El Nido, Palawan Island – Paradise You Can Afford

When I went to El Nido, Palawan Island in the Philippines at the beginning of the year 2014 I couldn’t believe it was real. Before that I had been only dreaming about places like this, places that look like paradise, well at least how I have imagined it would look like.

Looking at all those beautiful images with breathtaking, postcard views of tropical islands that are usually posted on Facebook, I was convinced they are unreachable, a luxury that an avarage person can’t afford. Those dreamlike deserted islands with lush green palm trees surrounded by crystal clear, turquoise blue waters just seemed surreal to me.

When I usually think of views like that I think of tropical destinations like Bora Bora or Seychelles. And those places are pretty expensive to say less. Most of the hotels at Bora Bora offered at Booking for this summer have a price $400 and up for one night. And there isn’t even anything to choose from in the low price range. Well, that’s no surprise, since it is exclusive – only 20 hotels are on the plate. But why spend a lot of money for this exclusivity if you can go to a place that is just as beautiful,  pristine and still unknown to the masses and pay half as much?

Island hopping in EL Nido Palawan Island the Philippines

A view near Matinloc Shrine, one of the destinations of island hopping tour C in El Nido

Fortunately there are paradise-like places on earth for a traveler on budget. And El Nido in Palawan Island is definitely one of the most beautiful affordable destinations out there. You won’t believe your eyes when you will see what it has to offer for prices so low.

A simple, but decent hotel in El Nido costs about $50 for a night. You can also stay in a very simple beach cottage with just most basic facilities for $30 or even $15, if you don’t mind having a fan room instead of AC room.

Sure, there are quite a few places where you can find many budget accommodation and tour options between the expensive luxury ones. Islands in Thailand, Fiji or Maldives, for example. However one thing I like the most about Palawan, is that it is still on the unbeaten path. Not many people know about it, it’s far less famous than Phi Phi islands in Thailand (that gained their recognition after Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for shooting the movie Beach) but it’s equally beautiful.

Marimegmeg Beach in El Nido, Palawan Island

Marimegmeg Beach in El Nido, Palawan Island

However it probably won’t be too long until El Nido will get discovered by more people and will get crowded like Boracay, other incredibly beautiful place in the Philippines. That’s why if you would like to enjoy the pristine beauty of this tropical wonder and not spend fortune on it, hurry up and plan your trip in the nearest future.

El Nido is a first class municipality and managed resource protected area, located in the northernmost tip of Palawan Island in the Philippines. In this article I will cover the highlights of this affordable paradise. The main part consists of description, insights and my experiences of the most beautiful places – islands, beaches and waterfalls of El Nido or close by. At the end of the article you will find details on how to get there, where to stay, expenses and other travel tips.

So if you want to travel to a dreamlike place that’s less expensive than many similar luxurious tropical destinations keep on reading and I’ll tell you how.

 

Island Hopping to Dreamlike Islands

Snake island

Snake island

El Nido is a place where you can get one of the most incredible island hopping experiences. There are roughly 1,780 islands and islets dotted around the coastline of the Palawan Island. And they are quite different from each other. Some have large stretches of sugar-white sandy beaches along the coast, some have magnificent limestone cliffs, some – gorgeous underwater scenery, some – hidden caves and more. Main and most popular island hopping tours are tour A, B, C, and D. The best way to have a piece of everything is go to all four tours.

However if you don’t have time, energy or finances to do it, I recommend to take tour A to see amazing lagoons – Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon and Secret Lagoon. You will also visit the Seven Commandos Beach, which is a great lounging place with laid back atmosphere and the Shimizu Island with stunning limestone cliffs.

You should take tour B as well if you like coves and small, islands with picturesque sceneries and powdery sand. Snake island has a long stretch of sandbar and amazing views. We had our relaxing lunch break there. The food was simple but delicious. And Pinagbuyutan island had the most beautiful views of all island hopping experiences I have had.

Island hopping in EL Nido Palawan Island the Philippines, Pinagbuyutan island

Pinagbuyutan island

Tour B also includes visiting the Cudungon Cave which is famous for being a Neolithic burial ground and World War II hiding place. If you are interested in exploring caves and learning about their history, you will enjoy visiting this place. You need to crawl in through small hole in order to get inside the cave. Another cave you will see on tour B is the Cathedral Cave. It can be dangerous to swim inside the cave though due to the sharp edges of rocks, that’s why most of the tour companies don’t allow it, however you can still take some great photos there. Some of the companies also include the small and peaceful Entalula island in tour B  for a lunch break. Entalula island is another great place for snorkeling.

I also advise you to not miss out on the tour C. The Helicopter island which truly has a shape of helicopter is simply beautiful. You will also visit Matinloc shrine, an abandoned pilgrimage site on this tour as well as the Secret Beach and Hidden beach which are both hidden by beautiful limestone cliffs. Some of the island stops (especially the ones for a lunch break) can vary depending on which company you take tour with. We chose Caera company and I can say only good things about them. They really take care of everything so you can relax and enjoy your island hopping experience to the fullest. We had our lunch on a beautiful, small island called Talisay. It was a nice, peaceful break with resting on the sand, reading a good book, some snorkeling and delicious lunch.

