The Philippines is a haven of gorgeous beaches that never fail to attract tourists from all over the world. One of the popular vacation destinations in the country is El Nido, located in the northern part of Palawan. In 2011, the Underground River in Palawan was nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and won the title the following year.
Since receiving this worldwide recognition, Palawan has become a more coveted vacation spot for tourists. If you haven’t been to Palawan, particularly in the beautiful municipality of El Nido, this ultimate travel guide is for you.
Getting to El Nido Palawan
Getting to the dreamy destination has recently become easier for vacationers as there are different ways to choose from. One is to fly from Manila to Lio Airport El Nido via AirSWIFT, the only airline that offers that route. The flight, which starts at around $116 (Php6000), is considered the most convenient way to get to El Nido.
From Lio Airport, an airport personnel can help you get a “tricycle” (motorcycle with a sidecar) to drive you to town for around $4 or Php200. This would be a great option if you haven’t arranged for your hotel to pick you up.
A one-way trip that costs $116 may not sound great if you travel on a budget.
If a one-way trip is not feasible, there’s another route from Manila to Puerto Princesa International Airport via domestic carriers like AirAsia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. You can always check the following websites for awesome flight deals from Manila: Travelocity, Expedia, Cheapoair, and Vayama.
From the airport located at Puerto Princesa North Road National Highway, you can either take a shuttle bus or a van to El Nido. The shuttle van will cost you around $10 (Php500) and travel time is about 4.5 to five hours. Compared to the bus, the shuttle van travels faster. There are different van companies that offer the service but the best ones so far are Lexxuss Shuttle, KevinJohn, and Eulen Joy since they leave on-time. If you prefer a more comfortable ride with guaranteed safety, Daytripper vans are highly recommended.
Other van companies may have more affordable rates, like Fort Wally at $8 (Php400) but you might need to wait around until the van is filled with people. If you want to save time during your El Nido vacation, pick the company that have shuttles leaving every hour.
It is highly recommended for tourists – especially those who are traveling solo or visiting El Nido for the first time – to take the shuttle van for convenience. It’s best to reserve a seat a day before you arrive in town and know the place where you will be picked up. Once you arrive in El Nido van terminal, arrange for a tricycle ($1 or Php50) to take you to your hotel. Be careful of ripoffs who will insist you pay more than $1, though. They exist. You can also inquire at your hotel if they can arrange to pick you up at the terminal.
If you don’t feel like riding the shuttle van because you want to enjoy more legroom or if time is not even an issue on your holiday, take the bus. It will usually take about six to 6.5 hours to get to El Nido since the bus will make several stops along the way to pick up more passengers.
Cherry Bus leaves at 5 a.m. the earliest. You can always catch the bus every two hours. The last bus will leave at 9 p.m. Cherry Bus tickets cost $9 per head (Php 480) for the air-conditioned bus with reclining seats. It’s cheaper, around $6 (Php 290) if you choose the ordinary bus. RoRo Bus offers cheaper tickets starting at $7 (Php380) for the air-conditioned bus. As with Cherry Bus, RoRo Bus leaves every two hours starting at 4 a.m. With buses, you don’t need to worry about reservations.
You can find the Bus Terminal by walking from New Puerto Princesa Airport and get a tricycle. Let the driver know you want to go to San Jose New Market Common Terminal or simply bus terminal. Remember that the fare is only $1 or Php50. Some tricycle drivers will charge more if you are obviously a clueless tourist so they may ask double the price.
If you intend to save much more from your trip, you need to take a more complicated route. Ask a tricycle to drop you off Junction 1 (instead of going straight to the bus terminal). This will only cost Php 8 or $0.15. After, take a multicab that carries a signboard of New Market and then you’ll stop in front of the Common Terminal. This route will cost you only Php14 or $0.27.
El Nido is accessible from Coron and this sea route is much shorter compare to land trips from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Coron is also one of the best tourist destination in Palawan with lots of beautiful beaches and stunning islands. From Coron, you will arrive at El Nido at approximately 3.5 to 4 hours for $34 USD or Php1760 via Montenegro Fastcraft Vessel which departs daily at 12 noon. Arrive an hour before to check in. Check out the many travel agencies in Coron if you want to reserve tickets.
