By now, we all know that Palawan in Philippines is the ‘Best Island in the World’, according to Conde Nast Traveler. There are a couple of destinations in Palawan that are absolutely worthwhile to go, including Coron and Puerto Princesa. Among it all, El Nido is still the most-laid back one with amazing beaches and deserves the most attention.
HOW TO GET THERE
Cheap but Time-Consuming Way
Take flight to Manila and then from Manila transit flight to Puerto Princesa (The capital city of Palawan). You may take Philippines Airline. For budget airlines, consider Cebu Pacific or Air Asia. From Hong Kong taking plane to Manila then a transit flight to Puerto Princesa by Cebu Pacific, the flight fare could be as low as HK$1000 return or even cheaper.
From Puerto Princesa, take a 6 hours van ride and you will finally get to El Nido. But no worries, the van would stop at a restaurant after around 3 hours for you to fill your stomach, relax a bit and also go to the bathroom.
Once stepping out Puerto Princesa airport, there are some travel agency right outside that you can book a van right away to go to El Nido. The price is about 500 pesos (HK$85) per person. You think about it it’s actually ridiculously cheap for a 6 hours van ride. I would always pay another 500 pesos for the driver in the end as a tip since it is a really hard job for them.
You may also book a van in advance online to avoid confusion and secure a seat. One van company we really would like to recommend is called Lexxus. The vans from this company is by far the most comfortable that we have sat in among those travelling back and forth El Nido and Palawan. And a very important point, the Vans by Lexxus always leave on time.
Note: The vans running from Puerto Princesa to El Nido stops everyday at 6p.m. Make sure your flight arrive Puerto Princesa before that.
Vans usually would drop you off right at your hostel or hotel if you are staying around the main town. We would discuss about where to stay later.
Fast and Most Direct Way
If you are really stressed about the 6 hours van ride, another option is to fly directly from Manila to El Nido operated by Air Swift, which is the fastest and most direct way. The flight is only around 1 hour, but of course the price would more expensive, around HK$2,000.
It lands directly at Lio airport, located about 4 kilometers from town, about 25 minutes away. There, tricycle drivers are waiting for you. Check with your accommodation if they can organize your pick up.
Travelling Within El Nido Town
Travelling around El Nido town is also easy and cheap, you could take tricycle everywhere around 10-50 pesos (HK$2-$7), since it’s a pretty tiny town. You could just tell the driver directly the price you want to pay.
Another option is to rent your own motorbike for only around (HK$85)500 pesos for the whole day. Then you get to explore the whole el nido with your scooter. But make sure you know how to ride one! There were people who didn’t really know/not familiar with riding one and fell from it. It could be dangerous and you could break your leg and that’s the last thing you want for your vacation!
El Nido is best seen during the months of November to May. In the first half of this period, cool northeast winds complement the sunny skies, allowing you to explore the islands in comfort. As the summer months of March and May set in, the heat turns up as well; bring enough sunscreen to protect yourself.
All throughout these months (El Nido’s high tourist season), the sea is relatively calm, and underwater visibility is good, about ten to thirty feet.
The southwest monsoon from June to November brings the rainy season and reduced travel traffic. While prices for all resorts and facilities are lower during the rainy season, the weather is less cooperative: seas are choppy and the unpaved roads become muddier and more difficult to travel on.
What to Do in El Nido
Island Hopping Tours
If you do not join any of the Island Hopping Tours, you can’t say you have been to El Nido. Joining the tours is the only way to explore the exotic sides of El Nido, including visiting lagoons, snorkelling in the absolutely clear emerald water seeing the coral reefs and colourful fishes, as well as kayaking with the spectacular limestones around.
No matter which tour operators you are opting for, the tours programme are basically standard. 4 Tours are provided in El Nido, namely Tour A, B, C & D, starting from(HK$204) 1,200 peso for the whole day tour (9am-5pm). All tours include Buffet Lunch, in which chicken, crabs, fish etc. are freshly grilled on the boat. The tours would also offer hotel pickup. Make sure you inform them which hotel/hostel you are staying in upon booking and confirm with them the time they are picking you up!
Video of Island Hopping Tour A in El Nido
Among the tours, Tour A (Snorkeling & Lagoons) and Tour C (Beaches and Shrine)are the most popular and most worthwhile. Kayaking is also available for Tour A around the secret lagoon. So prepare extra cash with you so you can rent the Kayak (around 300 pesos) when your boat is around the secret lagoon!
|Tour A||Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Simizu Island, Secret Lagoon and 7 Commando Beach||PHP 1,200 per pax|
|Tour B||Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave||PHP 1,300 per pax|
|Tour C||Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach||PHP 1,400 per pax|
|Tour D||Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon and Paradise Beach||PHP 1,200 per pax|
Booking The Tour
There are a lot of tour operators to choose from and also there are so many agents around the town. You don’t really need to book the tour more than 1 day in advance. Among which Caera Travel & Tours, Nothern Hope Tours and El Nido Botique & Artcafe is a popular operator. It is highly suggested you directly book the tours in town, then you get to see different prices of different operators.
If you want to do the island hopping right on the next day of arrival, you could book the tour online in advance or call your hotel and book the tour through them, which is always convenient and more secure.
