El Nido Palawan Philippines | Complete Travel Guide – 2022 Update

THIS IS THE UNDERSTANDING ABOUT EL NIDO PALAWAN

The municipality of El Nido encompasses the northernmost tip of the main island of Palawan and the 45 rocky islands dotting Bacuit Bay. A protected area, El Nido is a treasure trove of marine life and a spectacular seascape, earning it a consistent place among the best beach destinations in the world. Although a first-class municipality, El Nido remains a quiet town. The town proper is tiny, with very few big establishments other than small travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, and stores. The nearest city is Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, which is five hours away. Together with Coron and Puerto Princesa, El Nido is part of the popular tourism triumvirate in Palawan. These are the three most visited destinations in the province. El Nido sits in the middle, accessible from both Coron to its north and Puerto Princesa to its south.

El Nido Palawan Philippines has some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever encountered. This cluster of islands is off the tip of Palawan Island and is full of dramatic rock formations and surrounded by bright blue waters. There are a ton of things to do in El Nido so give yourself a week in El Nido if you can. The town itself has enough options for food and the basics for a week-long trip.

         More info you need to know:

  • Language: Tagalog is spoken by the majority. But English is widely understood and spoken. A significant fraction of the population also speaks Cuyonon and other Visayan languages.
  • Time zone: UTC+8 (Philippine Standard Time). Same time as Singapore and Malaysia; one hour behind Japan.
  • Currency: Philippine peso (PHP, ₱). PHP100 = USD 2, EUR 1.75, SGD 2.75, MYR 8.25, IDR 28,200 (as of March 2020).
  • Modes of payment: Cash! Most establishments prefer cash. 


HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO, PALAWAN

There are three ways to travel to El Nido: Air, boat, or land. We’ve taken all three.

Traveling to El Nido from Manila – Flight time: 80 minutes, Prices vary based on season average price low season: 5,000P  high season 8,000 Pesos

Puerto Princesa Airport to El Nido

If Airswift’s rates are a bit taller than your budget, you can fly to Puerto Princesa instead. Then travel by land from there. Puerto Princesa has an international airport that is now much bigger and more equipped. Flights to PPS are generally cheaper than direct flights to El Nido. And they can go extremely low during seat sales. AirAsia and Cebu Pacific Air offer the lowest fares but the published rates don’t include baggage allowance, seat selection, and meals. Philippine Airlines have all these add-ons included in their published rates.

To reach El Nido from Puerto Princesa International Airport, you have two options: by van and by bus.

By VAN : This is probably the most popular option among tourists because it’s slightly faster. If you book in advance, the van can pick you up at the airport and take you straight to El Nido in 5-6 hours.

Klook offers two transfer services: regular and DayTripper.

  • Regular Van
    Multiple trips are available from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm.
    Fare: P500.
    ✅ RESERVE A SEAT HERE!
  • DayTripper Van
    DayTripper is a reputable travel agency in Palawan. Their vans are slightly more comfortable with bigger legroom and headroom. They are also known for their excellent service (with seatbelts!), and they only need 5 passengers to go. There is only one DayTripper van available on Klook, scheduled to leave at 10 am as of this writing. (Double-check the time before you book because this might change.)
    Fare: P850.
    ✅ RESERVE A SEAT HERE!

By BUS: The bus is another option. It’s my preferred option, actually. Buses are more comfortable now than before, more comfortable than the vans (at least in my opinion). Wider legroom, cooler temperature, and just bigger breathing space overall. Haha. The downside: it’s slower, taking 6-7 hours. And there are fewer journeys per day. But if you’re not in a big hurry, it’s a great option.

Here’s how to take the bus to El Nido.

  1. Walk to the gate of the airport.
  2. Hail a tricycle and ask to be taken to San Jose Terminal. Fare is P120 per ride. Split the cost if you’re a group. Alternatively, you can take a trike + jeepney combo, which is cheaper. But since I’m guessing you have heavy bags in tow, just go straight to the San Jose Terminal.
  3. Board a bus to El Nido.

Two bus companies to choose from: RoRo Bus and Cherry Bus.

