El Nido is one of the most beautiful destinations in the entire world and we want you to thoroughly enjoy yourself while you are here. However there are four things that can put a big damper on your vacation.
Please remember to reapply sunblock regularly throughout the day so you don’t get burned, particularly on your neck, back and the tops of your feet when you’re kayaking. We’ve seen many of our guests get sunburns, and that definitely affects your vacation plans!
Sand flies or nikniks, as they’re known locally, come out at dawn and dusk. Some people have a stronger allergic reaction to their bites than others. Nikniks are nearly invisible to the eye, and bites might not even start itching until the next day. Their bites are far itchier than those of mosquitoes, and take much longer to go away. We’ve never had niknik bites on the island hopping tours since they tend to leave by 3:30pm, but we have had guests get bites at Las Cabanas and Nacpan Beach if they’re there after 4pm without protection.
Here are ways you can protect yourself:
- Take an antihistamine before you go to the beach. This can greatly reduce your reaction to bites.
- Avoid the beach during dawn and dusk (after 4pm).
- Wear bug repellent with DEET, eucalytus, or citronella.
- Apply any type of oil like baby oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, tea tree oil. You can mix it with an essential oil like lavender, citronella or peppermint.
- Apply Vaseline.
- Wear light colored long sleeves and pants during peak niknik activity hours.
- Avoid walking over any vegetation like kelp as nikniks like to live under them. Sand flies like wet areas like mangrove mud and sandy shores.
- Sand flies do not like wind so keep moving and stay in the breeze.
- Consult with your doctor about taking vitamin B1 supplements (200 mg twice a day) which have antihistamine properties 2 weeks before your trip. This dose can be reduced as immunity develops.
- Eat Marmite, Promite, Vegemite – anything with high Vitamin B content.
- Sand flies are affected by the full moon as the tides encourage their movement.
- Dip a spoon in hot water and apply it to your bites. (our favorite remedy)
- Take an oral antihistamine if you haven’t already. (we always do this)
- Clean the bites with alcohol or a betadine + hydrogen peroxide mixture.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment.
- Hot showers tend to relieve the itch.
- Resist scratching as it can lead to infection.
- Make a paste of baking soda + water and apply.
- Apply hydrocortisone, aloe vera, calamine lotion, or tea tree oil.
- If your bites appear to be getting infected, do not hesitate to visit your doctor or dermatologist for antibiotics.
Jellyfish stings that is. Sometimes various conditions come together and we experience a baby jellyfish bloom in the shallow waters and shores. For the most part you might feel a tiny prick and some itchiness if you get stung by a small jellyfish, but it tends to go away relatively quickly.
When snorkeling, do be aware of larger jellyfish. In order to protect yourself, long sleeve rashguards or wetsuits and water shoes (which also protect you from sharp coral and sea urchins) are recommended when snorkeling and island hopping. An Australian company called Stinger Suits actually sells a full body jellyfish protection suit. And though we haven’t tried this, apparently wearing pantyhose or clothing made of lycra/nylon offers similar protection! Jellyfish respond to the chemicals on our skin, and a thin layer of fabric like pantyhose is enough to protect the skin. There are also jellyfish block creams available for sale, that also protect against seabather’s eruption (sea lice), but we haven’t tried those yet either.
The idea of jellyfish strikes fear in the hearts of many tourists, but jellyfish have never stopped us from spending the whole day in the water. The island hopping tours go on as usual, and for the most part we return home sting-free.
If you get stung by a jellyfish, wash the area with seawater, not fresh water, to deactivate the stingers. Remove the stingers using a rigid object like a credit card or a towel. Then douse it with vinegar (not urine like television has led many of us to believe). Vinegar does a great job of relieving the itch, and you can also apply a cortisone cream and take an oral antihistamine. Taking a hot shower or using a hair dryer on the area also helps. Clean and apply an antibiotic ointment to any open sores over the next couple of days.
Food that you eat abroad isn’t necessarily unsafe — your stomach just isn’t used to it and the natural fertilizers that locals use. But it is always wise to take precautions while traveling, and some people tend to be more prone to sickness than others. Here are some precautions to take:
- Taking a tablet of Pepto Bismol before each meal greatly reduces your chances of getting food poisoning. It’s not available locally so if you have a sensitive stomach, it might be a good idea to bring some. (You can read more about that in a recent New York Times piece here.) We also carry Immodium AD (an anti-diarrheal) with us when we travel, and it can be a lifesaver!
- Take probiotics in the weeks leading up to your trip to build up good gut bacteria.
- Avoid buffets and only eat food that is hot and freshly cooked.
- Street food can be a great option if the cart is busy, refrigerated properly and cooked fresh in front of you. Be observant and watch if vendors are wearing gloves and handling money and food in a sanitary manner.
- Stick to cooked vegetables and fruits and veggies you can peel yourself like bananas and mangos. Raw fruits and vegetables can pose a food poisoning risk because they are washed in tap water (and locally it is well water). Wash fruits you consume in purified water.
- Raw fish and shellfish is the number one cause of food poisoning.
- Only drink bottled or purified water and use it to brush your teeth as well.
- Alcoholic beverages may have ice cubes made from well water, so stick to the higher end establishments which use purified water for their ice cubes. Don’t be afraid to ask if ice is made with purified water.
- Avoid ice cream. If it has thawed and then been refrozen, bacteria can breed.
- Wash your hands frequently, after the bathroom and before every meal. Carry hand sanitizer or a bottle of alcohol with you at all times.
- Bring packaged food for kids. Granola bars and pouches have been lifesavers for our kids when we travel. And powerbars are great for adults too!
- Stick to the restaurants that cater to tourists rather than the food shacks locals frequent as they tend to have higher food safety standards.
- Order food well done.
- Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations – measles/mumps/rubella; varicella (chicken pox); hepatitis A; diptheria/tetanus/pertussis; typhoid (the tablets give you 5 years protection). The risk of malaria is low and we can’t take them as residents, but antimalarials are available through your doctor.
- Most of the medicines that you’re used to at home probably aren’t available in El Nido so it’s a good idea to bring them with you if there’s a possibility you might need them. They take up no room in your suitcase anyway!
For the most part you have to let food poisoning run its course, but we will make an electrolyte solution to make sure you don’t get dehydrated. Immodium AD can be a great help if you have diarrhea. If you have a particularly serious case, there is a private doctor in town who can administer an IV.