El Nido, Palawan: Full Travel Guide with Practical Itinerary is a work in progress. I’ve been to El Nido many times, and just paid another visit in May 2017 to introduce my husband to one of my favorite places, and of course, to update this guide!
This is perhaps the most updated El Nido travel guide blog you’ll ever need for your El Nido trip. I welcome all suggestions and comments to add to this travel guide and if you find any inaccurate or outdated information, please email me at ada[at]travelinboots.com with “El Nido, Palawan: Full Travel Guide with Practical Itinerary” as the Subject line.
I first visited El Nido, Palawan in 2011. The town of El Nido was unequivocally a quiet place back then.
Tour businesses, restaurants, and places to stay were in very small demand back then. Islands that are part of tours were also uncrowded.
Tricycle drivers were humble and honest, and everything was cheap. El Nido was then a hidden paradise waiting to be discovered by the world.
Six years later, I came back just to see what El Nido had become. It was no longer the El Nido I had known before.
All establishments and even houses now have tour agencies, restaurants are available left and right, and within every 10 steps of the main town are hotels and tour agencies.
Island Hopping tours are now very crowded.
Tricycle drivers are eager to get you as their passengers asking you, “Have you been to Las Cabanas? How about Nacpan mam? Sir?”
El Nido’s popularity has somewhat transformed the locals there from humble to pushy, though not everyone of course.
El Nido has become a major tourist destination, for both better and worse.
Nevertheless, there are many ways to still enjoy El Nido despite its big change, and many ways to avoid the tourist traps, and that’s really the main goal of this travel guide.
Visit El Nido now before it’s fully enveloped by the large private Philippine corporations which would sooner take over all the islands and take away the very core of what made El Nido special, to begin with.
The continuous and blatant buying of islands and hectares of land is what will transform El Nido into the next Boracay.
I believe the government should impose regulation to ensure El Nido retains its charm and nature. But money is money, so be sure to visit El Nido, Palawan while El Nido’s beautiful natural resources remain.
Best Time to Visit
For travelers seeking the beauty of El Nido, or simply a relaxing escape from the every day, you will benefit from traveling the off-season — June thru November. Tour and hotel rates are usually cheaper during this period, with the added benefit of avoiding the normal tourist crowd.
The caveat to choosing the off-season travel is the weather. Heavy rainfall occurs around July to August which can result in flight cancellations and canceled island hopping activities, not to mention putting a damper on your plans (pun intended).
My biggest tip for people traveling during these months is to be flexible and not get a round-trip ticket. On the other hand, while the dry months from November to May, maybe the best time to visit, expect the attractions to be jam-packed. Such a scene may not be too relaxing for some, and if you’re a photographer, you may have to deal with the frustration of people walking into the frame more often than you’d prefer.
In the end, the question of when to visit El Nido is a matter of personal preference, with each travel season bringing its own pros and cons. But, there’s ultimately no “bad time” to visit.
Accessing El Nido has become much easier in recent years. The only airline that flies from Manila to Lio Airport El Nido is AirSWIFT, previously known as Island Transvoyager, or ITI Air is the fastest and the most convenient way. Lio Airport was reopened in 2015 which is only a 25-minute ride to the town and is the easiest access to El Nido from Manila. The one-way trip usually starts at 6,000 pesos ([convert number=6000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) which may not be feasible for travelers on a budget, but the ease of access makes up for the price.
From Lio Airport, if you have not arranged a transportation via your hotel, airport personnel would be glad to call a motorized “tricycle” (a motorcycle with an enclosed sidecar) to drop you off in town for around 200 pesos ([convert number=200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) one-way (entire tricycle good for 3-4 people).
UPDATE as of May 3, 2017: The Puerto Princesa Airport has upgraded and is now called Puerto Princesa International Airport. The departure and arrival areas are now along the Puerto Princesa North Road National Highway. (The old airport was on Rizal Ave.)
For travelers on a budget, domestic airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa International Airport, Palawan. Philippine Airlines flies 3x a day, Cebu Pacific flies 4x a day, and AirAsia flies 5x a day to Puerto Princesa respectively. From the new Puerto Princesa Airport, you have two options to get to El Nido – by bus or by shuttle van.
Shuttle Van: Costing 500 pesos ([convert number=500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD ) for both Filipinos and foreign tourists. The van travel time is approximately 4.5 to 5 hours, including one stop for lunch, and is faster than the bus. The downside is that if you’ve got a full van it can be rather cramped inside.
For van transportation, I’ve found that Eulen Joy and Lexxuss Shuttle are the most reliable van service as they leave on-time, even if the van isn’t full. Other van services like Fort Wally can be cheap as 400 pesos ([convert number=400 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) but they won’t leave unless the van is full. So, for those who want to save time, I would strongly recommend you book with Eulen Joy or Lexxus Shuttle both to and from El Nido.
I always suggest taking a van because both travel time and convenience from the airport. I also strongly recommend that you reserve your seat at least a day before of your arrival, and to find out where to pick you up.
Shuttle van Reservations:
- Eulen Joy: +63 915 829 3735; or visit their Facebook.
- Lexxuss Shuttle: +63 917 686 1118; or visit their Facebook.
Upon arrival in van terminal in El Nido, I suggest taking a tricycle to your hotel. Tricycle rides should only cost 50 pesos ([convert number=50 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD), and are good for 3-4 people. If the driver insists on a per head cost, he is ripping you off. So, hop on to the next one.
