El Nido, located on the island of Palawan is a very popular destination in the Philippines. From the jaw dropping limestone cliffs to the crystal clear turquoise waters, it seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. However, planning your trip to the Philippines can be a bit challenging as it involves quite a few methods of transportation. From planes, ferries, buses and tricycles, I’ve broken down a few easy ways that you can get to El Nido!
How you choose to get there all depends on your budget and the amount of time that you have!
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1. Fly Directly into the El Nido Airport:
Air Swift is the airline that services the El Nido, also known as Lio Airport. The airport and Air Swift airlines are actually owned by the El Nido resorts. There are a few flights a day in and out of the airport. However, the flights will be more expensive than flying into either Coron or Puerto Princesa.
The Lio Airport is conveniently located about 7 kilometers from El Nido town proper. It should cost about 200-300 PHP ($4-6 USD) to get into town via tricycle depending on your haggling skills. You can also prearrange a transfer via your hotel which may or may not be more expensive than a tricycle.
2. Fly into Puerto Princesa and Take a Bus:
Another option is to fly into Puerto Princesa and take a bus to El Nido. There are many flights that arrive via Manila or other larger airports around the Philippines. The major airlines flying here would be either Air Asia or Cebu Pacific. We flew Air Asia from Manila and our flight was about $40 per person for a one way.
Tip: Use skyscanner.com to search for the best budget flights. They will give you a list of airlines, best travel times and cheapest flight options. Once we have found the flight we want I always go and book directly through the airlines as long as they offer the same price!
Since we arrived later in the evening we stayed one night in Puerto Princesa near the San Jose Bus Terminal. If you arrive earlier in the day this is not necessary. Also, if you want to take a private van you will be able to get one at the airport at most times during the day.
You will need to reach the San Jose Bus Terminal to catch a public bus. From the airport this will be about a 30 minute journey and should cost around 300 PHP ($4 USD) for 2 people with luggage. They will strap your luggage precariously on the bag so keep an eye on it or place your hand over it.
RoRo & Cherry Bus are the two public buses that run from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back. We found that the time schedules posted online weren’t always accurate so the best thing to do is arrive at the bus terminal sometime just before 8 AM and there will be buses waiting to leave.
The journey from Puerto Princesa to El Nido takes about 6 hours and they make bathroom stops every 2 hours. The will also stop to pick or drop people off but it is quick and really doesn’t take up much time.
The cost for the A/C RoRo Bus was 380 PHP ($7.40 USD) per person and leaves at 10 AM. We chose to go for the cheaper RoRo bus option as both buses are identical and we didn’t mind hanging around for another hour to save some money.
There are bathrooms at the bus terminal that cost 5 PHP ($0.08 USD) to use. Additionally, there are lots of snack and drink vendors just in case you want to stock up on food for your long journey to El Nido.
The third option for buses heading to El Nido are the smaller vans. These essentially leave as soon as they are full which means you will be sitting pretty cramped for a out 5.5 hours. They claim to be quicker since there are no stops along the way but we can’t confirm that. The vans cost 400 PHP ($7.75 USD) per person. The vans will depart directly from airport and the San Jose Bus Terminal.
Tip: The buses only take cash for payment so make sure to take enough out at the airport or any working ATM in town!
3. Take the Ferry From Coron
To get to Coron you can either arrive via airplane or ferry from Manila. The airlines servicing the Coron or Busuanga Airport are Cebu Pacific Air, Zest Air or PAL Express. PAL Express is partnered with Philippines Airlines.
Once you arrive to the Busuanga Airport you can take a tricycle for about 45 minutes to reach Coron Town. You could also organize a van transfer from the airport to town. The ride should cost about 150 PHP ($3 USD) per person for both methods of transportation. Although the tricycle will probably try to overcharge and tell you 500 PHP.
There are two ferries that depart out of Coron Town. One at 7:30 AM and is considered the “fast” ferry. They say it takes 3 hours and it costs 1800 PHP ($35 USD) per person. The other option is the public ferry which is said to take 3.5 hours but actually takes 4. This ferry leaves at 8 AM and costs 1760 PHP ($34.50 USD) per person.
You can purchase your ferry tickets from most of the tour operators in town and the price will be the same. There is also a 20 PHP ($0.40 USD) per person terminal fee that you have to pay in cash at the terminal when you check in. They did not charge us for luggage but I’ve heard that they do at other islands. If they do, be sure to check the baggage price board as they might try to overcharge.
If you arrive in Coron first you should spend 2-3 days there and then continue on towards El Nido. After El Nido you can take the flight out of there or take the bus to Puerto Princesa and fly out there to your next destination.
We did it in reverse (Puerto Princesa to El Nido to Coron) and it all worked out the same.
Tip: The ferry tickets, like the bus and most things in the Philippines, can only be paid in Cash. Make sure to take out enough at the airport as sometimes the ones in town don’t have money. For my cards there was a 20,000 PHP a day limit but some machines only allowed me to take out 10,000 PHP at a time. This is particularly annoying as then you will rack up even more foreign ATM fees.
4. Take the Ferry From Manila
This will be a two step process as you’ll have to first reach Coron and take the ferry from there. The travel time is long and will take about 24 hours just to reach El Nido. This is the least recommended mode of transportation especially if you are tight on time. The prices to fly domestically within the Philippines is quite cheap so you may not even save that much money by taking the long ferry.
So there you have it! The best and easiest ways to reach El Nido! Leave a comment if you have any questions!