El Nido is one of the most popular spots in the Philippines and is located on the island of Palawan. This area is well known for the limestone cliff formations, turquoise waters and island hopping around Bacuit Bay. Spend at least 3 days here, giving yourself plenty of time to explore and relax! As you would expect, one of the top things to do in El Nido is the island hopping and you’ll want at least 2 days to spend sailing around to the different islands!
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Top Things to See & Do in El Nido
1. Go on an Island Hopping Tour
An island hopping tour is THE thing to do in Palawan! El Nido is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s the surrounding beaches, islands and limestone cliffs that make it famous! There are 4 different tours to choose from and many companies that offer these tours.
The most popular tours are A & C but all the tours offer stunning destinations to see in the area. The tours go around Bacuit Bay to different spots staying anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Deciding on the right trip is the hardest part! For our 2 days of tours in El Nido we joined a group for Tour A and we did a private tour to combine sights from Tour B & C. Many of the companies do not allow you to combine but we found one that did! You can find out which one in the post breaking down Tours A, B, C & D.
2. Spend the day at Nacpan Beach
White sand beaches, warm turqouise waters and only a 45 minute drive away? Yes, please! If you have multiple days in El Nido and you’ve finished your tours around Bacuit Bay then be sure to make your way to Nacpan Beach. It’s an easy drive just north of El Nido and you’ll be rewarded with more beautiful views and the refreshing ocean water. Plan on spending most of the day there and enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the beach.
Getting to and from Nacpan Beach is easy with either a motorbike or a tricycle!
3. Watch sunset at Las Cabaños
One of the best spots on the island to watch the sunset is Las Cabaños! There is a large rock that provides a beautiful backdrop while the orange and pink hues light up the sky. If you’re into a bit of adventure you can even do the zip-lining that goes over the water, to the rock and back! The people we saw doing it seemed to be having a lot of fun.
You can park your motorbike for free at the entrance to Vanilla Beach. Walk through the shopping area, down to the beach and head towards your left to get to Las Cabaños.
4. Hike Taraw Cliff
It is said that Taraw Cliff has one of the best views of El Nido due to it’s location on the island. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to this hike during our time in El Nido but we did do the Mount Tapyas climb in Coron!
It is a 30-45 minute moderate climb up which is best to do either in the early morning or just before sunset. Otherwise the heat will be unbearable. However, still make sure to wear proper shoes, apply sunscreen and pack plenty of water!
5. Visit the Public Market
The public market is the perfect place to go if you are wanting to purchase some fresh fruit, snacks or just have a look around. We ended up visiting here one evening and grabbing some snacks to take on our trip the following day! The prices are much cheaper than in the supermarkets or small shops and you’ll be supporting a local business!
6. Enjoy the El Nido Town Proper
In the evenings, when you have finished your tour for the day, take a stroll around town. You’ll find many shops, fresh fruit juice stalls and restaurants. There is definitely a fun vibe and lots of other travelers so it’s a fun place to make some new friends! There are also plenty of bars if you’re looking to have a late night out!
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How to Get to El Nido
There are a few different ways to reach El Nido. The easiest but most expensive way is to fly directly into El Nido. There is a small airport and one airline called Air Swift that services this airport.
The other two options are less expensive but more time consuming. You can fly into Puerto Princesa for a fraction of the cost and then ride the public bus for about 6 hours to reach El Nido. The public bus will depart from the San Jose Bus Terminal.
There are also private van options that will depart from the airport and the bus terminal. These are around the same price but are small and cramped and will depart when full.
The last option is to take the ferry from Coron. This is the best option if you plan on visiting Coron first as it will be easy to catch the ferry right in Coron Town. We did our trip in reverse, flying into Puerto Princesa, taking a bus to El Nido and then ferry to Coron.
We fly from Coron to our next destination. After some research the grand total for doing it this way was cheaper than starting in Coron.
How to Get Around El Nido
El Nido town is small and easy to get around. There are a few different options of traveling around El Nido but the most cost effective way is to rent your own motorbike. The prices for a daily motorbike rental will cost around 400-500 PHP for the day and include helmets.