RoRo Bus
Ordinary: P290
Airconditioned: P380
Operating hours: 5am-9pm
Frequency: Every 2 hours

Cherry Bus
Ordinary: P385
Airconditioned: P480
Operating hours: 4 am-10 pm
Frequency: Every 2 hours

Both buses will make several stops along the way to pick up more passengers, the longest will be in Roxas. The bus will terminate at the station in El Nido. From there, you can take a tricycle to your hotel or resort. Fare is P50.

 

*Best Area to Stay in El Nido*

El Nido’s poblacion is composed of four barangays (villages): Buena Suerte, Corong-Corong, Maligaya, and Masagana. Together, they occupy two small peninsulas that jut out into Bacuit Bay. What most people refer to as the “Town Proper” is actually the settlement parallel to the beach in Brgy. Buena Suerte. Just next to it is Brgy. Masagana, is best known for several more resorts and Calaan Beach. Corong-corong lies on the southern cape, with its nooks and crannies filled with fine sand.

There are four main areas where you can stay:

  • Town Proper (Buena Suerte). This is where most of the action is. Its streets are flanked with tour offices, small hotels, and restaurants. Of all these areas, it was the first to be developed. It also has a teensy bit of nightlife.
  • Corong-Corong. Tucked in the southern beaches of the poblacion, it has that isolated tropical paradise feel. It’s the area nearest the bus terminal.
  • Calaan Beach (Masagana). Resorts have also begun flourishing in the area, but just like Corong Corong, it doesn’t feel crowded either.
  • The Islands. Accommodations on the islands are mostly luxury resorts, which are totally expensive, so let’s pretend they don’t exist. LOL
If you’re in El Nido for some peace and quiet, stay in either Corong-Corong or Calaan. But if you just want convenience, the town proper is still the best choice

Photo by: EP Photography / EL NIDO PHOTOGRAPHER

Top 15 Things To Do In El Nido Palawan

El Nido is more than just a place it’s a cluster of 45 small islands on the tip of the Palawan island. There are plenty of things to do in El Nido to fill a trip itinerary for more than a week exploring all that El Nido has to offer.

The islands of El Nido are some of the most beautiful and enchanting in the entire world. Here is a list of the top activities in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines.

1. KAYAK IN EL NIDO’S BIG LAGOON:The Big Lagoon in El Nido is a magical place. The water here is a one-of-a-kind color surrounded by tall rock formations. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. It’s paradise! Update: Plan your time right, now you can only visit Big Lagoon or Small Lagoon during your Tour A in El Nido and the traditional Filipino boats are not allowed inside the lagoons, you must take a kayak.

2. DIVING IN EL NIDO: El Nido is home to over 30 dive sites with frequent trips to about 10 depending on the tides and conditions. The Bacuit Bay is home to a wide range of beautiful sea life and interesting structural formations. The Dilumacad Underwater Tunnel – Located about a mile and a half from the shores of Dilumacad Island (Helicopter island) there is a dive site most local divers call ‘ The Tunnel’. 12 meters under the surface there is a 40-meter tunnel that you can swim through filled with fish and other sea life. Just another one of the amazing things to do in El Nido. 
3. EAT PIZZA AT ALTROVE: Of all the amazing things to do in El Nido, it may seem strange to include pizza on the list of things to do, but it’s that good. Every night there will be a line down the street, it’s worth the wait.

 4. VISIT SNAKE ISLAND : This island is another great example of the beauty of El Nido. What makes Snake Island so special isn’t necessarily the island itself, but the strip of sand leading up to it. When the tides are right snake island has a thin strip of sand wiggling its way through the bay, pointing right at snake island. Snake Island is the top thing to do on the El Nido Tour B day trip.

5. SECRET LAGOON & BEACH: The southern bay of Miniloc Island has some of the most remarkable stone structures around El Nido. Large pieces of limestone rise out of the sea forming thin curtains of black rock. Some of these rocks have small holes in them that make you wonder how they were formed. This beach is a popular lunch stop on the El Nido day trip tour. The tours actually stop here for another reason than the beach actually. Tucked behind a tall wall is the Secret Lagoon surrounded on all sides by tall jagged limestone. A short crawl through an opening in a rock brings you into an open-top natural cathedral. There is also a cave to explore at this stop as well, be sure not to miss it.

