El Nido Travel Guide – The Final Frontier
El Nido is a place you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, it is so remote it is known as the final frontier! I had never heard of it before I went travelling in the Philippines. However, after visiting, I can honestly say that this is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The scenery is the main reason it is just phenomenal and that’s just from land once you get out into the water it becomes even more incredible.
The beaches are also perhaps the best I’ve ever been to. Long stretches of golden sand, free of the crowds that quality beaches are normally associated with. Apart from you and a few other people, you basically have the beach to yourself. It is definitely the best beach resort in Palawan, if not the whole of the Philippines!
Now you’re probably wondering why I referred to El Nido as the final frontier. Well, ask any backpacker who has been there (and has not flown straight from Manila), they’ll tell you it’s some trip to get there. However, this doesn’t detract from the beauty and wonder of the place and it’s an essential part of any Philippines travel itinerary!
El Nido Travel Guide
Getting to El Nido
Getting to El Nido is no easy task. If you are in Manila then you can fly there with ITI, (Island Transvoyager Inc.) they offer three daily flights from Manila to El Nido and vice versa. A list of times can be found here. We used this service from El Nido to Manila and although good there are a few caveats. The cost is around PHP 7,000, which is about £100 or $156 so it’s not cheap.
There is a strict 10 kg limit for checked-in luggage and if you are over the limit. You’ll have to pay a fine, so for us, the trip got even more costly. They are also very strict about what you can take. So if you have any shells or souvenirs like this, you will have to leave them behind annoyingly!
However, on the plus side, the journey is very quick (flight lasts about 45 minutes to an hour) and it’s more convenient than the other option.
The other option is to travel by bus from Puerto Princesa, which is the main city in Palawan. This journey is considerably cheaper, it costs around PHP500, which is definitely more backpacker friendly. However, the journey lasts around 5 hours and depending on your luck you could be in a very cramped minivan. The roads are not the best, so expect a bumpy ride to El Nido at times.
Personally, I would recommend getting a minivan. The one we got was comfortable enough and had a DVD player onboard though this stopped working after a few bumps on the concrete roads! One downside of these minivans is that they don’t leave until they are full. So you could be waiting for a while before you start your journey.
Accommodation in El Nido
There a lot of accommodation options in El Nido, ranging from beach resorts to backpackers and guest houses. The majority of the beach resorts are located in Las Cabanas beach, which is around a 10-minute scooter ride from the main town.
We stayed in one of the numerous guest houses, which cost PHP500 a night. There are also a number of backpackers, which charge a similar amount, though you’ll be sharing and not have your own room. Our Melting Pot (OMP) and Hakuna Matata’s are the best of the lot.
There are a few hotels, as well as a few being built. Hotels charge about PHP1000 a night and most are fairly good. I would recommend the backpackers or guest houses as you’ll getting better value for your money, and in the case of the backpackers, you’re going to meet people.
It should be noted that most of the accommodation in El Nido do not have a kitchen. So, almost all of your meals will either be in restaurants or at street food stalls. This is one of the downsides of hostels in the Philippines. However, as street food in the Philippines is really cheap and good it’s not too much of an issue!
I recommend using Agoda to book accomodation in El Nido. You can often find great deals with hotels and backpackers offering discounts throughout the year! This puts more money in your pocket for adventuring around El Nido!
Why you should visit El Nido!
What makes El Nido so great is its natural beauty and the fact that it is largely untouched. A protected area, the beauty of the area is visible the moment you arrive. It is definitely one of the hidden gems of Southeast Asia!
Large limestone cliffs tower above you, a fact I did not fully realise until late on our first night when I glanced out the window and saw what looked like a massive wall in the distance. Even at night and only partially visible it was an incredible sight.
In the day, they are even more remarkable, it is easy to see why Alex Garland came up with the idea for his famous novel The Beach while he was in El Nido! It truly is incredible and it only gets more so when you get out into Bacuit bay on an island hopping tour.
This is where El Nido comes into its own, with names like Secret Beach and Hidden Beach, it inspires images of island paradises. This is certainly true, the beaches are remarkable, Secret Beach was a particular favourite.
You jump off the Bangka (which is the boat that you’ll be travelling on) and swim over to a rocky outcrop, where there is a small hole. Swim through and you enter into a tiny cove, where lo and behold there is a beach. With snorkelling gear you can see fish and other marine life swimming by you, it truly is amazing!
There are five different tours titled A to E, which cost about PHP1000 with food and drink included. So if you are in El Nido for a while you can see the majority of the amazing islands that are in the bay. It is definitely money well spent.
There are plenty more things to do in El Nido. A 10-minute scooter ride brings you to one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to, Las Cabanas. It’s a 5-minute walk from the drop off point at the side of the road, but it doesn’t disappoint.
The beach truly is world class and compared to Boracay is not busy in the slightest. There is also Nacpan beach, but that is a little further along from Las Cabanas and will cost more to get there.
Things to see and do in El Nido
As with most beachside destinations in the Philippines, you can go diving or snorkelling in El Nido. I went snorkelling while I was on my island hopping tour and it was great. The water is so clear, so it is easy to see all the various creatures that are swimming around!
