You haven’t seen it all if you haven’t experienced El Nido. That’s what we stumbled upon in some blogs while reading about this ultimate summer beach destination. El Nido is a quaint resort town situated in the northeastern-most portion of mainland Palawan. Although popular among both foreign and local beach and island seekers, El Nido is quite far from Puerto Princesa and it would take hours of road travel to reach this paradise. However, no amount of long distance bumpy rides would deter us from seeing for ourselves what others refer to as the gem of the Philippines’ last frontier. Some would even fare El Nido better than its counterparts in Thailand and Vietnam. So the excitement has been building up since we left for the long drive to El Nido arriving a little past midnight.
When we finally set foot in Bacuit Bay the following morning, we knew that this was not just an ordinary beach-bumming excursion. The excitement doubled when after a few minutes off the shore, we easily spotted the iconic Helicopter Island, obviously named for its shape, and the impressive gigantic karst/limestone formations that dominate the El Nido seascape. It turned out, it’s our first stop of our two-days island hopping.
Exploring the Islands
The highlight of visiting El Nido is its various island tour offerings. Local authorities have imposed a standard scheme of four tours, consumable for one day each. Rates vary depending on the tour that you like to would avail. In our case, we went for Tour A and Tour C. Almost all accommodations in El Nido offer island tours for standard rates inclusive of the boat (with life vest), guide and buffet lunch. The local coast guard is strict in regulating boat load and ensuring that life vests are available. Please make sure that these are in place, including first-aid kits on-board. When everything is in order, you’re good to go for your one-of-a-kind El Nido island tour.
Standard Tour Rates:
|Tour A||1,200 Pesos per person||9 AM to 4-5 PM|
|Tour B||1,300 Pesos per person||9 AM to 4-5 PM|
|Tour C||1,400 Pesos per person||9 AM to 4-5 PM|
|Tour D||1,200 Pesos per person||9 AM to 4-5 PM|
|Combination Tour A & C||No longer allowed by the Municipality of El Nido|
|Combination Tour B & D|
Other Must-Try Attractions: Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beach | Marimegmeg-Las Cabanas Beach | Taraw Peak Cliff Climb | Waterfalls
WHERE TO STAY
Similar with Boracay and Puerto Galera, El Nido hosts huge numbers of resorts and accommodation to choose from. For many foreign backpackers, online booking sites are becoming popular due to their favorable deals depending on the season and we highly suggest this option even for local tourists. In our case, we had no choice but to take a room rental referral due to due limited availability of affordable accommodation during our stay. However, we highly recommend the El Nido Cliffside Cottages located right within the town center and very accessible to everything. We personally know the owner and we’re confident that you would be in good hands.
The gateway to El Nido is through Palawan’s capital city, Puerto Princesa. Multiple daily flights to/from Puerto Princesa are being serviced by Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, CebGo (formerly Tiger Air Philippines) and Philippine Airlines. Travel time is one hour. Private light planes also offer flights to El Nido from Puerto Princesa and Manila (NAIA Airport) for a higher price. 2GO Travel offers a weekly voyage to/from Puerto Princesa which could take 30 hours.
El Nido is about 5 to 6 hours by van and up to 7 hours by bus north of the capital. Although most of the road is paved, the stretch from Taytay to El Nido have portions undergoing construction. From the airport, there are available public utility vans/UV Express (mostly Toyota Grandia) bound for El Nido at Php 600.00/pax one way. There are also PUVs at the City Terminal; just hail a tricycle and tell the driver to bring you to the van terminal going to El Nido.
However, it is convenient to contact and reserve a van earlier to save on time since most PUVs usually observe a minimum passenger rule. We highly recommend to contact Kuya Rey at his number 0999-773-5139. He owns a van and operates under a legitimate franchise holder. He could also help you find affordable accommodations in El Nido. And who knows, he might also be able to offer a discount in the van fares, like what he did for us.
WHERE TO EAT
Given the deluge of tourists at any time of the year, a variety of food choices are available, from local to international cuisines. A quick walk around town would lead you to your preference. But for the sea-foods seekers, the beach-front ihaw-ihaw (grill) stalls are ideal for hefty dinner and ending the night with some bottles of beer overlooking the bay. With a tight budget, we settled for a home-grown silog (breakfast) stall.
Our Quick El Nido Itinerary
Day 0 (Friday)
- Manila-Puerto Princesa (Take late afternoon or Early evening flight).
- Take public van bound for El Nido.
Day 1 (Saturday)
- El Nido Island Hopping Tour A
Day 2 (Sunday)
- El Nido Island Hopping Tour C & Travel back to Puerto Princesa by 6PM.
- Check-In near the Airport.
Day 3 (Monday)
- Puerto Princesa-Manila (Take early morning flight)
- Bring enough cash when going to El Nido since there are no ATMs (national/international) in town, although there are money transfer establishments around town but they usually operate on daytime.
- Please prepare yourselves for a long drive. Make sure to take the necessary medicine for motion sickness and bring with you first-aid kits (for wounds, scratches, allergies, etc). During our trip, a fellow traveller sustained a wound in her head but she was quickly given first aid, thanks to the helping hands of other local tourists.
- During the island tour, we suggest to secure the contact number of the boat or tour operator in case of emergencies.
- During island tours, it is best to bring dry bags or waterproof container for your gadgets since the sea could get rough especially in the afternoon.
- Interact with locals and even your boat guides. We’re sure you can learn a lot from them and about El Nido.
Trivia. By law, El Nido and its islands are declared as part of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (one of Philippines’ largest marine sanctuaries) to ensure that these natural and biodiversity assets are protected and sustainably managed.