Buses: If you are not in a hurry and would like more legroom and reclining seats, the bus is your other option. However, travel time is 6 to 6.5 hours, as it stops frequently to pick-up and drop-off passengers along the way. There are two main bus companies that leave from Puerto Princesa to El Nido.
Cherry Bus leaves every 2 hours with 5 a.m. being the earliest and the last bus leaving at 9 p.m. The price is 480 pesos ([convert number=480 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for aircon with reclining seats, and 380 pesos ([convert number=380 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for ordinary seating.
RoRo Bus is another popular and cheaper option, starting at 380 pesos ([convert number=380 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for aircon, and 290 pesos ([convert number=290 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for ordinary seating. This bus leaves every 2 hours with 4 a.m. being the earliest and 10 p.m. the latest. Both RoRo and Cherry Buses accept reservations but are not necessary. Just show up and ride.
To get to the bus terminal, walk a few steps from New Puerto Princesa Airport and look for a tricycle. For 50 pesos ([convert number=50 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD), tell the driver to take you to San Jose New Market Common Terminal or bus terminal. However, if you obviously look like a tourist with a bunch of luggage and big backpacks, it’s 100-120 pesos ([convert number=120 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
If you are traveling as a group, that’s the cost for the entire tricycle not per head. If the tricycle driver insisted on per head price, he’s ripping you off so just move on to the next tricycle.
Cheapest way: The cheapest way to get to the terminal is also the most complicated. You take the same tricycle, but instead of directly going to the bus terminal, tell the driver to drop you off Junction 1 and just pay 8 pesos ([convert number=8 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD), then take a Multicab with a signboard of New Market from there. The Multicab will stop in front of the Common Terminal, and it will only cost you 14 pesos ([convert number=14 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
Solo traveler tip: It’s cheaper and easier to just take the shuttle van.
From Coron to El Nido: The recommended way to travel from Coron to El Nido is also the fastest way. Travel time is only 3.5-4 hours and costs 1,760 pesos ([convert number=1760 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) one-way via the Montenegro Fastcraft Vessel. It departs from Coron everyday at 12 noon, but be sure to be at the port by 11 a.m. for check-in. To reserve tickets, just inquire at any travel agencies in Coron.
Know Before You Go
Walking in Bikinis. Do not walk in bikinis or trunks while in town. Not a lot of tourists know that El Nido is a very conservative Catholic community, and it’s considered disrespectful. So it is important that you also bring cover-ups. The one that I used was this for that tropical feel.
ATM Withdrawal. As of 2015, ATM has been made available in El Nido town — the Bank of the Philippine Islands or BPI. The maximum amount that you can withdraw is 10,000 pesos ([convert number=5000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) with a 200 pesos ([convert number=200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) fee for every withdrawal. This is the only ATM in town and often runs out of cash during peak season. The best option is to withdraw as much cash as you can while in Manila or Puerto Princesa airport before going to El Nido.
Currency Exchange. Shops like the El Nido Art Cafe offer currency exchange. There are also several pawn shops around the town to change your dollars to Philippine pesos. Be sure to understand the exchange rate to avoid being taken advantage of.
Credit Cards and Cash. Very few establishments in El Nido have credit card readers, and it’s not always safe to use some of the ones which are available outside of large chain stores. Always pay with cash.
If You Get Injured. Please stay as safe as possible. There is no hospital in El Nido, and they only have a small medical facility which only provides minor surgeries and diagnoses and treatment of common diseases. Cases of life-threatening illness require a ride back Puerto Princesa City which is 5 to 6 hours or a helicopter ride (if available).
Ways to Travel El Nido: DIY Travel vs. Packaged Tour
There are hundreds of travel agencies in the Philippines offering affordable El Nido package tours. Usually, for a 3 day / 2 night package, pricing starts at 4,500 pesos ([convert number=4500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per person with very basic accommodation. This is considered a really cheap deal, but be wary of the accommodation, particularly, if you’re used to western bathrooms.
If you’re looking for better amenities, you must ask details of your accommodation through the travel agency. Does it have free WiFi, backup generators (El Nido suffers from blackouts every day), a good toilet, and a hot shower? So, be sure to ask. More upscale hotel accommodations, prices start at 7,000 pesos ([convert number=6000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per person for a 3 day / 2 night package.
When choosing a good El Nido package, it should include the following: The hotel/resort, roundtrip van transfers from the airport to your hotel/resort, breakfast, and an island hopping tour with free snorkeling gear, and lunch buffet included.
A typical El Nido package tour for 3 days and 2 nights should look like this:
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido.
Day 2: Island Hopping Tour.
Day 3: Leave El Nido.
But to experience everything about El Nido, the recommended stay is at least 5 days and DIY or do-it-yourself way instead of package tours. However, if you are pressed for time, or only on a short-stay vacation, getting a package tour may be beneficial for you.
DIY Travel Advantages:
– Explore El Nido at your own pace.
– You get to pick your accommodation.
– Cheaper to plan your own trip.
DIY Travel Disadvantage:
– Takes time to plan. (But, this travel guide should help you!)
Package Tour Advantages:
– Good for a group of people (eg. family, barkada etc.).
Package Tour Disadvantage:
– Cheap package tour usually has basic accommodation.
What if you’re on a package tour?
If you are on a package tour, then you shouldn’t be reading this guide because everything should be taken care of by your travel agency. Kidding!
You shouldn’t have to worry because roundtrip transport to and from the airport and an island hopping tour is always included on your package tour. Contact your travel agency for details.
