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El Nido, Philippines – the Ultimate Guide to visiting this Island Paradise
El Nido was clearly one of my highlights of my trip to the Philippines. When visiting the Philippines you will probably have the island of Palawan on your itinerary and if not let me tell you, put it on your itinerary right now. Palawan has been awarded as „world’s best island’ by Condé Nast Traveler for two straight years and after visiting myself I can tell you they aren’t exaggerating. I surely haven’t visited all islands in the world to make this conclusion, but I got to say I was overwhelmed by its beauty and working for a holiday airline for 4 years now I surely got the chance to visit some of the world’s best holiday destinations.
Palawan is home to many wonders such as the famous Underground River, one of the 7 Natural Wonders in the world, and El Nido being the most popular destination on the island and that for a reason. In this article I want to focus especially on El Nido and helping you planning your trip there. This is going to be the ultimate guide to El Nido helping you to sort out how to get there, booking your stay and giving you ideas what you can do in El Nido.
El Nido is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago of El Nido. El Nido town is the place from where all boat trips start taking you to some of the most beautiful islands you will ever see: pristine beaches, crystal clear water, limestone cliffs, stunning underwater life- this tropical island paradise has it all.
I don’t think you need more convincing right? So lets get started with the hard facts about El Nido: Some practical information on how to get there and where to stay.
Before you can start island hopping you still need to get to El Nido. It is a remote place and getting there will take up some time. As a foreigner you will probably be getting to the Philippines by flying to Manila or Cebu airport. From there you can take a plane to Puerto Princessa, and then taking a van from Puerto Princessa to El Nido which is a 6 hour journey. This is the most common and also the cheapest option.
We flew with Cebu Pacific Air, a local low-cost carrier and if you book ahead you will probably be able to get fly into Puerto Princessa from those airports for 50€/60$ one way. During the flight to Puerto Princessa tickets for the van going to El Nido were available for purchase from the crew members. We decided to go with that option as we wanted to save the hassle for looking for a travel agency at the airport, especially since we arrived late at night. The ticket sold on the flight was the same price as elsewhere and we left to El Nido shortly after collecting our luggage.
A warning: The road from Puerto Princessa to El Nido is windy and you will likely be in a bus full with people. I would actually recommend to avoid taking the van at night as a lot of people got car sick and it is simpler more safe during the day. We opted to take a van back at daytime and the journey was far more comfortable. The vans stop outside of town, so from there you still need to take a tricycle (the tricycle in the Philippines is like the tuk tuk for Thailand) into town.
Our journey in a summary: Flight from Cebu to Puerto Princessa-6 hours in the Van to El Nido-Tricycle to the hotel.
Alternatively you can fly into Coron, spend a could of days exploring this place and then take a boat to El Nido town from there.
Another option but a far more pricey one is to take a direct flight to El Nido with AirSWIFT. This is definitely the quickest and most direct way to get there, but also the most expensive option.
Where To Stay
In El Nido town you will find a wide range of accommodation for budget travelers ranging from guest houses to hostels and hotels. The luxury resorts are mainly situated on the islands in the archipelago.
We opted to stay in El Nido town as we thought it was the best base for exploring. From here you can easily go on an island hopping adventure or discover the nearby sights. I read many negative reviews about the town itself but got to say that I wouldn’t agree with them. El Nido town definitely hasn’t got the most beautiful beach and yes it is full of boats, but you when staying here you would visit other islands anyway to spend some time on the beach- so it didn’t really bother me. I still liked walking over the beach in El Nido in the morning and watch the locals play football there. The town itself has a nice restaurant and bar scene and there are a few cute shops where you can spend your pesos. We usually went exploring during the day and returned to El Nido town in the evening and went out for dinner and drinks.
My hotel recommendation in El Nido: Sea Cocoon Hotel
If you are looking for an affordable, clean and convenient boutique hotel I would suggest you the hotel that we stayed in for three nights: Sea Cocoon Hotel. The location couldn’t be better. Everything you need is close by, in a few minutes you reach the beach and the restaurant street by foot.
Sea Cocoon is a small, comfortable hotel in the heart of El Nido town. The rooms are modern and spotless and are equipped with all the necessities for a nice stay. Large bathroom, really nice beds, a lot of power outlets to charge all our technical devices, a TV and free wifi throughout the hotel. What makes the hotel special is that they are the only hotel in entire El Nido Town with their own swimming pool. If you are tired of the beach and the ocean, you can lounge here and go for a swim in the pool.
A good breakfast buffet is also included in the price with a nice selection of fruits, bread, jams, egg dishes and more. A nice mix of Continental and Asian breakfast and as most tours start early in the morning it was nice to fill up with a good breakfast before starting our day.
