El Nido Series Palawan

The Long Road to El Nido

Wednesday, January 23, 2013Ryan Mach

The road to El Nido is long and winding, relatively safe but can be a little boring. There isn't much to see outside although the varied mountain scenery can be a good distraction. If the countryside is your thing, then you might as well enjoy the vast fields and the rural backdrop, otherwise you can just doze the 6-hour bus ride off.
Traveling to El Nido from Puerto Princesa requires some patience and high-level of tolerance. Patience and tolerance for what exactly? Long bus ride, that is. This is absolutely true for non-airconditioned buses. I haven't had the chance to try it myself because I was lucky to catch the 10AM air-conditioned bus, but I've read from other travelers how excruciatingly tedious riding an ordinary bus can get. Some parts of the road are yet to be paved so unless you're excited to see swirling dust, this mode of transportation may not be too favorable.

[Puerto Princesa Airport in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Travel time from Manila is 50 minutes]


There are three ways to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa - all of which require land travel.

One is to take a van, probably the most convenient choice because it only has one stop-over and it doesn't pick nor drop passengers along the way, thus travel time is reduced to 5 hours. The downside is it's more expensive than buses. One-way fare is around Php600-Php700. Your haggling skills may come in handy.
[Aircon buses still look new]

Next option is the Roro (Roll-on, Roll-off) Bus, a relatively new transport system which makes traveling to El Nido more convenient and less expensive. I say 'convenient' because it has leg room and it's air-conditioned to boot. Just the same, travel time can take at most 6-7 hours - two stop-overs  (one in Roxas, the other is in Taytay) and the occasional pull-over to drop and pick-up passengers along the way are the main reasons of slight delay.

These two options require advance booking and reservation because seats are not guaranteed. They get occupied pretty quick, especially during high-peak seasons. One way fare is Php480.00

The contact numbers of Roro Bus I saw online are not working so I was pretty worried that I wouldn't get a reservation. It was the day prior to my arrival in Puerto Princesa when I was finally able to find a working number (09175971175). But the reservation was kind of useless because 5 minutes before its scheduled time of departure, I pleaded through a text message that they wait for me. I received no response. When I arrived at the terminal, the bus wasn't fully occupied.

If you're unable to catch any of the two, then your best bet would be the ordinary Roro Bus. I don't think it's that bad. If anything, riding one can make you feel like you're one of the locals. One way fare is the cheapest of the three - Php350.

All these transports can be found at San Jose Terminal, about 15-20 minute ride from Puerto Princesa Airport. It's important to consider the time of your arrival in Puerto Princesa because vans and buses leave on time. Perhaps there's a small leeway, but they always depart on schedule.

Take note of the RoRo schedule from Puerto Princesa to El Nido below:
4AM, 6AM*, 8AM, 10AM*, 12NN, 2PM*, 4PM, 6PM*, 10PM*



Fifteen minutes after 10AM, the RoRo bus left from San Jose and traversed through a familiar path (I've traveled the same road before en route to Sabang for the Underground River Tour). The views and the cool temperature inside the bus made me sleepy so I put on my shades and listened to Les Miserables OST. Anne Hathaway's chilling version of "I Dreamed a Dream" was playing when I was tapped by the bus conductor for payment. After coughing out 480, I was lulled back into a temporary oblivion (I dreamed about working at an overnight printing company). I would wake from time to time - primarily because I'd feel my legs feel cramped and I'd slide off my seat as the roads are composed of aggressive turns and bends.
[My brunch]

The bus stopped at Roxas Terminal (foreigners pronounce Roxas as Rok-sas), allowing us to have a quick breakfast and CR break. I only had a burger and fries for breakfast so I wasn't surprised to hear my stomach grumbling. But the food choices at the eateries in the terminal weren't great. I made do of a bowl of hot beef stew. I mostly ate the cabbage drowning in excessive soup and left a large portion of beef.
[Bubbly kids, but too young to be already making a living]

Dissatisfied with what I ate, I tried looking for something to nibble at the stores around the terminal but I found nothing that whetted my appetite. Two young girls offered me some edible sea urchins. I was tempted to try one but the thought of possible stomach problem dissuaded me from taking a bit. In the end, I decided to buy a pack of boiled peanuts.

When I went back to my seat, I saw a foreign guy sitting beside my spot. It wasn't until the bus resumed the trip when I spoke to him. I basically asked him if he's off to El Nido. I was sure he was because most foreigners were going there anyway but he was actually heading somewhere else - at a beach in Taytay, where according to him the town is simple and nice, and the beach pristine and not touristy. I asked him why not check El Nido as well. A look of disgust registered on his face. "It's very expensive there! And it's very touristy." I couldn't argue with him because I was about to experience the place yet.

[Taytay Terminal.]

The Canadian guy bade goodbye and wished me a safe trip when we reached Taytay. He and his newly-found friends (a Slovenian couple) were going to some beach in Taytay. I felt a little sad as I watched them board a tricycle and disappeared from my sight a few minutes later. I couldn't figure out where the loneliness came from.

The bus stayed a little longer at the terminal, which made some of the passengers grow impatient. Like me, they were in a hurry to get to El Nido. We finally left Taytay a quarter past 2 in the afternoon. The road gradually changed a few kilometers from the terminal. Seeing the unpaved road, with dust swirling up in the air as vehicles sped past us, I can only imagine the amount of dust I'd inhale if I were on a non-airconditioned  bus.
As we were approaching in El Nido, the bus made more stops along the way. Apparently, locals use buses for their transportation too.

I drifted off again, and when I woke up, I saw several islands scattered across a calm sea in the distance. I knew for sure that we're in El Nido. I excitedly grabbed my camera and began taking pictures. I stopped when I heard a young girl behind me throwing up. The constant twist and turns on the road had finally taken its toll on her.

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