Essential Guide to El Nido, Philippines

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.

Seven Commando Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Lone coconut on Seven Commando Beach in El Nido


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.
Van, Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Philippines

The Van that takes you from Puerto Princesa to El Nido


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.
Roxas, Palawan, Philippines, pier

Where I ate lunch in Roxas, Palawan en route to El Nido


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.
Air Asia, Manny Pacquiao

Air Asia’s Manny Pacquiao plane


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.
El Nido, Philippines, Island Transvoyager Inc, ITI Boarding Pass

My wooden boarding pass for my ITI flight from El Nido to Manila


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.
Boat, El Nido, Philippines

Typical boat in the Philippines in the emerald waters of 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.

Water, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Amazing waters of El Nido


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.
El Nido, Philippines, El Nido Beach Hotel, view

View from my room at the El Nido Beach Hotel


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.
El Nido, Philippines, Periking Hotel, view

View from my rooftop suite at the Periking Hotel


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.

El Nido, Philippines, Trattoria Altrove, Altrove, pizza

The pepperoni pizza at Trattoria Altrove in El Nido


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.
Banana Pancakes, El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe, El Nido Philippines

Banana Pancakes at the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe


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!
Pukka Bar, Reggae Bar, El Nido, Philippines, beach

Night time drinks at Pukka Bar on the beach in El Nido


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.

El Nido, Philippines, Tour A, Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon from Tour A


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.
El Nido, Philippines, emerald water, tour A

Emerald water during Tour A


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.
Matinloc Island, Shrine, El Nido, Philippines

Shrine on Matinloc Island


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, Tour C, El Nido, Philippines

Hidden Beach during Tour C


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.

Twin Beaches, Nacpan Beach, El Nido, Philippines

View of Twin Beaches from a hill at Nacpan Beach


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.
Reverse view Twin Beaches, Nacpan Beach, El Nido, Philippines

Reverse view at Nacpan Beach


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.
Matinloc Island, El Nido, Philippines

Local wildlife on Matinloc Island in El Nido


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!

Comments

  1. Ah this brings back some memories! I just recently did my own round up post of El Nido. I agree Trattoria Altrove was the best dining experience in all of the Philippines!

  2. I usually don’t comment on a blog but I make this one an exception. This is exactly what I need down to a T.

  3. El Nido has certainly jumped to the top of my list after seeing all your photos these past few weeks man.

  4. Danielle says:

    Amazing photos! I loved following this trip and welcome back to the US!

  5. The local wildlife looks incredible! I will have to hunt for that asap!

  6. Great report and photos. Would you say the place is more enjoyable then Langkawi?

  7. Leilani Austria says:

    Beautiful Lee, Thank you. Yes, much of El Nido is currently being develop for tourism even plans to widen the main roads in town and an airport in Nacpan too, but the areas that you toured are protected areas or conservation areas for all generations to enjoy.

  8. Oh my gosh this place looks amazing! Thanks for sharing all the insides to such a beautiful place!

  9. Man, I was in Palawan two years ago and now I see some of the spots that I saw back then with a tear rolling down my cheeks. Amazing place! Hope you enjoyed it!
    Alex http://www.lifeonbikes.com

  10. Great website, as they say travel is the only thing you can spend money on that makes you richer.

  11. Lee it was fun meeting you on our way back from El Nido. We stayed on El Nido Resorts Lagen Island, which was magical. Although I agree with all that you said, I am not sure I would put El Nido ahead of Ha Long Bay (that place is amazing) but maybe similar…?
    At any rate, thanks for this great review!! Look forward to following you as you travel the world and wet our appetite for more!!
    Dorit Aaron
    Texas, USA

  12. Stephanie says:

    The pictures are priceless. I’m going to definitely look into it for my 30 bday in September. I need an awesome place to turn 30! Any recommendations??

  13. Owen Pura says:

    Lee, this is very useful…lots of information!!! I love your adventures very interesting.
    thanks for featuring El Nido in this blog. I hope you’ll visit more places here in the Philippines and try to know more about our culture and meet other people and I’m sure you’ll love the foods here.

  14. Thanks for taking me places I’ll see no other way

  15. El Nido is among the most pristine spot in the archipelago with hardness to reach. The outcome diminish when you arrive on this hidden paradise. The town’s congestion is noticeable and some of its great spots prevail forlom of rubbish. But the magnificence of El Nido and great spots of Palawan outshines its negativeness, a worth it. It is more fun in the Philippines.

  16. Thank you for your detailed info on El Nido!!! Btw,may I know where I can rent the aqua shoes and dry bag there?

  17. your photos were great. which camera did you use during your trip?

  18. Hi, will be there this nov 29-dec3! Seeing ur photos makes me go crazy!..
    Had avail of tour package for 5.500 which includes two days island hopping, i just hope i can add twin beach with my budget ????
    Riz, aqua shoes can be bought at malls for 300 Pesos only 🙂

  19. I’m also planning to go on vacation there sometime in June. Do you think that timeframe is ideal? Probably staying for 3 days and 2 nights! Thank you for this!

  20. Thanks for the tip! We’re staying at the Periking too so it’s awesome that you did and can recommend. Is there any hot water at all? I’m assuming it’s a budget hotel so we’re paying for “basics.” As for water shoes – would vans be fine or should I really find my water shoes? lol

  21. This brings back lovely memories of our El Nido trip, thanks 🙂 Did you try the rum with fresh coconut cocktails? They were amazing! We stayed at the \’Corong-Corong\’ side (5 mins before you arrive to El Nido town) which was lovely, mainly due to the incredible sunsets there! So I\’d highlight recommend this to your readers too. We\’ve travelled a lot and these were hands down the best sunsets we\’ve ever witnessed! Hopefully we\’ll get to return someday 🙂

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