6. SPEND A DAY AT LAS CABANAS BEACH: Las Cabanas is one of the best beaches reachable by land from El Nido town. A long walk or a short tricycle ride to the beach entrance. Las Cabanas beach seems to go on forever and is largely empty. There are a few resorts popping up and a few restaurants to have a beer or a meal. Las Cabanas makes for a great day trip from El Nido and is one of the best things you can do independently or without a boat. If you want to spend the night we suggest Las Cabanas Beach Resort

7. SPLASH AROUND IN THE SMALL LAGOON: After a short ride from El Nido town is the small lagoon. This lagoon sits on the northern end of Miniloc Island. What makes this a thing to do in El Nido is the fact that it’s an open-top cathedral of limestone. Vertical walls of stone from a lagoon of shallow water in nearly a perfect circle. Once inside, staring up at the imposing walls, it starts to look like a very alien landscape. The water depending on the tides isn’t really deep enough for swimming, but it’s fun to splash around a listen to the echoes off of the stone. You can reach the small lagoon on the El Nido Tour A day trip.

8. VISIT HIDDEN BEACH: Tucked away behind high walls of stone, a small opening reveals shallow pools of clear water and soft sands. It’s only visible to the open side by a tiny break in the natural stone walls. Visit this island by joining an El Nido Tour C day trip.

9. NAGKALIT-KALIT WATERFALLS:  A 1-2 hour hike through the lush forest area brings you to the Nagkalit-Kalit waterfalls. The falls are a 10-meter tall trough of water that slides down the rocks and shifts right and left. There are two falls and at the base is a pool to take a swim in. If you have lots of time in El Nido this can be a nice day trip, but during the dry months don’t expect to be blown away by the waterfall.

10. HELICOPTER ISLAND: Shaped like, you guessed it, a helicopter this island looks remarkably like a giant helicopter sitting in Bacuit Bay. The island is home to a few nice beaches and is part of the El Nido Tour C day trip. There are also many dive trips that will take you to this part of the bay. The biggest draw to the island is the shape and it’s best seen from a boat. You don’t necessarily need to stop at the island unless you just want to have some beach time, but there are so many things to do in El Nido you might not have time to lie around.

11. VISIT CADLAO LAGOON: Located on the far side of the large Cadlao Island that you can see from El Nido Town is the lagoon by the same name. This is the highlight stop on Tour D, along with a few other nice beaches on the island on the way to the lagoon. This is really the only tour you might be able to do independently by renting a kayak and following the shoreline of  Cadlao Island. 

12. RENT A SCOOTER AND GO EXPLORING:  One of the best ways to explore El Nido by land is by renting a scooter or motorbike. Scooters are very reasonable to rent by the day and are a lot more fun than being part of a shuttle van tour. Quickly cruise between Las Cabanas Beach all the up to Nacpan Beach with lots of sights along the way. 

13. DAY TRIP TO NACPAN BEACH & TWIN BEACHES: Nacpan Beach and Calitang Beach are about a 30-minute drive from El Nido town.  To reach the twin beaches you can rent a scooter, or join Tour E (inland tour), or pay a tricycle driver to bring you (1500 pesos whole day that fits 3 people).

This is a nice beach – probably one of the nicer beaches on the mainland of the E Nido Area. However, it is just *nice* compared with all of the amazing beaches surrounding El Nido. Nacpan Beach is worth a visit if you are staying for a long time or need a break from the day trips. It also pairs well with Nagkalit-Kalit Waterfalls, especially if you rent a scooter.
14. ZIPLINE IN EL NIDO : Soar high above the beautiful Las Cabanas Beach across the water to the small island in front of the beach. The ziplines will carry you 2500 ft across the bay to Depeldet Island. Prices to ride start at about 500 Pesos with chances to add to your adventure.
15.  WATCH THE BEAUTIFUL SUNSETS OF EL NIDO:  El Nido town is facing to the west so every night you are blessed with an amazing sunset to finish your action-packed day in El Nido. Grab your camera and a Filipino beer and enjoy while reflecting on all the amazing things you’ve done in El Nido.

Top Budget Resorts & Hostels

My favorite place to stay in El Nido is SPIN DESIGNER HOSTEL. It’s clean and well-maintained, has friendly service, and an environment that is conducive to forging friendships with other travelers. Because it’s in the town proper, almost everything I need is within easy reach.

