El Nido is one of the 3 main spots in Palawan, and probably the most famous one among all the Philippines. It is mostly known for its numerous white sand beaches and its iconic limestone cliffs.
Because it has received a lot of attention over the last years, from Palawan being named “Best Island in the World” to El Nido being ranked as one the “Most Beautiful Beaches in the World”, expect a lot of people to be traveling to this place.
El Nido is surrounded with crystal clear lagoons, secret beaches and amazing places to hike leading to waterfalls or breathtaking views from the top of the cliffs. There is so much to do that you would need a week to make the most of this place.
Full disclosure: we stayed 2 days in El Nido therefore we were only able to experience a fraction of what it has to offer. However, we put up this guide with all the activities available in El Nido so you wouldn’t miss anything.
We vowed to return there soon to experience everything we have missed or weren’t able to do and we will update this guide accordingly! Happy reading! 😊
How to get to El Nido
The fastest but not cheapest way to reach El Nido is to fly directly from Manila or Cebu via Air Swift. Flight is only 1h15mins from Manila and 1h40mins from Cebu, but it will cost you between PHP 11,000 (US $500) and PHP 15,000 (US $750) to get there. You might want to forget this option if you are traveling on a budget.
The second option is to fly via Cebu Pacific or Philippines Airlines to Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan) and get a van to El Nido. Note that it takes 7 hours to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa. If you wish to spend some time in Puerto Princesa, you can check out our Top 5 things to do in Puerto Princesa. Flying to Puerto Princesa from Manila/Cebu takes about 1h30mins. Note that Cebu Pacific is usually cheaper than Philippines Airlines.
You can also take the 2GO Ferry from Manila or Cebu to Puerto Princesa. However, the price difference with flying with Cebu Pacific being small, we think flying to Puerto Princesa is the best option time and price wise.
If you happen to be in Coron because it was on your itinerary (and it should be!!), you can take a boat to El Nido. There are 3 types of boat and obviously prices and travel times will vary accordingly. You can find all the information about the different boats here. Avoid booking online as it is more expensive. The boats aren’t usually full and you can book through your hotel in El Nido. We paid our tickets PHP 1,400 (US $28) each for the ferry. Even though it was a bit long, we enjoyed the ride.
What to do in El Nido
As we mentioned in the intro, you would need at least a week to cover the activities of El Nido. We only stayed 2 days and weren’t able to experience everything.
Island Hopping tours
There are 4 tours available: A, B C and D. A is the most popular tour as it covers small and big lagoon. C is the second most popular. All tours can be booked through your hotel or a travel agency in El Nido. As far as we know, all hotels and agencies offer the same price. All tours leave around 9 a.m. and come back at 4 p.m. Prices include lunch and snorkeling gear but don’t forget to bring extra food and enough water for the day. Usually drinking water is available on the boat.
Tour A : PHP 1,200/pax (US $24)
Small lagoon – Big Lagoon – Secret Lagoon – Shimizu Island – Seven Commandos Beach
This is the tour we chose, mostly for the beautiful lagoons. Unlucky for us though, the weather wasn’t cooperating. We barely had sun to enjoy the turquoise colors of the water and on our ride back to El Nido was pretty rocky with all the waves. Nevertheless, we enjoyed swimming and kayaking in the lagoons, and playing some beach volley with the locals at Seven Commandos Island.
Tour B: PHP 1,300/pax (US $26)
Snake Island – Pinagbuyutan Island – Entalula Beach – Cudugnon Cave – Snorkeling Site
Tour C : PHP 1,400/pax (US $28)
Helicopter Island – Matinloc Shrine – Secret Beach – Star Beach – Hidden Beach
Tour D : PHP 1,200/pax (US $24)
Ipil Beach – Cadlao Lagoon – Paradise Beach – Pasandigan Beach – Natnat Beach – Bukal Beach
As tours B & D are less popular, you can expect smaller crowds. Regarding our lunch on Shimizu Island, the beach was so crowded with boats that we couldn’t even dock. To be honest, we felt that our tour was a little too touristy.