Talisay island El Nido Palawan the Philippines

Talisay island

 

Explore the Underwater Wonderland of Palawan Island

Explore corals and underwater world in El Nido Palawan Island The Philippines

Bring your waterproof camera to capture the underwater wonderland of El Nido

Since El Nido is a perfect place for island hopping adventures, there’s no surprise it is also a preferred place for divers and snorkeling lovers. It’s a shame I only got to experience the snorkeling part, since I don’t have the diving license. Nevertheless I enjoyed every bit of the underwater wonderland of El Nido, Palawan Island while I was snorkeling. Covering nearly 400 species of corals and 800 fish species El Nido is truly a paradise for underwater exploring. If you are a passionate diver or simply love to snorkel you should consider planning your next trip to El Nido. Other amazing place, perhaps even more exciting destination for divers in the Province of Palawan is Coron. It’s most famous diving site is Coron Bay where you can explore the 11 Japanese shipwrecks that sunk during World War II in 1944 after the bombing performed by US Navy.

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach or Las Cabanas Beach El Nido Palawan Island The Philippines

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

If you are planning to visit El Nido then Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach should be on your must do list. Marimegmeg beach offers breathtaking views to say less even in daytime and therefore is a great place for lounging at the beach. Water is warm and has a beautiful crystal clear color here. A few beach bars offer refreshing drinks and relaxing lounge atmosphere.

Marimegmeg Beach or Las Cabanas Beach El Nido Palawan island the Philippines

Marimegmeg Beach has clear, turquoise blue water and white, powdery sand

Nevertheless the sunset at marimegmeg beach is the highlight of this place. That’s more than amazing view when sun is slowly immersing into the sea between the majestic limestone cliffs.

You can watch the sunset while relaxing at the hammock and sipping a fresh mango shake from the beach bar. However if you want the most of this sunset gazing experience I recommend you to have a regenerating evening swim while watching the sunset. I loved it!

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach or Las Cabanas Beach El Nido Palawan Island the Philippines

Enjoy the stunning sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

The best way to get to Marimegmeg Beach is to take a tricycle at El Nido Town. It is 10 minute ride and a round trip costs P200 -300  ($4.50-6.70) depending on your negotiating skills.

Rent a Scooter or Motorbike and Discover Unbeaten Paths of El Nido

Rent a scooter or motorbike to explore real El Nido Palawan Island the Philippines

Rent a scooter or motorbike and get to know the beauty of El Nido

From my experience one of the best ways to explore an island is renting a scooter or motorbike and taking a day trip around the area. This way you will find great adventures and unbeaten paths on your way. You will probably need two days to explore El Nido completely. Still you can see a lot in one day as well. The best thing is that you can rent a scooter in Palawan for very low prices. We rented a scooter at El Nido Town and it cost us $14 for all day. We went from Marimegmeg Beach to Nacpac Beach and Calitang Beach and visited beautiful sites along the way, including the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls. The quality of main road varies, some part of it is well paved, some is being repaired. There are some parts with big rocks that can make your driving quite shaky. And if you go off the main road, you have to prepare for dirt roads with pits and rocks. Sometimes near the beaches road can get sandy as well, so you have to think of balance and steerage with more caution. But hey, if I did it with no advanced driving skills, you can do it too!

However I wouldn’t recommend to ride a scooter and go off the beaten path during rainy season (from June to October), since the road gets quite muddy and slippery. In this season it’s better to take a tricycle if you’re not an experienced driver. But if you feel confident about your skills and want to go on an adventure by yourself at least rent a motorbike with gears, that is more suitable for rainy weather and muddy road conditions.

A Hike to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls

Locals on our way to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls

Locals on our way to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls

In El Nido there is a great 40 minute hike for nature lovers leading to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls. We found that the best way to visit waterfalls is by scooter or motorbike. Waterfalls are located 14 km from El Nido town. After about 20 minutes of riding the road, that was half way paved and half way covered in gravel we found a small sign leading to waterfalls. Some locals offered us to take a guide. At the beginning we hesitated since we thought we could find a way by ourselves. Later I was convinced that we have chosen wisely by hiring the guide! Otherwise we would be lost after a few minutes. The path is quite long and there are some parts where you could get lost without a guide (especially at the beginning) since it’s not marked.

You will have to pay something between P100-300 (about $2.20-6.70) for a guided tour. The payment is not fixed, it can vary depending on the number of persons and other factors. As most places in the Philippines you can negotiate.

Just don’t expect for a history lesson on the way. At least for us a guided tour meant simply being lead to the waterfalls. A guide was a local girl, about ten years old. She seemed quite shy and didn’t talk with us much, but we didn’t mind since we were enjoying the sounds of nature and observing big, beautiful butterflies of El Nido along the jungle path.

The path crosses creeks and rivers several times and since there are no bridges prepare for jumping over the stones or walking through water. That means the best shoes for this hike would be water shoes not regular sandals what I was wearing. I had to take them off and on again every time we crossed the river, because they were too slippery in the water.

A hike to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls in El Nido Palawan island the Philippines

Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls in dry season

After 40 minutes of walking and sweating (since it was noon and about 35°C) we finally reached our destination. And even though a waterfall didn’t have much water (the monsoon season hasn’t been started yet) we still enjoyed a refreshing swim in the cold water that restored our energy  for the way back afterwards. Since the small pool at the bottom of the waterfall was deep enough we jumped in and had some fun in the middle of the jungle of Palawan.

 

Beautiful Views at Nacpac and Calitang Beach

Nacpan Beach is one of the beautiful twin beaches (other is called Catiglan Beach) in El Nido Palawan the Philippines

Nacpan Beach

After our afternoon hike to waterfalls followed by the cold and refreshing swim we continued our trip to Nacpan and Calitang twin beaches.