Best Time to Visit El Nido
There’s no bad time to be in El Nido. Any time of the year, the place remains to be attractive. It’s just a matter of personal preference, though. If you want to explore El Nido leisurely just to be away from the bustling city you are from or if you want to avoid the crowd, you can visit the place during the off-peak season, which is from June until November. Rates for tours and hotel accommodations are more affordable during this time.
The only thing that gets in the way is the weather. It’s the rainy season from July to August in the country so the rain might spoil your plan for island hopping or other activities. But if you don’t mind getting soaked in the rain, then traveling between June and November won’t be a problem.
If you don’t mind the crowd, though, and if you want to have fun under the sun while going island hopping, you can always choose to visit from November to May.
DIY Travel vs. Arranged Package Tours
If you want a smooth, hassle-free vacation to El Nido that will also save you time, there’s always the option to have a travel agency arrange everything for you. Package tours are affordable and usually let you enjoy the place for 3 days and 2 nights. Starting at $87 or Php4500, you can already enjoy the most basic accommodation. If you want better hotels with more impressive amenities, expect to pay more for the package tours.
Typically, a package tour will include your hotel or resort booking, van transfers, breakfast and island hopping with lunch and buffet. If you feel the need to stay in El Nido longer and explore the place more at your own pace, five days will suffice.
Dos and Don’ts in El Nido
- While El Nido is frequented by tourists, it should be noted that they are a conservative Catholic community. It’s a beach destination, yes, and you can find bikini-clad tourists walking around town. But sometimes, you still might feel awkward walking around town with only your two-piece bikini or swimming trunks on. So consider wearing a cover-up when you explore the town.
- Do get a SIM pack if you don’t want to miss out on going offline. Be warned though, there’s no fast and stable internet connection in El Nido.
- Always be extra careful and stay safe during your holiday. El Nido doesn’t have a hospital – only a small medical facility that caters to minor injuries.
- Do withdraw enough cash when you’re in Puerto Princesa or in Manila before heading to El Nido. ATM withdrawal has been made possible only in 2015 with Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) as the only bank available. You can only withdraw the maximum amount of $193 or Php10,000 and often, the bank runs out of cash especially during peak season.
- Do pay with cash and as much as possible, avoid paying credit cards as only a few El Nido establishments have credit card machines.
- Don’t forget to have a dry bag and zip lock for all your gadgets especially when you go island hopping.
- Don’t forget to apply mosquito or insect repellent at night to protect you from mosquitoes and insect bites. Off lotion is highly recommended. You may also bring Tiger balm which is a great remedy for insect bites.
- Don’t forget bring sunscreens with High SPF to prevent sunburns and good aqua shoes to protect your feet from sharp stones and corals, sea urchins, and deadly stonefish. Especially when you go island hopping.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to your hotel accommodation in El Nido. Basically, there are three main places in town where you can stay and leave your things behind as you explore the beautiful paradise that is El Nido. You can choose to stay in hotels located in the town proper, Caalan and Corong-Corong. You can find great deals of hotel accommodations via Agoda, Hotels, Booking.com.
Ultra Luxury Accommodations
Pangulasian Island Resort – Php 25,000+ (USD$500+)/Night
El Nido Resorts Lagen Island – Php 22,000 (USD$420)/Night
Miniloc Island Resort – Php 22,000 (USD$420)/Night
Cauayan Island Resort and Spa – Php 20,000 (USD$390)/Night
Matinloc Resort – Php 18,000 (USD$350)/Night
The Nest – Php 8,000 (USD$150)/Night
Spin Designer Hostel – Php 2,500 (USD$45)/Night
What Not To Miss In El Nido
Miniloc Island’s Small Lagoon is just one of the many unbelievably beautiful lagoons in El Nido, Palawan. Usually the first stop of El Nido Island Hopping Tour A, this lagoon is surely a good place to kick-start this tour.
Also part of the Tour A, the towering karst formations will remind you why this part of Palawan is also called a last frontier, as the clear, emerald waters will entice you to dive into it.
Hidden between two rocks is a strip of white sand beach.The beach is really hidden, that you can’t see it unless you go further in between these two stones. It was named hidden beach, simply because it is a beach hidden between two rocks.
