How long have you lived in El Nido?
I’ve been living here for seven years.
Why did you decide to open a resort in El Nido?
When I arrived in El Nido, there were no roads, no electricity, but it was getting more and more popular with tourists. You kind of had the very high-end resorts or the very cheap ones and nothing in between. So we decided to fill that niche and opened Panorama Boutique Hotel & Beach Club (@panoramaelnido on Facebook) in November 2017.
Have you explored most of the beaches in El Nido?
Yes, my first job here was managing a boat, running an island hopping tour. That was what I was doing every day. It was the pirate life.
What are your favorite, un-touristy places?
Pinagbuyutan island. There’s something special about that island. I don’t know what it is. We used to stay there overnight—sleep on the beach, in the open air.
What do you do to unwind in El Nido?
I get on my motorbike and do motocross and get lost in the jungle. It’s a way to distract myself from work.
What is your ideal way to start the day in El Nido?
Wake up early, gear up, grab my bike and go first to Kape Ni Manang (@kapenimanang on Facebook) to have breakfast, custom cooked for about P300 (US$6). After that I go hit the trails. There are tons of secondary and dirt backroads where there are no people at all. With a bike you can reach beaches that are inaccessible. Most of the locals are surprised when they see my friends and I arrive on bikes. They’d always ask how we managed to get there and what road we took. I prefer the island’s interior, the mountains and the jungle. We’ve had the chance to see wildlife and places that take your breath away. We normally never repeat the same route and we always find something new.
Do you offer motorbike tours?
We’ve taken tourists and locals on these motorbike trips. We can't take people that haven’t ridden before as there is some risk in the activity itself, but the routes aren’t that difficult. (Contact Nani Montoro on Facebook @panoramaelnido)
Do you ever leave the island?
Yes, but most times for work. I go to Manila or to Siargao. We’re about to open another restaurant in Siargao. It will be called Surfing Temple.
What are the hot things to do in El Nido right now?
I think one of the most impressive things to do definitely is the Tao Expedition. They go to the most beautiful parts of Palawan, mainly Linapacan. Tao Philippines also offers private bespoke tours in El Nido to discover the island’s secret places and virgin islands. You also have sky diving in San Vicente, which is a really big thing. (Find them on Facebook @skydivegreaterpalawan, tel +63 926 191 6117).
What are the most dreamy resorts in El Nido, aside from your own?
I like Maremegmeg Beach Club a lot (@MaremegmegBeachBar on Facebook, tel +63-918 257 2981), Mahogany ( email@example.com , +63 919 951 7930), and Cadlao.
Your favorite drinks?
At Panorama it’s the jinfizz made with gin, egg white and lemon juice. Around El Nido my favourite is the frozen margarita at Happiness Bar.
Your favorite restaurants?
Tambok’s (tel +63 920-9141412 or +63 927-8672030), Marimegmeg, Last Frontier, and El Nido Grill in Lio, serving delicious local barbecue (@elnidogrill on Facebook, tel +63 906 691 1387).
Your favorite dishes in El Nido?
The wagyu MB5 with side fries and garlic piquillo peppers at Panorama. Around El Nido, it’s the sizzling crocodile from Sizzling Republic El Nido (tel +63 916 239 0997) in Corong Corong. A must try.
What’s trending in El Nido right now?
New places pop up every now and then. La Plage, which serves French and Asian cuisine, just opened its new restaurant in Caalan beach, a three-minute walk from El Nido’s main beach. Book a private table on top of its terrace. It's an amazing spot to go for dinner or sunset drinks. Some friends have also opened a pool jump in Nacpan. Its called The Gardens Day Club. Its 35-foot tall water slide is real steep, and makes you think twice before trying it, but it’s crazy how it feels to speed down the slide and get hurled up in the air before landing in the pool. Very recommendable. Nacpan is also one of the most impressive beaches around. Nacpan Sunmai Sunset Restaurant has a very cool vibe, a good spot to stay for drinks and lunch. However the best beach of all in my opinion is Duli beach. It’s a bit further up the road heading north so it's kind of off the map, but thats part of its charm I think. There is not much tourism yet so it's pretty quiet. Sometimes there are waves coming in so you can actualy enjoy surfing there. One of my favourite hidden corners is Duli Beach Resort. Max and Elma, the owners, built the place with their own hands, literally, and are always there to welcome guests. If you go further north you can make it all the way to Sibaltan. Up there the trend is more on kite surfing as wind and tides make it a perfect spot for the activity. You can find a couple of resorts that offer courses for a reasonable price.
Where do you go for the best views in El Nido?
I would say Corong Corong, all the way from Marimegmeg to Seven Commandos. However there are other incredible spots like The View (El Nido North Road The View Compound, 5313 El Nido). You’d pass it on the way to Lio’s Resort cove. The view from there is impressive, specially at sunset, showing Cadlao and Cauayan Islands.
What’s the best way of exploring El Nido without the crowds?
For me the best is on a bike as it allows you to go to out-of-the-way places. You could also hire private boats and try to get out of the normal tourist routes. (InFlight: try www.elnidoyachtingclub.com )
If you were to explore El Nido with a friend or your family, how would you do it?
Definitely the best way to impress anyone is to go on an island hopping tour. My best options would be to go on the Kraken Boat tour (@krakenelnido on Facebook) or El Nido Yatching Club's catamaran or their Taiwanese pirate style fishing boat. Both of them offer tours off the usual crowded routes. All boats offer private tours. It's always better to schedule the tours either very early in the morning or later than the usual to avoid crowds. After the day’s tour, then it’s Panorama to watch the sunset and for drinks. A small break to shower, then dinner at La Plage, at a private table, then drinks at Pangolin and later at SAVA. The best way to explore El Nido island itself is to rent a bike or hire a trycicle or even a van. Start at the closest beach to el nido, Marimegmeg beach better known as Las Cabañas. For food, stop by the Marimegmeg Beach Club, or the Beach Shack (tel +63 917 577 7513) or the cute Bird House (tel +63 920 606 1186). Going north you have Nacpan Beach, and further north Duli Beach. There are several treks through the jungle both north and south of El Nido that lead to amazing waterfalls.
What’s the best thing about El Nido?
It’s summer every day.
Probably that a lot more tourists are coming here. When I first moved here, it was because I fell in love with the savageness of the place. No internet, no telephone, no TV. It’s true that it’s better in some ways because we have more suppliers, more food, but then it’s also more busy. On the plus side, El Nido and the Bacuit Bay archipelago has 45 surrounding islands so you’re not limited to one small island. You still get the island vibe and the isolation if you know where to look.
About Nani Montoro
Nani Montoro is the CEO and one of the owners of Panorama Boutique Hotel & Beach Club in El Nido. He was a medical volunteer for a Spanish NGO in Bacolod, Philippines, before moving to El Nido.
Shoot location: Retreat Siargao, tel +63 915 357 2283.
Originally published in InFlight magazine, October 2019.