Twin beaches are located around 20 km from El Nido town. Be aware that the road is smooth and concrete only half way to the beaches. After that it drastically changes to pebbled dirt road. When you get to the side road leading to Nacpan beach it literally gets a real pain in the ass. You have to wind between rocks and pits and in some parts the road gets very sandy as well. That’s the reason the best time to go there is dry season (from November to May) as we did.

According to reviews in the travel forums the road can get very muddy and slippery during the rainy season, so it can be a real challenge to balance on your vehicle and not to fall off it while getting through the mud and rocks. That’s why if you are not an experienced driver and go there on rainy season better take a tricycle. It will cost you about P1,200 ($26.60). If you are good at negotiating, you can lower price even until P800-900  ($17.80-20).

If you still do want to go there on your own during the rainy season (which is the cheapest option), rent a motorbike, not a scooter. It will cost you about P600-800 ($13.30-17.80). A motorbike is more suitable for those muddy and slippery conditions as I’ve mentioned above. Just make sure that the vehicle you’re renting is in a good condition.

When after a little bit of struggle (well, more than little bit) you will finally get to the beautiful and pristine Nacpan Beach, you will immediately feel that it was worth it. It is a gorgeous beach with long stretch of powdery sand, clean, turquoise water and picturesque views. With just a few people besides yourself you will almost feel like you’re are on your own private beach. This is definitely a place to go if you want total peace and relaxation.

Nacpan Beach is one of the beautiful twin beaches (other is called Catiglan Beach) in El Nido Palawan the Philippines

Nacpan Beach

As for eating options, there are few local eateries, where you can buy some snacks and soft drinks and even have a cooked meal of seafood, some vegetables and fruits. Just don’t expect much, these are very basic, local places, so the variety of meals is quite poor. We didn’t eat there since it was late afternoon and we wanted to get back before dark. You can eat at one of the local places or bring your own food, it’s up to you.

If you go to Nacpac beach, don’t miss out on visiting its twin neighbor – Calitang beach which is less known than its brother. When we went to Calitang Beach we met only a few fishermen there. It’s very peaceful, perfect for an afternoon walk along the beach, during which you can enjoy the fresh air and calming sea.

There are many boats at the background, that’s why tourists usually choose Nacpan Beach instead for lounging in the sand. You can admire a huge variety of beautiful seashells along the Calitang beach and superfast tiny ghost crabs quickly digging into the sand.

Catiglan Beach Near Nacpan Beach Twin Beaches El Nido Palawan Philippines

Calitang Beach

The best view of the twin beaches reveals from the top of the small hill. If you want to see a truly wonderful view don’t miss out on climbing it. It takes only about 5 minutes to to climb up (like I said it is a small hill!) but the view you will get is breathtaking!

When it comes to swimming according to reviews I read in Tripadvisor most of the travelers have had a very great swimming experience in Nacpan Beach. That’s mostly due to it’s warm and clean water. Unfortunately it wasn’t that nice for us. After a long and difficult ride in the hot afternoon sun, we were dying to dip into a refreshing water. And we did! But after about 20 seconds we run outside the water due to several painful stings that made the swimming not very enjoyable. We thought that it should be coming from jellyfish, but just couldn’t find them anywhere near. When I got home and did some online research I found out that it came from sea lice – a microscopic larvae of jellyfish. As I read you won’t find them in one place permanently, simply some periods of time. So I guess we just made it there at the wrong time for a peaceful and refreshing swim. But that was a drop in the sea compared to whole adventure and we still enjoyed the beautiful views of the twin beaches! Besides now we have a good reason to come back for that refreshing swim in Nacpan beach.

One more thing you should remember if you are going to Nacpan beach is to take an insect repellent if you want to avoid bites from sand flies.

 

Delicious Seafood Dinner at The Beach Front of El Nido Town

Dinner at El Nido town proper Palawan island the Philippines

Beach in front of El Nido town

El Nido town has it all – a variety of small local shops, eateries and accommodation places as well as transportation – both public and rentable. Everything is accessible from here.

Yet unfortunately the beach at El Nido Town is not suited for swimming and sunbathing due to the unclean water and many boats that have been docked at the shore. Nevertheless it is still a great place for dining.

There is a beautiful view of limestone cliffs that you can enjoy while having a breakfast or lunch. Besides in the evening the beachfront takes a more romantic mood provided by the lights of torches and candles. One of our favorite dining places was Sea Slugs. They have very delicious seafood, as well as pizza and onion rings. Breakfast is delicious there and has a decent size as well.

We also had delicious meal at the El Nido Corner, a small restaurant with a friendly Danish owner. There is a wide selection of the freshest seafood in this restaurant. The steak of kingfish with lemon butter sauce is excellent. Only downside is that it is a bit pricey compared to other restaurants and the service is quite slow (you have to wait about 40 minutes for the food), but, hey, you’re on vacation, so relax and enjoy the beautiful views while you are waiting!

Other dining places at the beachfront recommended by travelers are Mezzanine; Cadlao Resort & Restaurant (it is locateda little bit further from the town center) and Habibi Restaurant & Shicha Cafe (great place for breakfast).

 

Lounging at 7 Commandos Beach

Seven Commandos Beach El Nido Palawan Island The Philippines

Lounging at Seven Commandos Beach

Seven Commandos Beach is another incredibly beautiful beach of El Nido, Palawan Island. The most common legend about the origin of it’s name is that there were seven soldiers who lived there once and their names can be found on the rocks of this beach.