If you want to go diving, then you will have to get a PADI, but once you have that it is easy. There are daily dives tours and with over 850 species of sea creatures and a lot of coral, it is definitely worth it!
Considering that El Nido is surrounded by towering limestone cliffs it’s not surprising that there are a number of hiking trails in the area. Hiking is somewhat down the list of what travellers want to do in El Nido, but there are a number of good hikes, should you fancy something different to do.
The Taraw Cliff hike is a particularly good one. It’s probably best to hire a local guide to do this hike, but you will not regret it. As Journeying James outlines, the views from the top of the cliff, overlooking Bacuit Bay, are incredible, to say the least!
Island hopping is probably the main activity to do in El Nido, and that is for good reason. It is probably the best place to go island hopping in the Philippines! Bacuit Bay is incredible and there are many great places to visit during an island hopping tour. You have four different packages to choose from, which are imaginatively named A to D!
If you are here for a while, then it may be worth doing all four, as there are many amazing beaches and great locations to see. The average cost of a tour is PHP1,200-1,400, although this can vary depending on where you book the tour. It’s best to look around and haggle to try and get a good deal.
You will also have to pay a PHP200 Eco-Tourism Development Fee (ETDF), before you head off on your tour. This is mandatory and you won’t be able to do the tour without it, so don’t forget to pay! The tours normally include food and drink in the price, but it is best to check beforehand.
|A||Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Beach, 7 commandos Beach||PHP 1,200|
|B||Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugon Cave, Cathedral Cave||PHP 1,300|
|C||Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Star Beach||PHP 1,400|
|D||Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach||PHP 1,200|
Relax on the beach
The Philippines is home to some incredible beaches and the beaches in El Nido might just be the best of the lot. I was slightly disappointed by Boracay, after hearing about it being the number one ranked beach in the world. The reality of seaweed and big crowds didn’t meet up to my expectations.
That was completely different in El Nido. The beaches are absolutely incredible. You don’t have the crowds that you do in Boracay and the views are just awe-inspiring. You also have a number of beaches to choose from, with Las Cabanas and Nacpan beach a tricycle ride outside of the town centre!
There are plenty of great places to eat in El Nido. Whether you want Filipino street food or something a bit more familiar there are lots of choices. One place I highly recommend is a sort of ‘Swedish’ restaurant. I say sort of, as there was a massive Swedish flag hanging outside of it and we just assumed it was run by Swedes. They do great burgers, burritos and many more Western dishes and their prices won’t break the bank!
Although there are not as many bars as there are in Boracay, there are still a few decent places where you can go and get a drink. The beachfront at Bacuit Bay is where the majority of the bars are located. This is a great place to go at night, if you’re looking for a good time and to meet some people.
The bar that we spent the majority of our time at was the reggae bar. Although I was drunk, it had a good atmosphere and drinks wasn’t overly expensive. There are not many bars in the centre of the town, so if the bars are not to your liking, you can always buy some alcohol and just have your own party on the beach!
How much does it cost to travel in El Nido?
Before going into this, it’s important to note that there are no ATMs in El Nido that accept foreign cards. This is extremely important to note before you arrive here, as if you end with no cash up like me, then you are really in a tight spot. Thankfully, I had a friend who was able to lend me some to see me through our stay.
Otherwise, the only way around this situation is to go to the petrol stations at around 4pm to get cash back. However, this is expensive as they charge a hefty fee for the transaction, so only use it as a last resort!
So you have to make sure you bring enough cash to last you while you are in El Nido. I’d recommend around PHP10,000, but if you are staying longer than 5 days then maybe bring more.
Other than this, El Nido is not that expensive, considering it’s located from the major towns in Palawan! If you are sensible and don’t go overboard, you can have a great time and not break the budget. That does depend entirely on how long you stay.
For example, if you stay for a week, then you are likely to do one or two island hopping tours, which could cost anywhere between PHP2,500-3,000. Keep this in mind while you are here and planning on what to do.
Here is a breakdown of what you would expect to pay for things in El Nido
- Accommodation – PHP 500 upwards per night, hotels will cost more
- Food – PHP 150 per meal, again this depends on what and where you are eating. Street food at turo-turo’s can be obtained for about PHP 40-60
- Island hopping tour – PHP 1,200-1,500, this can be negotiated
- Eco-Tourism Development Fee – PHP 200
- Bus fare to and from El Nido – PHP 500 x2
- Tricycle rides around El Nido – PHP 8.00 within the town, this will go up if to travel to somewhere like Las Cabanas for instance. However, you can always haggle over the price with the driver.
Therefore, an average day on El Nido, which includes an island tour, will set you back around PHP2,000-500. Which is not too bad. This figure does depend entirely what you do. If you don’t do an island hopping tour, then the cost reduces significantly.
However, as this is without a doubt one of the best things to do in the Philippines, not just El Nido, it would be a waste not to do one! If you really want to keep costs down, then staying in one of the hostels, and limiting your alcohol intake, will help you achieve this!
That really is about as bad as it gets in El Nido. The place truly is paradise on Earth and a trip to the Philippines is not complete with visiting. It may be a bit of a trek to get there, but it is definitely worth it!
For more information on visiting El Nido, check out this post by Jet Settera!
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