An Updated El Nido Travel Guide 2017. (Written in February 2017.)
PALAWAN, PHILIPPINES | Some years ago, I traveled solo to Coron, Palawan with the intention of meeting and interviewing the Tagbanuas. I did meet the chief, some of the rightful owners of the place, but I did not make it to Calamian Island. A woman traveling solo to their place would mostly likely got married off with a Tagbanua, and it would be next to impossible to leave the island, I have been warned.
If I were not in a relationship back then, the idea was not that terrible. Now, four years after and a thousand versions of “Coron vs El Nido” question I was asked to, I finally made it to El Nido. Solo. Yet with Northern Hope Tours. 😉
This entry surmises my experience in NHT. You can also take this as a rough guide on your ultimate El Nido adventure.
BOOK YOUR TOURS WITH NORTHERN HOPE TOUR:
They also have affordable packaged tours. Check out more details here.
How to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa?
Get ready for the long ride. From the airport, take a tricycle ride to San Jose Bus Terminal. Fare is Php120-150.00 Haggle if you must. There are local buses—AC and Non-AC, that ferry passengers to El Nido. Fare is Php380.00. Don’t trust Google Maps on this one. It takes around 6-7 hours to reach the land of sandy beaches, lagoons, secluded beaches, and limestone formations. For a shorter travel time (just an hour short really), you can try the local van transfer, which costs Php700.00. They are located in the same terminal.
Is it worth the long transit? Definitely.
Where to Stay in El Nido?
Midrange Hotel: Marygold Beachfront Inn is one of the few midrange resorts in Masagana beach that has a relaxing lounging area. They still preserve all their trees. Their rooms are spacious enough. AC rooms come with complimentary breakfast. I stayed here for three nights and greatly enjoyed my stay. My room comes with TV, a closet, AC, and a personal bathroom with a hot-and-cold shower.
Address: Calle Hama, Bgy. Masagana, El Nido, Palawan
Phone: Globe, (+63) 917-6247722; Smart, (+63) 908-8843711, Sun, (+63) 925-7222777
Room Rates: From Php2000.00 up.
For discounted hotel deals, book here.
Budget Accommodation: Northern Hope Inn is a newly opened Filipino-owned budget inn located in the town proper. Its rooftop has an amazing view of Bacuit Bay and Cadlao Island. I only stayed here for one night.
Address: Serena St, Barangay Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Phone: +63 927 735 3221
What are the best tours to join in?
Anywhere you go in El Nido, all tour operators have the same line up of tours: A, B, C, and D. The bestselling tours are Tour A, C, and Nacpan-Maremegmeg land tour. So I had these three with Northern Hope Tours. But I think all tours are worthy of your time and money. It is perfect to stay for a week in El Nido, so you could experience most of its treasures.
All tours except for Nacpan-Maremegmeg land tour include snorkeling gear, life jacket, and heavenly lunch! On top of that, the crazy crew are funny and can be your personal paparazzi if you ask them to.
What’s for lunch?
You’re on one of the best islands in the world, what do you expect? Yes, seafood bounty! I’m typing this away on Tioman Island, Malaysia, and the thought of my lunch with Northern Hope Tours made me salivate and hungry despite having a bowl of noodles a minute ago. Lunch was that goooood, soooo goood. The memory of that lunch kept on surfacing especially when one is away from home, away from the usual suspects of Filipino food.
How long does the tour take?
Most tours start around 9 in the morning. A crew would pick you up from your hotel and assist you to the meeting place. The whole tour takes around six to seven hours. You will be back in mainland El Nido around three in the afternoon.
What to bring?
It is highly advisable to bring a dry bag to safeguard your things especially your gadget. A waterproof camera will be great to document your awesome activities. I did not have one, so it was kinda annoying to log a bulky camera in a kayak. Good thing, I brought my own dry bag. Invest in a good one. It is around Php1500-Php2000.00
TOUR C (Php1200.00,$30): Helicopter Island | Star Beach | Secret Beach | Hidden Beach |Matinloc Shrine
I started with Tour C. The group I joined in was pretty manageable; the boat was spacious. We did not dock on Helicopter Island; our guide pointed out the island and it was obvious enough why it was named such. What followed suit was a series of photo shoot on the boat’s end. Our first stop was Star Beach, where everyone went snorkeling. Lovely corals in the sanctuary. Secret Beach and Hidden Beach have similar characteristics. Guess what? Yes, they’re both hidden from the naked eye! 😛 We had to wade through the shallow water to reach both places.
WARNING: The seabed was kinda rough, if you are not confident with your footing, wear swimming shoes. You can rent them out from mainland El Nido.
The highlight for me was my snorkeling, semi-free-diving experience by Matinloc Shrine. Water visibility was really good, allowing me to see a myriad of beautiful corals and fish and a huge turtle!!!
TOUR A (Php1200; $30): 7 Commando Beach | Small Lagoon | Big Lagoon | Secret Lagoon | Shimizu Island |
According to our guide, Shimizu Island is named after a tragic accident. An experienced Japanese couple dove the connecting caves beneath. Suddenly, the visibility went poor and they could not find their way out. Well, most beautiful places have tragedies behind them.
The highlight of Tour A is definitely the small lagoon.
WARNING: Please don’t be stubborn; rent out a kayak. Believe the boatmen when they said the fish by the mouth of the lagoon are territorial and aggressive.
Stubborn as always, I did not heed the guide’s advice and snorkeled my way to the opening. And surprise, surprise! Some fish did attack me and nipped my leg. The bite did not hurt at all, but it can be shocking.
Well, two boatmen approached me in a kayak, rescued me, and paddled me to the lovely lagoon inside the small entryway, and they took a lot of photos of me. I did not mind playing an awkward model at all.
I did not know how to kayak at all! I’m definitely coming back here with Tobias and let him do all the paddling while I just take endless selfies. 😛
LAND TOUR (Php1500; $37): Nacpan Beach | Maremegmeg
A traveling family I’ve met on the twin beaches’ view deck said that Nacpan was the setting of a Kim Chiu-Some Guy movie. TV-less for years, I had no inkling about it at all. I came to El Nido terribly unprepared, without any advanced readings on the usual what to do and where to eat.
When someone asked me about my El Nido itinerary, I awkwardly answered I don’t know. I let the place unfold itself to me. I do most readings after the trip, when it is high time to face the monitor and write down the narrative.
So to know that Nacpan Beach was a setting for a local drama was a surprise. Surprisingly, the place was not crowded at all, unlike other places that become famous settings for local dramas. Most tourists I saw were white couples, and you know, I was there traveling solo. Nacpan is a 45-min tricycle ride from Brgy. Masagana. Half of the road can be muddy.
WARNING: It is wise to go with an experienced tricycle guide who could navigate through the rough road.
This is the perfect place for a perfect swim. The beach was very long, that you can always find a space on the beach that you can call your own. You won’t feel intrusive nor intruded.
After our lovely seafood lunch by the beach, the tricycle driver drove me to Maremegmeg Beach, which was only fifteen minutes away from Brgy. Masagana. Already late in the afternoon, I did not spend much time on Maremegmeg. I just read some pages from Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, took a quick deep, and left for the market for some mangos and bananas.
Where to Eat in El Nido (Updated El Nido Travel Guide)
There is a lot of places to choose from in El Nido, ranging from the ordinary Filipino dishes in carenderia or the fancy-looking and beachfront restaurants.
Big Mama, a beachfront restaurant in Masagana, offers affordable Filipino favorites such as adobo with rice for Php125
Artcafé, a midrange restaurant and café, is a favorite of many foreign travelers, so expect the price to be tad higher than usual.
When in Nacpan Beach, have fresh seafood at Kyla’s Cocina.
That was quite long. If you got some questions on your El Nido trip, drop me a message below and I would sure reply as soon as possible. Check Rappler for more El Nido tips and budget guide!