What’s special about 7 Commandos Beach is it’s laid back atmosphere. It’s the best place to spend a sunny day with a bunch of friends. The beach bar offers a variety of delicious refreshing drinks and shakes. Cozy loungers and nice music coming from the bar makes a perfect lounge atmosphere.

Seven Commandos Beach is also suited for active people since there is a volleyball net there. I can’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon after a long day of water activities than playing beach volley with your friends and having a refreshing buko juice (coconut water) or a mango shake after the game. The only downside is that drinks are a bit more expensive compared to other places in El Nido. You can get a mango shake for P200 ($4.45) and a buko juice (coconut water) for P50 ($1.10) there.

From El Nido town Seven Commandos Beach is best accessible by boat. You can find a local boatman for a private tour who will take you directly there if you want or take island hopping tour A, since 7 Commandos Beach is one of the stops of this tour.

 

Summarizing:

Those were just the highlights of the beautiful paradise-like place – El Nido, Palawan Island. There are hundreds of more islands and other places to see around El Nido.

I am happy that there are still places like El Nido – pristine and incredibly beautiful places it seems like we could only dream about. And yet they are real and they are so little known that we can still afford them.

The highest spending (of course depending from your location) you will make is the price of the ticket. But you would spend the same or even more for a trip to Bora Bora or some other luxurious tropical vacation place. It is definitely worth to go to El Nido instead of those pricey places especially if you can save on accommodation, restaurants, bars, activities and other expenses.

Have you ever been to El Nido, Palawan Island in the Philippines? I would like to hear your insights. Please, share them on the comment section below. I’ll be happy to answer your questions as well.

 

How to Get There:

No matter where you are, you should first take international flight to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, the Philippines. In order to get to El Nido from Manila, there are two options:

1. The cheapest option is to take a domestic flight at NAIA in Manila to Puerto Princesa in Central Palawan. Most popular airlines for these flights are Cebu Pacific Air, Philippines Airlines and Air Asia Zest. After landing in Puerto Princesa you have several options how to get to El Nido, which is about 230 km away:

a) Take a tricycle to San Jose Terminal, a bus terminal of Puerto Princesa. In bus terminal take a bus to El Nido. This is the cheapest way but also the longest, since it takes about 6-8 hours of driving to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa. There are two main bus companies going to El Nido:  RoRo buses and Cherry buses.

RoRo buses were suspended from operation of services a while ago due to a car accident one of the buses was involved but now they are back in business. RoRo go to El Nido every 2 hours during day until 6 PM. First trip is at 4 AM and last at 10 PM. Travel time is about 6-7 hours.

Cherry bus, the competitor of RoRo bus, also travels about 6-7 hours to El Nido and has the same frequency of trips going there, their schedule is different though. You can find the bus schedule here.

b) Other option is to take a van. This is usually the fastest option, since most of the vans take 5 to 6 hours to go to El Nido. However, they are slightly more expensive than buses and according to the reviews I found online many of the vans offer quite small leg room and are not as comfortable as buses.

Ask somebody at the airport, where you can find a companies operating vans to El Nido. Some companies have their desks at the airport. Vans depart regularly with one to two hour intervals. One of the most recommended companies is Daytripper Palawan.

2. The second option is the fastest and most comfortable, but also more expensive than the first. Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) offers direct daily flights from Manila to El Nido. From The Ninoy Aquino International Airport take taxi and go to ITI Terminal(address: Andrews Avenue Domestic Airport, Pasay, Philippines). It is a small, private hangar, in front of Shell gas station, so not all taxi drivers know it by name. Make sure you write down the address.  When traveling with ITI you will feel like your vacation has already started from the time you have arrived at the airport. They take care of everything and there is no hustle like in those big airports. You just hand your luggage to them and after that relax in the cozy waiting room with just a few travelers while drinking coffee or tea and eating pastries. You can have a free WiFi access there as well.

Travel time to El Nido with ITI is around 50 minutes on a 50-seater TR aircraft. It’s a small airplane. As it was our first time on a plane so small, we really enjoyed the flight.

Flights depart from Manila at 7:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM daily. Flights from El Nido back to Manila leave at 9:00 AM, 1:00 PM and 5 PM daily.

As everything is different with a company so small as ITI they also don’t have their own homepage with flight reservation service available. Instead you have to make your reservations via Artcafe (a multifunctional company – restaurant/travel center in El Nido, that is also offering flight and bus reservations) using this e-mail address: flights@elnidoboutiqueandartcafe.com. Send them required details:  complete names of passengers, gender, birth dates, contact info and passport details: number, issuing country, expiration date and nationality. After receiving your e-mail they will send you an online third party payment link. After paying  you will get an e-mail with confirmed reservation.

One way fare is  P6,750 ($150), but you can also find promo deals on Artcafe’s Facebook page. We booked a promo flight for P5,000 ($112) but sometimes they also offer flights for only P3,500 ($78.50).

Note that there is a 10 kg baggage weight restriction, including hand luggage. Excess baggage is charged: P100 for 1 kg. When going from Manila to El Nido there is a P200 terminal fee.

When you arrive at Lio airport in El Nido you can take a tricycle to your hotel. It is about 20 minute drive to El Nido town and costs about P200-250 for two people and luggage.

 

Expenses:

Getting there and back:

Flight to Manila:

differs regarding where you come from, which company you fly etc. Average round trip flight expenses from Los Angeles, US  to Manila are $900-1000. Round trip, if you are flying from London (Heathrow) costs about $700-800.

