If the Spanish translation of El Nido wouldn’t be “the nest,” I could be sure that it means paradise on earth, and that its name is not only inspired by the birds’ shelters found in the cracks of the limestone cliffs. At least, that is for me the archipelago, spread on over 465 square kilometers. If until some decades ago these spectacular places were hidden from the eyes of travelers, now El Nido began to be stormed by tourists, due to the accident of a ship, produced in 1979 in Bacuit Bay. The event has had good consequences, as the lagoons, the turquoise waters and the jagged rocks of El Nido have finally been revealed to the whole world to enjoy them.
I visited El Nido in January when I started my 2-month trip to Southeast Asia. The city and its surroundings in Bacuit Bay were the number 3 destination in Palawan, after a few days spent in Puerto Princesa and San Vicente. I spent 5 full days here but still felt that they were not enough and that I didn’t do what I wanted and could do. After all, who would be bored of the 45 islands, each with different characteristics, in El Nido? I certainly do not.
Until I take you to the part of the article explaining everything you need to know about visiting and the essential information you need to know before getting here, I want to guide you through the infinite list of answers to the following question…
Why you have to visit El Nido?
- For turquoise and crystalline waters
- For the sharp limestone formations, like those you can find in Ha Long Bay Vietnam, Guilin – China and Krabi – Thailand. All of this are on Sunda Plate, a tectonic plate completely separated from the rest of the islands in the Philippines.
- For private and secret beaches
- For spectacular lagoons
- For the waterfalls you reach after exhausting climbing trails
- For snorkeling, where you can see the coral reefs and the variety of marine life
- For the wonderful landscapes, under and over the sea in Bacuit Bay, listed as among the most beautiful in the world
- Because it’s not totally stormed by tourists
- Because it still preserves its naturalness and authenticity
- Because it seems to be from another world
- Because that’s how you imagined paradise
- Because you can’t understand until you get there
… if my words are not convincing enough, maybe the pictures below will change your mind:
When you should visit:
There are two seasons in Palawan, one dry (November-May) and one wet (June-October). Best of all, from a meteorological point of view, would be getting here in the dry season to make sure the storms and (sometimes) the typhoons don’t ruin your plans made with creeps and excitement, but obviously, the disadvantage will be a greater amount of tourists per square km. On the other hand, El Nido is not as crowded as other exotic destinations in South Asia, so any time of the year you choose to travel, you will not feel choked by the curious crowds of travelers.
I traveled in January, that is, in the middle of the dry season, and in the 5 days I stayed there, I experienced only a single, short rain. In the rest of the time, the weather was just fine, always sunny and perfect temperatures, good to obtain a beautiful tan and enjoy the activities without sweating abundantly because of the heat.
How to get to El Nido:
There are several options, and you will have to choose the one that suits you, taking into account several factors: faster, cheaper or easier.
- Faster but more expensive: You can take a direct flight from Manila to El Nido Airport (Lio Airport El Nido or ENI) with AirSwift, for which you will pay around $ 120 / person. For reservations, you can go to their website.
- Cheaper, but harder: This was the winning option in our case, but at the heart of the decision was the desire to visit Puerto Princesa, which is the capital of Palawan Province, and where you have many things to see (TheUnderground River, Honda Bay). So, we flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa with Air Asia, and we paid around $60 / person, then we took a pickup van that took us to San Vicente and then to El Nido. The road lasted about 7 hours in total, and it was quite exhausting, but it was worth it. There are also flights with Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines to Puerto Princesa. Therefore, I recommend that you consult Skyscanner website to find the best option.
- Coron- El Nido, by boat: Flight from Manila to Coron, followed by a boat tour from Coron to El Nido. We did the opposite, and took the boat from El Nido to Coron. We boarded on a boat with a capacity of 85 people, from the port of El Nido. We had a choice between the fast boat, with 1760 pesos ≈ $ 35 and the slower boat, with 1,200 pesos / ≈ $ 24 per person. We chose the second option because we left very early in the morning, and the check-in at the Coron hotel didn’t start until 2 pm, so there was no point in hurrying. Besides the ticket itself, we had to pay a port charge of 20 Php/ person.
