If there is one place on the face of the earth to which we would happily take a one-way ticket; it has to be the beautiful island of Palawan. It would be nothing short of a ticket to paradise. That is how beautiful this cluster of islands in the southern Philippines is.
Since you’re here, you must be all curious about exploring El Nido. If you’ve chosen El Nido in your Palawan Itinerary, stay calm and read this as an ultimate guide to all things to do in El Nido and don’t miss anything on the pristine waters of Palawan
El Nido - an introduction
El Nido is a first-class municipality in the province of Palawan, located around 200 kms of Puerto Princesa – Palawan’s capital. It is situated in Bacuit Bay and covers the northern most tip of the main island of Palawan.
Comparatively a quieter town, together with Coron and Puerto Princesa, El Nido is Palawan’s most visited destinations. It sits between Coron in the north and Puerto Princesa to its south.
Famous for its stunning limestone cliffs, pristine white sand beaches, secret lagoons & coral reefs, El Nido has often been named one of the World’s most beautiful beach destinations. Due to its abundant natural & ecological values, El Nido is a resource protected area. And undoubtedly you will have loads of things to do in Palawan if you love waters
A quick summary of important facts
- There are two distinct seasons in El Nido – The Dry season (December – May) and the rainy season (June – November)
- Dry season has less rain fall obviously and the rainy season means rainfall – less to heavy.
- With an average temperature of 25 – 30 degree Celsius, El Nido is a year-round destination.
- However, the hottest months where humidity and sun strike high are April & May
- The rainiest months are July & August
- Palawan & Philippines as a whole have a tropical marine climate therefore it never is freezing cold and is mostly humid.
Currency & ATMs:
Philippine Peso is the currency of Philippines
- USD 100 = PHP 4808.55
- INR 100 = PHP 65.35
- EUR 100 = PHP 5834.24 (rates as on December 2020)
- There are ATMs in town however ATM withdrawals have higher conversion rates usually.
- All the activities and tours can be booked via online modes of payments and most of the cafes and restaurants accept cards for payments hence you wouldn’t been in dire need of cash except off course for shopping, local food, souvenirs etc.
- Philippine standard time – GMT +8
- 5 hours ahead of India
- 13 hours ahead of US (Washington)
- 8 hours ahead of London
Absolutely safe, however since this is a tourist spot, take care of your own belongings . Also, medical facilities are limited so be cautious. Nearest major hospital is in Puerto Princesa which is 5 hours from El Nido.
Connectivity, Language and charging points:
- Cell phone reception is good, most hostels/hotels offer free Wi-Fi however network can be slow
- The best way to go around El Nido is to walk however tricycles and tuk-tuks are also widely available. Alternatively, you can rent a bike to explore the island at around PHP 500 per day
- Tagalog is the local Palawano language spoken in El Nido, but English is widely spoken and understood by the locals. Hence conversing wouldn’t be an issu
- Voltage 220V, electrical frequency 60Hz, mostly we saw Type A plug. Mostly this universal adopters will work here
Best time to go to El Nido
El Nido is a year-round destination for the purpose. However, if you are not a fan of the monsoon chaos then the best time to go to El Nido would be during the dry season i.e. December – May. We have listed down the weather conditions monthly below to get the best idea about when to travel based on your preferences
Dry season. Av. Temperature – 27 – 28-degree Celsius. Av. Rainfall – 27 mm
Dry season. Av. Temperature – 28-degree Celsius. Av. Rainfall – 27 mm
Dry season. Day time temperature goes high up to 20 degrees, nights are mild. Av. Rainfall – 16 mm. one of the direst months
Dry season. Av temperature – 25 – 33 degrees. Humid and Hot during the day
Onset of rainy season. Av. Temperature – 28-degree Celsius
Rainy season – Av. Rainfall – 235 mm. weather remains hot & humid during the day and mild at night
Rainy season – rainiest month with rain almost every day. Temperature is humid during the day and pleasant at night
Rainy season – Heavy rainfall with humid weather conditions
End of the monsoon season – Heavy rainfall with humid weather conditions
Rains only on few days and temperature remains pleasant
Onset of the Dry season – with very less rains and av temperature around 27 degrees November marks the start of the Dry season
Dry season – Very less rains and pleasant temperature
So, depending upon what kind of travel you want, you can plan on which month you want to travel. We went in the month of June and it was very hot & humid. It rained every day. However, the water temperature was quite warm, and we had a good visibility under water. No matter which time of the year you go, El Nido will never fail to amaze you.
