El Nido was our first stop after flying from Manila. I have spent a lot to decide on the best route when travelling in Philippines. It was impossible to decide to choose between El Nido and Coron, so we decided to include both on our tour. There was only one reason why we first flied to El Nido instead of Coron. The fast ferry departs from El Nido to Coron at 06:00 while it was on afternoon from Coron to El Nido. All the attractions can be little far and having time only before afternoon was really not logical for us.
It is more important to decide when you are going rather than deciding to start either by Coron or El Nido. The island is located on a tropical area, so it can be risky if you do not check the weather statistics. Although I was there on the best time, our 2 days were just gone by doing nothing. Considering there is really nothing to do if the weather is bad, I recommend you are well equipped with some books or games in case the weather is bad. The good side is these bad weather conditions can only steal your 2-3 days. So, here is my top two recommendations. You immediately start by tours if you have the chance and try to stay in El Nido like 5-7 days. If the weather is good, you will spend exploring secret beaches or enjoy top trend beaches (not crowded) and if the weather is bad, in 6 days you will catch at least 3 sunny days.
I had faced with no food problems in El Nido but I just wanted to let you all know that I never tasted street food this time like I did in Thailand. There are only 3-4 nice restaurants, but come on this is an island life. Even one restaurant with good atmosphere and nice people around you will be enough for you.
What we faced is only the internet problem. We have bought all different sim cards from various operators at the airport and none of them were working good enough on the island and when I say good enough, it was really bad. So, do not make your plans sticking to a good wi-fi or 3G/4G plan. We have also heard some tourists had problems with breakfast and hot water. This is mainly because there are only few hotels providing above average service level and these hotels are filling really fast, so if you leave your plan just 3-4 months before your arrival, it may be too late. Lastly, do not believe everything, there is no exchange office problem in El Nido town. So, you do not have to convert all your dollars to peso in Manila.
How to reach
There are two popular ways to reach El Nido. Each option has its advantages, so just consider every detail and choose the best one suitable for you.
Whatever you do, if you start to explore Philippines first from El Nido and then Coron, this means your international flight will be probably to Manila. On Manila after staying one night –check my Manila post to have a better understanding about why you should stay one night- you will have to fly.
You may prefer to fly El Nido Airport from Manila. Only Air Swift is actively flying from Manila to El Nido with small planes. The capacity is less than 50, so they are really filling fast. It also has another disadvantage, the prices are really above the average. You will have to pay like an international roundtrip price for it, but it comes with a good advantage. You are directly in El Nido and it will take you less than 30 minutes to reach your hotel most probably with a short drive.
Your second options is flying to Puerto Princesa. If you are not planning to stay in Puerto Princesa and if you do not have any budget constraints, I really do not recommend this option. You will have to spend minimum 6 hours on a van. If you prefer private car option, the price will be almost same with flying to El Nido. If you have tight budget, flying to Puerto Princesa and then going to El Nido via common van service is your best option. If you also plan to spend a night in Puerto Princesa and maybe another day in Part Barton –this location is on your way to El Nido- this option may be still the best option for you.
So, briefly my choise was flying to El Nido due to time constraint and landing to El Nido Airport was really an interesting experience that I had similar one in Koh Samui in Thailand. However, next time Puerto Princesa and Port Barton will be on my list, so I will eventually fly to Puerto Princesa.
You will spend most of your time on island tours, so the main transportation will be on sea. However, there are still few possibilities you may need to use transportation.
First if you are flying to El Nido Airport, you will probably use a tricycle to reach your hotel. It may not seem safe and it is actually, but that will be your only option, so try to get used to it.
Second, you will eventually go to Nacpan Beach. Nacpan is the best beach on island. It is not really logical to reach Nacpan via tricycle. The road is really bumpy and using a tricycle makes it bumpier. So, you may want to consider arranging a common van transfer from El Nido to Nacpan. It costs like 10 USD for a roundtrip. It takes around half an hour to reach there. You only have to give your departure time for both directions while arranging the transfer.
Third, you will also go Las Cabanas. Some people prefer walking and it will take around 30-40 minutes from El Nido Town. Your other options is again using a tricycle which makes it faster and it is extremely cheap.
Your other possibilities are exploring the island by yourself. This is mostly done by renting a bike instead of renting a car. Renting a bike is again cheap, but driving can be little risky. So, if I were you, I won’t be renting a motorbike to reach Nacpan, Las Cabanas; but just for one day to explore places that there are no van transfers, I would only rent it.
Where to stay
First you have to answer this question: Are you coming as a backpacker or for honeymoon. Although, most honeymoon couples prefer Maldives, we have seen some adventurous couples who preferred Philippines too. Most people who go El Nido for only tourist reasons, stay in El Nido Town. This is extremely logical because all tour companies are there and it becomes easier for you. Also although there are only few places, these places are all in El Nido Town.
