El Nido Travel Guide: The Final Frontier

El Nino travel guideMy El Nido travel guide will give you all the information you need to enjoy your stay in this amazing destination!

El Nido is a place you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, it’s so remote it is known as the final frontier! I had never heard of it before I went backpacking 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 visiting Manila then you can fly to El Nido 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. You could be waiting for a while before you start your journey.

 

View from El Nido of Bacuit Bay

Where to stay in El Nido

If you’re wondering where to stay in El Nido, then you’re not short of accommodation options. There’s a lot ranging from beach resorts to backpackers and guesthouses. The majority of the beach resorts are located in Las Cabanas beach, which is around a 10-minute scooter ride from the main town.

There are a number of backpackers in El Nido, which charge about PHP500 per night. This is the average rate for a bed. You might be able to get it cheaper if you look around, but this is a good price for the area.

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, you’ll get better value for your money. You’ll also meet people here.

I’ve listed some of the best hostels in El Nido for you to choose from below!

Outpost Beach HostelThis is one of the best hostels in El Nino. Located close to the beach, it's a great place to meet fellow travellers.
Our Melting PotThis is a very friendly hostel. It's close to the action and nightlife and has good facilities.
Spin Designer HostelA beautiful hostel close to the action. This hostel has a kitchen, free breakfast and wifi!
Where 2 NextThis hostel located at Nacpan Beach, away from central El Nino. Ideal for people who want a more peaceful stay.

View El Nido hostels

If you don’t want to stay in a hostel, there are plenty of hotels in El Nido. I recommend using Agoda to book one. You can often find great deals with hotels offering discounts throughout the year!

 

island hopping 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.

Compared to visiting Manila, El Nido was absolutely incredible! Beautiful landscapes and nature beats a sprawling mega city any day! That’s reason enough to visit El Nido!

 

 

Las Cabanas beach

Things to do in El Nido

Despite its small size, it can be hard to know what to do in El Nido. There are a lot of things to do in here. There are numerous island hopping tours you can do, while you could spend hours at the various beaches in the vicinity.

Below are a few of my suggestions for what to include on your El Nido itinerary!

Diving/snorkelling

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!

Hiking

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

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.

You can also do a Coron Island Tour if you fancy heading over to the nearby island. The islands are just as beautiful as El Nido, and it would be a scenic excursion from El Nido for a few days!

TourDestinationsPrice
ABig Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Beach, 7 commandos BeachPHP 1,200
BEntalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugon Cave, Cathedral CavePHP 1,300
CHidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Star BeachPHP 1,400
DBukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise BeachPHP 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!

Eating

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!

Partying

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 weren’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!

 

Las Cabanas beach, El Nido

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. If you end up 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 4 pm to get cash back. However, this is expensive as they charge a hefty fee for the transaction. Only use it as a last resort!

You have to set yourself a budget for El Nido. I’d recommend around PHP10,000, but if you are staying longer than 5 days, it might be best to bring more.

Other than this, visiting 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 depends upon your activities in El Nido. 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!

 

View of limestone cliffs in El Nido

Concluding thoughts

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!

I hope you like my El Nido travel blog. Have you been to El Nido? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you, leave me a comment below!

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Tom

Tom is a travel addict who first left England to spend a year Down Under. Not satisfied with this, he then went to New Zealand, about as far away from home as he could get. He is now planning his next adventures in Europe and Canada while maintaining this blog.

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34 Responses

  1. Kerri says:

    I totally get that this place would be amazing, if not just for the fact that it’s not a big tourist destination. I;ve just come back fro some pretty remote parts of Indonesia and without the tourists it was amazing. But, like you’ve mentioned, many of the places were not so straight forward to get to. Seems like once you’re there most things are quite cheap too. Great photos and thanks for telling me about El Nido.

  2. I’ve been to El Nido 🙂 It has some of the most gorgeous lagoons I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame they were all covered in tourists. But oh well!

    • Tom says:

      It wasn’t too bad when I went. Although getting into Secret Beach, was a struggle with all the boats!

  3. Paul says:

    This place certainly does look and sound like it’s worth the effort it takes to travel there. I think it’s always easier to appreciate places more when they’re more difficult to get to.

