After the world’s bumpiest, least comfortable, and most over-crowded van ride from Puerto Princesa the night before, we’d have been forgiven for choosing to take our first day in beautiful El Nido, Palawan easy. Heaven knows, I argued strongly in favour of the ‘eat breakfast and then lie on the beach all day’ lifestyle, but found myself shouted down by Hogg and my traitorous brother, Leigh.
“Let’s get motorbikes and ride around the island!” came the cry from Hogg, and my brother was all too eager to follow suit.
I’m all about getting off the beaten path and being adventurous, but sometimes you just want to a day to throw yourself into a hammock with a good book and a six pack (or more) of ice cold beer, and just relax.
It wasn’t to be, but I can’t say I regret that.
Renting Motorbikes in El Nido
We weren’t the first tourists to think that renting motorbikes and exploring the island on our own might be a good idea, and there is an abundance of places in El Nido who have scooters, bicycles, and motorbikes available for hire for a reasonable rate (roughly $15 or 700 pesos for the day).
Despite not having a license of any kind to my name, nobody seemed at all phased at the idea of putting me astride a bike with my life (and potentially somebody else’s) in my untrained hands.
After leaving one of our passports with the bike hire company; we were handed keys and given a quick overview of how our bikes worked. With me being a rookie rider, we’d opted for gas powered scooters rather than full blown motorbikes; but that didn’t stop me from a few jaw-clenching moments of swerving or too sudden stopping as we made our way out of town.
The Drive to Heaven aka Nacpan Beach
Our first order of business for the day was to make the half hour or so drive north to isolated Nacpan Beach. Our bikes had come with maps that detailed the way as well as highlighting some suggested tourist spots along the way, but we tucked ours away as soon as we’d left town and were happy to let the road take us where it would.
Out of the crowded and warren-like streets of El Nido, we were able to stretch our legs and it was then that I started to realize what a brilliant idea hiring bikes had been. The day was warm and sunny, and the roads were eerily quiet as we flew past idyllic farms, lush green forests, and the backdrop of mountains that framed it all. The sky was impossibly blue. It was just one of those days where it felt damn good to be alive.
A few rickety bridges, a rough and bumpy back road, and a bit of speed-sapping sand later, and we were at the isolated and beautiful Naclan Beach.
Despite being a pretty popular tourist spot, the beach was quiet – with only about 12-13 people there. Couples were out in the mirror flat, crystal clear water or canoodling on the white sand, so a trio of single lads certainly looked out of place rugby tackling one another into the water.
A couple of vendors were on hand with ice cold beers and snacks, and we even splashed out on a BBQ lunch served on paper plates in a rickety old shelter.
It was an afternoon of simple pleasures – good, hearty food, the sun baking the water off us, and a bit of me time in a hammock to wrap it all up.
Fair Warning: They don’t sell sun screen at Nacpan Beach, so make sure you have some with you before you leave!
We’d forgotten to pack some, but were able to barter with an Israeli couple in exchange for a couple of San Miguel beers.
Hiking to the Waterfall
Most motorbike hire places will include a map in your bike hire, and this map mentions both a hot springs and a waterfall that are worth visiting. We had no real inclination to find the hot springs, but did think we’d squeeze the waterfall in to our day’s activities.
There are no shortage of locals standing along the side of the road in the heat trying to flag you down and offer to play tour guide; so like any group of single lads would – we opted to take the tour with the prettiest girl.
After buying a couple of refreshments from a quaint little ‘shop’ they ran out of the shed by their house, we were off into the jungle for the 30-40 minute hike out to the waterfall. It’s not a hard hike by any stretch, but definitely not one I was enjoying attempting with my thongs on. I completed most of the 90 minute round trip barefoot.
You cross something like 8 or 9 rivers (streams, really) on your way to the waterfall, and they’re a blessedly cool reprieve from the oppressive jungle heat.
The waterfall is worth the walk, though, and we took a few minutes to take a dip in the chill water and pose like idiots beneath the waterfall while our guide watched on.
On the way back to the road, I struck up a conversation with our nineteen year old guide about her experiences living in a tourist town. We had a good chat about silly foreigners, but also discussed the darker side of things; the pushy foreigners, the creepy old men looking for young brides, and the realities of living in paradise.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in the romance of a tropical island where we can drink cheap fruit smoothies and get cheap massages, but it was a sobering reminder that the locals don’t have it as easy as we do. This girl completed the 90 minute hike we did about 5 or 6 times a day, and doesn’t get a whole lot of money for her efforts. If this bothered her, I didn’t pick up on it. Like so many of the Filipino people I met, she was cheerful and friendly.
Returning at Sunset
We arrived back in El Nido shortly after sunset. The whole day probably didn’t set us back more than $30 a head including a few beers at Nacpan, the waterfall tour, the bike hire, and our BBQ lunch on the beach.
We also had to pay to fill the tanks on our bikes before we headed back, but that didn’t exactly break the bank. The town’s only gas station was a tad hard to find, but nothing three burly lads couldn’t handle.
Have you ever rented motorbikes, scooters, or bicycles to get out and see a place on your own? Where?