but we weren’t informed of such fees (the same thing happened in other place like Port Barton). I think tourists will understand that they have to pay fees like environmental or entrance fees but it didn’t look good being asked for money at the boat, with no cashier or anything to account the payment for except for the receipt which we have no way to verify at that moment.

We had no issue with the amount, it wasn’t expensive but “surprise fees” don’t look good. We could have been oriented by the operator beforehand.

This was an embarrassing moment for me as a Filipino, and I was traveling with foreign friends. Dear fellow Filipinos, it does make us look like thieves with this kind of system (or lack of system). We later found that the fees were legit but how they ask for the payment looked suspicious. While I hate being discriminated for my race as I had people who previously judged me just because I’m Filipino, I can’t blame them because of these kinds of experience.

El Nido Port where you leave for island hopping
El Nido Port where you leave for island hopping

Diarrhea from the water?

Despite the experience on fees, we had a really fun day. The views still look spectacular with turquoise waters and limestone formations. It was more crowded, a lot more crowded, than it used to be.

The following day, two of us had a really bad case of diarrhea. All three of us were eating the same food and had the same activities except that I stayed separately at a hostel. The only thing that the two of us had in common was that we both accidentally drunk too much water while snorkeling as the waves were too strong. We also recalled how the underwater didn’t look good and the corals were dead due to pollution.

Don’t get me wrong, the island and the water still looked and felt amazing but the water wasn’t as clear and clean as it used to be.

Dying Corals?
Dying Corals?

Attracting the Wrong Visitors

I don’t mean to complain in this post. I always had only good words for El Nido and this is always the place I recommend to foreign friends. However, this clearly isn’t the case this 2019.

I also don’t have a problem with tourism or visitors in our country. I have traveled domestically throughout the years and met amazing visitors. However, El Nido seems to be attracting the wrong kind of tourists. Tourists that are slowly destroying the island. And maybe it also has to do with how local tour operators have allowed this to happen.

Crowd at Nacpan Beach, El Nido
Crowd at Nacpan Beach, El Nido

Aside from the influx of tourists, I also had a bad experience at the hostel where I stayed. I was in the Philippines and I was the only Filipino at the hostel which I don’t mind at all. I had the same experience at the yoga retreat centre where I was the only Filipino guest and it didn’t matter. However, something was really off in this youth hostel. The young foreign guests were either ignoring me whenever I’d say “Hi” or looking at me unpleasantly. I confirmed this while having breakfast the common dining area. All foreign guests from those, should I just say 1st worlds countries, were all together and I was ignored, same as the other Indian guy. The Indian guy and me, a Filipino girl, were on the other side of the table. There seems to be demarcation line saying we’re not welcome.

I don’t know what to think of that except that there seems to be a discrimination against us from developing countries. Worse is that I was discriminated in my own country.

This experience was only with the younger “entitled” travelers in that hostel, and I didn’t get the same treatment with others I met along the way. I was even traveling with people from the same countries as these discriminating hostel dwellers, but they didn’t treat me differently just because I’m a Filipino. I also met a lot of other amazing travelers throughout my Palawan trip.

Kayak traffic inside the Big Lagoon.Watch out when swimming so you dont get into a “kayak crash”
Kayak traffic inside the Big Lagoon.Watch out when swimming so you dont get into a “kayak crash”

The family that we crashed for the new year’s also told us a story how one of their family members, who was also a hostel staff, was attacked by one of their drunk guests (similar profile as the young entitled travelers I met). The foreign guest threw a beer bottle hitting the Filipina girl’s head for no reason! Sadly, they didn’t complain to the police and just let this entitled foreign visitor get away.

For a brief background, we still have this colonial mentality from being under foreign rule for hundreds of years in the past. A lot of people would say that Filipinos look up to foreigners because of this. That may be good in terms of advancement, however, some people just get taken advantage of because of this. If the locals tolerate this rude and disrespectful behaviors from visitors, then I can’t imagine what El Nido would become.

Toploading on a Jeepney. Friendly locals wave at us
Toploading on a Jeepney. Friendly locals wave at us

Some tour guides and locals seem to be covering up these incidents because they don’t want to be closed down like what the government did to Boracay. One of our tour guides is against it because there were rumors that some parts of El Nido has to be closed for rehab. He disagrees with this because it would mean a loss of livelihood, for a period of time. However, I hope they understand that this short term sacrifice is nothing compared to having a more sustainable tourism for the long term. Learn from Boracay.

I will end this post with a very beautiful photo of El Nido. I hope locals and travelers alike understand what sustainable tourism means. Mother nature gave you the privilege to see such wonder, do you pay back by exploiting her?

Our lunch spot with a stunning view during island hopping. This was sooo worth it!
Our lunch spot with a stunning view during island hopping. This was sooo worth it!


Note: I originally posted this on my personal blog - https://wanderein.com/2019/08/29/el-nido-palawan-paradise-soon-gone/


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I haven't been to this part of the world before but I know exactly what you mean about young entitled travelers (who really piss me off as well actually).

I went to Australia recently and a tour through the Outback with a group of young folks. Most were OK but I won't be in contact with any of them again, let's put it that way. However, there were multiple incidents where there was a lot of disrespect shown in conversations around the Aboriginals, mainly due to lack of knowledge which was due to lack of care about the history as it's all about "that instagram moment".