Understanding Island Hopping Tours
The classic way of exploring El Nido island is by joining group tours using a traditional motorized boat. Tours usually start between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. and ends anywhere between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m. You get to choose from 4 island hopping tours.
Tours A and D have the option to kayak from island to island rather than using the normal motorized boats. These kayak tours are available through some tour agencies such as the El Nido Art Cafe, but it can be quite pricey. So, if you are on the cheap side, you can just rent a kayak and explore on your own. However, it is important that you consider the weather, and do it at your own risk.
Normal boats: There are some tour agencies that offer combination island hopping tours like combination tours A and C, or A and B. If you are pressed on time then it’s worth considering, however, it’s difficult to join a combination tour if there are less than 4 participants.
Another downside in doing a combination island hopping tour is that some tour agencies skip some highlighted destinations of the tour if the boat runs slow. I did combination tour A&C via Northern Hope Tours, and while it was still a great tour, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, and Cadlao Lagoon were skipped for the time as they use the normal boats.
Speedboats: A great option for combination tours is by joining an island hopping group tour that uses speedboat. One company with speedboats is Skipper Charters, which we used during our last trip to El Nido, and I definitely recommend them. The staff were all great and the food was delicious.
In fact, there was actually too much for us to finish between the 6 of us! We visited a total of 8 destinations which are mostly highlights such as Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Cadlao Lagoon and Seven Commandos.
Since there were only 6 people during our tour, the price was around 3,200 pesos ([convert number=3200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD), however, I believe if there were 8 people, which is the maximum capacity, the price can go down to 3,000 ([convert number=3000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per head.
AUTHOR’S TIP: If your tour involves a visit to Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon, which is part of tour A, be sure to rent a kayak before setting out for island hopping, as these lagoons are best experienced with a kayak.
Understanding Land Tours
All land tours can be arranged when you get there. Just hire a tricycle driver (they are always available in town) to take you there, or, rent a scooter or motorcycle if you know how to drive one.
There are also many motorcycle rental shops in town and renting a motorcycle is the cheapest and most convenient way of exploring El Nido, by land. Starting at 450 to 600 pesos ([convert number=450 from=”php” to=”usd”] to [convert number=600 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per day depending on the model, you get to explore as many beaches and hidden destinations as you can rather paying for 1,000 – 1,500 pesos for tricycle for destination far from town.
Las Cabanas and Marimegmeg Beach
These two sandbar beaches are connected to each other, and they possess similar beauty, with Las Cabanas on the left and Marimegmeg on the right. Las Cabanas is more beautiful in my opinion, and more popular. It’s a beautiful white sand beach, with fine sand and gorgeous sunset views. After your island hopping tour, it’s highly recommended to head over to these beaches for the most beautiful sunsets in El Nido. A tricycle ride from the town should only be 150 pesos one-way good for 3-4 people. If coming from Corong Corong, 100 pesos one-way.
The trek to the falls is about 30-35 minutes. You will need a local guide to take you there as there are many confusing trails, and for your safety. The fresh cold water of Nagkalit-kalit waterfalls is perfect for the tropical heat of El Nido and it’s very refreshing. Nagkalit kalit visit is often tied up with Nacpan Beach tour as it passes the similar road. I suggest trading in the flip-flops for this hike though.
Once, this beach was so pure. Just a magnificent, and more importantly, clean, wide sandbar. Nacpan was an extremely beautiful first time I saw it in 2011.
When I returned in 2016, I was so angry that the local government was collecting a 100 pesos entrance fee from tourists for the development of the beach, which I knew was nothing more than corruption.
Now, only a year later (2017), several nipa huts and ugly umbrella beach chairs are occupying almost half of the sandbar.
I was so mad that the beach was no longer the beach I had known before.
There was also a floating bar ruining the blue background of the beach (Harmony Floating Bar). I bet it’s illegal. I can imagine the bar at night, when it’s open, its patrons throwing their trash into the ocean with zero regards for the ecosystem.
In addition, the hill overlooking the twin beach of Calitang and Nacpan was also temporarily closed because of some legal battle between real estate corporations.
Despite these unfavorable things I observed, Nacpan still holds a unique charm, making it the most beautiful beach in El Nido. I just hope that the rest of it remains restricted to tourists. A tricycle ride from the town to Nagkalit-kalit with Nacpan Beach is 1,000 pesos roundtrip good for 2-3 people.
Reserving for Tours and Activities Online
If you’re a planner and want to secure your bookings for island hopping tours, you can definitely reserve them in advance online.
Another recommended way to purchase an island hopping or land tours is by booking through your hotel in El Nido, once you get there. Many of these hotels have discounted agreements with the various agencies located around El Nido. Viator is another great platform to book your island hopping tours in advance.
Off the Beaten Path Land Tours
El Nido is more than islands and beaches. A different approach to explore El Nido is a taking the lesser known routes through its dense forests.
If you have been to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, chances are your tour guide also knows about Mt. Mansilawit, and you can ask if he or she can negotiate a price and take you there. Ille Cave is also around the corner where artifacts from Neolithic to Protohistoric period was unearthed by National Museum and University of the Philippines.
After the hike and cave exploration, there’s the Bulalacao Falls, which is less popular than Nagkalit-kalit, but offers the same refreshing experience.
These three destinations can be done in a day, however, you have to start early in the morning.
