In 2014 I went in search of unclimbed deep water solo (psicobloc) climbing in The Philippines. We stumbled across El Nido and at the point it was still unclimbed. I wrote up the following information to assist me in organising future expeditions. James Pearson and Caroline Ciavaldini went there soon after me and I gave them this information to assist them, only asking to be mentioned in their future articles (Still waiting for the acknowledgement). Time has passed and I am happy to open this information for all to use. All I ask is that you let me know how the trip went. Happy climbing...
The area is beautiful although the rock is not as good as it is in Vietnam. The great advantage the area has is the visibility of the water, the white sand beaches and the clear skies. It is no doubt a great place to have an adventure and hopefully a place to climb some great routes.
The weather and tides
The weather during this time of year is dryer although we had a small typhoon whilst we were there. It came in and was gone within 36hours. The air temp during the day was in the low 30s the water temp at the moment is about 26 degrees. The surface temperature feels a lot warmer. Nights were warm enough not to use a sleeping bag or a sheet.
The winds did blow up on a couple of days. This made the sea choppy and hard to get close to the rock on the windward sides of the islands, but not impossible. The water was much calmer in the mornings.
The tides alternate between a week of daylight high tides (I think we are just finishing a week of daylight HT now, so I expect the second half of your trip will be better for tides.) and then a week of night-time high tides. The tides here are not as large as the Vietnam ones. In a 2012 tide table the largest difference between high and low was only 1.5m. The tidal cycle varies with the declination of the moon. On some days you get 1 high and 1 low tide in 24 hours, but then on other days you get two. If you are climbing out from a boat then you will not have any issues, even from a kayak would be ok.
We got our boat guy (Boyat – See below) to organise the food. WE paid 500peso a day for three meals a day. He also went fishing at night and came out with massive squid and 1kg lobsters etc. The food was great although may get a bit samey after 12 days of similar style. If you are a coffee monster then one thing that is essential to take is your own coffee. It is hard to get good coffee and they are happy to call Nescafe 3 in 1 real coffee. The art café in El Nido is the only place where you can get real coffee, If you have the chance buy it in Manila to make sure you get some.
Flights from Manila to Peurto Princess – We used Cebu Pacific which were about £35 for a one-way journey.
Trike from the airport to Banwa art house in Peurto was 50 peso.
The bus to El Nido – There are a few options.
· The Cherry bus is the cheapest and it looked good and it was going almost the same speed as the minivans. Expect to pay 450 peso each way.
· Lexus minivans are ok. You can try and get the ticket issuer to give you the seat behind the driver which has ore leg room. This journey takes about 5.5hours and will cost 600peso.
· The Day tripper company offers more comfy rides which cost between 700 and 950 peso.
From El Nido bus station to Corong Corong will cost about 20Peso in a trike and 50 to El Nido.
You can get the 5 litre mineral water bottles or the massive bottles you see on top of water fountains in offices.
It was around Chinese new year when we were there and the area was very busy.The high season goes till End of May so I expect the area of El NIdo will be very busy so try and book ahead of time.
Peurto Princess – We stayed at The Banwa Guesthouse and Art Café (www.banwa.com). +6348 4348963 and email email@example.com. They do good food and a cheap double with no bathroom is 600peso. The dorm is 350 per bed.
El NIdo is much more expensive. WE stayed in Calaan Bay for 800 for a very basic bungalow. Corong Corong is a better place to stay then the town centre and the beach is nicer. The ride by trike from there to centre is 50peso.
Whilst on the Islands we slept under a large mosquito net with a blue ground sheet brought from a hard ware store in El Nido. We then had a larger piece of the blue tarp to throw over us if it had started to rain. A simple tent would have been much less hassle. But you need something to keep out the mosquitos.
Rum is only 80peso a bottle and it is not too bad. Well worth buying. The guys who did our food had a massive ice box and were happy to use it to keep their own gin cool and any drinks that you wanting chilling.
There is a new bar that has opened in El Nido called The Playground which is under the cliff to the left of the arch as you drive into El Nido town center. There is also the Raggae Bar on the beach in El Nido which is good for a night.
· Kayaks – The sea kayaks that we saw were in general very basic. They cost between 500 and 800peso a day. But there are not many in town and they may be hard to hire. We met a couple of Germans who were doing a 10 day island hop and they got their kayaks from Gordo Adventures. He is a Canadian guy and has his own kayak business. He normally does not lend them out on a long term basis. They paid 700 per boat per day. The fancy sea kayaks did not look as stable if you are using these as platforms to climb from
· One firm along the beach was hiring out stand up pappdle boards. I did not ask how much they were but look good to climb from.
