A more updated version of this article can be found here: El Nido Travel Guide

As our boat glided through the waves into the Big Lagoon of Miniloc Island in El Nido, Palawan, I couldn’t help but think about how much I needed this break. The limestone cliffs that surround the clear, turquoise water reflecting the sunny skies were more therapeutic than any massage or cigarette I had. It was the perfect moment. A classic corporate-slave-meets-paradise moment. Every stress that work had brought me in the past few weeks was blown away by the wind, washed away by the waves of El Nido.

The only expensive thing about El Nido, Palawan is the cost of direct flights getting there but no one is forcing anyone to take direct flights. Taking a flight to Puerto Princesa and then catching a bus or shuttle to El Nido proves to be much more pocket-friendly although it demands more time. Hence, taking the Puerto Princesa-El Nido route takes more effort as far as preparations are concerned. That’s the thing about El Nido — it’s playing hard-to-get. But it’s the kind of destination you’d want to marry. When you’re in this paradise, you will never want to leave. El Nido is pure beauty.

How to Get to El Nido, Palawan

Booking cheap tickets to Palawan should be on top of your list if you’re coming from Manila. El Nido is in the northernmost tip of the main island of Palawan. There are three possible gateways.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) flies to Puerto Princesa from Manila, Clark, and Cebu.
  • Direct Flights. Fast and direct, yes, but rates can be steep.
  • Via Coron. There are big outrigger boats that ply the El Nido-Coron route. The catch is that travel time is around 8 hours. And it also proves more expensive as you will have to fly to Coron first and then shell out a couple of thousand pesos to boat to El Nido. This is a great option for those who wish to visit both Coron and El Nido.  (Update: PAL Express now flies from Busuanga to Puerto Princesa.)
  • Via Puerto Princesa. All major airlines in the country (Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, Zest Air, and Seair) fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa. From here, there are buses and vans that take passengers to El Nido. There are now Roro buses to El Nido every 2 hours from 6am-10pm. This means saving a lot of time (and a hotel night) because you can sleep in the bus on the way to El Nido. Fare is P380, travel time is at 6-7 hours. Shuttle service provider Fort Wally also carries passengers to El Nido every day at 5am, 7am, 9am, 11am and 1pm. Fare is P700, travel time 5-6 hours.

Where to Stay in El Nido

Check Hotel Rates Here

The town has a long stretch of hostels and inns parallel to the beach that are very, very affordable. You will find rooms that you can rent for as low as P300 per night but most of the rooms this cheap do not have air conditioners. You will find a dense concentration of hotels along the shore. If you can’t find a beachfront hotel, don’t worry  because they can never be too far from the beach.

Anyway, here are five of the inns and hotels I have tried myself.

  • Spin Designer Hostel. Our best hostel experience in El Nido. Perfect for backpackers and solo travelers. Offers dorms and private rooms, with fantastic common areas. Book here: Spin Hostel El Nido
  • Northern Hope Inn. Offers small, basic but airconditioned rooms at an affordable price. (I’ll publish their updated rates soon.) +63 927-735-3221 (Globe), +63 939-902-2216 (Smart)
  • El Nido Waterfront Hotel. Located on the beachfront and along the main road of the town, it has the best of both worlds. Air-conditioned double room from P1800. Free coffee. Quezon Road, El Nido. +63 918 6632771. (No longer operational)
  • Garnet Hotel. A newly-built hotel along the main road. There’s a common area with cable TV. Airconditioned double room from P1800. Free coffee.  +63 928904252, +63 90591189 Book here: Garnet Hotel
  • Cliffside Cottages. Not beachfront but just a short walk away. At the base of a massive cliff which fosters a more rustic atmosphere. Double room (fan only) from P500 per night. Rizal Street, El Nido. 63 919 7856625.

Just make your way to the town proper and you’ll see lanes of them along the main road and along the shore. If you’re visiting during off-peak season, you might want to try booking just one night in advance and then book the rest when you’re in town already.