The estimated price for Mt. Mansilawit, Ille Cave, and Bulalacao Falls tour, is about 1,000 – 1,200 pesos. If you are looking to getting a package tour of Mt. Mansilawit, Ille Cave, and Bulalacao Falls tour in one day, it is best to contact the tour guide I met, Shiela May and her husband, at 0905-2250-782.
Kuyawayaw waterfalls, newly discovered in October 2016, is perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in El Nido, however, it’s way too far from the town. If you are curious, you can always hire a tricycle, or rent a motorcycle.
Suggested El Nido Itineraries
These are my suggested itineraries to help you plan your El Nido trip. It’s also worth mentioning that a 4 or 5-day travel to El Nido is recommended to fully experience it, instead of just a 3-day tour.
Itinerary 1: The Long Weekender (3 days and 2 nights)
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido.
Day 2: Tour A or combination tour with Skipper Charters and Marimegmeg Beach for sunset.
Day 3: Leave El Nido.
[*] Tour A ends around 4:00 p.m. and you should be back in town at around 4:30 pm. If you’re still feeling pumped after the island hopping tour A, from the town, take a tricycle ride to Marimegmeg Beach to catch the beautiful sunset. Fare is 150 pesos ([convert number=150 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) one way for the ride. If you want it cheap, just walk along the town highway and look for a running tricycle that already has a passenger in it, you may be able to share a ride and get there for as low as 20 pesos ([convert number=20 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
Itinerary 2: The Laid-Backer (4 days and 3 nights)
This itinerary is my recommended number of days for travelers visiting El Nido.
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido.
Day 2: Tour A or combination tour with Skipper Charters and Marimegmeg Beach for sunset.
Day 3: Tour C or Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
Day 4: Leave El Nido.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The trek going to Nagkalit-kalit falls is very nice. You’ll go through nine streams and might see some small tropical creatures. If you are doing both Tour A and C, I recommend that you do Tour C first because Tour A is so breathtaking that you’ll want it to cap off your trip. Ultimately, it is completely up to you which tour would you like to do first.
Itinerary 3: The Thirsty Traveler (5 days and more)
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido.
Day 2: Tour C
Day 3: Tour A and Marimegmeg Beach for sunset.
Day 4: Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
Day 5: Leave El Nido.
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido.
Day 2: Tour C.
Day 3: Taraw Cliff via Ferrata.
Day 4: Tour A and Marimegmeg Beach for sunset.
Day 5: Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
Day 6: Leave El Nido.
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido then Taraw Cliff via Ferrata.
Day 2: Tour C
Day 3: Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
Day 4: Tour A
Day 5: Extra time or Marimegmeg Beach.
Day 6: Leave El Nido.
Day 1: Arrival in El Nido then Taraw Cliff via Ferrata.
Day 2: Tour C
Day 3: Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
Day 4: Tour A
Day 5: Extra time or Marimegmeg Beach.
Day 6: Tour B or D
Day 7: Leave El Nido.
You are free to interchange the tour depending on your preference.
Itinerary 4: The Historian
On top of the mentioned tours above, there’s another activity that you should add to your itinerary if you are interested in the historical side of El Nido. During my hike to Nagkalit-kalit Falls, my tour guide, Shiela told me about Mt. Mansilawit and Ille Cave. Mt. Mansilawit offers an adventurous trek to a different view of the Cadlao Island; something that you do not see on a typical island hopping activity. Ille Cave, on the other hand, was a cave used as a habitation and burial site during the Neolithic to Protohistoric period. It’s been reported that over 20,000 artifacts have been excavated by the National Museum and University of the Philippines since its discovery.
If you are looking to getting a package tour of Nagkalit-kalit falls, Mt. Mansilawit and Ille Cave in one day, it is best to contact Shiela May and her husband at 0905-2250-782.
Itinerary 5: El Nido Castaway (Sibaltan, El Nido)
This itinerary is perfect for those who find El Nido a bit touristy and overcrowded. El Nido is actually a big place and the itineraries mentioned above are just the west side of El Nido. How about the east side you may ask?
Currently, there are five popular resorts in the east but the most popular are the Qi Palawan Resort and Tapik Beach Guesthouse. Both offer a different kind of El Nido experiences such as island hopping or overnight camping to the Linapacan Group of Islands (although not part of El Nido), the cultural tour of the lives of the local people, mountain biking, and hiking to lesser-known areas.
I’d like to add that when I recently returned to El Nido, I stayed at Tapik Beach Guesthouse and I wish I have brought friends and stayed for a couple of more nights.
It was an absolutely different El Nido experience to start with. Very quiet, away from the crowd. A hidden gem and see what El Nido looked like 20 years ago.
How to Get to Sibaltan: The small village of Sibaltan is where you want to go first. To get to Sibaltan, the cheapest way is to ride the old bus at El Nido Corong Corong terminal that goes to Sibaltan.
This bus leaves between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning depending on the number of passengers. Keep in mind that it’s the only public transportation that leaves for Sibaltan, and the fare is only 75 pesos ([convert number=75 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
If you missed it, call Tapik Beach Guesthouse and ask if they have guests that day and if you can share a ride. Fare is 100 pesos to 200 pesos ([convert number=200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) depending on the number of passengers.
Ultimately, it is best if you will make arrangements first with the resort where you plan on staying.
For budget travelers, I really recommend Tapik Beach Guesthouse, their customer service was the best. I’d like to point out that I paid for my room and this is not sponsored in any way.
