Ultimate Travel Guide to El Nido, Philippines - Everything you need to know.
El Nido is one of the more popular destinations to travel within the Philippines, and for seriously good reason! Since my recent trip, I have been flooded with messages & questions for travel advice whilst visiting El Nido. Boy oh boy do I have some tips including where to stay, how to book tours, where to eat, planning ahead, & of course the best beaches/islands to visit. El nido is located in Palawan, and is known for its white sand beaches, tropical islands, extravagant blue lagoons and coral reefs. As beautiful as it is, the Philippines can be found to be quiet challenging to travel within, and I can vouch for that first hand. I have created this travel guide not only to share its beautiful locations and islands, but to also assist on making your next trip as smooth as possible.
If I have one piece of advice from my experience I would say PLAN AHEAD. Plan all flights and dates in which islands you want to visit beforehand so your not left having to catch an overnight dodgy ferry, or spending your entire budget on a last minute flight. Keep in mind that flights can book out weeks in advance!
We were caught in a serious moment of panic when we realised all flights from Coron to Manila were booked out a week in advance, and the only flight left was a $500 flight stopping in Cebu first. What was meant to be a $100, 1 hour flight, somehow turned into managing to book the only 2 seats left on a ridiculously expensive, non direct, flight!
Booking tours to islands in prior to your arrival isn't overly necessary as its quiet easy to book once you are there. More on this below.
How To Get There
Coming from Manila?
Option 1: Fly directly to Puerto Princessa, then catch a 5 hour car transfer to El Nido. Transfers from the airport to El Nido can be arranged with your hotel or online through this link.
Cons? Having to drive 5 hours from the airport to El Nido town
Pros? Quicker! 5 hours quicker to be precise. If budget isn't an issue then this is your best option.
Cons? Almost double or four times the cost of a flight to Puerto Princessa. Fewer daily flights that book out fast.
Coming from Coron?
Option 1: Cheapest and quickest way to get to El Nido from Coron is by the 4 hour fast ferry for $39 through Travelertick.com.
How to get around one you're there:
Easiest way to get around is catching tricycles. If you are staying out of town a tricycle ride costs between 50PHP - 100PHP to get into town.
Where to Stay
Our first night we had arranged to stay at a hotel called Residencia Katrina Bed and Breakfast which I highly DO NOT recommend. Extremely over priced for the value and comfort! We ended up driving down the road and finding a much nicer hotel for similar price called Country Inn. You will always get a cheaper price when booking upon arrival over booking the hotel online. We paid $100AUD per night for 3 nights. Head to booking.com to search for accommodation options that are best suitable for you.
If you are looking for a unique experience check out these hotels!
Where to eat
There a few spots on the island which we regularly ate at, and thoroughly enjoyed, for a really cheap cost. Traveling as a vegan/vegetarian can be hard and I found these places to be the most accommodating. Here are my top recommendations.
I usually love eating the local food, but unfortunately most Filipino restaurants serve mostly meat based meals. If you are looking to try local cuisine, Pork Adobo is the Filipino specialty!
This little smoothie shack serves fresh juices, smoothies and even Acai bowls! Absolutely loved it here! Found it super fresh and healthy for a morning or afternoon snack.
You'll find this little gem in the Main Street serving the tastiest falafel wraps! This place is not exactly a restaurant but more so a hole in the wall that only offers takeaway. Super cheap and perfect for lunch!
A must try when visiting El Nido & Coron! Don't be put off by the line out the front, the wait is well worth it! This restaurant is reasonably priced and serves some seriously amazing wood fired pizza and pasta. We ate here almost every night.
A little outdoor Japanese restaurant serving mainly sushi and sushi bowls. All fresh and super tasty!
Booking an Island Tour
There are a few different options you can take when booking either a private or group island tour. These include:
- Booking through your hotel. Most hotels arrange boat tours, the only downfall is you aren't able to choose a specific boat to take you out.
- Booking through a tour company. There are plenty of tour companies around town that can help arrange a tour for you the day beforehand. I was recommended to book a tour through Skipper Charters, which seems to be the only tour company you need to book in advance! They are well known for providing some of the best tours in Palawan.
- Booking at the port with a local. I prefer this option myself as I can meet the captain and pick what boat to take us out. This option is best when organising a private tour.
