El Nido is a very small town and area of rock islands in the north of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. El Nido is a bit of a pain to get to and it’s not currently big on the tourist map. However, it should be and it is coming. El Nido is one of the most beautiful places for natural beauty I’ve seen in a while. I think it is right up there, although just behind, the rock islands of Palau and ahead of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and some of the islands of Thailand. El Nido is a fantastic place to visit and here is your essential guide to El Nido.
How to Get to El Nido
Getting to El Nido is a real pain to be honest. For being one of the Philippines prized destinations, it is relatively difficult to get there. There are really only 3 ways to get there.
First, the most common way of arriving into El Nido is by shared van or bus from Puerto Princesa and also from Sabang where the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is located. The van will fit about 14 people and will almost always be completely full. The ride from Puerto is between 6-8 hours depending on traffic and the amount of incomprehensible stops the van makes.
After flying into Puerto, I actually took the van from Puerto and it took about 7.5 hours. This was actually the first time in years I’d done something like that. It was not horrible but I would never do it again and seems like a waste of time. But if you have a lot of time then it’s the cheapest option for sure at about $15 each way.
The saving grace is the views are nice and you stop in a scenic little town called Roxas for lunch. The food is terrible at the restaurant they stop at but the views are great. You can get the van from the terminal in town or from the airport and can actually buy your tickets on Air Asia flights as I did.
Second, and the way I recommend is flying directly from Manila into El Nido into a small private airport about 10km outside of El Nido town. The flights range from about $120-$150 each way and there are 3 flights a day. The airline is called Island Transvoyager Inc. or ITI and it leaves from a small private terminal at the Manila Airport. It’s tough to find so give yourself some extra time if in a taxi in Manila as the driver likely won’t know where it is and the traffic around the airport is devastating.
The flight is about an hour each way and saves you so much time and hassle plus they have small wood boarding passes! I highly recommend this mode of transport to El Nido and to book it, go to or email the El Nido Boutique and Art Café. They handle the bookings for ITI and they are the most reliable outfit in El Nido. They also take credit card; which is important because there are no ATM’s in El Nido.
Third, you can take a 7-8 hour daily boat from the neighboring island of Coron. I had hoped to do this but the length of time on the boat was too much for my 5-day stay. I have heard Coron is nice and you can fly there from Manila but you cannot fly to El Nido. There is also an El Nido to Manila boat that stops in Coron and vice versa once a week.
Where to Stay in El Nido
There is no shortage of places to stay in and around El Nido. The accommodations range from budget/backpacker haunts to nice to extravagant on some of the islands. The only problem with those is they don’t have real access to El Nido town; which is where you want to stay unless it’s seclusion and luxury you crave.
I stayed at two different hotels on the beach in El Nido town and I would definitely recommend staying in town. It feels like a Thai island or something out of Kuta Beach in Bali.
First, I stayed at the El Nido Beach Resort; which is on the high side of the beach and away from most of the bars. It was OK. It was overpriced at 4000 Pesos or about $90. You really didn’t get much and it was very standard ‘whatever’. The views are nice though.
The place I loved staying at was the Periking. The only reason I stayed here was because the El Nido Beach Resort booked up but it was so much better. I got a duplex with private rooftop patio for 3500 Pesos and it was excellent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the Four Seasons Maui, but it’s pretty good value for where you are and I would 100% stay there again.
Where to Eat and Drink in El Nido
The Philippines is not a culinary destination. However, you can find some good places wherever you are including El Nido. The best restaurant I’ve eaten at in all of the Philippines was Trattoria Altrove on the main road in El Nido across from the gym and the Periking Hotel. You must get there early to avoid waiting in long lines. Yes people actually wait in line for hours for the wood fired pizzas and pretty authentic pastas served up at this second floor restaurant that feels like you’re in Miami or something. You also have to take your shoes off to go upstairs.
There is also a pretty good restaurant in the La Salangane Hotel. The French fare is decent to good and they serve pretty decent wine at a fair price. Again, it’s not Paris but it’s good enough.
For breakfast and even lunch, I recommend the El Nido Boutique and Art Café. This is the one stop shop in town and the food is certainly good enough. The breakfast is their best with excellent banana pancakes and assorted juices and shakes. There’s also free Wi-Fi so many people come here. The pizzas are decent for lunch. Just add hot sauce, it makes everything better!
There’s no shortage of places to drink in El Nido but everyone seems to end up at Pukka Bar which is the ‘Best and Only Reggae Bar in El Nido—that’s their slogan. It’s pretty cool and has live bands on the beach. There are a few other bars that offer live music on the beach as well like Sea Slugs as well as several small bars on the main road.
What Island Hopping Tours to do in El Nido
The main reason to go to El Nido is island hopping tours. There are three main tours that are standardized in town and every tour operator does the exact same tour. The tours are called A, B and C. I was told A and C are the two best and given my timeframe, those are the two I did. They were both pretty good.
Tour A is a mix of scenery, kayaking and beach time and is the top tour for sure. It will also be very crowded as all the boats do the same thing so you will be taking pictures of and bumping kayaks with hundreds of other tourists. Be prepared and patient. If you don’t want other people, you can charter a boat for like $300 for the day and go as you please after the tours leave.
The highlights of Tour A were the Big Lagoon, Little Lagoon and Seven Commando Beach without question. The photos I have from these places are unreal and they’re even better to experience in person. It should be noted that all tours include lunch on a beach of grilled fish but beer and soft drinks cost extra.
Tour C visits several spots including Matinloc Island to see the shrine. However, the two highlights were Secret Beach and Hidden beach and yes they are different. Secret Beach is tremendous and involves snorkeling through a chasm of cave and coral to get into secret beach. The only problem was I couldn’t bring my camera in because you have to go underwater for a fair amount and didn’t want to risk getting my phone wet. I didn’t trust the dry bag I rented.
Hidden beach is actually where they recently filmed some episodes of Survivor. It is hidden behind some rock cliffs and is a difficult place to enter. Don’t make the same mistake I did, rent water shoes, as you’ll be walking over sharp rocks and coral in very shallow water. But once you arrive, the Hidden Beach is wonderful.
Other Activities to do from El Nido
I met a few other travelers at breakfast one morning and we decided to hire a tricycle to take us out to Nacpan Beach. It’s a one-hour drive or so over awful roads and is very uncomfortable and you will inhale a lot of dust. But once you arrive, you’ll be happy you came. Nacpan is a massive beach extending some 5km with very few people on it.
It is most famous for it’s twin beaches view from atop a hill. This is really cool and worth the trip in and of itself. Even on a cloudy day, the views are great. There are also some other fun hikes at the beach, which is surrounded by hills. There’s also a decent little place that sells juices and coconuts. The only problem with this beach is there’s a lot of stray dogs so just be aware although they were well behaved when we were there.
There are other day trips I heard about that sounded fun including a waterfall tour and also climbing to the top of El Nido Mountain. It’s a pretty steep climb apparently and if I had another day that’s exactly what I would have done.
So that’s the essential guide to El Nido and if you follow these tips, you’ll have a pretty awesome stay. Just keep in mind, El Nido is developing quickly and I’d imagine in 10 years it will look very different. Maybe not on the scale of Boracay but the tourists are coming now and will be coming more as word spreads further so get there while you can. Just don’t forget your essential guide to El Nido!