Ideas To Do on Your Day 1
Consider these tips to better assist your planning for Day 1: Catch a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, or El Nido Lio Airport. If arriving in Puerto Princesa Airport, it’s best to take AirAsia’s earliest flight, which is the 05:45 flight, because the travel time from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is 5.5 to 6 hours. Your Day 1 starts with your arrival to El Nido.
Relax during this day. After checking-in at your hotel, walk around town to familiarize yourself with El Nido’s community. You’ll certainly not get lost since it’s a rather small town. Find the Municipal Tourism Office and pay the 200 pesos ([convert number=200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) Environmental Tourism Development Fee (EDTF), and don’t forget to get the receipt.
I repeat, always get the EDTF receipt and always bring it with you whenever you go on an island hopping tour in El Nido. There have been reports that some agencies collecting 200 pesos from tourists without giving the receipt. If this happened to you, decline paying, otherwise it will just go into their pockets.
By this point, you’ll probably have noticed that French restaurants and dessert shops selling crepes are rampant in the area.
This is because French entrepreneurs have been moving in to settle in El Nido since 2007. I suggest finding a shop to buy a crepe with Nutella and ice cream. It’s a personal favorite treat of mine, which should help beat the island heat.
If you didn’t buy a tour package in advance, then this is the perfect time for you to scout for a tour agency to join the island hopping for the next day. I went with Northern Hope Tours because they are known to leave on time, and their tour guides are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
Otherwise, there are many tour agencies to choose from, and since the price is standardized it’s really up to you. The number of tour agencies can be overwhelming, so it’s best to just book your island hopping tour through your hotel.
For dinner, eat at the best Filipino restaurant in El Nido, Bulalo Plaza. I honestly don’t like to mention this place. It has been my secret restaurant for so long, but they deserve the mention. I ate there nearly everyday during my stay because their El Nido Seafood Express and Bulalo is a 5-star meal.
For meat lovers, try their beef kaldereta, sinigang, chicken adobo and their special bulalo (bone marrow soup). You can never go wrong.
I also suggest Art Cafe, which has improved dramatically since my first visit. They also tend to have live music at night as well. But don’t overdo it, because tomorrow your island hopping or land tours begin!
Travel Essentials to Pack
Island Hopping and snorkeling tours are the main activities in El Nido. And don’t worry, snorkeling gear is usually part of the package. So when you visit El Nido, just pack some swimwear and summer clothes.
Another useful item to bring during water activities is a dry bag; your essentials, e.g. phone, camera, etc., will surely love it if they are kept dry, so make sure to invest one.
Dry bags are very handy when you go kayaking and when there’s a heavy rainfall during the island hopping activity. You can find them on Amazon (and presumably in any good outdoors store), it can be used as a backpack and comes with waterproof phone case.
If you don’t have the time to buy it, there are a lot of dry bags for sale in the town of El Nido usual price is 350 pesos ([convert number=350 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for small dry bag (5L) and 850 pesos ([convert number=850 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for big (20L). Haggle the price if they quote you more than that!
Since it’s also relatively humid in El Nido, pack some silica or desiccants to keep your electronics from humidity.
AUTHOR’S TIP: During the island hopping or kayaking I suggest having another small dry bag or waterproof container for your digital camera, for extra protection. We didn’t do this, and instead trusted the claims of the dry bag advertising which claimed, “These dry bags are meant to last for years and provide waterproof protection for even the most rugged users.” Well, it didn’t work, and now we’re looking for a good camera repair shop. So, I wouldn’t rely on the Earth Pak brand and get this brand instead.
Since you are in a tropical country, also make sure to bring insect repellant. If you’re doing Island Hopping C and visiting Matinloc Shrine (a haven for mosquitoes), you’ll thank yourself for bringing one.
Aqua shoes are also a must. If you didn’t rent a kayak for the big and small lagoons, which are part of tour A, your only chance to explore these lagoons is by swimming. So be sure to wear your slippers or aqua shoes, as sea urchins prevalent in these attractions, as well as sharp corals. That said, this is why I highly recommend renting a kayak while participating in tour A, you won’t be disappointed.
If you will also go to Nagkalit-kalit falls, you will cross 9 streams and flip-flops are a bad idea. I can still remember how many times my flip flops fell off in the running stream (when I first visited in 2009), and it was a pain in the butt to get it back. I learned my lesson and got the Aleader brand of aqua shoes from Amazon and it worked perfectly!
The last items that I would add here is a rash guard (or some type of under armor), and of course, LOTS of sunscreen preferably with SPF 100 similar to this one. The rash guard is optional, as one may think it looks unfashionable and not very “Instagrammy.” However, if you have skin prone to allergies like I do, it was the thing I wished I have bought and worn. After my El Nido trip, I went home with swimmer’s itch on my shoulder, arms, and legs and boy it was ugly.
The sunscreen is pretty obvious, but most people don’t think about putting it on their legs and feet as well while swimming, and those are usually the most vulnerable to sunburn (just ask my husband).
Since you are doing water activities, make sure to only use waterproof digital cameras.
Let me put emphasis on this: Do not bother bringing your regular digital camera that isn’t waterproof. Leave it! It will absolutely break your camera. Just pack your GoPro or any waterproof digital camera. If you’re from the US, I recommend getting these travel essentials through Amazon before your El Nido trip.
Considerations for Digital Nomads
Electricity. Before, electricity in El Nido town is only available 16 hours a day — from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. However, some hotels and other facilities had 24-hour backup electricity through their own generators.