Private Tour Rates range between 5000-7000 PHP depending on the size of the boat. We paid 6000 Peso for a larger boat and lunch provided. Most tours will include lunch for that price. Price is for entire boat not per person.
Group Tour Rates usually cost 3000/Person PHP for a full day. Lunch is provided in cost.
What Islands to Visit & Tours to take
There are 4 different island tours in El Nido including A, B, C & D tour. To find out what islands are including in each of these tour groups, or to find out the different combo tours you can book click here.
During our time in El Nido we took 2 full day private boat tours and explored numerous islands and lagoons. We kindly asked our tour guide to take us to spots when they were the least busiest to avoid the crowds. Our tour guide, Tony, was amazing and so so friendly. I absolutely loved how he became really involved in flying the drone with us and taking photos whenever we asked.
The spots we explored include:
- Small Lagoon
- Big Lagoon
- Secret Lagoon
- Shimizu Island
- 7 Commando Beach
- Pinagbuyutan island
- Entalula Beach
- Cadlao Lagoon
- Papaya Beach
We arrived early morning to Small Lagoon as we were trying to avoid the crowds, but unfortunately the lagoon was completely shaded so we didn't take any shots. If you don't mind it being shaded I highly do recommend you go early morning to beat the crowds. The lagoon is absolutely stunning but can get really crowded later in the day!
LOOOOVED Big Lagoon! We visited big lagoon after small lagoon when it was still early enough for there to be little to no crowds. The entrance to big lagoon is extraordinary, we asked to do a loop back around just so we could experience entering it once more.
Secret Lagoon is known for its 'secret lagoon between the cliffs' that can be found parallel to the beach in my photo. We decided not to explore the lagoon after our tour guide mentioned it wasn't overly spectacular. Instead we ran around beneath these palm trees enjoying an almost empty island to ourselves.
Arriving at Shimizu was incredible. The rock formations were extravagant and towering high above the crystal clear water beneath. We anchored here for about an hour swimming around and snorkelling with dozens of fishes.
7 Commando Island
One of our last stops during one of our tours was 7 Commando island. Here we discovered an epic basketball court beneath the palms. Basketball courts can be found all over the Philippines (which are excessively used by the locals) with this one being my favourite. How cool is it! Almost feels like an abandoned court that has a history of 100 years.
Pinagbuyutan (dare you to say that outloud) Island, is worth seeing just to admire the jungle of palm trees lining the shore.
If I had to pick a favourite spot in El Nido, I would have to choose Entalula Beach. It has that stereotypical tropical island look! We spent over 2 hours here swimming, taking photos and eating lunch. Check out how cute our salad was!
I call this spot, fairyfloss candy blue waters. The water is INSANELY vibrant I could lick it! Super cool location for drone footage.
What to do on El Nido Mainland
The beaches we visited include:
Nacpan Beach is located about a 45 minute tricycle ride out of town and is a great alternative way to spend your day if you aren't taking an island tour. Although I didn't find this beach to be anything special, I can appreciate it for a place of relaxation or a drink at one of the little funky beach bars.
Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas is located closer to town and is extremely popular for enjoying a scocktail whilst watching the sunset. One of the best sunset spots in El Nido which I highly recommend.
How to Avoid the Crowds
Best way to avoid the crowds is to take private tour boat out super early to the lagoons and islands that are the most popular. We left around 7am both morning of our tours.
Another great way to avoid the crowds, is again on a private tour boat, ask your tour guide to take you on the tour in reverse of every other tour boat. We didn't take the usual routes of the other tour boats, so we were able to find quieter times at most of the locations.
It is almost near to impossible to avoid the crowds if you are exploring the islands with a group tour. I recommend spending he extra money to have the freedom!
Tips to save your ass
- If you are unsure about your accomodation, book one night and if you don't like it you are free to leave and easily find another hotel.
- Take out cash before coming to El Nido. The ATMs can run out of cash all the time!
- Always haggle prices of tricycles and tours (unless it is with a company)
- BUY A SIM card! It will save your ass! I am soooo thankful we decided to grab a pre paid sim before heading here. Wifi is almost non existent! You can purchase SIM cards at most airports. We paid $20AUD for 8GB.
- Book your flights ahead! Soooo important!
- Don't expect your trip to run smoothly. Accept that your traveling to a developing country and you will most definitely find have to overcome some speed bumps along the way.