How to reach El Nido
You can reach El Nido either directly (Yes!!!! El Nido has an airport of its own) or Indirectly via a combination of different modes of transport.
- Directly to El Nido – The only direct way to get to El Nido is by taking a flight from Manila to El Nido. Air Swift operates daily flights and no doubts, that it would be the most expensive mode of transport. El Nido airport is privately owned and only Air Swift operates flights between the two destinations. Having said that, this is also the least time consuming and most comfortable way of reaching El Nido. The flight time from Manila to El Nido takes around 1.15 hrs
- Indirectly to El Nido option 1 – Flight till Puerto Princesa and Van/Bus to El Nido
The most common route that most of the tourists take is by flying to Palawan’s capital city Puerto Princesa and then taking a van to El Nido from there. This might not be the fastest but comparatively the cheapest option. This also makes sense as most people spend a day or two exploring Puerto Princesa as well.
Flight time from Manila to Puerto Princesa is around 1.5 hours and it takes about 5-6 hours by road to reach El Nido from Puerto Princesa.
Van: Vans are a little faster as a smaller number of people travel. You can take either a daytrip Van or a private van. Day trip Van’s are more frequent and leave once they are full. They charge anything between 600PHP – 750PHP and take about 5-6 hours. Private Vans are more comfortable and spacious. They charge somewhere around 6000 PHP – 7000 PHP and take 5-6 hours as well. These can be booked online as well. Its best to take a private van if you are travelling in a group
Bus: There are busses as well that leave from airport to El Nido, however they take more time around 6-7 hours as they make multiple stops to take up local passengers. These are also the cheapest as they charge around 350 – 450 PHP.
- Indirectly to El Nido option 2 – Flight till San Vicente Airport and Van to El Nido
San Vicente Airport is recently opened in 2017 and is quite close to El Nido. Flight time from Manila to San Vicente is around 1.5 hours and Vans take 3- 3.5 hours from San Vicente to El Nido. The airport was opened to boost travel for El Nido by reducing the time to reach via the flight & Van combination. This is a good option if you do not have Puerto Princesa in your Palawan Itinerary. Vans charge you around 600 – 4000 PHP. Off course the higher end is for the private vans.
How did we travelled to El Nido :We travelled from Coron to El Nido using ferry. We had Coron in our itinerary first hence we took the sea route. It takes around 4 hours to reach El Nido from Coron.
Read our Palawan backpacking budget guide to see how we did this trip in less than INR 60k per person, all inclusive
Where to stay
El Nido consists of several barangays or villages, 18 to be precise out of which 4 are together called Población or Town proper. The Población consists of barangays – Buena Suerte, Corong-corong, Maligaya and Masagana. The Población is the best place to stay and find all thing to do in close proximity with each barangay having its distinct feel.
- Buena Suerte – This is where the hustle bustle is. Technically this is the town proper as they say. It has all the offices, Schools, houses, restaurants and everything. You would find a variety of hotels and hostel options here.
- Corong-corong – Some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in El Nido are down south in Corong-corong. It’s quiet and has got some amazing stay options. A little at the higher end though. It gives the best view of the Bacuit bay and is near to the bus terminal as well.
- Maligaya – Some of the best beach bungalows can be spotted in Maligaya. If you’re in for some peace and luxury staycation, you know where to go.
- Masagana – One of the best places to stay in El Nido without many tourists. It has some amazing resorts and one of the most beautiful beaches in El Nido
Hotels vs Hostels
- We have always been more of a backpacker than luxury travelers. Somehow, we enjoy the rush, the idea of exploring more and more in less time, meeting people and sometimes doing the unplanned. Hence, we have always loved staying in hostels.