In early 2015, El Nido modernized to an extent, and it is now 24/7. However, frequent blackouts may be experienced which can last for up to 6 hours to several days. A tip here is to stay at a hotel with backup generators if you cannot go offline.
WiFi and Mobile Internet Data. Between the two popular networks in the Philippines, Globe and Smart work well in El Nido. However, when using mobile internet data, opt for Globe as WiFi in hotels is usually very slow when there are a lot of guests connected.
The solution to this is to buy a Globe SIM for your unlocked phone, register for mobile internet data, and tether it to your laptop (ask the salesperson where you got the SIM from on how to register for mobile data).
Understanding Hotel Locations in El Nido
This list should guide you through choosing the best accommodations in El Nido – handpicked by me of course – to suit your budget, comfort and other preferences.
There are basically three (3) main places that you could set-up your base in the beautiful paradise of El Nido, all of which are as close to the beach and island activities as possible — the town proper, Corong-Corong, and Caalan.
Town Proper. Most beachside cottages, hotels, and resorts in El Nido. So if you are looking for the closest alternative, accommodations in the town proper is a good option.
Pros: Closest to bars and restaurant. Best access to town comforts.
Cons: Closest to the busy town (although nightlife is not as loud).
Corong-Corong. Perhaps the best location to stay, it’s quite secluded and near Marimegmeg Beach in El Nido. Corong Corong has a beautiful stretch of beach and quiet environment.
Pros: Great sunset view facing west. Beautiful stretch of beach. Quiet atmosphere. Slightly away from the hustle and bustle.
Cons: It takes 10-15 minutes to walk to the town proper or a short tricycle ride.
Caalan. If you are looking for a more secluded setting for your vacation, head out to the beach in Sitio Caalan. The sound of the waves crashing and the unobstructed view of the neighboring Cadlao Island should be enough to make you feel lost in paradise.
Pros: Great sunset view facing west. Very peaceful environment. Closer to the other islands (for island hopping tours).
Cons: Town is still a short tricycle ride away.
AUTHOR’S TIP: The best way to book your hotel is through Hotels, Booking.com, and Agoda. They always have great deals on hotels in El Nido. I like Booking.com better because they have a “book now, pay later feature.”
Alternatively, you can use Booking.com’s Live Deal Finder below to show all hotels in El Nido.
A. Town Proper Accommodations
Rovic’s Tourist Hotel
Beach Front, Calle Hama, Brgy. Masagana
Double room starts from: 2,290 php ([convert number=2290 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)[/one-third-first]
Innigo Tourist Inn
Calle Hama, Brgy. Masagana
Double room starts from: 830 php ([convert number=830 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)[/one-third]
Spin Designer Hostel
Balinsasayaw Road, corner Calle Real
1. Swiftlets Inn. Budget need not mean sacrificing the quality of your accommodations – and this is exactly what Swiftlets Inn tells its guests. Close to El Nido’s limestone cliffs and to the market. Very clean and modern rooms. Quiet location.
2. Ipil Suites El Nido. For backpackers and budget travelers who want to experience modern comforts without spending an arm and a leg, Ipil Suites El Nido is the best choice. Very affordable for couples and families to stay. Clean and chic suite rooms. Provides personalized island hopping tours. Best bang for the buck.
3. El Nido Garden Beach Resort. If you are willing to shell out a bit more to experience modern amenities, this resort offers rustic Filipino style rooms and a pool with a great view. It is the only resort in town with a pool boasting a beautiful view of Bacuit Bay. They also have a very nice landscaped garden, clean air-conditioned rooms, and free WiFi in the lobby.
4. El Nido Viewdeck Cottages. When it comes to unobstructed views, this hillside accommodation is where adventure begins. You will have to be a rather fit person to make it through the trip up and down to your topmost room. Guests enjoy a high level of privacy. Amazing view on top of the hill. Upper rooms have terraces. Superb massage service.
5. Seaslugs Travellers Inn. It can be pretty easy to feel at home at Seaslugs. They have bed bunk rooms perfect for families or travelers in group. This inn is relatively new so expect neat rooms and facilities and friendly staff. They also have a nice bar and restaurant.
And, if you’re looking for accommodations with a lot of character and one that allows you to meet up with like-minded travelers, I recommend looking into these hostels:
6. Spin Designer Hostel. When it comes to El Nido hostels, Spin comes right on top of the list. This was where I stayed for a few days and their photos online don’t do it justice. It really has an artsy feel with its beautiful interiors and with several common areas and a game room, there will never be a dull moment during your stay here. My favorite part here is their all-you-can-eat breakfast where they serve omelette, pancakes, fruits and traditional Filipino bread called pandesal.
7. Our Melting Pot Hostel. OMP has long been known as the hostel of choice for many backpackers. Even when you are traveling solo, you will feel right at home in this place. I also stayed here for a night after staying in Spin, as I was already running close to my budget. The staff is super friendly and they have rustic laid-back ambiance.
B. Corong Corong Accommodations
1. El Nido Mahogany Beach Resort. This topnotch resort boasts of a tropical vibe. The entire resort is full of tall coconut trees and the villas are full of typical beach houses with a modern twist. They also have excellent massage service.
2. El Nido Overlooking. As its name suggests, this hotel has among the best panoramic views of Palawan available. It can be easy to lost in the beauty of this island, and this beauty adds an atmosphere which make El Nido Overlook perhaps the best and most romantic accommodation for couples. The hotel features luxurious accommodations with a pool, a garden and an outside seating in the villas.
