It’s probably the most common route on Palawan. Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa. The journey itself takes at least 5 hours. I met several travelers who say they were considering paying more to fly. As an American, 5 hours is an easy long weekend getaway road trip! So I’m up for the adventure.
There are 3 main ground options:
A.) The first is by bus. It’s the cheapest option around $350 +/- PHP ($7USD) one way, but it’s also the option that takes the longest to complete. I read it took some people close to 7 or 8 hours because the bus would frequently stop to pick up passengers who just needed a ride for a few miles. Some buses have A/C, some do not.
B.) The second is by van. This is an affordable option at $500 +/- PHP ($10USD) one way. All vans have AC and stops midway through for lunch. It also passes the Roxas bus terminal to see if anyone else is heading to El Nido.
C.) The third is hire a private ride. From what I saw, prices start at $3500 +/- PHP ($70USD) one way and go up from there. I knew I wasn’t going to take this option, so I didn’t personally look into it.
I figured option B with the van was best for me and I’d be the most comfortable. Regardless if you take a van or bus, you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. You just show up, pay and go.
When I was set to go, I checked out of my hotel and started walking towards the bus terminal. It wasn’t long before a tuk-tuk tricycle stopped next to me and said, “Sir, do you need a ride?” We agreed on $100 PHP ($2 USD) to the bus station.
The bus and van areas are separated by a small street, but the chaos of it all begins almost immediately. Drivers and operators try to vow for your attention so you will take their ride, even though it seems they all work together. My tuktuk driver dealt with the hassle for me, and after paying him his 100 pesos, I was quickly whisked away to a van bound for El Nido.
Stuffed animals lined the dashboard, and the windows have the darkest tint possible to help with UV protection from the sun. I was the first one on board, which means I got to sit in the first row. According to what I read, this is ideal because you get more leg room and it’s reduces your chance of road sickness if you are prone.
I sat alone in this van for about 45 minutes. Then I noticed a schedule for the van right next to me. It was suppose to leave 30 minutes ago. I had read online and quickly learned firsthand, the van goes when it’s ready, which most likely means, whenever it’s filled up. But for 45 minutes, I was the only passenger, worrying we wouldn’t leave until after dark.
Fortunately for me a few passengers hopped in and so did the driver. We made one quick stop and filled up the rest of the van with locals. It was a bit cramped, but after the first hour, all the locals had been quickly dropped off. That meant there was me, my driver, and 2 other passengers bound for El Nido in the car. Plenty of room to stretch out.
I’m typically not prone to road sickness, but the roads were zigzagged enough to make me question it. I was trying to catch up on some of my writing when I felt a little nauseous, so I put my laptop away and just enjoyed the view. The driver played his playlist loud enough for everyone to hear, but I just put on my headphones and listened to a few podcasts.
About 2 hours or so into our journey, the van pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant. This was a chance for everyone to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, eat, or do whatever. I had just eaten before we started, so I wasn’t hungry. I opted to buy a nice cold water bottle, and enjoy the view. This restaurant was perched up on the mountainside, over looking the Sulu Sea. Absolutely breathtaking (of course, I didn't take any pictures here. #mybad)
After about 20 minutes or so, it was back into the van. As we continued going down windy roads, it worried me a bit how fast our driver was going. There were a few times I felt like we were going to die, as he sped past motorcycles and tuktuks. Most of the time, I focused on just looking at the windows. Watching rice terraces, water buffalo, and lush green hillsides pass by. There were also several pot holes and areas you could tell were washed away by landslides at some point.
At one point our driver stopped. A little boy, maybe 5 or 6 had waved the van down asking for a ride. He was clearly on his way home from school. He hopped up in the van, looked at me with one of the most innocent smiles and was ready to go. He probably sat there for 5 or 10 minutes before telling the driver when to stop. I kept thinking, my mom would have freaked out if I had to ask random vans to take me to or from school. I wasn’t even allowed to get into a car of people I knew if they didn’t know the family password (it was ‘spaghetti’ in case you were wondering). But I understood this was a different way of life, a different world.
As we got closer to El Nido, it was clear more schools were letting out for the day. There was a good 2-3 mile stretch where students would be walking on the side of the road. It made me feel grateful for having a bus to take me to and from school when I was younger. When I did walk to school, it was only 2 and a half short blocks away.
After about 5 or 6 hours, we were finally pulling into the area around El Nido. The bus terminal is about a half mile from El Nido city proper, but there are plenty of places to stay and eat in the area. Because I was staying just a few doors down from the bus terminal, the bus driver dropped me off in front of my hostel.
Overall, it’s not a bad journey. Just be prepared to be delayed and you’ll be fine. If I were to do it again, I’d stick with the van.