After arriving at Manila you have two options:

1) Flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa: about P5,000 ($110) for a round trip. You can also find promo fares (usually hand baggage only is required for these deals) for about  P1360 (little bit more than $30) If you choose this option, you will also have to pay about P800-1000 ($18-22) for bus to El Nido and back or about P1200-1700 ($27-38) for a shuttle van round trip depending on the company you will choose. A tricycle fee from Puerto Princesa airport to Bus terminal is about P50 ($1.10).

2) If you chose to fly directly from Manila to El Nido, first you should take taxi to go to ITI Terminal. Taxi fare from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila airport) to ITI Terminal is about P150-200 ($3.30-4.45). Flight from Manila (ITI Terminal) to El Nido and back costs about P13,500 ($300). You will also have to pay P200 ($4.45) terminal fee when flying from Manila to El Nido. If you will look for promo deals on Artcafe’s facebook page (and they are offered quite often), you could get a round trip ticket even for P7,000 ($155).

A 5 km tricycle ride from Lio airport (El Nido) to El Nido town proper costs about P200-500 ($4.50-11.20) for two people and luggage.

Accommodation: fees differ depending on the type of the place you are staying in – a hostel, beach cottage, descent hotel with basic facilities or a luxury hotel. Budget option for backpackers (multi bed dormitories or simple beach cottages with shared bathrooms) is about P300-800 ($7-17.80) for night. A decent hotel with all basic necessities and private rooms is about P1,500-2,900 ($33 -65) for night.

Dinner for two: P800-1400 ($17.80-31) in a good restaurant at beach front. There also many cheaper options in town, where one person can eat for P100 – 150 ($2.20-3.30).

A island hopping tour: about P1,200 – 1,400 ($.27-31) for person. Note that you can negotiate. We got our tours for P900 ($20) each and we aren’t the best at negotiating to say less.

Environmental fee for island hopping: P200 ($4.45), valid for 10 days.

Motorbike or scooter rental: P600-800 ($13.30-17.80) for whole day, usually you have to return the vehicle by 6 PM.

Tricycle fare: El Nido town proper to Nacpan Beach – about P1,200 ($26.60) to go there and back. Again – negotiate, you can lower price even until P800-900 ($17.80-20).

Tricycle fare: El Nido town proper to Marimegmeg Beach costs P200-300 ($4.45-6.70) for both ways.

Beverage at 7 Commandos Beach: mango shake – P200 ($4.45), buko juice (coconut water) – P50 ($1.10), beer – P75 ($1.70).

Tip for a guide at the waterfalls: about P100-300 ($2.20-6.70).

 

Where to Stay:

I recommend to stay somewhere near El Nido town proper, since it is cheaper than staying in remote islands or near other beaches. Also everything is accessible from here. If you will stay for example near Marimegmeg beach, you will still have to take tricycle to go to El Nido town proper in order to go island hopping etc. But, hey, if you just want to hang out on the beach all day long, you can choose an accommodation near one of the most beautiful beaches as well.

 

  • Swiftlets Inn

(Highly recommended; simple hotel with all basic facilities; new, modern building; good location at the center of El Nido town proper; 7 minute walk to beach front)

Location: Balinsasayaw Road, Maligaya, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Website: http://swiftlets-inn.weebly.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/swiftlets.inn

Contact No.: (+63) 919 804 5792, (+63) 926 708 6754

E-mail address: swiftlets_inn@yahoo.com

Room rate: starting from P2,000 ($44.90) for night

 

  • Marina Garden Beach Cottages

(Budget option; basic cottage; beach front and close to everything)

Location: The main beach of El Nido town (Hama Street, El Nido 5313, Philippines)

Website: http://www.mgelnido.com/

Contact No.: (+63) 917 624 7722; (+63) 908 884 3711 or (+63) 925 722 2777

E-mail address: marinagarden.elnido@gmail.com

Room rate: starting from P800 ($18) for night

 

  • Taiyo Resort Beach Cottages

(Recommended; affordable option; 15 minute walking distance from town center)

Location: Caalan Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Website: http://taiyoresort.com/

Room rate: starting from P2,100 ($47.10) for night

 

  • Our Melting Pot El Nido

(hostel recommended for backpackers; small, simple rooms;  good location in the center of the town; great place to meet people)

Location: Real Street, El Nido Town Proper, El Nido 5313, Philippines

Contact No.: +63 906 412 7861

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ourmeltingpotelnido

Rate: starting from P475 ($10.70) for night (for a bed in 10-bed mixed dormitory)

 

  • El Nido Overlooking

(Affordable luxury option; 2 km from El Nido town proper)

Location: Hill in the jungle, near Corong Corong Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Website: http://el-nido-overlooking.com/

Contact No.: (+63) 916 631 7078

E-mail address: hello@el-nido-overlooking.com

Room rate: starting from P3,700 ($83) for night

 

  • Las Cabanas Beach Resort

(Near Marimegmeg Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches of El Nido; more expensive option; 4 km from El Nido town proper)

Location: near Marimegmeg Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Website: http://www.lascabanasresort.com/

E-mail address: info@lascabanasresort.com

Room rate: starting from P5,000 ($112.10) for night

 

Tips:

  1. The best time to visit El Nido is during the dry season from November to May. However, the most pleasant weather (not too hot and not too cool is from December until March. Starting from April the weather gets hotter and harder to bear. Besides it is also the high tourist season in the Philippines and most likely the prices for hotels etc. will be higher during this time.
  2. Note that electricity in El Nido generally runs from 2 PM to 6 AM. However some hotels and other places have their own generators that cover the period in between.
  3. Stay in a basic beach cottage, if you like to listen to the sound of waves while you are falling asleep. But definitely chose another type of accommodation if you are sensitive to every sound and can’t quickly fall asleep or wake up easily by the smallest sound. You will hear everything – from people passing by the beach to music coming from the nearest club. Anyway, it is a good idea to take earplugs with you for these cases.
  4. Find out how to get to your accommodation place before coming by emailing to your hotel. There is a great chance that you will have to rely on your taxi driver’s knowledge about the area by simply giving him the name of the hotel. Other option is to ask locals for help. Many places in El Nido doesn’t have detailed addresses due to the fact that here are no proper streets and roads but only small paths and unmarked dirt roads leading there.
  5. Sun is very strong in the Philippines so it’s easy to get sunburn. That’s why a sunscreen with high SPF or better a sunblock (the one with titanium oxide or zinc oxide) is essential. We found that sunblock (the one that makes you look superwhite and funny in pictures) was the best option for island hopping. It was the only thing that saved us from sunburn, since it contains ingredients that literally block the sun (both UVA and UVB). We found that sunscreen didn’t gave us the protection needed, since it washed off during all the swimming and snorkeling.
  6. Get your negotiating skills on the table if you are not satisfied with the price. Filipinos are used to negotiating for everything.
  7. Take your snorkeling gear with you. Sometimes island hopping companies can have a gear that’s already out worn or broken. Luckily that wasn’t a case for us. Still there were places, where we got on our own and we would be happy if we would have our own gear with us.
  8. Island hopping tours usually take place from 9 AM to 4 PM. Wake up early and go to the tour operator to make reservation or better – do it in the evening before. Remember as always you can negotiate.
  9. Read reviews of island hopping companies. The variety is big, but the quality regarding snorkeling gear, food, attitude etc. can differ extremely.
  10. Bring water shoes for hiking to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, there are lot of places where you will need to cross river and the rocks are sharp and slippery. They are useful for swimming as well, since there are a lot of beaches in El Nido with sharp corals and rocks close to the shore.
  11. Don’t hesitate on bringing your waterproof camera with you. The underwater world is incredibly beautiful here, so you will get a lot of good shots.
  12. When you rent a scooter or motorbike make sure it’s in a good condition. There are some rocky and sandy parts of the road, that can get very slippery, especially during the rainy season, so a vehicle in good condition and suited for these circumstances is very important.
  13. Make sure you always bring a little bit of money with you even if you are just going hiking. In some places you will need to pay a small price for entrance or pay for a guide (like when you are hiking to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls).
island hopping tour map of El Nido in Palawan Island, the Philippines

Island hopping tour map of El Nido

El Nido, Palawan Island, the Philippines map

El Nido location

 

30 replies
  1. Ada Wilkinson
    Ada Wilkinson says:

    Lovely photos of El Nido! OMG I miss El Nido so much. Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog! It appears that your blog contains just places in the Philippines. Do you live in Ph?

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Thank you, Ada! :) I miss it too, it’s a wonderful place!
      I was living there for 8 months, but now back in my home – Latvia. I still have some upcoming blog posts, just didn’t have enough time to post them earlier.

      Reply
        • Anna
          Anna says:

          Yes, I love it! Especially the nature, the country side! You have so beautiful mountain valleys, beaches and pristine islands :) I took a ton of photos when I was there!
          Are you planning to go back to Philippines some day or will stay in Japan for good?
          Thank you very much :)

          Reply
      • Stéphane
        Stéphane says:

        Hi Anna and Ada ! I read both of your blogs and wow this is the kind of detailed information I exactly am looking for when I do a research, thank you soooo much ! I really appreciate that, especially as a World Tour Guide :)

        I am planning a trip in April-May 2016 after guiding in Viet Nâm in February- March. I would start in Luzon, then Palawan. If you are ever there let me know it would be nice meeting you !

        Cheers and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

        Stéphane from Canada

        Reply
        • Anna
          Anna says:

          Hi Stéphane,

          I’m happy my article is useful to you. Thank you for your kind words!
          Wow! World tour guide – seems like a wonderful job! How long have you been doing this?
          Unfortunately I’m not planning to go to the philippines next year, I have some other plans already. Anyway I wish you an amazing trip!

          Thank you! And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you :)

          Anna

          Reply
          • Stéphane
            Stéphane says:

            Hi Anna,

            I have been doing this for 11 years now and hopefully another 11 !! Tell me do you think April is a good month to go to El Nido, will the prices be in the range you mentionned in your blog ? Am I to harsh on myself to try to live on a 50 USD per day budget all across the Philippines and stay out of dorm style accomodation ? What are your plans for 2016 ?

            Thanks for your wishes !

            Stéphane :)

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            Hi Stéphane!
            I think April is great for visiting El Nido. It will be quite hot though as it is the dry season but since El Nido is mostly about the island hopping and beach bumming hot weather is not a problem.
            I can’t tell you what are the exact prices right now as I haven’t been to Philippines for two years but I’m quite sure that they haven’t changed that much. 😉
            50 USD budget would be ok and you could get a simple beach cottage (pretty basic, without air-con) for about 15-20 USD. However if you want to go island hopping (which in my opinion is the best thing to do in El Nido to see those the amazing islands it has to offer), you will have to consider a bigger budget. Island hopping costs about 25-30 USD per tour.
            My plans for now are more connected with Latvia, my home country. But I’m looking forward to more traveling at the end of the year. Have you ever visited Latvia? It’s so beautiful especially at the moment when it’s covered in snow and looks like a winter wonderland.