3. Las Cabanas Beach Resort. Located in Corong Corong, Las Cabanas Beach Resort is a perfect starting point from which to explore El Nido. The hotel offers a high standard of service and amenities to suit the individual needs of all travelers. This is the most popular choice among travelers as it is located near Marimegmeg Beach where the perfect El Nido sunset view is.
4. Doublegem Beach Resort and Hotel. This sprawling private beachfront resort boasts an infinity pool, a sunset boardwalk, massage services, and among the best views to catch an El Nido sunset. They actually have two locations, the beach side and the road side. My friends who stayed here unsurprisingly recommended the beach side, as do I. This is also the best place to hold weddings, conferences and other events.
If you are slightly within budget but would still like to enjoy the beauty that is Corong Corong, these are the inexpensive places that you should consider:
5. Buena’s Haven Travelodge. With its immaculately clean and comfortable rooms and beautiful views of the beach, there isn’t a wonder why this accommodation is a top budget hotel option in Corong Corong.
6. St. John Island View Pensionne. A three-storey building complete with air-conditioned rooms, perfect sunset views, and a quiet atmosphere.
7. Dormitels PH El Nido. At just 361++ per night, Dormitels PH is extremely popular among budget travelers and backpackers.
8. The Birdhouse El Nido. This glamorous camping or glamping style accommodation is managed and owned by a very nice married couple who are also travel bloggers; meaning these people know what travelers want. You should check out their Facebook Page to learn more about their glamping style accommodation.
C. Caalan Accommodations
1. Cadlao Resort and Restaurant. This resort is a hidden gem that provides the best for its guests. From the rooms, its facilities, to its superb restaurant, This resort is considered among the top hotels in El Nido. The resort comes with a private beach and two swimming pools. Perhaps the perfect hidden getaway for families, they also offer private and executive island tour packages.
2. Angel Nido Resort. When owners take care of their property and their customers, it shows. Angel Nido Resort is one of the top specialty lodgings in El Nido with clean and well-maintained facilities, very accommodating owners and serves delicious Italian pasta and wine.
3. El Nido Reef Strand Resort. This modern house turned resort provides great value for your money with personalized service and a great ocean view. The resort has a homey feel; very hospitable owners, and rooms have verandas and an excellent view of the sea.
4. Makulay Lodge and Villas. I met the owner of this beautiful lodge during Travel Massive event in Manila. I was able to take a glimpse of their place when I was randomly walking around the Caalan area. What makes this place special is they provide barbeque facilities for outdoor dining. They have beachfront accommodation with plenty of water sports activities. The location is also very quiet.
5. Antonio Village Pension and Cafe. This lovely accommodation is perfect for backpackers who want a decent room. This pension (guest house) is known for having friendly owners and accommodating staff.
6. Kalinga Beach Resort. Nothing beats being able to stay in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere and being served with delicious food in an overlooking terrace by the sea – exactly the way Kalinga Beach Resort delivers.
7. The Nest El Nido Beach Resort. Newly opened beach resort in Caalan providing both comfort and relaxing stay.
Airbnb Specialty Lodgings
To date, there are over 200 Airbnb accommodations in El Nido. This is another great way to stay in El Nido as you get to stay at a local’s home. All you have to do is head over to Airbnb website and type El Nido in the destination field. If this is your first time with Airbnb, sign-up using my link and you will get 31 USD ([convert number=31 from=”usd” to=”php”] PHP) travel credit on your first booking.
Luxury Island Accommodations
These luxury hotels and resorts offer world-class quality service and a different El Nido experience
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Accommodations Off the Beaten Track (East of El Nido)
As mentioned in the El Nido Castaway itinerary section, these accommodations are located in the eastern part of El Nido.
Jump off point is the village of Sibaltan, which is an hour and a half ride from the town proper of El Nido.
This part of El Nido is still unknown to many and according to locals, this is what the western part of El Nido looked like 20 years ago. Its untouched beauty is what makes it attractive to some. Beware that the area has limited access to electricity and WiFi connection, therefore staying here would give you a partial “digital detox.”
1. Qi Palawan Resort is a French-owned resort which opened in 2014, and is now booming due to its almost 5-star service.
2. Tapik Beach Guesthouse offers affordable accommodation without sacrificing comfort. This resort/guesthouse is known for its friendly staff. Rate starts from 800 pesos ([convert number=800 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
3. Bayog Beach Campsite perfect for budget travelers, they have basic accommodation and camping tents fronting the sea of Linapacan. Rate starts from 450 pesos ([convert number=450 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) for a camping tent good for two.
4. Ursula Beach Cottages and;
5. Flordesitas Beach Cottages are your other options.
Ever since El Nido became one of the top destinations, new restaurants started to roll in. If you are interested in the bird’s nest soup that El Nido is known for, the only restaurant that serves this is El Nido Skyline Inn.
AUTHOR’S TIP: As much as possible, do not heavily rely on TripAdvisor’s top restaurants. Most reviews there are rigged. Instead, I recommend that you refer to this local blogger and hotel owner for restaurant recommendations: Best Things to Eat and Drink in El Nido and Where to Eat in El Nido.
What Else To Do in El Nido
Island Overnight Camping. There are a bunch of agencies around town which offer overnight camping on the islands. This is another way of experiencing El Nido if you really want to get away from the tourists doing the typical island hopping tours. Just walk around town and look for an agency that offers this type of activity. Everything is arranged including the camping tent, breakfast, lunch and snorkeling gear.