· Speedboat - If you want to start climbing from a boat then really the only option that works well is a speed boat with an outboard engine. This is the closest thing to a basket boat that you would have in Vietnam. They are much more expensive and you can expect to pay around 4000peso a day. You can call Richard on +63 9 078124062. Next time I return I will be using one. It makes life much easier.
· Basic boats - The basic boats look cool and one that can fit two will be around 2000 peso a day this can go at about 12.5km an hour. They are good to do journeys between islands in, but there are bad at manoeuvring. They are unable to reverse and need a lot of space around them. So these are not great to use to access the rock. If you need one then call Boyat on +639464856675./ Mheng can also help with this. He is fun keen and all round nice guy. His number is +639398831053.
I have mentioned to Richard, Boyat and Mheng that you may call and they are all happy to help you out.
The islands and beaches.
Many of the islands are owned by resorts and claim to own the beaches. As you approach these beaches guards may wave you away as they do not want you in the area. In theory no one can own the water and the beaches, but the guards will tell you otherwise. If you use Boyat then he will let you know which ones are best to stay on.
Exchange UK £ in Manila. The rate there is good and at the time of writing was 73peso to the £1. Then use the ATM in Manila. There are no ATMs in El Nido and in general you cannot use your bankcards. The rate for UK£ in El Nido was much worse at 66 and many places would not exchange them. Dollars were OK to there, but I think it is best to try and get all your local cash from Manila.
Jeff Panelo – Was once a climber and is still based in El NIdo. He is keen to help and is a nice guy, but in the end we went looking for boats ourselves. - +639279338450
Miel – I imagine you have his number. +639209010871
Dangers and annoyances
· Mosquitos – There are plenty around and you will need to get some repelant (El Nido has 20% DEET type).
· Jelly fish – In area of still water you do get more bits of jellyfish floating around. They do sting but nothing bad. It just feels like a nettle sting.
· The coral and in places sea urchins are very sharp. Vibram 5 fingers or reef shoes are handy when climbing out of boats onto shore.
· We did see sea snakes but they are tiny and kept to them selves.
· There are sharks and salt-water crocks but we did not see any and luckily the crocks are very rare.
There is a very expensive basic pharmacy in El Nido. The closest of Palawan’s hospitals is at Taytay. This is a 1.5 hour bus ride from El Nido. It is called the Northern Palawan Provincial Hospital. I did not get to go in but I have been told they have an X-ray.
The phone signal around the islands was patchy especially if you were on the NW side of the islands. But it did not take long till you could get a signal back. I got a local SIM card (Globe), which has worked well and was cheap.
Last but not least the climbing. The rock here is not as good as Vietnam. In fact it was looking bad for a lot of the islands and there are only a few of the islands that have good faces. Some of the walls I have mentioned below look great but the best looking walls also look hard. I did not have the right boat or the time to climb. So take these recommendations with a pinch of salt. A PDF containing all this info and all the images that are refernced here can be downloaded here. Good Luck.
Helicopter Island AKA Dilumacad Island. – If it has anything then it is on the southern corner out of a cave N11° 11’ 40.50” E119° 20’ 09.77”and then further round on the west side of the island. But there was nothing here that really jumped out at us. But worth a paddle round if you are there.
Cadlao Island – This is the large Island you can see from El Nido. I thought the island would yield something for sure, but sadly it did not. There is a small west facing bay called Cadlao lagoon N11° 12’ 53.2” E119° 20’ 42.9”. To the north of this bay is a wall that looked like it may give some lines (Image 2.1). There is a good camping beach N11° 12’ 23.0” E119° 21’ 21.6”. (Next beach to the south from the bay) that could be used to explore Helicopter Island and the crag to the north of Cadlao Lagoon. Looking through my notes I have found a mention of a good looking striped wall, which may correspond to image 2.2 or image 2.3 below. N11° 16’ 13.8” E119° 21’ 08.8”.
Inamboyad Island – This Island looked the most promising in this area of the bay. The east face had two walls on N11° 12’ 12.4” E119° 17’ 53.2” (Image 3.1) and N11° 12’ 24.5” E119° 17’ 50.8” (Image 3.2). Both looked hard but did have features on that may give you a few lines, the first looked steeper then the second. There was another wall further north that may also give you something N11° 12’ 50.9” E119° 17’ 42.8” (Image 3.3. There is a small bamboo house tied to the wall in this area (seen in background of image 3.2). The guys living there tried to sell us fresh fish from it, which may be good for you if you are out there by yourself. The better wall on this island was on the west side of the island just on the south side of a beach N11° 12’ 41.0” E119° 17’ 30.5” (Image 3.4) It is possible to sleep on this beach, but a big boat will not be able to anchor close due to rocks. The wall looked cool with loads of lines with a good height. Please put this on your list and let me know what you find. The photo does not do it justice.