  4. Jessica says:

    Glad you like El Nido. One of the hot spots now in my home country. Come back and explore the rest of the islands. Hehe

  5. Criz says:

    El Nido is now one of the most visited areas in the Philippines, both the locals and foreign tourists. But depending on the season of your visit, yes you can get lucky to have the place to yourself. It’s great to know you like it there. Palawan is one of my favorite places in my home country.

    • Tom says:

      Ye, my friends visited during typhoon season, and got indifferent weather. It was my favourite place in the Philippines! I will definitely return at some point!

  6. Great post! I’ve never heard of El Nido, it looks so nice. That’s so interesting Alex Garland was inspired to write The Beach there, love that book 🙂

  7. I’ve never been to El Nido but I would love to – I’ve seen pictures on other sites and it looks beautiful! I’m definitely adding it to my list for when we go to the Philippines!

  8. Akid says:

    Haha! I remember Asia and being stuck without an ATM machine. You just think HOW do people live like this! Philippines look awesome though, but I suppose it’s pretty hard to get the balance of going at the right season for weather and just before / after tourist season so you’re not fighting for a spot on the sand.

  9. Sabine says:

    That sounds like a great place to visit..I love places which are a bit out of the way, will pin this on my board not to forget about it 😉 Thanks for sharing the information^^
    How long would you recommend to stay in El Nido?

    • Tom says:

      Hmm, at least 3-5 days, I reckon. I could easily have stayed for a week and done all of the island hopping tours and relaxed on the beaches!

  10. Dani says:

    When we went to Bali, we accidentally arrived during rain season, luckily for us (but not for local farmers), the rain season didn’t come because of el Niño Hurricane. I won’t have the same luck next time though :/ Great post Tom.

    • Tom says:

      Ah very lucky for you, certainly not for the farmers though! Ye it can be hit and miss at times with the weather. Appreciate the love Dani!

  11. Maria says:

    Perfect timing! I am planning a trip to the Philippines in October/November and want to include El Nido on my list of places to go. Can’t wait to see it for myself!

  12. Cat says:

    I visited there last year. So pretty!!

  13. Voyager says:

    El Nido is such a lovely paradise on earth, and you have given absolutely detailed and very important information that would help immensely while planning a trip there.

  14. Alexa says:

    ahhh! Would love to head back to the Philippines! Didn’t get a chance to visit Palawan on the last trip. Looks gorgeous! Did you dive or snorkel?

  15. Claire says:

    I really hope that I get the chance to visit one day!

  16. Gareth says:

    With the steady encroachment of more and more western visitors, it’s great to know there are still some places in South East Asia that still retain an air of mystery. A great find!

  17. Laura says:

    Wow this is a brilliantly detailed article on El Nido nice one! We visited a year ago and were absolutely blown away by its beauty and peacefulness too. The beaches we visited during the island hopping tours were unbelievable. Would love to return to see more and also visit Coron! Thanks for bringing back lovely memories 🙂

    • Tom says:

      No worries Laura, I think El Nido is one of the best places I’ve ever visited! Ye I’d like to go back to see Coron, we never got there unfortunately and to revisit El Nido of course!

  18. Jon says:

    Wow I had never heard of El Nido, and now I am adding to our travel list – thank you!

  19. Rachael says:

    Beautiful destination! i would love to spend time snorkeling here and it is great that it is not too expensive!

    • Tom says:

      It’s very affordable, especially the Island hopping! Considering how good it is, you get a really good deal!

  20. Anshula says:

    El Nido sounds like such a pristinely beautiful place! I had no idea that Alex Garland got the idea for The Beach there (and I absolutely love that book) so that makes me want to visit even more now.

    • Tom says:

      I’m not sure if it’s for definite that he got the idea for The Beach in El Nido. It could be an urban myth, but I can definitely see why if it’s true! El Nido is a beautiful place, one of the best I’ve been to! I love the book as well!

  1. 10 June, 2015

    What are some of the best travel locations that most people have never heard of?

    El Nido in the Philippines is an absolute hidden gem of a destination. Located at the northern tip of the island of Palawan, El Nido is an island paradise in every sense of the word. Towering limestone cliffs tower above turquoise seas while golden bea…

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