Cliffside Cottages, where we spent the first night, and Garnet Hotel, where half of our group stayed for the rest of the trip

What to Consider Before Your Trip to El Nido

A number of things have to be considered when preparing an El Nido itinerary.

  1. First, what is your gateway to El Nido? While some choose to fly directly to El Nido, others are thrown off by the expensive direct flight tickets. Spending much on airfare was not an option for me so I was left with two options: via Coron or via Puerto Princesa. I chose the latter.
  2. Second thing to consider was the time of flight to Puerto Princesa. Ours was scheduled at 7:30am. Why is it important? Because it takes approximately 6 hours to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa. That’s an entire morning and afternoon, if you ask me. We landed at 8:40am at Puerto Princesa airport, stopped at Fortwally Terminal/Office to book a shuttle trip to El Nido, and had a quick brunch in the city. We finished brunch minutes before 11am, just in time for the shuttle (van) to pick us up. If you plan on doing the same and everything goes right, then expect to be in El Nido by 5pm. (Yep, that’s almost an entire day lost on the road but you’ll find a way to enjoy the journey.) The guy from Fortwally Shuttle Services who entertained us said that their last trip to El Nido was at 1pm so make sure that the flight you take is scheduled to arrive by that time.
  3. Third, the return flight. If your return flight is via Puerto Princesa, too, then make sure that you arrange the timing perfectly. Always remember that the travel time between El Nido and Puerto Princesa is five to six hours.

At least that we planned when we booked our flights. For everything else since then, we just went with the flow.

What to Do in El Nido: Packaged Day Tours

kayaking-philippines

We didn’t book any packaged tour before the trip. Hours before the trip, we just browsed through several websites and learned that there are usually four major boat tours that await tourists who visit El Nido. There are many establishments in the town proper and along Bacuit Bay that offer such tours and there isn’t much difference between their rates because the local government standardizes them (Yay!). You can also haggle and some of them can even pull the price lower.

  • Tour A – Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, Simizu Island, Entulala Island, Payong Payong Beach, and 7 Commando Beach, P1200/person
  • Tour B – Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cathedral Cave, P1300/person
  • Tour C – Matinloc Shrine, Matinloc Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Tapuitan Island, Helicopter Island, P1400/person
  • Tour D – Nat Nat Beach, Pasandigan Cove, Paradise Beach, Ubugon Cave, Bukal Island, Cadlao Lagoon, P1200/person
  • Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beach Land Transfers (Full Day). Tricycle rental costs P1500, good for up to 4 pax. Van rental is P3000, good for up to 12 pax.
  • Maremegmeg Beach. Tricycle rental is P300, good for up to 4 pax.

Note that for Tours A-D, a minimum of 4 people per tour is required. Lunch is also included but you might want to clear with the tour operator if water is included. Otherwise, bring water, lots of it! Lunch usually includes grilled fish, grilled pork/chicken, rice, vegetables, and fruits. Snorkels, masks and aqua shoes are not included. For Nacpan and Maremegmeg Beaches, the rates above cover only transportation. Food is not included. I have personally tried Northern Hope Tours and it was a very pleasant experience. You may contact them at:

  • (+63) 927-735-3221 (Globe)
  • (+63) 939-902-2216 (Smart)

Updated: February 2014

Places to Visit in El Nido

The photos below will take you to a more detailed description of the place and my experience there. I will be adding more to this list when I visit El Nido again. But here’s what I have so far.

Nacpan-Calitang Beach
Nacpan-Calitang Beach

big-lagoon-entrance
Big and Small Lagoons

Matinloc Shrine
Matinloc Shrine

Shimizu Island
Shimizu Island

Secret Beach of Matinloc Island
Secret Beach of Matinloc Island

Secret Lagoon of Miniloc Island
Secret Lagoon of Miniloc Island

Talisay Beach
Talisay Beach

Payong-payong Beach
Payong-payong Beach

7 Commandos Beach
7 Commandos Beach

Helicopter Island
Helicopter Island

Sunset Walk El Nido
Sunset Walk El Nido

Cadlao Island
Cadlao Island

Where to Eat in El Nido

The following are some of the restaurants I have tried in El Nido. The first six are on the pricey side, with a regular meal at around P150 to P250. The bottom two — IBR Fast Food and Skyline Grill — are the cheaper options, as low as P70 per meal. There are also other carinderias in between so you won’t get hungry even when on a very limited budget.