Coincidentally, SPIN HOSTEL is one of the top-rated properties on Agoda, so I guess I’m not the only fan. Here are the rest of the highest ranking budget accommodations as scored by online users. Note that not all of these are in the areas we think are ideal, but they have the best scores among the affordable properties.

Aside from these, you can find basic, no-frills dormitories that offer beds for P800 and below per night. One of these is At The Moment Hostel in the town proper and Dormitels. ph in Corong-corong (P800 per night), but I haven’t tried either.

SAMPLE EL NIDO ITINERARIES

Below are two sample El Nido itineraries, which you can use as basis for your own. Just make the necessary adjustments to match your preferences. Also included is the breakdown of expenses.

This itinerary assumes the following:

  • You’re a party of 2, splitting some expenses.
  • You’ll be staying at SPIN HOSTEL dorm or any room in the town proper for P1000 per night.
  • You’re coming from Puerto Princesa Airport and traveling by bus to El Nido on your first day. This means that much of your Day 1 will be spent in transit. You’ll arrive in El Nido in the early afternoon and give you plenty of free time after that. Use this time to scan, compare, and book tours.
  • You’re taking the overnight bus to Puerto Princesa on your journey back. This way, you get to maximize your last day and save one hotel night. Your flight should be in the early morning of the next day.
  • You’ll be paying the standard rates of tours. You can haggle for much lower rates especially if you’re a big group. But for this itinerary, I decided to just use the standard rates so you have an extra budget allowance.

4-Day El Nido Itinerary

For me, this is an ideal itinerary. Given everything that I know now, if I would be visiting El Nido for the first time, this is how I would do it. This itinerary won’t give you the cheapest trip, but it will allow you to experience the best of El Nido at a relaxing pace.

Day 1: PUERTO PRINCESA TO EL NIDO
07:20 am – Arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport
08:00 am – Ride tricycle to San Jose Terminal, P60 (P120/2pax)
08:30 am – Buy food for the road, P120
09:00 am – Board Bus to El Nido, P480
03:00 pm – Arrival at El Nido Terminal
03:10 pm – Trike to Hostel, P25 (P50/2pax)
03:30 pm – Hostel check-in

04:30 pm – Pay the environmental fee at the tourism office, P200

05:00 pm – Walk around town, book tours

06:30 pm – Dinner at Altrove, P400
07:30 pm – Back to Hostel, chill
09:00 pm – Good night!

Day 2: TOUR A
06:00 am – Wake up call
07:00 am – Breakfast, FREE
09:00 am – Start TOUR A, P1200 + 200
05:00 pm – Change clothes, rest
06:00 pm – Dinner at IBR Fast Food, P150
08:00 pm – Back to the hotel
09:00 pm – Good night!

Day 3: TOUR C
06:00 am – Wake-up call
07:00 am – Breakfast
09:00 am – TOUR C, P1400 + P100
05:00 pm – Change clothes, rest
06:00 pm – Dinner and booze at Art cafe, P500

09:00 pm – Good night!

Day 4: TOUR E, DEPARTURE
06:00 am – Wake up call, early check out
07:30 am – TOUR E, P750 (P1500/2pax)
11:00 am – Early lunch, P250
12:00 pm – Continue Tour E
04:30 pm – Freshen up, pick up bags
07:00 pm – Dinner, P150
09:00 pm – Trike to Bus Terminal, P25 (P50/2pax)
10:00 pm – Bus to Puerto Princesa, P480
04:00 am – Trike to Airport, P60 (P120/2pax)
05:00 am – Check in, Airport Terminal Fee: P200
07:20 am – Flight out

If you follow this itinerary, prepare to shell out P9750 (USD193, EUR171, SGD266) per person excluding airfare and kayak rental.

Much of the budget is eaten up by the tours and the food. You can still bring the total cost down by limiting your meal budget.

3-Day El Nido Itinerary

This is a budget itinerary. In this case, you’ll be spending only 3 days in El Nido and limiting your food expenses to only P150 per meal.