            Best wishes,
            Anna

          • Stéphane
            Stéphane says:

            Hi Anna !

            Thanks again for your replies I truly appreciate it ! No, I haven’t visited Latvia. There are so many countries to see and I am sure your homeland is beautiful. That’s what I like about travelling; every country has its own beauty both people and landscapes. I am in Québec now enjoying the beautiful snow flakes falling on the trees, it’s so romantic ! :)

            I prepare myself to go guiding to Viet Nâm in February and March, then go to Palawan and try to give people massages to earn some money to finance my trip as massage therapist is my second job :) I re-read all your blog and that is precious information thanks !

            Where do you plan to go at the end of the year ? What is your job ? Is that you on the picture in the middle of your blog ? You are very beautiful I must confess :)

            Bye for now and enjoy life !

            Stéphane

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            Hi Stéphane!
            That’s wonderful! I miss snow already, even if it has been gone only for a week here. But I also love that you can feel the spring is almost here. That beautiful changing of seasons.
            Thank you! I’m glad you found my blog helpful. It means a lot!
            Giving massages to people to earn for your trips is a beautiful idea! I hope that you will fulfill it :)

            I’m making handmade flower accessories for weddings and other occasions. You can see some of my work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/StaroFlowerCrowns

            Yes, that’s me. Thank you. :)

            Bye! Hope you will have an amazing trip to Vietnam! I would like to hear more about it 😉

            Kind greetings,

            Anna

          • Stéphane
            Stéphane says:

            Hi Anna !

            Wow what you do is great ! It enhances women’s lives and beauty !

            Maybe we meet someday in South East Asia, in the meantime, if you have any questions about Viet Nâm it will be a pleasure to answer you when I am off guiding. What are the countries you would like to visit in the coming years ?

            Cheers !

            Stéphane

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            Hi Stéphane!

            Thank you for kind words.

            Ok, I will try to remember to ask you recommendations about Vietnam when I’ll decide to go there. 😉

            Hmm.. I would like to go to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, India, Japan.. and etc.. I have a lot on my bucket list :)

            Cheers!
            Have a wonderful week!

            Anna

      • Birgit
        Birgit says:

        Hello Ana

        We are going to plan a roundtrip through El Nido resp. few island in the south of Philippines. Could you recommend a good travel agent.

        Thank you four your help.

        Regards
        Birgit

        Reply
  2. ALFRED GRANADOS
    ALFRED GRANADOS says:

    It really is a very beautiful place. I was there, June 2013 but stayed for 3 days only. Stayed there for 9 days during the Holidays(December 2014). Looking at the pictures here and reading about this place(as if i have never been there!), I decided, I am going back! So, I booked for a 10 day stay this coming May 2015. I’m glad that you enjoyed your stay in the Philippines.

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Thank you Alfred!
      I’m glad that my article inspired you for new travel adventures of a long known place :)
      Hope you will enjoy your trip and my story and travel tips could help you on your way!

      Best wishes,

      Anna

      Reply
  3. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    Wow! this was a fantastic blog!!! So well done and thorough. Which island-hopping tour group/company did you use from El Nido?
    I’ve heard good things about Caera travel tours, but ArtCafe tour seems to offer your own kayak to explore closer up – which seems like a big advantage! I’m thinking Tour A, since only have one day to do it.

    Which to choose – Does ArtCafe tour go at a time where there are lots of crowds? If so, maybe the personal kayak isn’t worth it. Or, can you get the kayak as part of Caera?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Hi Jessie! Thank you :)
      I used Caera and it was superb – everything was well organized – great trip, good quality snorkeling gear, delicious lunch and also guides took lots of photos with us.I can’t tell for sure if they have a kayak on every boat, but we went with the big boat and there was a kayak provided 😉 So you can check with them before booking and ask if they have kayak on the specific boat! Anyway I would definitely recommend Caera to you. Unfortunately I can’t say anything about Art cafe tours since I haven’t tried them. Hope I helped you! Enjoy your trip :)

      Reply
  4. Lam
    Lam says:

    Hi Anna,

    I just want to say that your site is very useful for my research in trying to book a trip to El Nido, Philippines. I can’t wait to experience the wonderful culture and food they have to offer.

    I’m planning to travel around the end of Sept to early October (roughly 6 days) but I have read that the weather may not be great as it is monsoon season. From your experience would you recommend travelling around this time period?

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Hi Lam!
      I’m glad that my article could help you. Regarding the time of traveling to El Nido, if there is a choice I would recommend going there during the dry season. I visited the island at the end if March and weather was just perfect – hit and sunny most of the days. At September weather can be very various. It’s a great schance of rain and thunder storms at this season. But you can get lucky and get some sunny (probably party cloudy)days as well. When we went there the forecast promised showers and thunderstorms but when we came there it was sunny all the time, so you can’t really trust the forecasts.
      To sum up – it is more likely to be sunny during dry season and rainy during monsoon season but you can never be 100% sure, there can be rainy days during dry season and sunny days during monsoon season as well.