- Palawan has some of the most beautiful hostels that we have seen. The best part about the hostels are the breathtaking view and the cleanliness. The proper town of El Nido has some budget hostels while you can also find hostels in the quieter locations such as Coron-corong or the calaan beach.
- There are many hotels and luxury resorts as well in El Nido that would give you a tropical paradise feels. There are many options to pick from based on your choice of stay, activities and budget.
- We stayed at the Raje Residency, which was quite good for the price
Island Hopping Guide – all things to do in El Nido Tours
Once you have reached– the next thing to do in El Nido is to decide on tours. You can always pre book as well. All travelling spots in El Nido are grouped under different tours and tourists have to select which tour they want to pick based on where they want to go .
Have a look at our Postcards from Palawan
- There are four major tours – Tour A, B C & D
- Each tour takes you to a specific part of the islands of El Nido to explore.
- These tours are regularized and are monitored by the government. So, there are price caps as well. Tour agencies must abide by the rules set by the government.
- Mostly in all tours lunch, water and one snorkel gear per person is inclusive
- If you’re a small group, you will be mostly grouped with other people, however there are options available for private tours as well at comparatively higher prices obviously.
- You cannot mix and match tours or pick and choose places from multiple tours. All tours have to be done as it is.
- There used to be combo tours as well, but they are currently closed by the government in order to manage over tourism to these reserved places. Check before you book your tickets online if these combo tours have reopened.
- You may have to spend few more bucks other than the tour fee for the environmental fee that is applicable for all tours and is valid for 10 days.
- Other than Tours A, B, C & D – there are other adventure and camping tours as well if you want to go to specific places with a private boat. You can camp as well on a specific island; however, most tourists opt for Tours A, B, C & D in order to tick off majority of things to do in EL Nido.
- You can book these tours from any store/ agency office or even your hotel. Almost all hotels and hostels provide these services.
- Miniloc Island – Big Lagoon (or small lagoon – you need to choose either of the two) & Secret Lagoon
- Shimizu Island
- Seven Commandos Beach
Price and Time:
- Peso 1200
- Around 7 hours in total
- Snorkel Gear
- One of the most popular tours – Tour A takes you to explore the Miniloc Island and its Big lagoon and secret lagoon
- The boat first wades through beautiful limestone cliffs in azure blue waters and takes you to the Big lagoon (or small lagoon – you need to choose either of the two). The water is so clear and the towering limestone cliffs around makes this place an aesthetic wonder. You can swim, snorkel, kayak here.
- One of the best parts about this tour is swimming from the big lagoon to the secret lagoon. A tiny opening in a towering limestone cliff is the entrance to this sealed off absolutely hidden lagoon. On rainy days, the opening is filled with water and you need to swim through, its just a small passage sort of an opening so be careful of the rocks above you. When you finally enter the lagoon and you look up, the huge cliffs daunt upon you with the blue sky peaking a little. Water temperature here is a little cooler cause of less sunlight.
Now here is the thing, you can either choose between Big lagoon or Small lagoon in tour A. No worries here because you will get this option in other tours as well.
So, you can choose small lagoon in other tour if you’ve chosen big lagoon here and vice versa. Earlier both these lagoons could have been done together but for a couple of years now, the government introduced this either option in order to reduce over crowding of these two places. However both the lagoons are must thing to do when in El Nido, if time permits.
There are a couple of caves that you can explore and either swim or kayak your way through the small lagoon as the boat docks around 50 yards from its entrance. It’s a long swim inside from there. A beautiful swim though, no doubt there.
The boat usually docks here for lunch. There is another alternative for this as well in case the boatman sees that the island is crowded. He may then dock the boat in Payong-Payong Beach. You can relax on the white sand beaches or snorkel and kayak around. Shimizu is one of the best places to see coral reefs in Tour A. Treat yourself with fresh grilled fish/chicken/pork, rice & fruits before heading out for your next destination.
Seven Commandos Beach
A pristine white sand beach, also has a bar. Get yourselves little something to drink and then set out to snorkel here to get hold of sea turtles.
TEE Tip: The big lagoon has an entrance fee, usually Peso 200 and you may have to pay rental fee for the Kayaks that is around Peso 200- 250. These costs are above your Tour costs.