El Nido Corner
El Nido Corner

Bacuit Grill Bar and Resto
Bacuit Grill Bar and Resto

Squidos
Squidos

Kape Pukka
Kape Pukka

The Alternative
The Alternative (Closed down)

Habibi Restaurant and Shisha Bar
Habibi Restaurant and Shisha Bar

Skyline Grill
Skyline Grill

IBR Fast Food
IBR Fast Food

More about these restaurants at: 6 Popular Restaurants in El Nido, Palawan

Preparing an El Nido Itinerary

Here’s a sample itinerary for a 4D3N trip to El Nido via Puerto Princesa. Of course, you must adjust yours according to your flight schedule and other considerations. You may also opt to tour Puerto Princesa or, if you have more days, make a stop at Port Barton or San Vicente. For more sample itineraries, visit this page.

Day 1: PUERTO PRINCESA TO EL NIDO
05:30 am – Check-in NAIA Terminal 3
07:30 am – ETD NAIA Terminal 3 – Manila
08:40 am – ETA Puerto Princesa Airport
09:00 am – Breakfast at Balinsasayaw Restaurant in Puerto Princesa
12:00 pm – Board Roro Bus
06:00 pm – ETA: El Nido Terminal
06:15 pm – Check-in
07:30 pm – Dinner

Day 2: TOUR A
06:00 am – Wake up call
07:00 am – Breakfast
09:00 am – TOUR A
05:00 pm – Change clothes, rest
06:00 pm – Dinner
08:00 pm – Get wasted at a bar (Yep, I said it)

Day 3: TOUR C
06:00 am – Wake up call
07:00 am – Breakfast
09:00 am – TOUR C
05:00 pm – Change clothes, rest
06:00 pm – Dinner
08:00 pm – Drink at a bar (Yep, I said it again)

Day 4: NACPAN-CALITANG, DEPARTURE
06:00 am – Wake up call
07:30 am – Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach, waterfall and other beaches
04:30 pm – Freshen up, pack, check out, quick dinner
07:00 pm – Dinner
10:00 pm – ETD El Nido Terminal
04:00 am – ETA Puerto Princesa Airport
05:00 am – Check in at Puerto Princesa Airport

Budget Breakdown

Here’s a list of expenses that you may encounter during your trip to El Nido.

Roro Bus from Puerto Princesa to El Nido: P380
Accommodations: P300-P2000 /night
Meal at IBR Fast Food: P75-P120
Meal at more popular restos: P150-P250
Island Hopping Tour: P1200-P1400/pax
Nacpan-Calitang Beach Tricycle Transfers: P1500 (up to 4pax)
Eco-Tourism Development Fee: P200
Puerto Princesa Airport Terminal Fee: P100

The last time I was in El Nido, I spent around P5000 during my 4-day stay (excluding airfare), but that was when tours were significantly cheaper.


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Yoshke Dimen

Storyteller at Yoshke.com
Yoshke is a part-time digital marketing consultant, part-time travel blogger, and full-time dreamer. He has three passions in life: social media, travel, and --- wait for it --- world peace. Yoshke has won 3 PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS and received 9 nominations. Learn more about his personal journeys at Yoshke.com.
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Comments

    • AUGUST C FERNANDO says:

      El Nido seems a good bet. But the biggest downer is the 6-hr bus ride to there from the airport! Geez, half a day for two-way bus trips alone! BACKBREAKING!

      Any other much FASTER, CONVENIENT way to get there from the PhilAir airport??

