Travel Advisory For Tourists

This is a rerpoduction of the the Travel Advisory posted April 19, 2021 on the El Nido Tourism FB.

SUMMARY

All tourists*, except those coming from the NCR Plus Bubble, are now allowed entry to the municipality of El Nido. Requirements apply. 

*tourists include those coming from within and outside the province of Palawan.

EXECUTIVE ORDER 2021-021, PAR. 2

Tourists and APORs (Authorized Persons Outside of their Residence) excluded from the enumeration in Section 2* from the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus Bubble which includes:

  • all cities within Metro Manila,
  • the municipality of Pateros,
  • and the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Rizal
  • shall be restricted to enter the municipality until further advised.

*Section 2 (those from the NCR Plus Bubble and are allowed entry to El Nido):

  • health and emergency frontline services personnel,
  • government officials and government personnel rendering frontline services as per RA 9485 or the anti-red tape act of 2007,
  • duly authorized humanitarian assistance actors (HAAS), 
  • persons traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, 
  • essential workers involved in banking, electrical, telecommunications and other works involving technical skill,  
  • and uniformed personnel.

TOURISTS

Traveling for leisure purposes

  • island tours,
  • diving,
  • visiting beaches,
  • waterfalls,
  • and other tourist spots,
  • visiting friends and relatives

REQUIREMENTS

FOR THOSE ARRIVING FROM OUTSIDE PALAWAN

(Except those from the NCR Plus Bubble)

  1. VALID ID
  2. QR-CODED TOURIST ID (QT-ID)
    • Negative RT-PCR test result undertaken within the last 72 hours prior arrival in El Nido
    • Booking in a hotel with DOT Accreditation
    • Return Ticket
  3. Those staying for more than seven (7) days shall accomplish an anti-gen test on their 8th day in El Nido.
  4. Tourists who will test positive on the anti-gen test will undergo mandatory 7-day Facility Quarantine. Testing and quarantine fees will be shouldered by the tourist.

REQUIRED DOCUMENTS FOR THOSE ARRIVING FROM WITHIN PALAWAN

  1. VALID ID
  2. QR-CODED TOURIST ID (QT-ID)
    • Booking in a hotel with DOT Accreditation
    • Return Ticket
  3. Those staying for more than seven (7) days shall accomplish an anti-gen test on their 8th day in El Nido.
  4. Tourists who will test positive on the anti-gen test will undergo mandatory 7-day Facility Quarantine. Testing and quarantine fees will be shouldered by the tourist.

TRAVELING PROCEDURES

  1. Get your QT-ID at www.clnidotourism.ph by submitting the required documents
  2. For tourists from within Palawan, prepare your negative anti-gen test result for inspection at the point of entry(Bobolongan Control Point)
  3. Use your QT-ID as your clearance for island hopping and for entering the different tourists spots and establishments in El Nido

Understanding COVID-19 Testing

In navigating the new normal, chances are, you or your loved ones have been, or will be required to take a COVID-19 test.

The reasons will vary.  It could be for travel, to be allowed to work, or simply to find out if one is currently contagious or has been infected in the past.

As of this writing, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 1.4 million people around the world.

There are currently three types of tests you might be hearing that are related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19.

Here’s a brief description of each:

RT-PCR (Reverse Transcriptase PCR) test

The COVID-19 RT-PCR test is currently considered the gold standard in COVID-19 testing.  It detects the virus’ genetic material. Most, if not all countries, base their official number of cases on those done via PCR tests, not by any other method.

This is also the test required by most authorities in allowing inbound travelers. 

Usually, testing is done through a nose and throat swab test.  A six-inch stick (like a long cotton bud), is inserted in each nostril, and some include the throat, to get secretion samples.

This sample is processed in a laboratory to detect the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  A positive result means the virus’ RNA is present in the patient.  It could mean he is currently infected or was previously infected.  Remember the virus’ RNA can stay in a patient even if he is no longer infectious.

A negative result is generally considered a safety pass, although no testing is 100% accurate.  

The margin of error on an RT PCR test can be due to handling of samples, and delay in processing. Samples need to be kept in temperatures of -8 to -20 degrees celsius, and the ideal time for samples to be processed is not later than 72 hours after collection. 

In the Philippines, tests usually come out in 24 to 72 hours or longer, depending on the load of the laboratory. 