It got to a point where I (a pretty calm person by nature) had to say something along the lines of "just show some respect". There were parts in Kings Canyon that we weren't supposed to go to and even in the leaflet and our adventure tour guide said, "DO NOT GO HERE". These kids just argued and said, "well, where are the signs"… Just have some respect for the place you visit, you wouldn't want people to come in to your back garden and start trampling everywhere and destroying it.

When I get around to that blog, I'll be writing more about the history and how learning about the whole Aboriginal history when I was in the Grampians changed my understanding of what actually happened.

Anyway, sorry, went off on a tangent there, just feel really passionate about respectful travelling and when I see examples of it not happening, it riles me.

I'm glad they have made changes to the beach in Phillipines but I think more still needs to be done where the local tour operators should hammer it home about being respectful but also taking care themselves not to just be a "throwaway tourist place" where they don't stand up for themselves and the place they live in.

Thanks for sharing and opening eyes a bit more as it's not all hunky dory - although it could easily be if these young entitled types take their heads out of their own arse :)

Rant done :)


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Rants are welcome here :) We're here to speak the truth and hopefully the word spreads so people become aware. I see a lot of those who just care about what they'll put in their Instagram. They seem to just show off that they travel but don't really put value or find meaning from it. That's their loss for missing out on the experience when they had the privilege to see history. I would be okay if they impose huge fines for disrespectful behavior especially in historical site like that with the Aboriginals. They're lucky to be there and yet take it for granted.

We have some islands with stricter rules now and good thing the government has that political will to rehab one main tourist island. That made other local units follow rules (such as not building structures near the shores) so they don't get into forced rehab of the place. Drastic but good for long term.


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You're right about the "instagram moment" folks. Can't stand that shallow nonsense, it's why I don't have an account as I prefer reading the more in depth and knowledgeable content which has a lot of effort put in to it and done with respect to the place that's been visited.

They seem to just show off that they travel but don't really put value or find meaning from it.

I fully agree with you - these guys are not travellers, they are tourists and there's a difference. I think I might have read this from a post by @trudeehunter who made the comment about travelers respecting the place they go to and understanding where they are going whereas tourists don't. I prefer traveling with travelers, not tourists :)

And you're right, it is their loss as they miss out on the true meaning of what it's like to live or have lived in the places we take the time and appreciation to visit.

I think the more measures are put in place to protect the land, particularly if it's good for the local communities and the overall country, the better. It probably was a culture shock when the government got involved and imposed a stricter approach to it but you're right, for the long run, it's much better!


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I agree with the tourist vs traveler difference. I recall a debate about it few years back saying not to differentiate the 2. However, I think the difference is more pronounced now with the way people travel and behave, with social media influence and so on.

And regarding the culture shock on strict rules, it was also a financial shock for those who depend on tourism. In the case of Boracay, the island was closed for 6 months or so, but I read they were given jobs involved in the island clean up/rehab. It's a win-win still :)


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What an absolute shame, but kudos to you for bringing some attention to the unfortunate over-touristing of the area. As a Filipino-American who has regretfully never been to Palawan, I'm bummed about this, but hopefully the Filipino government will put measures in place to conserve and protect the area like they did with Boracay.

Disheartening to hear about the bias and prejudice you experienced and witnessed there. Tourist behavior is so often utterly horrifying to the point that I feel like local governments/tourism boards need to work more closely with embassies to keep visitor behavior in check.


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There are other parts of Palawan that isn't so touristy yet like Port Barton (but getting more popular now) that you can check out when you visit the PH. Hopefully things improve. I think local tour operators are aware of the possible shutdown/rehab of parts of the islands if it gets worse and they don't want that to happen.

I agree that we shouldn't tolerate this behavior. I was just so happy to join a group outside that hostel that were unlike them. :)


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So sad when people cant value the experience of being on such a beautiful place in the world. When I was there I was simply in awe of the visuals it was crazy I couldn't believe what I was seeing. People really take the beauty of the world for granted and don't take the time to actually enjoy the world we live in.


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That's sad, they don't realize that what they see may be gone in the future. They can go back to their photos but not the experience. In a way, that's their loss for not truly being and experiencing the place.


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Thank you! :)


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so good to see you're still traveling and writing! I liked this post - I think it's very important that all people try to preserve and protect our beautiful earth and all the amazing spaces it has to offer. Tourism can be a great way to keep a place thriving but people should respect those places and leave them exactly as they were when they arrived. Beautiful pictures @wanderlass !glad to see you sticking up for your home country and calling out things you see as unjust or unfair! <3 <3


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heyy glad to hear from you! I was wondering how you are, I was also inactive in the past months and finally got time to write again. how have you been?

I agree! I love the beautiful islands so I have to speak up for them 😊


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This is just breath taking!


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It is indeed. Thanks for dropping by :)


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Very interesting read. It is good to talk about things that are hard and need to attention. The pictures and place is beautiful.


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Thanks for reading my post! I was hesitant at first but gotta speak the truth. The place and my experience was still fun for the most part and memorable :)


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