    • AUGUST C FERNANDO says:

      Baka daw makidnap doon… hahaha, not far-fetched, considering the 6hr bus ride… watta long stretch of riding that is… altho i’ve twice taken the 8hr Oakland-Delano ride in Southern California… but the road/expressway is so safe and secure, with pothole-free long stretches of cemented Highway 1. E yan bang road from airport to El Nido ay OK rin? No hold-uppers waiting on the wings? Hehehe! Just wanna be sure, guys. Not to scare the beejevies out of El Nido prospective goers.

      • Botong says:

        What a stupid remark. How is SoCal related to Palawan? If you are too scared to go and it is your loss.

    • AUGUST C FERNANDO says:

      Cheap is one thing; safety is another, much more important consideration!

  1. Joy B. Hilado says:

    It will be in my bucklet list but is it safe to travel by bus from Puerto Princesa to El Nido?

  2. Anonymous says:

    the ticket to puerto princesa is that real price???
    wow that the cheapest airfare i ever hear…
    thanks for the info…

  3. carm says:

    wow thats very cheap considering you spent two nights in el nido waterfront and you took two tour packages. i was in el nido last month and i brought 5k with me and by the time i got home i was totally broke. including airfare i spent 8thou. spent one night in puerto princesa though and ate crocodile meat haha

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      Haha. That’s because for breakfast, the group only bought a bag of pan de sal and a couple of cheez wiz sachet and we had 2 pieces of bread each.

      You ate at Kinabuch’s? :)

  4. Clauie Legaspi Sotto says:

    yes, it’s true because i already went there… but we took the private plane goes to EL NIDO…

  5. Zee Pendaliday says:

    I’ve been there via that expensive flight…but it was worth the price and I would surely visit El Nido again and again.

  6. Palawan here i come. I think Palawan is one of the most peaceful and cleaner island i have ever been too. Underground is the most terrifying yet exciting, monkeys and bats is kind a fun;-)

  7. Yes it’s a lot cheaper to travel via Puerto Princesa to El Nido.. :) spend your 5-6 hours on the road with Sweety Transport and Rent A Car Services travels from Puerto princesa to El Nido and vice versa. :)

  8. Joy says:

    Thanks for your post! It is very nice & helpful. Good luck to you! Thank you.

  9. Chris Pineda says:

    @John give it a try then if u don’t like it file for a divorce. ;)

  10. Yeah I miss el nido!!I been there its amazing place !!okay Lang Ang rent a van or car ..matulog lang kayo!then you when u wake up u can see the beautiful place u can ever see..I really love El Nido!!!

  11. @joy hermosa-seng: ang gi sakyan namo, nga van joy,.ky fortwally. taman na sila 1:30 pm. pero, kng puno na. dli nana cla magpa abot ug 1:30.

  12. Prec Gui says:

    The problem in the philippines. It wiont to attract more tourist to come kasi expensive.. going to palawan will cost us 550 sgd from Philippines while going to Thailand is way way cheaper.. so why should we spend our money to air ticket if Thailand could provide the same quality or even beyond..

    • pinaypie says:

      Why spend more? Why not? So you can see the beauty of your own country.

    • Karen Ruth Gorio says:

      exactly… why would you compare two different things? why would you compare El Nido, which is a paradise, to a foreign country in which you’re not even sure if it is as beautiful..

  13. cristina b. macasaquit says:

    waw….after what i read in this blog, i will put el nido in my “must see” list…been to puerto princesa 3 times but never been to el nido…i’ve been discouraged by the loooooong trip to get there…imagine para kang nag byahe from manila to baguio….but i must see those lagoons….thanks for the very helpful tips….

  14. Kurt Villanueva says:

    much cheaper if you take a VAN from puerto to el nido 700 or 800 pesos :) and at the same time you can enjoy the scenery between puerto and el nido :)

  15. Chris Pineda says:

    I couldn’t agree more @ Mariam actually that is a good point.