Antigen test

The COVID-19 Antigen test detects certain proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  This means if the proteins are present, then so is the virus.

The method of testing is also through a nose and/or throat swab, similar to RT-PCR.

The antigen test is particularly useful if a person is currently infected or at the height of infection.  That’s because antigens would be at their peak, and have more chances of being detected.

Unfortunately, it is not very accurate at the first few days of exposure.  This is because it usually takes a few days before the antigens are detected in one’s system.  So one could be exposed at an early stage — and might already be infectious — and get a negative result.

Despite chances of false negative results, an antigen test could still be useful, because of its lower cost and fast result.  Antigen test results can come out as quickly as 15 minutes after the swab. 

If one suspects possible exposure, an antigen test could be taken a few days after the suspected exposure (best to stay isolated in the interim).  If it yields positive, there’s almost a sure infection.  A confirmatory RT-PCR can follow or medical treatment as advised by a professional.

Antibody test

According to the Mayo Clinic, “COVID-19 antibody testing, also known as serology testing, is a blood test that’s done to find out if you’ve had a past infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). An antibody test can’t determine whether you’re currently infected with the COVID-19 virus.”

“Antibody testing for COVID-19 may be done if:

  • You had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past but weren’t tested
  • You’re about to have a medical procedure done in a hospital or clinic, especially if you’ve had a positive COVID-19 diagnostic test in the past
  • You’ve had a COVID-19 infection in the past and want to donate plasma, a part of your blood that contains antibodies that can help treat others who have severe cases of COVID-19”

Webmd further says, “The antibody test isn’t checking for the virus itself. Instead, it looks to see whether your immune system — your body’s defense against illness — has responded to the infection.”

A Filipino doctor and testing expert, Dr. Mike Vergara however says there are antibody test kits that could determine current infection.  “Some antibody kits detect IgM and not just IgG”.  IgM and IgG are types of immunoglobulins that attack viruses such as SARS-CoV2.  IgM is the first set of immunoglobulins produced by the body to determine if a perceived intruder is foreign or not.  If it is identified as foreign and threatening, the IgM calls for “backup” and the IgG takes over.  The IgG is also the one giving the body immunity.  

So a positive IgM (present in some antibody kits) means current infection, and a negative IgM, but positive IgG means past infection.

Purpose and Timing of tests

All three types of tests — PCR, ANTIGEN and ANTIBODY have their place in COVID-19 detection and prevention of spread:   

  • Before one becomes infectious – RT PCR can detect
  • Currently Infectious – RT PCR, ANTIGEN and ANTIBODY (with IgM measure) can detect.  Although ANTIGEN and ANTIBODY may miss the early parts of exposure 
  • Past Infection – RT PCR will still be positive, ANTIGEN will yield negative, ANTIBODY IgG will detect past infection and current immunity.

Reliability of tests

The reliability, efficacy and sensitivity of the type of tests depend on the institutions conducting it and the brands being used.  Always go for reliable and reputable agencies and products.

Developing Technology 

New tests and procedures on determining SARS CoV2 infections are continuously being developed, and so are vaccines.  As of this writing, at least three firms have reached final stages of vaccines testing. 

A detection method using just saliva is also underway. 

The best way to avoid spreading COVID-19

The best way to avoid spreading COVID-19 is still to go on a 14-day quarantine before travel or engagement.  If no symptoms come out, it is highly likely that one is negative from the virus, even without testing.  It is the best practice to employ before seeing loved ones. And of course the frequent washing of hands and wearing of face masks.

Definition of Terms

COVID-19 – The name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and is short for “Coronavirus Disease 2019.” (Source: WHO)

SARS-CoV-2 – The name of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. (Source: WHO)

Coronavirus – A family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The novel coronavirus recently discovered has been named SARS-CoV-2 and it causes COVID-19. (Source: WHO)

Coronavirus – A family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The novel coronavirus recently discovered has been named SARS-CoV-2 and it causes COVID-19. (Source: WHO)

*This article, though thoroughly researched, is not a substitute for a medical consultation. It is still best to speak with a medical expert on testing questions.

6 Things to Know About Travel Bubbles

What is a travel bubble?

“Travel bubble” is a new term coined during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 as a solution to revive the economy and keep the tourism sector afloat. 