The rental shops will most likely keep one form of ID and will return it when you bring back the motorbike at the end of the day. Honestly, if they say they will only take your passport I would find somewhere else to rent from. NEVER give up your passport.
Traveling around SE Asia by motorbike can sometimes be challenging especially if you aren’t too familiar with driving a bike. In the Philippines the traffic is definitely easier than in other countries we’ve been in so driving shouldn’t be a problem if you have the basic knowledge. They also drive on the right side of the road just like in the US or most parts of Europe.
Another option for transportation is to use the tricycles. You will see them all over town and they are very easy to get. However, they will most likely charge you a fairly high rate so you will need to negotiate and agree on a price BEFORE you get into the vehicle. They should have change but it is always best to carry around smaller bills just in case.
Where to Eat & Stay in El Nido
Where to Stay
There are so many options of places to stay in El Nido. Accomodation can range from super budget to mid-range and all the way up to luxury. You will find that many of the luxury resorts are actually on their own islands and are only reachable by boat.
Luckily, there are many options in town and affordable for all budgets. However, keep in mind that the closer into El Nido town you get the more expensive the rooms will be especially if you are not staying at a hostel. We stayed at JACES Inn which was about a 10 minute walk into town and our room was about $14 USD a night.
We found it on booking.com and it had no reviews. However, we’ve realized that a few of the places in the Philippines with no reviews on booking.com are actually new places. Which means that they are pretty nice, clean and inexpensive! Sometimes the location may be slightly out of the main area but you can find a cheap ride or walk!
Another great option is AirBnb! They offer many unique stays and you can book a private room, entire apartment or more!
Where to Eat
There are many restaurants to choose from in El Nido. The most popular places are Art Cafe, Happiness Beach Bar and Trattoria Altrove. Unfortunately, their prices are also quite high.
So we found a delicious restaurant, right on the beach with affordable prices. It is called Happy Home Restaurant and we ate there everyday. Honestly, their pancake was so yummy as well as the vegetarian pasta!
Best Time of Year to Visit El Nido
The best time of year to visit is during the dry season from end of November to March. The rainy season is around June and July but you could be hit with rain at any time. We went in October 2019 and we only encountered rain once and it lasted for about 1 hour.
What to Expect in El Nido
There is an Environmental tax of 200 PHP that must be paid by all visitors when entering Bacuit Bay on a tour. Luckily, this fee is good for 10 days so you’ll likely only have to pay it once.
There is an entrance fee of 200 PHP to both the Big Lagoon and the Small Lagoon. They have recently changed the tours and you can no longer visit both of these Lagoons on the same tour. The Big Lagoon is on Tour A and the Small Lagoon is on Tour D.
Things are a bit more expensive in El Nido than we were expecting. You can still find low cost dining and hotel options but you’ll have to do a little more searching. I’ve listed where we stayed and a good restaurant with inexpensive prices above.
Budget wise in general, beyond eating and sleeping, you’ll need to expect to pay more per day if you are wanting to do any type of tour.
But that’s why you’re in El Nido, right?
It should come as no surprise that a private tour will be significantly more expensive than a group tour but I promise it is completely worth it!
They have banned all use of plastic on the tours departing from El Nido and will provide you with washable cups and drinking water on your trip. In town many of the restaurants, cafes and fresh juice stalls are using bamboo or stainless steel straws and reusable dishes. The Philippines in general seem to be making great efforts to reduce the amount of trash and single use plastics in the entire country which is so amazing to see!
There are also many places, including the tours, where smoking is banned. So leave your cigarettes at home!
ATM’s & Money
The currency in the Philippines is the Philippine Peso also written as PHP or ₱. The current exchange rate as of November 2019 is ₱51 = $1 USD.
Most places in El Nido DO NOT take credit cards. If they do there is usually a 3% charge applied to the total amount. Therefore it is imperative to get cash out of the ATM. You should have already gotten cash out when you landed at the airport. However, if you need to get more there are a few places in town. The one I used the most was the BPI El Nido Branch and you can find it by typing that into your GPS.
TRAVEL TIP: Don’t forget to check to make sure you don’t need to apply for a visa online. Many countries receive a visa on arrival to the Philippines but you don’t want to arrive and get denied!
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 1 TB rugged mini external hard drive