Your other option can be in Las Cabanas, however hotel evaluation scores were lower compared to ones in El Nido. So, we did not consider them. Your last option is arranging a resort. Resorts are located mostly on islands or far away from the town. These hotels are enormously expensive but still cheap compared to Maldives option. If your resort is located on an island, they mostly arrange private van transfers from the airport but they put you flight time constraints because it is not allowed to leave pier after 5 PM depending on the weather. If the weather is bad, this means you are stuck on the island and will have to wait until the weather goes well to reach your luxury resort.
What to do
Our best choice for spending time in El Nido is Nacpan Beach. It takes around half hour from El Nido town. As I mentioned above, our option was to arrange a common van transfer where we had to give our exact departure times for both directions. We have spent our 2 full days there. It has a very long beach, so it is never crowded. If you are looking for classic beach activities –do not look for jet-skis, jet-ski has not arrived El Nido yet- such as playing beach volley, you may also find some opportunities. There are also few lunch options.
Both El Nido and Coron are all about island hopping. Unlike in Thailand, here tours are well organized and there are no big surprises. There are 4 popular tours with A, B, C and D letters. So, when you ask any person in Philippines about Tour B, they all know what is in the tour. The price is fixed for any of the tours. So, here is my top recommendation for El Nido. Prefer booking private tours instead of group tours. The reason is obvious. The price is only 2 times expensive than the group option. This means instead of giving 20-30 USD, just pay 40-60 USD and witness all the beauties of El Nido privately. Private means you will decide the departure time, you will decide the route and you will decide the lunch option beforehand or during your tour. In Thailand, I couldn’t prefer arranging private tours, because it was overpriced, but here it is not like that.
Best tours are Tour A and Tour C. Below is the small map which shows areas in all tours. They are all close to island so you won’t be spending more than half an hour to reach a location. Departure pier for Tour A, C and D are from El Nido town, but for Tour B they first take you to another beach via tricycle to minimize costs. As you can see although they are all close, Tour C is little far away compared to other tours. This means, if the weather is bad, it is possible that Tour C may be cancelled but all other tours are active. In some cases, all tours are cancelled, but this should not prevent you to start with Tour C. So, when you arrive El Nido, your first option should to book Tour C and then Tour A. On Tour A, you may have to bring some additional cash with you, because on small lagoon and big lagoon you may want to do some kayaking with is excluded in tour price.
The most asked question is whether Tour B and Tour D are worth it. My answer is yes. If you compare Tour B or D with Tour A or C, there is huge difference. However, considering you are a first time visitor, there are big surprises both in Tour B and Tour D. What we did was arranging a private tour where we got the possibility for deciding the route. This means we had the opportunity to add best spots of Tour D in Tour C. So, just check the images before you go and decide where you want to go.
- Tour A – Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Seven Commando Beach
- Tour B – Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave
- Tour C – Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Hidden Beach
- Tour D – Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach
In your lunch, you have a chance to choose what to eat and drink, but if you do not tell anything most probably, pork, chicken, fish and salad will be available with only water. So, if you are planning to enjoy your beer or other beverages, you just have to tell them or buy in market before you leave El Nido town. We have arranged all our tours via company called “El Nido Paradise”. On their website, you have a chance to arrange your tour in advance and make the payment before you go there. This will save you time, but more important you will not have to carry a lot of cash with you.
There are some few other things you can do in El Nido. The first one is Las Cabanas. It is another beach, but people go there mostly not for swimming. It is mainly for waiting sunset. Do not expect clubs but small beach bar style cafes are located there. However, there is also one more reason to go there. It is for zipline. You may have tried zipline in many places but believe me, here something special and unique is expecting you. You zipline from one island to another island either one way or two way. You also have a chance to do this in Superman position! That was one of the best experiences I had in El Nido. In addition to Las Cabanas, you can also go Lio Beach. This beach is not very popular, but it is expected to be more popular. Modern hotels and restaurants are all constructed and they are open. Only the beach side worse than Nacpan. It is located just next to airport, so you have a chance lay down on the beach and watch planes landing on top of you. Lastly, on your last day, you may want to rent a motorbike and explore places by yourself.
What to eat
Below are the restaurants we find reasonable, healthy and logical. For your lunch, you are limited to tours on your tour days. When in Nacpan and Lio Beach, you will eventually prefer one of the few options there. So, only question is what to eat when you are in El Nido town.
Happiness Beach Bar offering Mediterranean food (not Italian or Spanish), Altrove Pizza where you may have to wait 1 hour to have a seat and another half hour to have your pizza, A Falafel Stop with no name, Agape Tavern for Greek Food and Art Café offering almost everything are all your best options. So, as you can see you have lot of options. We liked the ambiance of Happiness Beach Bar but we liked the options we had in Art Café more. Altarve Pizza is the most popular one, but waiting one hour there is really not worth it. There Altarve Express which is very close to town, so my recommendation is to go there. For people who can not live without coffee, Gusto’s is your address. If you are into clubbing, don’t be, because there are no clubs; but if you are interested trying some cocktails, Sava Beach Bar is your best option.