Also called a travel corridor, corona corridor, or travel bridge, and is considered the new normal in tourism.  

It refers to 2 countries opening their borders to each other. But its definition broadens, as more places try to reopen.  Now, travel bubbles can also refer to a few places within the same country opening its borders to a limited population so long as certain conditions are met.

While it doesn’t guarantee safety, it limits the risk for travelers and locals by setting certain standards set by both destinations. 

What do governments consider when forging travel bubble agreements with each other?

Countries near each other are more inclined to forge travel bubble agreements due to proximity.  Having similar strategies in dealing with the virus can also be a factor.  Another consideration is the number of coronavirus cases.  Places with a low number of covid-19 cases will open only to a partner with few or no cases.   Having direct flights is also a consideration.

What places have travel bubble agreements?

Travel bubble agreements between countries have been implemented and suspended and some are in the middle of negotiations. Some countries that have, or are negotiating travel bubble agreements with each other are New Zealand and Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore and Japan and South Korea. India and the Philippines are also looking to forge agreements with a few countries. And some countries in Europe have tried and suspended it due to rising cases.

Are there places in the Philippines that are open to travel bubbles?

In the Philippines, the Tourism department studied opening a few tourist destinations by the last quarter of 2020.  Some of these are Boracay, Bohol, Manila, Baguio and Palawan.  

How can one be part of a travel bubble?

Requirements differ from place to place but general guidelines include:

  • A negative RT-PCR test 72 hours before travel
  • Absence of co-morbidities or health risks such as diabetes, hypertension, heart or lung conditions 
  • Filling up of health declaration form
  • Filling up a contact tracing form or downloading a contact tracing app.  

For establishments such as resorts and hotels, they need to:

  • Secure certificates to operate from appropriate government agencies.  Here in the Philippines,  the Department of Tourism (DOT) issues Certificate of Authority To Operate (CATO) and some Local Government Units (LGUs) issue separate permits.  
  • Apply reduced capacity, usually 50% or if more, schedule activities and implement crowd control.
  • Limit dine-in crowd to 50% capacity or as determined by authorities.  Some only allow take-outs or room service.
  • Review the use of swimming pools.  Depending on the setup, some might deem it best closed or for booking per party.

What can travelers expect?

  • Temperature checks as one enters any establishment from the airport to the hotel.
  • Covid-19 health check forms to be filled out 
  • Use of technology for:
    • Contact tracing 
    • Generating QR codes for several uses such as 
      • Forms generation
      • Restaurant menus
    • Online payment
  • Not all tourist sites are open.  For those that are, there might be a limit to the number of people allowed.
  • Face masks and face shields might be required 
  • Social distancing of two meters or two arms’ length should be maintained
  • Reduced staff in business establishments including restaurants, banks, etc.
  • Some restaurants might need advanced bookings to control the crowd
  • Some travel bubbles initiated by hotels or resorts form a “bubble” group that travels together If you’re part of a group

Sites of El Nido

BIG AND SMALL LAGOONS

The lagoons in El Nido are said to be caves millions of years ago. Their roofs collapsed, leaving majestic limestone walls. In the case of the small lagoon, the rugged cliffs created a magical sanctuary with supremely calm and clear turquoise water.

HIDDEN BEACH

El Nido’s Hidden beach is one of the “30 Best Beaches in the World” according to Conde Nast Traveler’s June 2020 list? In 2018, it was voted the most beautiful beach in Asia and 3rd in the world by Canada’s biggest flight agency, Flight Network.  “The wild, vegetation-covered rock formations and crystal-clear waters of Hidden Beach will make you feel as if you’ve been dropped into a movie” – Sachin Aggarwal, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

On the sandbar at Snake Island

SNAKE ISLAND

Also known to locals as Vigan Island, Snake Island was coined due to the winding shape of the unique sandbar that connects the island to the mainland. Appearing daily at low tide, it’s an amazing experience to stroll along the sandbar and feeling like you’re in a deserted paradise. On both sides of the white sand strip are shallow swimming areas. “The water in this area is nothing short of spectacular. Crystal clear and stunningly turquoise – it’s pretty easy to see why this place is considered by many Filipinos to be paradise.”- Elle Burne, travel blogger

DULI BEACH

November to March is surf season in El Nido. A consistent swell in Duli beach makes it an ideal surfing spot

HELICOPTER ISLAND / DILUMACAD ISLAND

One of the 45 islands in Bacuit bay in El Nido, one is shaped like a chopper, hence its nickname, Helicopter island. Originally named Dilumacad island is like many others in the area with its long, white sandy beaches. It a good spot for experienced divers. Not advisable for children due to sudden drop in sea floor. There’s an underwater cave on the northern end.