People of El Nido:
Except for the situations where we checked in, ate and bought things, I didn’t interact very much with them, but the 5 days were enough to conclude that people who live their life in these heavenly places are friendly and helpful when needed, full of life and very hardworking. They have already become accustomed to their town being taken by tourists, eager to explore their native places, so they are always ready to help with valuable advice and information.
It’s true, they will also use their talent as merchants, and they will try to sell you tours and other products, for big prices, so I recommend you to always negotiate for anything you need to buy unless it has a fixed price.
Most locals earn their living in tourism, driving tricycles, trading, as guides or working in agriculture and fish farming. They don’t have a luxurious life, and they don’t enjoy maximum comfort, but they are fortunate enough to live in such colorful and beautiful realms, so you will always see them with a smile on their faces. If you want to communicate more with them, you must know that although the official language is Filipino, most of them also know English at a medium level, so you don’t have to worry too much about the dialogue.
El Nido is a small and poorly developed city, but extremely agitated and cheerful. From the early hours, locals and tourists begin to move on the narrow and dusty streets. Children run and play with everything they find at hand; Several times, I surprised them throwing their shoes off their legs, and assumed it was an inside game whose rules are known only to them. There are also plenty of dogs and cats, but I suggest you do not try touching them too much because they are not properly cared for. It would be good, though, to give them some food because for most of them you could count their ribs easily, unfortunately 🙁
Where to stay:
We stayed at two very budget friendly hotels, but with excellent positions, which I will tell you more about in a future article, but there are options for all budgets. Generally, prices start at $ 20 per person and can go up a lot, depending on the number of stars and the view.
For limited budget options, you should know that many of them don’t have hot water and Wifi, so if you know you can’t go a day without these two amenities, direct your attention to a mid-range hotel or even luxury. I recommend you to search on agoda.com because the prices are very good and in the case of most hotels, you have the option to cancel the booking almost up to the last moment.
When it comes to areas, if you want to be close to shops and excitement, you can get yourself right in the center of town or somewhere near the town beach, from where you can have a beautiful view of the sea and the cliffs that surround the town.
Instead, if you want to wake up admiring the sunrise right from the beach and if you want to have a little more privacy, the ideal option would be accommodation on Corong Corong Beach.
For a very exotic and much more intimate experience, you have the opportunity to pack yourself on one of the islands of El Nido, whether Cadlao Island, Matinloc or Miniloc. However prices are high, and you can pay a few hundred dollars a night.
There are 4 tours, marked with letters from A to D. The most popular and most recommended are tours A and C. All have prices between 1200 and 1400 PHP (≈ $ 24 – $ 28). We have chosen to go on Tour A after many recommendations read on Tripadvisor and other specialist websites.
In the image below, you can see exactly what each tour contains and how much it costs.
Because I chose A, I have a few tips I want to share, strictly related to it:
- I visited Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Shimizu Beach and 7Commando Beach
- I liked the Big Lagoon, but it disliked that they didn’t stop the boat so we could enter the water
- You have to be very careful from who you buy the tour and what kind of boat it will be. If you are not a swimmer, you may have small impediments. A big boat will stop away from the shore, and you will have to go through the water, which can be deep and with many sharp stones. I, for example, wasn’t able to go to the beach except at 7 Commando, where they stopped near the shore.
- The tour also included a lunch with rice, fish, shells, melon, salad and bananas
- You can snorkel, especially in the Small Lagoon, or you can rent a kayak for 300 Php and ride it on the water for as long as your boat will anchor in that place; The tour starts in the morning around 8 and ends at 4 in the afternoon
- It’s pretty tiring, so you have to make sure you rested well before it started
- Life jackets are included in the price, and boats have those bamboo frames that prevent overturning, so there is no reason to worry about it
- There is also an environmental tax that you will only have to pay after you have booked the tour. It’s called the Eco-Tourism Development Fund and costs 200 Php
Where to eat:
In general, all menus include rice, chicken, fish or beef, but also vegetables and seafood. Noodles are a very common kind of food in the area, as well. However, if you are still a fan of international cuisine, and you are not very windy for the specifics of the place, then you have to know that you have the choice of eating French food, German, Swedish, and many others.
