Picture a perfect paradise beach: Crystal clear water, colorful coral reefs bursting with marine life, white-sand beaches, palm trees – El Nido, the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago, in northern Palawan has it all. Being ranked as the best beach and island destination in the Philippines, due to its extraordinary natural splendor and ecosystem, the once sleepy place has waken up to a huge boom in tourism. In the recent past El Nido was more a playground for the wealthy to vacation on private island resorts, but today the area gets more and more accessible for backpackers and budget travelers as well.
How to get there?
You can either fly directly to El Nido Airport from Manila (AirSwift) or to Puerto Princesa International Airport and then take a bus (6h) to El Nido. If you have trouble booking with AirSwift contact the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe.
It somehow is hard to choose one or two El Nido highlights as being in such a wonderful place already is a highlight on its own. From the many things we saw and did we really enjoyed island hopping tour A. Especially the Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon left us speechless. Although both places are horribly crowded we have never been in such amazing places. The water is crystal clear and kayaking or swimming through the lagoons is very impressive. If you are lucky you might even spot some marine life like turtles or colorful fish. But we also recommend to rent a scooter and head north. It is nice to get away from the crowds for a short time and you can enjoy Nacpan Beach along the way.
How long to stay?
El Nido is a place where you can easily spend a whole holiday. There is just so much to explore and enjoy. From kayaking, to snorkeling to island hopping or relaxing at the beach – there is lots of stuff to do and see. We decided to stay for 4 nights which left us enough time to explore the town and its nearby beaches, to go kayaking and explore Bacuit Bay on our own, to do some island hopping and to take a scooter ride north of El Nido to enjoy less touristy places, great views and the lush nature. If you do not have a lot of time try to book at least 2 nights and opt for some island hopping to get the most out of your stay.
Where to stay?
El Nido is bursting with hotels, hostels, resorts and guest houses. But finding the right accommodation can be quite tricky: You either have to pay an insane amount of money per night or you have to get along with very low standards. We stayed at Novie’s Tourist Inn for 28 EUR per night/double room. The rooms are very basic and have a small bathroom with cold shower. But despite the bad reviews we read the place was clean, no bed bugs and the staff indeed is super friendly. Breakfast is not included but you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea for free. The hotel is located at Corong-Corong beach (2 min walk). To get to El Nido town you can take a tricycle for 50 PHP (5 min ride).
Island Hopping This is the most popular activity in El Nido. There are countless travel agencies located around town and all of them offer island hopping tours. Prices do not vary much (between 1200 and 1500 PHP per tour + once 200 PHP environmental fee which is valid for 10 days) and there are four different tours to choose from: A, B, C and D. Each one of the tours will take you on a journey to explore a specific part of Bacuit Bay. During your tour you will discover beautiful and preserved islands, clear water lagoons, white-sand beaches, snorkeling sites and lots of marine life and coral reefs. So these tours will show you everything that makes El Nido a tropical paradise. Tour A and C are the most popular ones and we can give you a 100% guarantee that all places you visit will be very crowded. Tour A includes the most important sites and tour C has the best snorkeling spots with a great chance to see turtles. Nevertheless both tours will take you to some pretty awesome places and even though you have to share them with a lot of others, it is so worth it. Our hotel (Novie’s Tourist Inn) gave us a 20% discount for each tour so we could save some money. The service and quality of lunch provided was still good so we were quite happy with our choice. Make sure to bring some money along as you might have to pay additional fees for renting a kayak (300 PHP) at some of the spots or for some snorkeling gear (100 PHP). Here an overview of the places the tours take you to:
Tour A Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, 7 Commando Beach
Tour B Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave
Tour C Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Hidden Beach
Tour D Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach
Note: With some tour operators the sites you visit during your tour might vary. And just in case you do not want to take a tour just go to El Nido beach at around 9 am and watch all the tourist leave for their trips. It is funny to see and somehow looks as if all of them are escaping the island.
Kayaking Renting a kayak for a half day (around 300 PHP) or a full day (around 500 PHP) will give you the chance to explore some of the closer beaches and islands by yourself. A good starting point is either El Nido beach or Corong-Corong. From El Nido beach Cadlao Island is within easy reach and you can explore Paradise Beach or Pasandigan Beach by yourself. If you are good with kayaking you might even be able to explore the Hidden Beach. From Corong-Corong you can head for Lapus Lapus Beach and 7 Commando Beach. Make sure to check with the travel agency to which places you should go and where you should not go. If possible ask for a map. Currents can be quite strong and the sea is not always calm so it might be not that easy to get from A to B. Some agencies also provide snorkeling gear and a small lunch. You can also book kayak tours which are accompanied by a boat so you will be able to rest in case you get tired and to reach destinations that are further away. El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe This is not only a nice place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner – you will also have access to a travel agency and a dive and souvenir shop. In case you want to take a direct flight to El Nido the staff will be more than happy to help you with the booking. Normally AirSwift flights are for resort guests only and therefore booking by yourself can be quite tricky. King Pards Resto-Bar This restaurant is located right next to the highway at Corong-Corong Beach opposite of Novie’s Tourist Inn. It is a small restaurant which offers Asian and rather traditional Filipino dishes. Prices are within medium range and we really enjoyed the food. Try the ginger lemonade if you get the chance! Santeria Just in case you are willing to escape the noise and tourist crowds of El Nido, or if you are looking for some accommodation in a rather peaceful surrounding, make sure to put this place on your list. This guest house, with a pretty nice bar and restaurant, is located north of El Nido town. It will take you about 1 h to get there, but it definitely is worth a visit. It is located on top of a mountain so you will be able to enjoy some pretty good views and a beach is not far away as well. Additionally the owners, Dana and Luke, are super friendly and have lots of good stories to tell. The food is awesome and we really enjoyed having a beer or two at this wonderful place. Next time we visit El Nido we definitely will stay at Santeria! Tao Philippines In case you have some five days left of your holiday make sure to spend them with Tao. This company is the most amazing one we found in the whole Philippines. They offer five-day remote island expeditions from El Nido to Coron or vice versa. During the expedition the Tao crew will make paradise your playground. You will discover remote islands, perfect beaches, the most amazing coral reefs and sleep in one-of-a-kind camps. We really enjoyed traveling with the lost boys, meeting the islanders, disconnect from the world, enjoy the simple things in life and hang out at the prettiest places we have ever seen in our whole life. There are different boats and travel options to choose from, just make sure to book some time ahead as the tours are selling fast and you should not miss this unique experience. El Nido Beaches There are a couple of beaches located around El Nido town which can be reached by tricycle, foot or scooter. All of them have its unique charme and are fun to hang out at. Our favorite was the Marimegmeg and Las Cabanas Beach. It might get a bit crowded, but there are a couple of bars to get drinks and so you can easily hang out at the beach all day. If you are up for some adventure you can also ride a zipline going to the nearby Depeldet Islet. It is also a good spot to view the sunset. Another sunset spot is Corong-Corong Beach. During the day you will hardly see any tourists here. El Nido Beach is not a real spot for swimming or enjoying the beach. It is packed with restaurants, hotels and bars and all the island hopping tours leave here. A 1 h drive away from El Nido town you will find Nacpan Beach. If you are lucky you will have this almost endless strip of white-sand beach all by yourself, or at least it is quite easy to find a spot where you feel like nobody else is around. You can either hire a tricycle to take you here or rent a scooter. In case you rent a scooter you can also think about exploring the Nagkalit-Kalit Falls along the way.