- Snake Island
- Pinagbuyutan Island
- Entalula Beach
- Cudugnon Cave
- Snorkeling Site
Price and Time:
- Peso 1300
- Around 7 hours in total
- Snorker Gear
Remember a long stretch of white sandbar in the middle of the sea floating everywhere in the internet, that’s the famous snake island. This naturally S shaped sandbar connects the main island of Palawan to Vigan Island. This is the star attraction of Tour B as not everywhere you get a feel of walking in the middle of the sea. Isn’t it?
The next stop will actually give you the true sense of tropical paradise. With less crowd, only a few shacks and palm trees along the beach, Pinagbuyutan Island is serene, beautiful, peaceful and out worldly. It actually gives a lost in the beach feels. The beach runs along huge limestone cliffs standing tall dramatically as if they go straight into the sea. These cliffs are millions of years old. One of the best drone filming locations we must say. As most of the tourists prefer Tours A & C, Tour B remains less crowded.
Another beautiful filming location. Tour B would definitely be a photographer’s paradise. With water as clear as a crystal and sand as soft as powder who would not want to relax on this paradise. There are cabanas and beach shacks here where you can grab yourself a lunch or even spend some time walking along the beach. Sunset from the beach overlooking the unending ocean is magical here.
Naturally formed caves, it is of great archaeological importance as artifacts from the sung dynasty (900 – 1200s) were found here. The site was also used by locals to hide from the Japanese invaders during the second world war. A quick stop after the Cudugnon cave is the Cathedral cave. It’s a cathedral like formation on limestone cliff above water, a small opening where boats can not go in hence just a small stop is made for few photographs.
Tour B has a dedicated site for snorkeling as well. Be ready to put on your snorkeling gears and explore the under-water world
- Helicopter Island
- Matinloc Shrine
- Secret Beach
- Star Beach
- Hidden Beach
Price and Time:
- Peso 1400
- Around 7 hours in total
- Snorker Gear
TEE Tip: Along with Tour A, Tour C is the most popular of all El Nido Tours. For all the beach bums out there, Tour C is your heaven. It has a lot of beach visits included.
Let’s give you more details about the destinations covered:
The shape of the island looks line a helicopter and hence the name. The island looks green and has a lot of vegetation on the mountain. There is a huge limestone cliff that forms the tale of the helicopter island.
A little far from the town proper, Matinloc island is another island that is famous for the Matinloc shrine – an abandoned shrine with a small sculpture of Christ & a big cross standing on the cliff. The place has many legends associated as well. You can also climb the limestone cliffs around to get a bird’s eye view of the island.
It isn’t called the secret beach for no reason. You can’t see it until you swim to it. You’re right, only a small crevice in a big limestone cliff is the passage to this hidden gem. You would need to swim through the opening to access the secret beach. Be careful while swimming through the hole as the waves are often strong that tend to push you to the front and there are rocks that might you hurt you.
An excellent snorkeling site, you would find a wide variety of colorful fishes and sea turtles. Be careful of the urchins as well. The boats often stop here for lunch.
Its hidden cause you can’t see this beach from open sea due to huge rock formations that sort of guard the view. You need to swim or walk in knew deep waters to arrive at the shore of the beach. The crystal-clear water under the surrounding cliffs gives a beautiful aesthetic appeal to the beach.
- Ipil Beach
- Cadlao Lagoon
- Paradise Beach
- Pasandigan Beach
- Natnat Beach
- Bukal Beach
- Small Lagoon
Price and Time:
- Peso 1200
- Around 7 hours in total
- Snorker Gear
Let’s give you more details about the destinations covered: Yet another beach day. What else do you expect from a destination that has been named as world’s best beach destinations.
Let’s give you more details about the destinations covered: Yet another beach day. What else do you expect from a destination that has been named as world’s best beach destinations
ü Ipil Beach – Close to the proper town of El Nido, Ipil beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the tropical feels.
ü Cadlao Lagoon – Another beautiful place to swim, kayak and relax. Best of blue waters and green cliffs.
