El Nido Travel Guide
As I was visiting Indonesia several years ago and strived to get as much out of South-East Asia as possible, I found myself sitting on a window seat, on my way to one of the most beautiful islands of the Philippines. Despite being aboard for a 5:30 A.M. flight, I didn’t even get a wink of sleep because of the excitement coursing through my veins, as I was finally about to visit Paradise.
The first part of my trip included the exploration of the provincial capital, Puerto Princesa in Palawan. This beautiful city is unique as, despite modernism and innovation, you can still enjoy a bite of local culture there. I stayed in Puerto Princesa for about two days before heading to the highlight of the trip, El Nido, Palawan.
Best Time to Visit Palawan
El Nido, Palawan is a year round destination. You can easily experience, enjoy and appreciate the place whatever your dates might be. However, you need to consider the season to get your stay fully maximized. December to March is one of the pleasant time to visit because of the dry season, so the weather is perfect, not too cold and not too hot. April and May are months of a dry season, but take note that the summer in the Philippines can be too hot for my liking. A large number of travelers escaping cold European winter flock to El Nido during these months, so you can expect crowds and high accommodation prices. Period from June to November is thought to be a wet season in the Philippines, typhoons mostly happen during these months.
Things to Bring
Since the primary activities in El Nido are swimming and island hopping, bringing swimming clothes, comfortable summer outfits, sunblock, dry bag, waterproof case for mobile phones and camera will do just fine. Snorkeling equipment, life vest, goggles and water shoes will be either provided by your local guides or you can rent it in El Nido. If you already have those, make sure to bring it to save extra money! If you do not have an underwater camera, you can rent one or a GoPro camera for P1200 (20 USD) per day.
Things to Remember
- Keep in mind that very few ATMs in El Nido run out of cash really fast so extra cash is almost always be welcome. If you are camping or staying at the lodges, mind bringing mosquito repellants.
- El Nido still has electrical problems. Usually brownouts are hard to predict, but since larger resorts have their own alternative power sources such as generators, it causes less troubles. This means that if there is no electricity in your hotel or the restaurant, there will be no Wi-Fi as well.
- As a foreign traveler in the area, there is a mandatory environmental fee of P200 (4 USD). This fee is used to cover conservation expenses, maintaining and safeguarding the beautiful paradise in order for the future generation to enjoy what El Nido has to offer.
- Take care of your belongings
Getting Around In Palawan
The average arrival time to El Nido depends on what means of transport you are using.
There are 4 flights per day to and from Manila (MNL) and to and from Cebu (CEB), operated by Air Swift (formerly ITI Air), tickets can be pricey unlike daily flights from MNL and CEB to the provincial main airport, Puerto Princesa Airport (PPS). Price range of Air Swift would be approximately P6000 – P10000 (120 – 300 USD) whatever the season is. However, airlines like Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia operate daily flights in these provinces. The price range for a flight with them is around P2000 – P10000 (40 – 300 USD).
During the off-season, the baggage allowance is 10kgs while the hand baggage would be 7kgs. 20kgs baggage allowance and a 7kgs during the peak season. Excess baggage will be charged upon check in with a P200/kg (40 USD) Terminal Fee in Manila.
Boarding a private tourist van will set you back P500 (10 USD) for Filipinos and P600 (12 USD) for foreigners. Transportation is pre-arranged so you will not be charged any further. Expect the land travel to be approximately 5-6 hours or even more, I left Puerto Princesa City around 2:30 P.M. and arrived in El Nido around 9:30 P.M., 7-hour land travel is no joke, given that only one or two refreshment stops were made for meal and restroom breaks. During the land travel, expect that there will be no network signal for about an hour or two, because some areas are highly elevated. This kind of travel was quite annoying for me, so I spend my time reading a book, watching movies and trying to catch some sleep.
There are two bus companies that operate in El Nido and Palawan. The Cherry Bus and the Roro Bus, both have their buses running from the San Jose Bus Terminal, which is 7 kilometers away from the airport.
There are two options on how to get to San Jose Bus Terminal.
Option 1: From outside the airport, hire a tricycle (hell, it is tuktuk!) and tell the driver to drop you off at Junction 1, fare will be P8 (0.16 USD) each. From Junction 1, ride a multicab going to San Jose Bus Terminal, fare will be P13 (0.26 USD).
Option 2: You can hop on a tricycle going directly to San Jose Bus Terminal. The fare will be P100 – P120 (2 USD).
Once you are in San Jose Bus Terminal, you have two bus companies to choose from. The travel time will be about 8 – 9 hours, much longer than van but more spacious and usually safer. Buses make many stops unlike vans. The bus ride will end at El Nido Integrated Bus Terminal, where you can hire a tricycle (hmm, tuktuk once again?!) that will take you to downtown El Nido or wherever your accommodation is.
Rent a Car
There is also an option to rent a car that you can drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. With several companies offering car rental, expect the prices to be P2500 to P4000 (50 – 100 USD) per day, depending on the car brand.
Food In El Nido
No trip to El Nido would be complete without trying the local cuisine. Even though food in El Nido isn’t as diverse as in other cosmopolitan cities, there are several restaurants to check out and various meals to try. I encourage you to try Filipino cuisine with prices range from P50-P200 (1-4 USD). For this amount of money, you can get a plated meal with rice, vegetables, pork and seafood. There are also bakeries that sell delicious pastries with the same price range. Western food is more expensive with the price range of P80-P500 (1.61-10 USD).
Accommodation in El NIdo
Accommodation in El Nido is diverse, ranging from high-end to tiny guesthouses and hostels. Backpackers may expect paying 9-10 USD for a dorm room per night that will usually also include free Wi-Fi and breakfast.
El Nido is best known for its natural attractions like white sand beaches, coral reefs, clear waters, beautiful limestone formations and breathtaking islands. There are four options of Island hopping day tours for you to choose from. Here is a table of the four options for island hopping with destinations and their prices.
|ISLAND HOPPING TOURS||DESTINATIONS||TOUR PRICE|
|TOUR A||Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Big Lagoon||P1,200 (24 USD) pp|
|TOUR B||Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave||P1,300 (26 USD) pp|
|TOUR C||Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach||P1,400 (28 USD) pp|
|TOUR D||Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-nat Beach, Cadlao Beach and Paradise Beach||P1,200 (24 USD) pp|
Tour A covers the beautiful Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon of Miniloc Island. Kayak in the Small lagoon to fully experience and enjoy the area. Take the chance to swim and snorkel.
Tour B takes you to the picturesque caves and coves in El Nido.
Tour C will take you to one of the most photographed place in El Nido, the Matinloc Shrine.
Tour D is the most underrated island hopping day tour among the four options. This tour will be perfect if you just want to swim and enjoy the beach and do not fancy snorkeling.
Island Hopping Fee Inclusions: Snorkeling gear, life vest, local guides and lunch served by the guides and boatmen.
Lunch served: Grilled pork, grilled fish (squid, shrimp and crabs) vegetables.
Where To Next
You can leave El Nido in many ways. One of them is by ferry that will take you to another picturesque island of Coron. The price is as high as P1840 (38 USD). There are only two schedules of this trip per day and it will take at least four hours.
All good things always come to an end, even my stay in paradise. Now I have nothing left but pleasant memories and a warm-hearted smile on my face when I remember El Nido. This lovely place has everything budget travelers may ever need. During my two-day stay in El Nido I caught a glimpse of this amazing island hoping to return there someday once again.