One of my personal goals for 2019 was to earn my PADI Rescue Diver certification in a new country. The stars aligned and I found myself headed to the Philippines to meet up with some friends who were making their way back to the U.K. from Australia via an Asia trip. We ventured through Oslob, where we swam with whale sharks and explored Siargao, where we road scooters across a tropical island. The final stop on the Philippines tour was my rescue diver course, which I took in El Nido on the island of Palawan.
Getting to El Nido
You can fly direct into El Nido on the Filipino airline Airswift or check out the city of Puerto Princesa and then take a 5-hour van ride. We had two days in Puerto Princesa, and then it was the grueling 5-hour van ride to El Nido. This nearly killed me – the roads were rough, the driving was insane, and I felt sick the entire time. If you have the money, fly into El Nido, or break up your trip with more stops along the way.
This guesthouse was perfect for me – it was literally right next door to the dive shop, Palawan Divers. The room had good air conditioning, the staff was amiable, and the bed was comfortable. It was exactly what I needed for the five nights I was in El Nido. Devyn’s Inn is close to the beach and all the main sights of El Nido, so it’s a good option even if you aren’t diving.
There are several dive shops to choose from in El Nido. I went with Palawan Divers based on reviews I saw on the internet, and I was not disappointed. The staff was very professional, the equipment was all in good condition, and my instructor was phenomenal. He did the skills and drills with me over and over again until I really “got” it, he wasn’t just hurrying me along to check the boxes and hand over my certification.
The rescue course takes three days. It was a challenging but enjoyable experience, I particularly enjoyed learning underwater navigation, and surfacing with an unresponsive diver. We did get to do some fun dives too – the reefs around El Nido are really beautiful, with lots of marine life to enjoy.
Island Hopping is an organized ordeal in El Nido. There are designated tour routes – “A” “B” “C” and “D,” all offering different beaches and islands to check out. I can’t remember which option we chose, but it was an awesome day of stopping at various beaches, eating lots of delicious food, and of course, enjoying a few beers. The sun was fierce, do not forget to bring some sunscreen. The cliffs of El Nido are a sight to behold, I’ve never seen such a landscape shooting up right out of the water like that.
Food + Drink
Happiness Beach Bar
Want to enjoy a drink in a swing, or some delicious Mediterranean food? This spot is so cute and worth a visit. I enjoyed a giant pot of Shakshuka and tried the strong Red Horse beer. It was a great meal. They also have coffee and breakfast too!
El Nido Art Cafe
The Boutique Art Cafe of El Nido is a bit of an institution. Both a shop and a restaurant and bar, it’s welcoming to westerners while still preserving a Filipino charm. I went here several times during my stay in El Nido; they had great food and drinks and a stable Wi-Fi connection, making it an excellent place to get work done if you work online. The food was excellent, I tried the Pancit (noodle dish) Kinilaw (Filipino ceviche) various breakfasts, their pasta dishes, and lots of coffee and cocktails. If you’re craving western food or just a great meal with a pleasant atmosphere, the art cafe is the place to go.
Another good restaurant in El Nido is Template – I stopped here for some Adobo and a beer. It’s very cheap and has rooftop seating, which is great for people watching on the busy streets of El Nido.
El Nido was the cherry on top of a spectacular trip around the Philippines. I loved every bit of this country, and I would jump at the chance to go back. I am happy with the improvement in my scuba diving skills and look forward to building on them more – with confidence in the water when diving with others.