Private or chartered tours. Chartered tours are great because the watercraft they use is faster than the traditional boats. Thus giving you the ability to explore more islands. There might be a lot of them but the only company I’ve seen doing this is Skipper Chapters which I already mentioned above.
Las Cabanas Zipline. It’s a 750-meter zip line which starts from Las Cabanas Beach and Depeldet island. The price depends on the position you’d like. Sitting position is 500 pesos ([convert number=500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) one way, and the Superman position is 700 pesos ([convert number=700 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD). So far, Josiah has the most informative blog about Las Cabanas Zipline.
Taraw Cliff Climb via Ferrata. This is the safest way of climbing the famous Taraw Cliff that gives a bird’s eye view of Bacuit Bay, El Nido.
Nightlife. There are two major locations to enjoy the nightlife in El Nido. After sunset, there are several bars in Marimegmeg Beach. However, if you’d like to bar hop, just stay in town near the beach.
Scuba Diving. There are many PADI Dive Centers and Resorts scattered around El Nido. For beginners with no scuba diving experience, these places offer certified dive trainers to start you on the path of exploring the waters surrounding the islands called fun diving.
Spa and Massage. One thing you will love about third world countries like the Philippines is the very cheap massage services. You may try getting a traditional Filipino massage or ‘hilot’ which I recommend you to experience at the end of the day after all your tours and activities.
Summary of Prices and Expenses
El Nido was a hidden paradise to the world until a sea accident happened in Bacuit Bay in 1979. Since then, it has become a major tourist destination in the Philippines all thanks to its towering dark limestone cliffs covered in lush, green forests, white sands, and clear turquoise waters.
While many would think that escaping to such a beautiful getaway would mean costing a lot of money, it does not necessarily have to be so.
This section is the summary of every expense that you may possibly spend in El Nido.
Island Hopping Tours
This section summarizes the price of each island hopping tour in El Nido. All island hopping tours include buffet lunch and snorkeling gear. Prices may vary by the tour agency.
- Tour A – 1,200 pesos ([convert number=1200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tour B – 1,200 pesos ([convert number=1200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tour C – 1,500 pesos ([convert number=1500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tour D – 1,200 pesos ([convert number=1200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Combination Tour with normal boat – 2,000 pesos – 2,500 pesos ([convert number=2000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Combination Tour with speedboat – 3,000 pesos – 3,500 pesos ([convert number=3000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tricycle to Nacpan and Nagkalit-kalit falls – 1,000 pesos – 1,500 pesos ([convert number=1000 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per tricycle or;
- Motorbike rent – 450 to 600 pesos per day ([convert number=450 from=”php” to=”usd”] to [convert number=600 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD).
- Taraw Cliff via Ferrata – 500 pesos ([convert number=500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Las Cabanas Zipline – starts at 500 pesos ([convert number=500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
There are plenty of traditional eateries in the town proper. Also called as turo-turo or “point-point” in English, meaning that you point what you want to eat from a variety of choices and then pay as you order. Meals range from 60 – 75 pesos ([convert number=75 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) and include rice, viand, and soup or vegetable. While nice bar and restaurants range from 150 – 300 pesos pesos ([convert number=300 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD) per meal.
- EDTF or Environmental Fee – 200 pesos ([convert number=200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Kayak Rental – 300 to 500 pesos ([convert number=300 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- GoPro Rental – 1,200 pesos ([convert number=1200 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Underwater Camera Rental – 900 pesos ([convert number=900 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
Transportation Costs and Getting Around
- Tricycle from bus or van terminal to your hotel accommodation – 50 pesos ([convert number=50 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Van shuttle – 500 pesos ([convert number=500 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tricycle in line to Las Cabanas and Marimegmeg Beach – 150 pesos ([convert number=150 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Shared tricycle with locals to Las Cabanas and Marimegmeg Beach – 15 pesos ([convert number=15 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Tricycle from van and bus terminal to your hotel – 50 pesos ([convert number=50 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- RoRo Bus aircon – 380 pesos ([convert number=380 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- RoRo Bus nonaircon – 290 pesos ([convert number=290 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Cherry Bus aircon with reclining seats – 480 pesos ([convert number=480 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Cherry Bus ordinary – 380 pesos ([convert number=380 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
- Motorbike rental 400 pesos – 600 pesos per day ([convert number=450 from=”php” to=”usd”] USD)
The Philippines used to be an overlooked destination. But thanks to the efforts of the Philippine’s Department of Tourism, it has become a mainstay on the list of the top travel destinations in the world by many renowned online travel websites.
In 2010, Boracay gained popularity as a tourist hotspot, followed by Palawan in 2011, when the Underground River was nominated to be recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and eventually won in 2012. Since then, many have dreamed of making Palawan their next travel destination.
It’s because of this, along with my own personal love of El Nido, that I decided to create this travel guide. So that you too can experience the wonder and beauty of this tucked away gem, in the Philippine islands.
06/01/2017 – Illegal vendors of “kayaks for rent” squatting the Small and Big Lagoons were finally vanished by the local government.
05/03/2017 – The new Puerto Princesa International Airport is now on National Highway North Road.
12/17/2016 – Added the best way to reserve for island hopping tours.
12/17/2016 – Matinloc Shrine and Nacpan Beach now have an entrance fee of 100 pesos.
12/06/2015 – Updated: ATM now available in El Nido.
09/22/2011 – Created.