Should you bring cameras or phones on island hopping tours?
Yes definitely! The scenery is far beyond amazing that you would totally regret not capturing it! Worry about getting your devices wet? No worries. You can bring along a dry bag with you on an island hopping tour. If you don’t have it at home, you can just buy one from El Nido town, they sell it everywhere and they sell it cheap, for only around (HK$70) 500 pesos.
If you want to capture the beautiful undersea world but you don’t want to spend loads on GoPro, you may consider GoPro rental service around town for around (HK$170) 1,000 pesos for 24 hours! A 64 GB micro SD card is also included, but make sure you transfer all pictures and movies to your own storage device before you return it!
The beaches you visit during Island Hopping Tours are unquestionably stunning. Yet in El Nido, there are other amazing beaches you can access by tricycle or by renting your own motorbike.
Las Cabanas Beach
Pretty close to main town. Very calming and amazingly clear sea water so perfect to swim. There is a dining bar on the beach playing music and hence a very good vibe. Seriously a must-go beach that you would feel like in paradise. You can totally chill out there the whole day. Swim and sunbathe and have a good beach read.
Just take a tricycle from main town. Around 100 pesos you can get there and the driver will pick you up and provide you a return as well. Be sure you let him know you want a return trip for 100 pesos! (Of course you can bargain if you are good at that;))
Keep walking down Las Cabanas and you will reach Merimegmeg Beach. The water is still very calm and excellent for swimming.. Yet it’s much more quiet and less busy, so it’s perfect for those who totally want to be isolated from all the noise.
There are also a couple of bars and restaurants, and Merimegmeg beach is perfect for enjoying the absolutely stunning sunset view. So you may want to enjoy the day in Las Cabanas, and around time you could walk down to Merimegmeg and view the sunset. Marimegmeg beach is also the spot for full moon party that’s happening every month. So stay tuned!
Twin beaches: Nacpan Beach and Calitang Beach
Another very famous beach in El Nido is Nacpan. It’s far away from the main town, around an 50 minutes away. Taking a tricyle is around (HK$170) 1,000 pesos return. The driver will wait for you at the beach the whole day and drive you back.
It is the long stretch of fine white sand that amaze the people. Voted as the best beach in Philippines for a couple of times, it’s definitely away from the crowds and you could enjoy your day in solitude. The current at Nacpan is strong and hence great for surfing.
For those who longs for a thrill, go for Zipline for 500 pesos and fly like a superman. The entrance of the Zipline is next to the Las Cabanas Beach. The zipline is 750 meters long and you will be flying over the beach and enjoy the amazing ocean view!
You have two options to go back., Fly your way back (for another 400 pesos) or a 10 minute walk towards Las Cabanas and you could enjoy the nice beach view on your way back.
Don’t expect a wild party life here in El Nido, this is a laid-back town and it’s nothing like the party island Borocay. Yet there are still quite a number of bars along the main beach front in town where you could enjoy live band and drinks. If you like shisha, check out the shisha place Habibi Restaurant & Shisha Cafe. The shisha there is good and cheap (only around 180 pesos which is around HK$30!) Located on the second floor, you could sit at the terrace and enjoy the night beach view… Romantic!
There is also a Full Moon Party every month in El Nido, usually occuring at Marimegmeg beach. Make sure your stay falls within the full moon period of the month and don’t miss this exotic chance to party under the full moon! Click here to check out the coming full moon in El Nido.
For the cheapest option hostels of course. Some hostels are as cheap as HK$80 per night from Agoda. But of course the environment and facilities may be a bit worn out. If you want to make bunch of international friends in the hostel and at the same time don’t want to sacrifice comfort, definitely check out the newly built designer hostel SPIN.
The premises and the loby look chicly luxurious like a resort and the rooms are absolutely tidy and clean. Starting at (HK$187) 1,100 pesos for a bed per night, it’s really a bargain to stay in such an edgy and comfortable hostel. The hostel is only 15 minutes walk away from the beach front, perfectly for young people to party at the bars at night!
Some people just hate to share bathrooms with strangers. If you are one of those, avoid hostels as it’s for sure a shared bathroom. A good recommendation for a not-too-expensive-yet-clean rooms with excellent service would be Swiftlets Inn for around HK$350 per night. The staff there are absolutely caring and the rooms are clean especially the bathroom, you would get a bathtub which is rare in El Nido!
The inn is also close to town proper, about just 10 minutes walk you would get to the main beach front, which is the access point to all bars and restaurants and also the starting point of island hopping. The price for Swiftlets Inn has been increasing every year though since its opening few years ago due to the friendly owner and staff and hence the huge growth of popularity.
If you are going for honeymoon or want to spend a romantic holiday with your partner, consider staying in a resort. Although it would be far from the main town, yet you would get to share this piece of paradise in a bubble with only you and your lover!
If you want it to be very special, you may want to stay in Dos Palmas Island Resort and Spa. Nestled in the tropical waters of Honda Bay, this 20-hectare private island getaway is the ultimate island paradise for you and your loved ones! The pristine natural surroundings, white sandy beaches and clear turquoise blue waters along with the beach villa are going to leave you a mind blowing experience.