The Secret Beach is a piece of paradise concealed by the cliffs and is only accessible through a narrow crevice. According to legend, the hidden paradise inspired author Alex Garland to write his novel The Beach when he stayed in El Nido.
These beautiful white sand beaches are the best beaches to head to after the island hopping tour. Enjoy the day while relaxing with breathtaking views of the sunset.
Although Nacpan Beach is not as pristine as it was before the local government mandated a Php100-entrance fee, it still remains splendid and worthy of praises.
Other than the beaches, El Nido also offers other activities for tourists. They include Mt. Mansilawit and Bulalacao Falls. Also, don’t miss out on overnight camping on the island, ziplining, cliff climbing, the nightlife, the booze-laden party boat, and of course – scuba diving.
Suggested El Nido Itinerary
If you want to plan your own El Nido vacation, you can go for a laid-back experience for 4 days and 3 nights.
- Day 1, relax as you arrive in El Nido. Explore the little town and book your tour for tomorrow (we recommend the Art Cafe).
- Day 2, go island hopping and snorkeling with Tour C. In the evening, book Tour A for tomorrow.
- Day 3, explore more beaches and lagoons with Kayak Tour A.
- Day 4, leave El Nido.
If you prefer to extend your stay to 5 days or more and get the most out of your El Nido trip, there’s also a recommended itinerary.
- Day 1, After your arrival on the first day, head to Taraw Cliff.
- Day 2, Go island hopping and snorkeling with Tour C.
- Day 3, head to Nagkalit-kalit falls and Nacpan Beach.
- Day 4, explore more beaches and lagoons with Kayak Tour A.
- Day 5, extra time to relax or more time for Marimegmeg Beach.
- Day 6, enjoy another tour package (either Tour B or Tour D).
- Day 7, Say goodbye to El Nido.
Island Hopping Tours
The highlights of the trip to El Nido are the island hopping tours. Labelled as Tours A, B, C, and D. Each one will take you on a journey to explore the nearby islands surrounding El Nido. It’s a way to discover many hidden beaches and spend a day snorkeling in the most beautiful spots and your best opportunity to explore the so called “unspoiled paradise” of El Nido. The beautiful and preserved islands, clear water lagoons, white sand beaches, snorkeling sites and their hundred of fishes and coral species. Simply put, the island hopping tours will introduce you to everything that makes El Nido such a tropical paradise.
There are tons of tour operators in El Nido, and they all offer the same island hopping tours itineraries. The prices are fixed and standard among local vendors but some are overpriced especially when you are clueless or if you book online. One of the reputable company that offer island hopping tours in El Nido town is the Art Cafe, they’re among the pioneers and had been known for being environmentally conscious and they played an essential role in sustainable tourism in El Nido. They have excellent new equipments and their crew and team obviously enjoy their job, which made the tours highly enjoyable.
Tour A – also known as the “Lagoon tour.” This package includes a visit to the Small Lagoon and the Big Lagoon, 7 Commandos Beach, Secret Lagoon, and Shimizu Island. The Big Lagoon is impressive, stretching in from the sea through a narrow passageway, accessible only with a kayak. Most people prefer to stay on their boat and skip it, that’s why renting a kayak is highly recommended. – Standard Rate is PHP 1,200 per person (with Kayak PHP 1,900).
Tour B – described as the Cave tour. It includes a visit to Snake Island, Cathedral Cave, Cadugnon Cave, Pinagbuyutan and Entalula Island. – Standard Rate is PHP 1,300 per person.
Tour C – involves more snorkeling around Matinloc and Tapuitan Islands with a visit to the famous Secret Beach, Talisay Beach, Star Beach, Hidden Beach, and Helicopter Island. – Standard Rate is PHP 1,400 per person.
Tour D – they call this the Beach tour and it includes stops at Cadlao Lagoon, Bukal Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Ipil Beach and Paradise Beach. – Standard Rate is PHP 1,200 per person.
Over the years, El Nido clearly has become a major tourist hub and that has brought some good and bad. Many frequent El Nido travelers say that so much has changed since private corporations started building their businesses. Nevertheless, El Nido managed to retain its charm and it’s still loved by many of those who visited the place. If you haven’t been to this beautiful municipality, you should start booking your trip and revel in the wonderful nature that still remains.
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