CUDUGNON CAVE

A stunning display of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, the Cudugnon Cave is an archeological site where bones and artifacts were discovered.  It’s a must-see site that takes you back into ancient times when majestic rock formations, elevated cavernous ceilings and limestone cliffs dominated the landscape.

TARAW CLIFF

A hike to this highest peak in El Nido will reward you with a breathtaking panoramic view of Bacuit bay. The climb to Taraw cliff might be challenging due to the sharp rocks and tricky footing, but with an experienced guide and some caution, one should definitely consider scaling it. The incredible view makes it well worth it!

CATHEDRAL CAVE

Cathedral cave is on Pinasil Island, and is one of the many natural wonders of Bacuit bay.

There is an open chamber at the center of the Island where you can see that it has a shape of a cathedral surrounded by high rocky cliffs.

MATINLOC SHRINE

An alternative to Taraw cliff, Matinloc shrine also offers an amazing view of Bacuit bay, with its share of rock formations and scenic view, but with an easier hike. It’s an abandoned shrine with a port and a small gorgeous beach. 

Entrance fee is P100.

SEVEN COMMANDOS BEACH

A popular beach in El Nido, it has almost everything El Nido is famous for.  Situated under limestone cliffs, coconut trees line the stretch of the white sand beach where one can snorkel and swim

What is your favorite site in El Nido?

*This list is being continuously updated.

Tips for Traveling in Groups

Filipinos like to travel in groups.  Whether with family, or a group of friends, we love to share special moments and discover new things with our tribe. 

When we look through our travel photos, we don’t remember the planning that went into it.  But every wonderful travel moment was born out of good planning.

Here are a few tips to make your travel planning smarter:

DO:

Assign person/s in charge

Having a point person on areas of your trip ensures that you’ve got that aspect covered. Agree to have that person know details that matter: dates, times, requirements, documents, options, etc. Someone could be in charge of accommodations and another for transportation.  Don’t forget to have someone research activities in the area.  It might be best to do advanced booking.

Create a chat group

It may be moot to mention this nowadays but here goes. Use apps like Viber, Whatsapp, or Facebook Messenger to post updates or poll for decisions. Make a new chat specifically for the trip. That way, it’ll easier to find things you talked about!

Agree on a budget

Have a budget agreed on early, to avoid surprises during the trip. The last thing you want is not to have money to buy that must-have souvenir or to pay fare for that last leg home. Some might be willing to spend on things that others are not.  You might want to divide things equally or per family or per item (eg food will be shouldered by one, the other will answer for activities etc). It is best to have this figured out before the actual trip.

Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

Book early

Popular places run out of space fast during peak season.  If you’re a big group needing a sizable space, it would be good to lock it in early.  Always check for group rates. 

Use the perks of big group travel

Consider houses, apartments or villas instead of hotel rooms when choosing accommodations.  Some of the most stunning accommodations like castles or heritage houses are cost effective for a group.

Same goes for transportation.  A taxi might be too expensive if you’re alone or just for two travelers.  But for four, it might come out cheaper than a train or bus ride.  Consider also renting a van or coaster for bigger groups. 

DON’T

Don’t hesitate to ask

If the things you want are not mentioned explicitly in the website of the provider, drop them an email. You’ll be surprised at the possibilities when you ask.  Among them: room or vehicle upgrades, free extra beds, discounts, children’s rates, early or late check in.  Some establishments may be experiencing a slump or have extra inventory, or may have woken up extra generous! You never know what they can throw in a package.  Specially for big groups

Don’t over-schedule  

Plan the days as loosely as possible. Also put in free time to roam around. Best discoveries often happen this way.

Don’t feel bad about splitting up 

No one wants to be forced to do things while on vacation. You don’t have to be together all the time. It’s enough to come together for at least one meal a day.

Do you have any tips you can share?