Places where I ate and which I recommend:
- Sizzling Republic
Cheap and good, lots of food and many kinds
I ordered from them sizzling food, beef steak, chicken with coco cream and American breakfast
- Kina Pards Resto Bar
Clean, pleasant atmosphere and located close to Corong Corong Beach and the hotel where we stayed
- Last Frontier Restaurant
From here, you will have a very nice view of Bacuit Bay
You can try Cheeseburger, chicken schnitzel and a “healthy” portion of fries
- Art Cafe
This restaurant is famous in the area due to its downtown location on Serena Street
Is beautifully landscaped, the atmosphere is pleasant, and has a perfect view of the harbor
I ate pizza with tuna, pasta with tomatoes and parmesan while savoring a fresh delicious fruit mix
Wifi is decent
- Las Cabanas
Set on Merimegmeg Beach, right from where you can have a perfect view of the Depeldet isle, but also of the sunset
Decorated in rustic style
Many hammocks and palm trees
Relaxed, pleasant atmosphere
- Downtown Bakery
Perfect for road trip snacks
Have a wide selection of tasty products
Ways to move around:
- By tricycle
They’re everywhere, so it’s going to be your best option when you have to get somewhere quickly
Generally, the price for a short drive of a few miles will be 50 Php, but it happened that when we wanted to leave in the evening from Las Cabanas to the hotel, they were asking for 100 Php more. We have negotiated, and we have finally paid 100 Php. Don’t get ripped off! 🙂
- Rent a scooter
It’s an experience that you have to try in Palawan, and that’s because you can not see many of the beautiful things on the island unless you get on a scooter and travel off the beaten paths
You can rent for a day for 500 Php + gas. For a full day, you’ll pay around 100 Php. In our case, 2 liters were more than enough for 7 hours.
We visited Nacpan Beach, and we walked around the surrounding area. You can go and visit the waterfall, but it is difficult to get to it, so you will have to pay a guide to help you cross the tropical rain jungle trails
Distances are not extraordinarily large if you don’t leave the city and its surroundings, so if you enjoy an enviable physical condition, it would not hurt to put your muscles in motion and move with your own legs in the places where you want to get
- Before going on vacation, make sure you know the foreign exchange rate, so you don’t have any difficulty when you want to change money. Currently, $ 1 ≈ 50 Php.
- Have more cash, as much as you think you will spend because there are only 2 ATMs in town. Do not forget, however, that you have a limit of money that you can take out daily, which is somewhere around $100
- If you always want to have electricity and hot water at your disposal, you might want to know if the hotel you are staying in has this comfort, given that in El Nido there are quite a lot of power outages
- The internet is very bad everywhere. You can buy a sim card that has internet included, or you can use wifi in restaurants, but the signal will be bad anyway.
- When you venture into an island hopping, do not forget to take a waterproof bag to protect your valuables.
- Take your sunscreen and anti-insect spray. There, they are pretty expensive.
- Don’t consider the option to pay with the credit card. Most venues only accept cash.
- To enjoy El Nido to the fullest, you need at least 5 days to know the area and take at least one tour.
Fun facts about El Nido:
- Was first populated 22,000 years ago, according to the fossils and graves discovered.
- It’s composed of 45 islands, while the Philippines has a total of over 7,000 islands.
- Its beauties have only been seen by locals until 1979 when an accident of a diving boat occurred in Bacuit Bay. The accident happened during the night, and the next day the boat passengers were amazed by the beauties surrounding them.
- The depths of El Nido are the home of over 100 species of coral and 813 fish.
- The archipelago has two seasons, one wet and one dry. However, it is warm all year road and generally, temperatures do not fall below 22 Celsius degrees.
- The population of El Nido is around 35,000.
- National Geographic Traveler magazine called El Nido “the last Philippine border” when in 2007 they named Palawan as the best destination in the world.
- Conde Nast Traveler has ranked El Nido first in the list of the 20 most beautiful beaches in the world.