Out of the thousands of islands that make The Philippines, the island Palawan is one you absolutely need to visit.
Blue water, high rocks, a tropical vibe and the most amazing beaches are all here to be found, and that is exactly why Palawan is one of the most famous islands of The Philippines.
In the north of Palawan, you’ll find a small town called El Nido. El Nido is a small town but a true gem to visit. Most travelers make El Nido a big highlight of their trip and directly head over there from out Manilla.
During the weeks I’ve spent in The Philippines, I spent 5 days in El Nido. We were absolutely determined to make the most of our stay in El Nido and made sure we had enough days to spend at this little paradise looking part of The Philippines.
Not in any way did El Nido disappoint. From the beaches to the island hopping tours – everything was as dreamy and beautiful as expected. More than expected, really.
During the five days I’ve spent in El Nido I got a pretty good impression of the village itself as well as her surroundings. So let’s talk about El Nido today! Lets talk about travel tips, hotel recommendations and must-do’s!
How to get there
When looking up El Nido on your map it might seem like the end of the world. El Nido is small and doesn’t exactly look like the most reachable place. However, since The Philippines are still The Philippines: where tourists are, there are loads of locals and organizations to help you out.
The ‘easiest’ way to get to El Nido is by taking a flight to El Nido Airport. El Nido literally has the smallest airport of the world, but yeah, it does have an airport. You can fly to El Nido with a direct flight from out Cebu or Manilla, for example. However, seeing the fact that the airport is so small, flights are quite expensive compared to flights to, for example, Puerto Princesa. Puerto Princesa is the biggest city on Palawan. We chose to fly to Puerto Princesa ourselves. We spent a couple of days here before taking the bus to El Nido. A flight to Puerto Princesa is cheaper, plus there is basically no reason to skip this city – even though many backpackers actually choose to do so.
There are loads of busses going from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, and it’s the cheapest option too. It will take you about four/five hours if you are lucky (we were lucky), however I’ve also heard stories from people who had a bit less luck and had to drive for about seven hours.
The last option you have to travel to El Nido is by renting a bike. There is one main road from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, so driving over there by bike isn’t difficult. The road is easy accessible and there isn’t a lot of traffic, so you’ll be fine driving yourself. Much more fun too!
Where to stay
El Nido is small, but there are places enough for you to stay. El Nido has a lot of hotels and resorts where you can stay, but you can also, of course, stay in a hostel.
Of course, as I only stayed in one hostel I can only recommend one to you: during the five days we’ve spent in El Nido we stayed in El Gordo’s Guesthouse. Now, for the travelers who are looking for a relaxing stay, for a luxurious home or for a big, fabulous stay: don’t stay at El Gordo’s Guesthouse. If you are looking for an adventurous, but mostly a local stay: definitely stay at El Gordo’s. I had the best time at El Gordo’s, as it is such a different experience from what you’re used to. El Gordo’s has the best view over the bay of El Nido, is situated pretty central, but still located in a quiet area outside of the tourist area of the city.
If you are looking for a resort or a beach hotel I would book something around the busstation of El Nido, or north of the city. Don’t worry about being away from the center of El Nido; tricycles are quite cheap and they are basically everywhere, so you can always go to the center whenever you want.
ABOVE The view from our hostel in El Nido
What to do
Since you’re in the most paradise-like part of The Philippines, you’ll probably be spending most of your time at the beach, under water or on a boat. And that is what this city is all about. There are loads of things to do in El Nido; from island hopping to kayaking, to hiking. But here are a couple of ideas to start with!
You can’t go to El Nido without booking an island hopping tour! El Nido has some of the best beaches, but you can’t reach most of them without the island hopping tours, as they aren’t to be found on the main island of Palawan.
There are 4 island hopping tours you can choose from. These island hopping tours are the same at every booking agency (price is the same too) so don’t worry about booking the ‘wrong’ one at the ‘wrong’ agency. You can choose from tour A, B, C or D. All of the tours take you to five places. Tour B for example focusses more on caves, while the other ones mostly take you to beaches and lagoons. I chose to do tour A, which I still think was the perfect choice! For example I got to see the Secret Lagoon, the Big Lagoon and the Small Lagoon!
ABOVE Island hopping!
ABOVE The Small Lagoon
BELOW The Secret Lagoon
(Pardon me for the bad GoPro quality)
If I had known this earlier (before booking a hostel) I definitely would have done this, so that is why I’m telling you! In El Nido you can go overnight camping on different islands around the coast line. How wonderful is it to wake up with the sound of the waves and nothing surrounding you but the beautiful ocean and nature.
You can book an overnight camping trip for one night or for more nights and the best thing? You can book your overnight camping package with island hopping tours, so you’ll be spending your days AND nights at the most beautiful beaches (and lagoons) of El Nido!
RENT A KAYAK OR A PADDLE BOARD
Instead of doing an island hopping tour you can also rent a kayak and visit the most beautiful beaches and lagoons for yourself. Ok, you probably aren’t able to go as far with a kayak as you can go by boat, but it’s definitely a cool and fun experience. You can either rent a normal kayak or a ‘see-trough’ kayak, which sounds like a dream! While kayaking you can look down to see the most beautiful fish and coral beneath you! You can also get a little more adventurous and try to stand up on a paddle board (it can be quite hard if you’ve never done it before), you can either rent one for a couple of hours and try to paddle board close to the shore, or go out and about.
VISIT THE BEACHES ON THE MAIN ISLAND
The most popular beaches you can go to are Las Cabanas and Nacpan Beach. Las Cabanas is pretty touristic, but I guess it is the nicest beach around if you just want to chill and take a relaxing swim in the ocean. Las Cabanas is also pretty close to the center of El Nido so it’s the easiest (and cheapest) to reach. Nacpan Beach is situated north of El Nido. It takes some time to get there, but it is worth it. The beach is bigger, and even though it is touristic, you’ll hardly notice it. Now, when we were there the waves were pretty strong and high, so we couldn’t exactly swim – but it was fun playing around, ‘conquering’ the waves.
Of course, while Las Cabanas and Nacpan are the most most famous beaches, they definitely aren’t the only ones. You can also go for a swim at one of the resorts that have a private beach for a more quiet experience or visit one of these beaches: Lapus Lapus, Duli Beach or Seven Commandos Beach.
ABOVE Nacpan Beach
ABOVE Seven Commando’s beach.
BELOW Las Cabanas