The last portion of my Philippines trip was in El Nido, which was the final destination of the Tao boat tour. Luckily, most everyone from our Tao group also spent a few days in El Nido, so this last chapter was filled with quality time with my new friends in Palawan’s most popular destination.
Day 12: Back to civilization + last dinner with Tao group
Our boat arrived in El Nido around 5pm, and it was quite the shock being back to civilization. El Nido is absolutely gorgeous with tall limestone cliffs, crystal blue water, and a small cute and touristy town lining the coast. Yet, coming out of the past 5 days of complete remoteness and having whole islands to ourselves, it felt like we were back in the big city.
Me and Emmanuel decided to link up since we had such a great time with each other on the tour. We both hadn’t booked where to stay next, so we strapped on our backpacks and walked up-and-down the streets of El Nido popping our heads in hotels asking for a room…the true backpacker way 😉
We finally found a place to stay with air conditioning (hallelujah!) and spent a few hours chilling in the room. Then it was time to meet the rest of the Tao group for one last dinner together. ❤
We met at Cafe Athena which had a gorgeous view of El Nido’s beach at night. Emmanuel and I shared a seafood platter 🙂
I remember thinking how odd it felt to see everyone and all showered, looking fresh and back in civilization, compared to the conditions we were in the past few days. It was heartwarming to see everyone one last time, although given how small the town was, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the end. 😉
Day 13: Exploring El Nido on motorbike + pure joy on Nacpan Beach + spontaneous reunion
Emmanuel and I woke up early and eased into the morning over a long breakfast and chilling at a coffee shop. We also had some errands to run after being off the grid the past few days. It was nice taking our time in the morning as we chatted away the entire time…being with Emmanuel felt so easy since day 1. He’s super open and grounded, and I felt like I could share anything with him. 🙂
We decided to rent a motorbike for the day and explore the roads of El Nido. The pretty lagoons/attractions in El Nido were only offered through tours, and after 5 days with Tao, there was no part of me that wanted to do another boat tour, and so we figured a motorbike was the best way to have our freedom while discovering El Nido’s beauty off the beaten path.
We took the bike up north from town and instantly the vibe changed from the busy city to the calm, quiet countryside. We even passed by these rice terraces which got me excited since I never saw one before.
The ride on the motorbike was a very fond memory for me. I’ve spent a lot of time on the motorbike this trip, but sharing this ride with Emmanuel felt really special as we talked nonstop the entire ride, which I don’t think I’ve ever done with anyone else! Emmanuel told me about his motorcycle journey through Vietnam and we shared stories from our lives at home/families/whatever came to mind.
We got lost a few times, but that was okay since it just meant seeing more of the island :). Our final destination was Nacpan Beach, a quiet beach that we discovered on our Tao tour and decided to return to since it was so beautiful.
First, a nice long lunch right on the beach.
Then we plopped down our towels and got to beachin’. The feeling I have when I recall this portion is pure joy. The sun was at the perfect spot in the sky and we had an entire section of the beach to ourselves…we swam, sunbathed, talked some more. Perfection.
We rode the motorbike back right at sunset which gave a different beautiful perspective to the mountain-scape we saw earlier. We took a break for a few hours and then were off to dinner. It was Emmanuel’s last night in El Nido and wanted to make the most of it!
Funny enough, as we were out getting drinks after dinner, we ran into a huge group from our Tao crew who also all ran into each other earlier in the evening, and so we joined them for a few drinks. I knew it wasn’t going to be the end. 😉
Day 14: Treat myself day + rooftop pool at sunset + last light-hearted meal
The next morning, Emmanuel and I spent some final time together as his bus was leaving at 1pm. We got breakfast, packed and checked out of our hotel. Saying goodbye was quite emotional, but Emmanuel was really sweet in comforting me…I feel like we shared so much together between meeting and growing close on the Tao boat and then our quality time in El Nido.
The hardest part of traveling is constantly meeting great people and saying goodbye…but I’m a firm believer that everyone is on their own life journey which is meant to merge and separate naturally, and you can’t force it. I’m really happy for Emmanuel taking his year-long solo trip, and to be honest, I’m really excited for all that I have to look forward to as well. And in the end, I’m just beyond grateful for the wonderful week we spent together.
After saying goodbye, I needed to find a place to stay for my last night in El Nido. I walked my backpack over to a hostel where two other friends from our Tao tour was staying which was also recommended by some friends I met back in Cebu. I luckily got the same dorm room as the guys, George and Axel who are cousins from Belgium, and barged in surprising them! They were hungover but happy to see me, and we were off to spend the day.
The three of us instantly agreed on our first activity, massages. The perfect activity to be lazy on a hot day. We joked that I was the third wheel to their “couples massage” 😛
Then I went off on my own for a bit for a “treat myself” day. I got my nails done, walked the streets of El Nido, got ice cream, went shopping…perfect way to spend my remaining pesos on my last day. 🙂
By early evening, it was happy hour time! Our hostel had an AMAZING rooftop pool with gorgeous views of El Nido and the scenery surrounding it. There was a DJ playing as well, and we got the drinks going while joking around and watching the sunset.
After pool time, we got one last meal together at a yummy pizza spot nearby. The guys were also leaving tomorrow, and they were the perfect crew to hang out with and end on a light-hearted note.
And just like that, my solo trip to the Philippines came to a close. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am with each and every day of this trip. On one hand, time completely flew by and I left feeling like I could use another week. But on the other hand, time really stretches while backpacking as so many experiences are packed into a short amount of time…
To be honest, I remember leaving for this trip not really excited – I booked the Philippines so last minute after canceling Sri Lanka, and my heart wasn’t fully prepared. Also I feel like my life is finally in a great spot after a lot of hard work, and I oddly felt sad to leave my life in SF for 2 weeks…but now that this trip is over, I am so incredibly grateful I got out here and DID IT. The personal transformation that took place these past 2 weeks is 100x the amount that would take place in a “normal” 2 weeks back home…it really showed me that no matter how tempting it is to “settle” for even a great life, it’s SO important to go out there and take chances. There’s just so much to do, so much to be seen, and so many people to meet!
I’m planning to write a full reflection post on the Philippines as I usually do for all my solo trips…I definitely want to take time to process all that happened, and I can’t wait to share more with you guys. Thank you for following along this adventure. ❤