So in the interest of full disclosure, I was not the biggest fan of El Nino. I, like many, many, others got really sick in El Nino. In addition to this, pretty much everything in El Nino is a ripoff, especially the hotels and trips. Everyone seems to be cashing in on El Nido’s popularity. Add to this, the fact that there is almost no cellphone data or wifi connection at all in this town and you have a recipe for a terrible couple of days.
The saving grace of El Nido is that there are a few nice beaches and the fact that it has a gym. The second fact may not be of relevance to everyone, but as a self-confessed gym addict it made all the difference to me. If that is your thing, you can read about that here. The tours from El Nino, whilst over priced in comparison to those in Coron, are supposed to be beautiful if you can stay well enough to enjoy them.
This might be more difficult than it sounds. Almost 100% of the people we met in El Nino or Coron, got sick in El Nido. And I don’t mean feeling a little sick, I mean the kind of sick that brings you to your knees and shreds through your dignity pretty quickly. We only met one couple who made it through El Nino without getting sick and these were our friends who we had warned about the place. They used some of the tips below to stay healthy during their time in El Nido. EVERYONE else we met got sick here. The scale of the issue is really staggering.
So why is there such an issue with El Nino? From my research, the main cause seems to be that El Nino has a huge problem with E.coli and salmonella due to the unsanitary food handling practices of many of the local restaurants. Another issue is that the town’s infrastructure can’t cope with the amount of tourists who now flock to its shores. Raw sewage from the hastily built hotels is pumped straight into the sea, and the sheer number of people getting sick in such close proximity means that the volume of contaminants being pumped into the sea in a number of different locations is huge.
Sadly, I was one of the people who became very unwell in El Nino. I ended up unable to leave my room for about a week. It was one of the most vicious illnesses that I have ever had and I do not recall ever being so violently ill. In 4 days I got very little sleep, and had constant vomiting and diarrhoea and was unable to eat anything.
So, if you are planning a visit to El Nido, what should you do? Well, I would advise people to adopt what I have coined, “defensive eating.” Not everything in El Nino will make you sick, but the variety of places that we found out had made people ill clearly shows that the sicknesses are not the result of an isolated problem involving one or two places. So, here are my tips for making it through El Nino with your dignity intact.
How not to get sick in El Nido
- Avoid the local fish and seafood.
I know the seafront restaurants along the shoreline look good, but the sea here is so contaminated that it just isn’t worth the risk. I know I got sick from eating grilled squid on Nacpan beach. Regular power outages also mean that the fish is not likely to have been stored correctly and even if you pick one from the buffet with clear eyes, there is no guarantee that you will actually get the one you picked.
- Don’t eat the fish or meat on the day trips.
A lot of people we spoke to suspected that they got ill from eating the food on the day trips. This food is mainly seafood which is cooked on a bbq on the boat. Its just a bad idea all round. We heard reports of all 12 people on the same trip going down the next day. Bring snacks and water or stick to the rice!
- Stick to Rice and bananas.
Speaking of rice, if you have to eat on the trips, stick to rice and bananas. I met a nutritionist in El Nido who told me that the rice and bananas are pretty much the safest options and carry the lowest risk of contamination.
- Try short term vegetarianism.
I am a committed carnivore, so for me to say this is hard. But, if you want to be extra careful, consider going vegetarian whilst you are in in El Nido. This was what our friends did and they made it through safely. There is also a great falafel place in town, or a good pizza restaurant which uses a real wood pizza oven. Both of these options are pretty safe.
- Eat at the “foreign restaurants”.
The sad fact is that we didn’t get sick from eating at the Italian or Greek restaurants on the main strip. The foreign owned restaurants tend to have higher food hygiene standards. Whilst this is not universally true, it is, in my opinion, a pretty safe generalisation.
- Do not eat at the beach restaurants.
I know eating at Nacopan beach made me ill. Avoid eating in this place. Bring snacks.
- Try and eat packaged food.
Avoid eating the local food by sticking to food which comes out of packets, such as instant noodles, cookies etc. Whilst this is not great for your overall health, if you are only in El Nino for a day or two its a sure fire way to stay healthy.
- Brush your teeth with bottled water.
In the rest of South East Asia this might be overkill, but given how rotten the water is in El Nino, just don’t risk it.
What to do if you do get sick in El Nido
Sadly, getting sick is part of travelling. If you are unlucky enough to get sick in El Nido, these steps may help you recover as quickly as possible.
- try and rest
- stay hydrated
- Gatorade or 100 is widely available from the shops. These isotonic drinks can help guard against dehydration.
- Imodium didn’t work for me, but it may help control they symptoms long enough for you to leave your hotel and get food or drinks.
- I didn’t turn a corner until I got some medication from the large pharmacy in town. These are called Erceflora. They are a bacterial solution of Bacillus Clausii.
- Take 1-4 of these vials a day. Tasteless but can mix with juice.
If your symptoms persist for more than a few days, you have difficulty breathing, or you begin to show signs of dehydration, you should medical attention immediately.
In conclusion, my advice would be not to waste too much time in El Nino. Enjoy a few beach days there and get the ferry to Coron. It is much cheaper, much nicer and a hell of a lot safer on the stomach.