      I wish you a great trip and hope that weather will be on your side :)
      Anna

      Reply
  5. Luis Garcia
    Luis Garcia says:

    Great job Anna, really good information. I am planning to go to El Nido for a week next November. I am really excited about it.

    Reply
  6. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    Yes, El Nido Palawan in Philippines is one of it’s wonders. There are lot of tourist spots in Palawan, some are famous the beaches and even the known mountains that good for hiking. The beaches they have are perfect place to experience sunset and good for swimming. I will definitely visit El Nido again and again.

    Reply
  7. Ain
    Ain says:

    Hi,

    Thank you so much for posting this. It is quite helpful for my planning to go to El Nido.
    I have few questions on the Island Hopping package.
    1) Is it possible to hire our own boat? Do you have any idea how much it would cost?
    2) Is it possible to start earlier? Maybe around 7.30 am or 8 am?
    3) Is it possible to plan our own route for the island hopping? Like maybe skip some of the places so that everything can be combined in 2 days time?
    4) Other than Caera, is there any other company you can recommend?

    Your feedback is highly appreciated as I am having a difficult time to squeeze a lot of things in a very short amount of time. Too greedy I guess haha :p

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Hi Ain!
      Thank you! I’m glad my article was helpful to you.
      1) Yes, it is possible to hire your private boat. That’s what we did when we went to Boracay. The price varies regarding where you want to go. My advice is to find out more options by talking to different boat owners. There is always one with a better price. And don’t forget to bargain. I’m not sure about the cost. It depends on the season and it can vary regarding how many persons will go on the tour since if there are more persons you may need a bigger boat. I have heard that it could be 4000 PHP or even 6000 PHP or more for a boat. But it could be also 2500 PHP. As you can see the prices are very different and they depend on your negotiating skills! In order to get lower prices I would also suggest you to find a local boat owner and avoid agencies that will overcharge you. It’s best to look around at the beach and find someone you like to talk to and seems reliable. Remember that despite the good bargain you have made you will also have to spend all they with this person. We were very more than happy with our guide in Boracay who was not only a fun and friendly man but also told us interesting stories about places we were visiting.
      Read more suggestions about hiring a private boat here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/ShowTopic-g294256-i9213-k8261761-Private_boat_cost-El_Nido_Palawan_Island_Palawan_Province_Mimaropa.html
      2) If you want to go by your own schedule and start earlier then hiring a private boat is definitely the best option for you.
      3) Yes, it is possible to plan your own route if you hire a private boat 😉 How much can you squeeze in one or two days depends on the boat and a boat man of course. You should definitely ask around to find a faster boat. To avoid unpleasant surprises talk everything through with the boat owner BEFORE the trip, be specific and find out if it is possible to squeeze all places you want to visit in one or two days.
      4) Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with other companies. I have heard that private tours are quite expensive with companies, so local boat owners could be a better option for you. However the good thing about companies is that you can read reviews and find one that suits you best before taking the trip. That’s what we did with Caera and we were very pleased. There is always a risk when you hire someone on the spot. If comfort and more certainty is what you are looking for then you should go with the company. And caera is a good one in my opinion. However if you want to find a better price by trusting your negotiation skills and don’t mind a little risk of something not going exactly as planned ( not always in a bad way!) at the same time then you should hire a local boat man. At the end it is all up to you and what you prefer – little adventure or more comfort and certainty :)

      I hope you’ll have a wonderful trip! Good luck on finding your boat! :) And please tell me after your insights on El Nido! 😉

      Best wishes,

      Anna

      Reply
  8. Stéphane
    Stéphane says:

    Hi Anna,

    I am planning at the end of the year to visit and stay at a friend’s house in North Thailand for about 2 months if my company sends me to guide again in Viet Nâm. I taught English to the kids in a small village named Pai west of Chiang Mai it was a lot of fun ! Laos and Cambodia are on my list too ! So are Myanmar, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Japan, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, etc :)

    I was wondering: I read somewhere that you spent 8 months or so in Palawan ? May I ask you what work you were doing there ?

    What do you like the most when you visit a country ? What are the main attractions in Latvia ?

    Bye for now cheers !

    Stéphane :)

    Reply
  9. Paul
    Paul says:

    Wow. Very nice piece!
    1) the post is very informative and covers basically everything
    2) you’re so beautiful :)

    We’ll be in el nido on the last week of may. I’ll try to make an updated version of this write up. Cheers!

    Reply
  10. Carmela Alvarez
    Carmela Alvarez says:

    Hi Anna,

    I really enjoyed reading your travel blog..!!

    Great blog. I enjoyed your article.

    I was hoping I could publish something on your site.

    If you are interested in working with me, please contact me as quickly as possible as
    our content is picked up rather quickly.

    I hope you can let me know if you think a guest post from us
    could be interesting to you?

    Your time is greatly appreciated. I look forward to building a mutually beneficial
    partnership with you!

    Sincerely,

    Carmela

    Reply
  11. maisie
    maisie says:

    thank you for all the information. we are planning to go next year mid february. do you think they allow 1.5 year old to go in the kayak? what tour do you recommend when staying 3 days and 2 nights. thanks.

    Reply
    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Hi Maisie!

      I’m sorry but I really can’t answer you about the kayak.

      Regarding tours, it depends on what you prefer. For me it’s beautiful beaches with clean, clear water and small islands. I would say that tour B and C were my favourites. But if beautiful lagoons is what you prefer, you could choose tour A as well. I didn’t go to tour D, as I didn’t have so much time on the island and it was the least popular.

      Have a nice trip!

      Anna

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *