An Updated El Nido Travel Guide 2019. Last update is June 2019
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.
I had mine with Northern Hope Tours. It is run by cool, fun, and funny locals.
They also have affordable packaged tours. Check out more details here.
ATM. There are at least 6 functioning ATMs in El Nido, so withdrawing money should not be a problem. The biggest operating bank in this part of Palawan is BPI, so withdrawing cash should not be a problem.
MONEY EXCHANGE. Yes, it is possible to have your money changed in El Nido. You can see the signs everywhere. You can also do it over banks such as BPI. Always bring your passport with you if you want to do some money exchange transactions.
LANGUAGES SPOKEN. The main language is Filipino, which is largely based on Tagalog. In addition, many people are very proficient in English, Hiligaynon, other Visayan languages, and Bicolano. A small but significant percentage of the population speaks or comprehends Cuyonon, the native Visayan language of the Cuyo Islands and most parts of Palawan.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL. Just like most parts of the Philippines, the ideal period is between December and May. June-November are rainy months. But then again, we have to factor climate change, while we have some nasty typhoons, from June to November have nice sunny days with bouts of rain here and there.
POWER SOCKET. It’s Type A.
There are no direct flights to El Nido from Manila or Cebu. You have to touch down on Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, which is 6-7 hours away from El Nido. Lucky you, there are direct flights from Manila to Palawan. Philippine Airlines, Air Asia, Cebu Pacific Air, And Skyjet have all flights to Puerto Princesa. I normally fly with Air Asia. Nope, not sponsored. Philippine Airlines is too expensive. I’m over with Cebu Pacific Air’s lousy customer service. Air Asia is the middleground for me. And sometimes, they are cheaper than Cebu Pacific. I can’t vouch for Skyjet. I haven’t used it.
As of November 2017, there are eleven Manila-Puerto Princesa flights every day.
I used to live in Cebu. So I flew from Cebu to Puerto Princesa via Air Asia. As of November 2017, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia run flights to Puerto Princesa from Cebu. Check the timetable below.
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 Php500-Php600.00. They are located in the same terminal.
Now, why is the van fare not fixed. Just like the rest of struggling developing countries you’ve been to, there is such a thing as tourist price. Don’t whine. Local travelers who are not local enough (i.e, a Cebuana like me who traveled to Palawan will most likely be charged the tourist price). But if you are good at haggling and negotiating, you can point out that the published rate is Php500. Give it a go. At times, it is stressful, so at times, I pay the tourist price. Most of the time though, I bitch. And I bitch good. Haha!
In my lovely Philippines, our public van transports don’t leave the terminal unless it is full. So expect to wait up to an hour for the whole van to be full. If you are traveling during the peak season, you don’t have to stretch your patience.
As for the buses, Roro and Cherry alternately leaves San Jose Bus Terminal. It is safe to say there is a bus that leaves every hour from 4AM to 10PM.
NOTE FOR LONG-LEGGED HUMANS: The non-AC buses are cramped and meant for typical Asians like us. If you happen to be long-legged (by that, if you are 5’9″ to 6′ footer. Good luck, when you’re 6’6″), avoid taking the non-ACs. The ride is long, might as well make it as comfortable as possible for you. If you are a broke backpacker who can suck it up for six hours, then take the non-AC. For the impatient and have comfort in mind, take the AC buses. The van ride is not as comfortable. Be wise though, take the front seat or the seats right behind the driver. They are the most comfortable seats in the whole van.
Located in El Nido, 3.4 km from Big Lagoon El Nido, Panorama Resort has a number of amenities including a private beach area and free WiFi. Every guest at the 3-star property can enjoy mountain views from the rooms, and has access to an outdoor pool and to an indoor pool. Guests can dine in the on-site restaurant or relax in the bar.
Focus Rooms is located in El Nido. The property is around 1.3 km from Big Lagoon El Nido and 1.3 km from Small Lagoon El Nido. All rooms are equipped with a terrace with mountain views. At the hotel, rooms are equipped with a balcony. The private bathroom is equipped with a shower and free toiletries. All rooms at Focus Rooms feature air conditioning and a desk.
Located in El Nido, Lio Villas features peaceful and comfortable accommodations with free WiFi access in the public areas. It houses an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant and free parking space on site. Offering pool or garden views from the balcony, rooms come with air conditioning, wooden flooring, a fan and wardrobe. The attached bathroom includes a spray bidet, towels and shower facility. Daily housekeeping service is provided.
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.
Phone: Globe, (+63) 917-6247722; Smart, (+63) 908-8843711, Sun, (+63) 925-7222777
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
Offering a rooftop terrace, Amakan is located in El Nido Town, 6 minutes’ walk from El Nido Beach. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free WiFi is provided in public areas. All rooms are air-conditioned and come with a safety deposit box. Private bathrooms are fitted with a bath or shower with free toiletries and towels. Daily housekeeping and linen are provided.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!!!
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.
BOOK ONLINE TO HAVE IT CHEAPER: TOUR A ISLAND HOPPING ADVENTURE
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. 😛
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.
Mainland El Nido has a lot of secret gems. They are a bit far from the crowded beach by Bacuit Bay. If you prefer a relaxing time away from the maddening crowd yet with all the authentic beach splendor, then include Duli Beach in your list.
BOOK ONLINE: Your Nacpan-Duli Beach mainland El Nido Adventure.
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. If you have some recommendations that you want me to include here, feel free to leave a comment.
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.
YES. You can. I haven’t tried this. But it is getting more popular and more convenient to do El Nido and Coron on one trip. As of September 2016, Montenegro Lines runs daily fastcraft boat schedules from El Nido to Coron and vice versa. It only takes 3 hours and half for the whole trip. Check the schedule below.
Aside from the fastcraft, there are other boats leaving El Nido for Coron. Check the El Nido-Coron Boat Schedule.
Of course! I spent a week in El Nido and had some awesome downtime in Port Barton. Check out my Port Barton Travel Guide!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: I highly recommend you take the fastcraft. It is 400Php more, but the travel time is way faster. The waters between El Nido and Coron can be rough, especially in monsoon months. You don’t want to be in the open water for 9 hours.
If you want to have a general information about my beloved and crazy Philippines, take a moment and read my raw travel guide to the Philippines.
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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!