Day 1: PUERTO PRINCESA TO EL NIDO
07:20 am – Arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport
08:00 am – Ride tricycle to San Jose Terminal, P60 (P120/2pax)
08:30 am – Buy food for the road, P120
09:00 am – Board Bus to El Nido, P480
03:00 pm – Arrival at El Nido Terminal
03:10 pm – Trike to Hostel, P25 (P50/2pax)
03:30 pm – Hostel check-in

04:30 pm – Pay the  environmental fee at the  tourism office, P200

05:00 pm – Walk around town, book tours
06:30 pm – Dinner, P150
07:30 pm – Back to Hostel, chill
09:00 pm – Good night!

Day 2: TOUR A
06:00 am – Wake-up call
07:00 am – Breakfast, FREE
09:00 am – Start TOUR A, P1200 + P200
05:00 pm – Change clothes, rest

06:00 pm – Dinner, P150
08:00 pm – Back to hotel
09:00 pm – Good night!

Day 3: TOUR E, DEPARTURE
06:00 am – Wake up call, early check out
07:30 am – TOUR E, P750 (P1500/2pax)
11:00 am – Early lunch, P250
12:00 pm – Continue Tour E
04:30 pm – Freshen up, pick up bags
07:00 pm – Dinner, P150
09:00 pm – Trike to Bus Terminal, P25 (P50/2pax)
10:00 pm – Bus to Puerto Princesa, P480
04:00 am – Trike to Airport, P60 (P120/2pax)
05:00 am – Check-in, Airport Terminal Fee: P200
07:20 am – Flight out

This itinerary will set you back around P6500 (USD129, EUR114, SGD178) per person excluding airfare and kayak rental. You can even reduce the total cost by taking an ordinary bus instead of an air-conditioned one, or by staying at a much cheaper dorm.

      OTHER TIPS FOR THE NO-BUDGET TRAVELER

  • Pay the P200 environmental fee and keep the receipt. You only need to settle this once so don’t lose the receipt. Someone sometimes checks if visitors have paid for this before boarding the boat for the tour. If you can’t prove it, you might be asked to pay again.
  • Puerto Princesa Airport collects a P200 terminal fee. Make sure you don’t spend every single peso you have in El Nido.
  • Tip your boatmen. What they do isn’t easy. If you enjoyed their service, show your appreciation. When I have successfully negotiated down the cost of tours, I usually just give the amount that I saved to the boatmen as tip.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is El Nido safe?

El Nido has a very, very low crime rate. But please don’t leave your belongings just anywhere. There are also no hospitals here, so please be very careful. The nearest major medical center is in Puerto Princesa. Also, there are no terrorists in El Nido.

When is the best time to visit El Nido?

January to April. These dry months are the sunniest. However, this period is also the peak season, especially March and April, which are widely considered the “summer” months in the Philippines. For me, the most ideal time to visit El Nido is January-February. The weather’s still fine but the place isn’t crowded.

Are there ATMs in El Nido?

Currently, there are some ATMs in El Nido. But it’s always best to withdraw while in Manila or Puerto Princesa. If you’re using a foreign/international card to withdraw and get pesos, beware of Dynamic Currency Conversion.

Are there money changers in El Nido?

Some restaurants and pawnshops exchange major currencies to Philippine pesos. However, it is best practice to already have pesos before you arrive because they’re not always available. Exchange while you’re in Puerto Princesa or Manila.

Can I visit Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon in one day?

No, not anymore. This was possible because they used to be part of the same tour, Tour A. But in November 2018, Small Lagoon was reassigned to Tour D in order to minimize tourism impact and  manage visitor traffic. To monitor, pre-registration is now required for those visiting Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Secret Beach. When you book a tour, the operator will collect your personal details and they will take care of the rest.

How’s the connectivity in El Nido?

Most hotels offer free wi-fi but they can be slow. Both Globe and Smart have good reception in main settlements like the town proper, so it’s better to just use cellular data.

What type of electrical plug is used in El Nido?

220V, 60Hz. Socket Type A, mostly. Electricity supply in El Nido can be erratic. Power outages are not uncommon. Ask your hotel if they have a backup generator so you’re not in the dark in case of a blackout.

BREE HIKILAN PHOTOGRAPHY 

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“The most important thing to remember is that you can wear all the greatest clothes and all the greatest shoes, but you’ve got to have a good spirit on the inside. That’s what’s really going to make you look like you’re ready to rock the world.” —Alicia Keys

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