The staff members are really friendly and helpful and provided us with a lot of information on what to do in El Nido and assisted with booking excursions for us. The true soul of the hotel is the owner Eric. I like to stay in small boutique hotels because it is way more personal. He greeted every guest personally and was always around to have a chat with its guests and was genuinely interested in the stories of his guests, always asked how our day was and helped out with suggestions and became a true friend during our stay.
What to do in El Nido
El Nido is the ultimate beach destination. A stunning scenery of pristine beaches, limestone cliffs and dramatic sunsets are waiting for you. There are plenty of things to do that would fill a one week itinerary easily. If you can plan enough time to explore and relax in this paradise.
Let’s sum up the best things to do in El Nido:
The most popular thing to do in El Nido is island hopping and that is probably what you came for in first place. There are many travel agencies and tour operators in El Nido town which sell excursions to do island hopping. There are 4 different tours you can book that are being offered everywhere: Tour A,B,C,D. Each one of the tours will take you on a journey to explore a specific part of the islands surrounding El Nido. More to each individual tour later. Most day tours include lunch, snorkeling equipment, boat transfer to different islands, water, a life vest and a tour guide. Prices range around 1200 pesos for a day of island hopping in El Nido. If you have the time to all of them, it is worth it.
We booked our tours through Binibini Travels– a young and professional tour agency helping you to customize your itinerary, accommodation, sea and land transfers. We booked our island hopping tours with them and were really happy with their service, plus they provided us with a lot of helpful information and recommendations about the Philippines.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour A
Tour A is one of the most popular island hopping tour in El Nido (and among Tour B my personal favorite).You will discover beautiful lagoons, beaches and at several snorkeling spots you have the opportunity to explore the magnificent underwater world of El Nido.
The stops you will make on this tour are Small Lagoon, Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and 7 Commando Beach.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour B
This tour is all about beautiful white, sand beaches. Else you visit a unique sandbank in the middle of the sea, a cave and you get the chance to go snorkeling. I really loved the stop at Snake Island: we walked on the sandbank, climbed up a viewpoint and had a drink on a floating bar.
The stops you will make on this tour are Snake Island, Pinagbuyuatan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave and a Snorkeling Site.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour C
If you could only pick one tour in El Nido, then this would probably be Tour C. It will take you to some of the most beautiful islands in the bay, some of the nicest beaches and to a great snorkeling site with colorful corals and plenty of different exotic fishes. A highlight of this tour is a visit to Matinloc Shrine. It is a fascinating places to discover and on this island you can climb up the limestone cliffs for a nice view that makes the perfect photo option.
The stops you will make on this tour are Helicoper Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Hidden Beach and a snorkeling spot.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour D
I personally didn’t get the chance to do Tour D as we ran out of time. However I heard that Tour D is all about spending time on beautiful beaches. Perfect for relaxing, reading, going for a swim or a snorkel.
The stops you will make on this tour are Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach and Bukal Beach.
Chill Mode on at Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas beach is one of the nicest beaches reachable by land from El Nido town. By tricycle it takes around 15 minutes to get there. Las Cabanas beach stretches out endlessly and the beach is clean and relatively empty. There are a few resorts and restaurants where you can enjoy some food or a drink. It has a super chilled atmosphere and watching the sunset from here is absolutely beautiful.
Some Action: Zipline in El Nido
The zipline in El Nido is short and fun. You start from Las Cabanas Beac, this is where El Nido Zipline is located. The zipline is 750 m long and starts from a hill on the mainland and goes to a little island. Prices vary between 500-100 Pesos depending on what you want. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing and if you have bring your GoPro to capture some cool footages from the action.
Explore the underwater world
Snorkeling was already a real treat, but if you want to see more and go deeper you should consider going on a dive. There are plenty of dive schools located in El Nido Town that can take you to some of the many dive sites. If you are a complete newbie to diving you could also consider doing a PADI Open Water Diver and getting your diving license. This course would take around 3 days to complete.
Hike up to Taraw Peak
Are you up for an adventure after spending most of your days here on the beach? If you aren’t afraid of heights, I would recommend a hike up to Taraw Peak for glorious views of Bacuit Bay. Go early in the morning to avoid the heat and get a guide that accompanies you to the top. Your efforts will be rewarded by an amazing view.
Hiking Taraw Peak with a guide will cost you 350 pesos and getting up and down takes around 3 hours.
Rent a kayak
A fun activity is to go kayaking. You can rent a single or multiple person kayak in either El Nido town or during one of the island hopping tours and paddle around the lagoons and go exploring on your own or with some friends.
Eat your way through El Nido Town
Located along the main street of El Nido town you will find a large choice of different restaurants and bars. Start with happy hour somewhere and try a new restaurant every evening. We went to an Italian restaurant, had Israeli falafel, Greek cuisine and of course tried local Filipino dishes.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Enjoy your time in El Nido. If you want to add something to this guide, please let me know in the comments below.