ü Paradise Beach – Next stop would be the paradise beach. You would get a front view of the El Nido town from here. Boats usually dock here for lunch.
ü Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach & Bukal Beach – Post lunch you would visit three more beautiful beaches. You can either relax, swim or snorkel – whatever you wish – enjoy the best of tropical paradise in all these beaches.
ü Small Lagoon – It is a new addition to Tour D, earlier it was grouped under tour A. But recent changes in tour plan was made to avoid over crowding in these protected areas. Check your tour plan to confirm if the small lagoon is still grouped under Tour A or Tour D.
Other things to do in El Nido
- Mostly Tour A, B, C & D covers all the beaches/lagoons/caves you would want to visit in your El Nido trip but there are other places as well that are worth your time but not included in the El Nido tours.
Few such places that we would recommend would be
Climb to Taraw Cliff
El Nido’s highest cliff giving the best view of the Bacuit bay. It’s a 45 min trek to the top through rocks and stones. A moderately difficult trek as the rocks are quite steep, rough and pointed.
Sunset at Las Cabanas - a must thing to do in El Nido
The beach gets its name from El Nido’s oldest resort – Las Cabanas. An ultimate chilling space. There are bars and restaurants on the beach. You can swim, relax, watch the sunset. Basically Chill.
Visit Nacpan beach
A beautiful beach in the mainland island itself. You can either rent a bike or go in the tuk-tuk. It gives the best of local Pilipino feels with its long stretch of white sand along with palm trees and huts on the beach.
Group Tour vs Private tours
- There are no second thoughts why Private tours are always preferable than the Group tours.
- All tour agencies offer private tours as well where only you/ your group will be the ones in the boat, however that comes for a price and that price is quite expensive.
- Having said that, if you can afford private tours – go for it as private tours are better than group tours for all the obvious reasons – You can take the boat wherever you want, you can spend as much time as you want on the destinations you want, you have a personal boat guide to help you explore best of El Nido.
- We would always recommend Private tours if one can afford.
What to eat in El Nido
- It’s no brainer that when in Philippines or Palawan for that purpose, you should binge on seafood. A lot of restaurants offer fresh seafood and trust us they are yum. Only if you are a meat eater though.
- Following are the few authentic local dishes that you must try
- Lato Seaweed – served fried with either vinegar or salt, it’s a type of seaweed very famous in Philippines and neighboring countries
- Danggit Lamayo – Particularly famous in Coron, these are basically sun-dried rabbitfishes.
- Halo Halo – A perfect desert for Filipino summers. It is fresh fruits, ice cream, curd and a whole lot of other sweet goodness.
- Fresh sea fish – Do try any fish of your choice in any good restaurant in Palawan. You would be amazed by the freshness.
There is a lot to explore in food as well in El Nido. Our favorite go to place was Art Café. Breakfast is the best there. It also offers a lot of tour options and has the best wi-fi.
Our El Nido Itinerary
We had both Coron and El Nido in our Palawan Itinerary. We flew to Coron from Manila, covered Coron first and then took the Montenegro (Fast ferry) to El Nido. It took us around 4 hours to reach El Nido. Below is our Itinerary for our El Nido stay.
Day One – Arriving at El Nido
- We arrived at El Nido from Coron
- Visited Las Cabanas beach for sunset
- Spend the day booking our tours at Art Cafe
Day Two – Tour C
- We took the popular tour C on day 2
- Visited the Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach & Hidden Beach
Day Three – Tour A
- It was time for tour A on day three.
- This was the highlight for us with all the lagoon visits and secret beaches.
- Visited the Miniloc Island – Big Lagoon & Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and Seven Commandos Beach
Day Four – Leaving for Puerto Princesa
- As much as we wanted to spend one more day in Puerto Princesa, we did not have both time and the budget hence we flew from Puerto Princesa to Manila and then flew out from Manila the next day
- However, we strongly recommend exploring Puerto Princesa as well
So, this was it, our 4 day El Nido experience. Whatever you do, one thing is for sure, Palawan is all worth it. And hope this guide on all things to do in El Nido will help you explore this gem in the most memorable way