Rent a Kayak and make your own tour
While the 4 tours offered are the most popular, you can also make your own. Just rent a kayak and go hunt for remote islands! In addition to discovering the places around, it is a good workout! 😉
The Philippines has many amazing diving spots and El Nido is surely one of them. Unfortunately, our budget did not include diving in El Nido as we’d already planned to dive in Coron. However, Palawan being a protected area, you won’t be disappointed with the rich marine life. We’ll definitely try diving next time.
Zipline between islands
Another fun activity to try is ziplining. Located 5Kms South of the town (you can rent a scooter to get there), you will “fly” above the water from one island to another.
It seems to be a little pricey but El Nido being one of the biggest tourist destinations in the Philippines, prices follow as such. Prices go around PHP 500 (US $10) for a one-way zipline ride. You can book a return trip with the zipline or choose to walk all the way back to the departure point.
Rent a scooter and hunt for hidden spots
If you are the adventurous type, you can rent a scooter and drive around in search of hidden gems. You can also go spend the day at Napcan Beach, located 40mins North of El Nido. The last part of the ride is a bit rough so you can rent a tricycle instead.
We rented a scooter for PHP 400 (US $8) to go catch the sunset at Napcan beach. Unlucky for us, we got caught by surprise by a storm on our way to the Napcan beach and had to turn back to El Nido.
Hiking to waterfalls and hot springs
Being surrounded with limestone cliffs, El Nido offers many trails that leads to breathtaking views, waterfalls, and hot springs. You can arrange the tours with your hotel.
Make sure to bring enough water, sun block and insect repellent.
Where to stay in El Nido
There are enough hotels in El Nido to please everyone’s taste, from the budget backpacker to the luxury traveler. If you are looking for a luxurious experience, try staying at El Nido Resort.
As for us, we stayed in Garden Hotel. The place was decent and the staff extremely helpful in guiding us and booking our different activities. We even got upgraded to a better room. The hotel is located in the center of the town, very close to all the tour departure points. Our 2 nights stay cost us PHP 3,978 (US $80).
We recommend you to check on Agoda for the best hotel deals.
Going out in El Nido
There are many places to try for the food. The one we would recommend on top is Altrove, an Italian restaurant. The owner was very welcoming and the food great. Only downside is the waiting time, but we showed up at a busy hour.
If you have time before dinner, go check SAVA Beach Bar. They have great cocktails and a Buy 1 – Get 1 Free Happy Hour.
Aside from those two places, best is go around town and pick what you like best, or what seems to have the coolest ambiance. 😉
Keep in mind that El Nido is generally more expensive than other places since it is very touristic.
Here is our cost breakdown for 2 days in El Nido. Note that we took the van from Port Barton to go to El Nido, not Puerto Princesa.
|Van from Port Barton to El Nido Bus terminal||Php 600/Pax or US $12/Pax|
|Tricycle from bus terminal to El Nido town||Php 50 or US $1 (divided between the number of people)|
|Garden Hotel (2 nights)||Php 3,978 or US $80 (divided between the number of people)|
|Island Hopping Tour A||Php 1,200/Pax or US $24/Pax|
|Scooter Rental to Napcan Beach||Php 50 (Originally Php 400*)|
|Drinks and food||Php 2,910 or US $58 for 2 people|
|Total (based on 2 people)||Php 5,294/Pax or US $105/Pax|
*We paid Php 400 to rent the scooter but because we had to turn back due to terrible weather conditions, the guy returned Php 350 to us.
We also have some tips for you before you arrive in El Nido:
√ Tip 1: Because of important media exposure over the last years, El Nido has become one of the main attractions in the Philippines. Expect the prices to be a little higher than other places you may visit.
√ Tip 2: El Nido has only one ATM. ATMs in remote places tend to run out of cash so we strongly advice to withdraw enough in Manila before you head to El Nido.
El Nido truly deserves its titles and recognition. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you book enough time to be able to fully enjoy all it has to offer, from beach bumming in hidden gems, to amazing sunsets in Napcan beach and breathtaking views from the top of limestone cliffs.
One thing we could not stress enough is when to go there. We visited El Nido last week of May and most of our activities ended up being canceled because of the heavy rains. The best time to go there is between January and end of April. May is usually the transitioning month from summer to the rainy season that occurs from June to October. Besides, your photos will look way better under a nice blue sky!
Have you been to El Nido? What did you try there? Share your experience and feedback with us! We’d love to hear from you! 😉