Matinloc Island – I cannot remember much that stood out to me here. But my GPS tells me that at the northern end to the island there was a beach N11° 11’ 31.0” E119° 16’ 56.1” that you can sleep on and also a striped tall orange wall N11° 12’ 02.4” E119° 16’ 40.1”. On the southern tip of the island my GPS and notebook tells me of more walls. There are orange walls with some clean steep walls. Some walls narrower then others but it may be worth looking along the cliffs between N11° 08’ 10.1” E119° 16’ 59.9” to N11° 08’ 37.8” E119° 17’ 01.4 ”. There was a gap of 500m of not much in between the two spots.
No great climbing but it has some cool lagoons to look at and beaches to stay on. We stayed on the beach by the secret lagoon N11° 08’ 45.1” E119° 18’ 48.5” It is private but the guard was ok with it. There was a wall in the big lagoon. It is possible for boats just to get into the big lagoon. There is one large steep wall inside N11° 09’ 16.9” E119° 19’ 12.1” Image 5.1. There is a line of possibly dirty tufas that could give a line. The less steep wall round to the right may give something but the angle and ledge will need to be checked. There is another wall on the otherside to the steep wall, but the rock did not look steep enough to climb. (image 5.2) It is a cool lagoon and it will be worth a visit. If you do then do it early or late in the day, as it is on the tourist trail and you may get swamped by other boats.
Turtle Island is not on the standard boat tour and it does feel a little more remote. There is a beach but I think it is not possible to camp on it and Turtle go up and nest. The NW side of the island is one long wall. Only the very southern end has walls steep enough to have any DWS on N11° 06’ 28.2” E119° 18’ 18.6” (Image 6.1 and 6.2). The rest of the wall looks interesting and may give some single pitch trad lines on some nice looking cracks.
Looked to have a short and easy wall (N11° 07’ 43.7” E119° 19’ 46”) and an undercut orange tall just off vertical wall (N11° 07’ 37.0” E119° 19’ 55.4”) (see image 7.1). My notes also tell me there may be a 70m ish trad wall (N11° 07’ 53.3” E119° 20’ 06.5”) (see image 7.2). But I was not too excited about this Island.
Bird nest island
This is not marked on the map at the top of this document. This is a small island just over 1km due east from the top end of Snake Island N11° 06’ 03.1” E119° 21’ 21.8”. The west face has steep orange rock (image 8.1) and the East face has very steep rock with features but may be covered in old bird nest and shit (Image 8.2). But this island is worth a look. Sleep on Snake Island when in this area N11° 05’ 41.18” E119° 20’ 26.89”.
This is the only arch in the area N11° 05’ 19.9” E119° 21’ 10.7” (Image 9.1). We did not stop here so cannot give great detail on the rock quality. It looked to be OK but again may have a lot of old bird nests. There were also walls further along the coast west from the arch, which looked to be partly obstructed by a lower ledge.
Cathedral cave island.
The cave looks great and there are some nice looking lines up the entrance to the cave N11° 04’ 35.9” E119° 23’ 03.4”. Image 9.1 shows the west side of the island where the cave entrance is. Image 9.2 is a bad image of the entrance to the cave and possible walls inside. Image 9.3 shows the east side to the island. This island is on the tourist trail so come here early or late to stop being invaded. The inside of the cave looks like there may be something to go, but you will need a kayak or SUP to access the inside. The other side of the island has more routes to go.
Lagen Island – Has the most impressive rock of all the islands. The island is private and is owned by a resort. There is ample to be getting on with here. The DWS all lies at the base of a wall the stretches up a further 100 or so meters. You may be able to find some “fun” trad up these walls but really they lend themselves to sport. The climbing starts here N11° 05’ 08.2” E119° 23’ 24.0” and continues NE past the resort and curves round onto the north side of the island and round to the SE side where it looks like it runs out here N11° 05’ 32.2” E119° 23’ 59.7”. The photos I am showing below should give an idea. The rock in places looks perfect but hard. There are easier lines too but I think we just need to get on it to find out what it has.
This island is the one to sleep on if climbing on Lagen N11° 05’ 56.4” E119° 24’ 20.8”. it does not really have any climbing on apart from a small wall on its northern end N11° 06’ 26.8” E119° 24’ 04.4”.
Was the last island that we visited. There is good climbing to be had and it would also make a great place for mulitpitch sport and possibly trad. It also has a great place to camp which is flat grass N11° 07’ 09.8” E119° 23’ 41.3”. and can give a welcome break from being wet and or sandy. The photos below show climbing on its W N11° 07’ 15.5” E119° 23’ 22.6”. side and going round to a point on its east face N11° 07’ 27.7” E119° 23’ 37.5”.