  16. Bella Torres Quinones says:

    i agree that its more cheap via puerto. But its like cheaper to travel by shuttle for 5 to 6 hours going to elnido ater that all the tiredness will gone once you reach the place. ELNIDO IS BEAUTIFUL ISLAND.

  17. April says:

    Nice article very helpful. It’s our dream to go to El Nido and this is really a big help especially for shoestring travelers like us. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      No problem! I enjoy traveling and writing and if my articles help others, then that’s a great bonus! :)

  18. Alma Pusta says:

    that’s TRUE,… but once you reach the town.. that place is paradise!!! I have been there last Dec… planning to go back again..:)

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      Yes. The long journey is forgotten easily as soon as you see Bacuit Bay!

  19. Bea says:

    may i please know how/where i can get in touch with fortwally shuttle services? thank you

  20. glenda says:

    Can you post trip expenses for Puerto Princesa trip which includes Underground River tour.
    Thanks!

  21. eric says:

    hi. i’m a palaweño from roxas, palawan and i get to go to el nido twice a month for work.i just finished reading about your trip to el nido… the only thing i could add is that you should’ve skipped helicopter island and opted for simizu…at simizu you could’ve swam w/ a piece of bread and the fish would feed. imagine swimming surrounded by different kinds of fish…didn’t see any sharks though hehehe

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      Hi Eric, we actually did that! We snorkeled near Simizu but I wasn’t able to take photos coz I was afraid my cam would get wet so I decided not to write about it. But I’m not a fan of fish feeding, though. Not anymore. :)

      But man, you live and work in such a beautiful island! :)

  22. Stumbled upon this site through Topblogs. How timely! Will be heading to El Nido soon for a “business” trip and now I know how I can save up. Great article!

  23. letlet says:

    Yeap, we’ve been there too for a 4D/3N. And let me tell you, it’s absolutely the best adventure I have ever been on!

    We also booked the 7:30AM flight in PP since we had a side trip going to Underground River. So, we got there (in El Nido) past 9:00PM. It was kinda scary but exciting :) We were supposed to do Tours A and C but only did A and B since the weather was not cooperating :(

    On our 4th day, our driver had to pick us up at 4AM so we can do a quick city tour. Then off to the airport to catch our flight back to Manila.

    All in all, our day to day activities was amazing! Love! Love the Palawan <3

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      Wow! You had a pretty PACKED itinerary! Thanks for sharing this Letlet! And I’m glad you enjoyed El Nido! :)

  24. regina says:

    how about from puerto princesa-el nido-coron itinerary? we’re planning a vacation in palawan 5D/4N. pls. help. thanks.

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      El Nido, Coron and PPS might be tooooo much for a 5D/4N trip. But if you really want, you can go to El Nido on the first 2 days, PPS on the 3rd, then from PPS, fly to Coron for your 4th day. But again, that’s too dense and you might not have enough time to see much of the place and really enjoy them.

  25. cit says:

    thanks for your info:)
    I only hv 5 days in palawan. Which one is better el nido or dos palmas? Because the location is totally opposite.
    Thanks..

  26. marvin n. castillo says:

    hi! very informative blog. we are planning to visit elnido on may this year. now doing reasearches about what to do what to expect and how much to spend…. tnx for the ideas u mentioned. excited for the coming elnido tour!!!

  27. sounds too hectic to do with children … wanted to stay at one of the El Nido resorts but that isjust way above budget so looks like we might just let go of El Nido all together and invest in BOHOL.

    • The Poor Traveler says:

      Either way, Im sure you’re going to have a great time. Bohol is more children-friendly, in my humble opinion. :)

  28. Roxywanderlust says:

    I really love reading your blog. Very informative and straightforward. I’ve been raving to go to el nido since i’ve been to coron and puerto princesa..palawan is very beautiful.i will keep coming back to that place

  29. Lerma Milallos says:

    something’s wrong on DAY 4 or i just didnt get it? 5 am check in at airport then (6:25 PM) ETD Airport. 6:25 PM????

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