When we hear El Nido, Palawan, what often comes to mind is the image of limestone formations surrounded by lush greenery over the inviting bluish green water. Indeed, this little beach town has so much to offer when it comes to natural and picturesque attractions such as beaches, lagoons, and even cliffs. El Nido also boasts interesting marine life which makes it all the more attractive for tourists who are into snorkeling and diving.
Getting there can be a challenge though because of the amount of travel needed however everything will be worth it in the end because you will be rewarded with a stay in paradise and the experience you will never forget for the rest of your life.
This quick guide to El Nido will let you know how to get there, what to do, eat, and drink, where to stay, and must-see spots.
Best Time to Visit
It’s best to visit the Philippines during the dry season. Dry season in the Philippines spans from November through April. These are the summer months in this country.
Be aware that temperatures and humidity levels are particularly high in April and May.
The best time to be a beach bum and explore the islands is from March to May.
TIP: Booking for summer trips should be done as early as possible, at least a month before your travel dates, since resorts get fully booked early.
The period from June to October is the rainy (wet) season and is best avoided due to the high possibility of typhoons. The typhoons can not only be destructive, but most tours and activities are cancelled under such circumstances. Transportation via plane and boat is also seriously impacted as well. This happens frequently so beware!
This guide recommends traveling to El Nido in April-May or in November-December, just before and just after the rainy season. This will likely bring fewer crowds, yet pleasant weather, and is also a great time to score a travel deal.
Plug commonly used is Type A but Types B and C are used as well. Bring A to B adapter(s).
There are many ways to get here depending on your starting point. This guide recommends using the following online tools to identify all the available options and cost for each: Rome2Rio and PHBUS. We have provided the major ports of entry for this destination below.
The following are the modes of transportation available in El Nido
SEE & DO
The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while in El Nido.
1 | Secret Lagoon
It’s called Secret Lagoon for a reason. Hidden behind giant rocks is a lagoon with clear water and white sand. It can only be accessed by swimming or wading through a small hole in the rocks that is only visible to the surface during low tide. It may be a small area and gets crowded during peak season but it is definitely worth visiting. Just make sure to time your visit as getting through the narrow opening can be really hard when it’s high tide and the water may not be as clear when the tide is too low.
2 | Big Lagoon
Want a picture of you taken on a boat with two big rock formations and blue-green seawater as your background? Then better include Big Lagoon to your itinerary. Actually, you better not leave El Nido without enjoying the serenity of this beauty. During high tide, the lagoon is accessible by a boat however during low tide, you will need to kayak or swim to get to the lagoon.
3 | Secret Beach
This beach is another El Nido secret you have to discover. Only the brave can get to enjoy this because it is enclosed in limestone cliffs and getting to the shore entails swimming through a small hole in one of the cliffs. Even the best swimmers need to be very careful not to hit the rocks while swimming through. Aside from the pristine sand and clear water, you can also feast your eyes on colorful fishes, corals, and other marine life in Secret Beach.
4 | Snake Island
Locals call it Vigan Island but it’s actually more of a sandbar with a curved shape resembling a snake, hence the nickname “Snake Island”. Aside from the blue-green water on both sides of the sandbar, the area also boasts of a view deck which offers a 360-degree view of the ocean and the neighboring islands.
5 | Simizu Island
The underwater life of Simizu Island (also spelled Shimizu) is teeming with colorful fishes, corals, shells, and other marine life. The island is a popular lunch stop among tourists and boatmen.
6 | Taraw Cliff
Want to see El Nido and Bacuit Bay from the highest peak in town? Then you shouldn’t skip Taraw Cliff. This giant limestone karst rises 230 MASL and it’s a bit of a challenge to trek because of all the boulders and limestone rock to conquer. The trek, no matter how difficult, is definitely worth it because of the magnificent view waiting at the summit. Getting there and back takes around 2 hours.
7 | Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas is a great spot to swim and relax especially after a tiring day doing all those island hopping tours. No boat rides necessary to get to this beach! It’s either you take a short tricycle ride or walk to the beach entrance. There are also some bars, restaurants, and resorts so it’s no big deal if you want to stay longer.
8 | Helicopter Island
Originally called “Dilumacad Island”, this island with long and dazzling beach with sand so fine looks like a helicopter, hence the nickname “Helicopter Island”. It is ideal for beach bumming and also has an interesting marine life too.
9 | Twin Beaches
These Twin Beaches of Nacpan and Calitang are located in mainland El Nido hence it can be easily accessed by jeepney, tricycle or chartered van. Nacpan Beach is a four-kilometer stretch of beach lined with coconut trees. It has creamy white sand that seems to appear whiter on a good sunny day. On its southern tip, it meets with the smaller Calitang Beach forming a sandbar with a low-rise hill adjacent to it.
10 | Makinit Hot Springs
It may sound like a good idea to take a dip in the hot spring after exploring the mainland but Makinit Hot Spring is for your eyes only. Swimming is impossible as there are no concrete pools and the water is too hot for dipping.
NOTE: The Kulambo Festival occurs annually in El Nido every March 15 to 18.
EAT & DRINK
The following is your guide to the flavorful foods to enjoy and restaurants to try while in El Nido.
1 | Altrove
Trattoria Altrove is a must-place to visit when in El Nido. Many people are always lining up to get a taste of their firewood brick oven pizza which is often listed as one of the most favorite foods among tourists. It may take a little while for customers to get seated because of the number of people wanting to dine but it will be worth it. Just make sure that you are not pressed for time so you will be able to enjoy your meal.
2 | Angel Wish
Angel Wish is a popular seafood restaurant that offers great value for money. Like many other seafood restaurants in town, you get to choose your seafood and they will do the cooking for you, at a lesser price. Angel Wish is a beach front restaurant so you will be dining with the sand on your feet and waves crashing nearby.
3 | Art Cafe
Art Cafe has an extensive menu which includes pizza, pasta, and salad, in addition to seafood. They also have home-made cakes and other Western favorites. Don’t be surprised if almost everyone you see in Art Cafe seems to be so busy with their phones, the resto has one of the best WiFi spots in town.
4 | Happiness Beach Bar
Happiness with every bite – that’s how most customers feel when in Happiness Beach Bar. They serve good food be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner and they use only the freshest ingredients produced locally. Their hummus and pita bread combo makes a great companion as you wait for the sunset and while you watch the waves crash into the shore.
5 | Mezzanine
Craving for fresh bread and sandwiches? Head over to Mezzanine located in the center of El Nido. Aside from the food, the restaurant has a relaxed yet a bit fancy ambiance which makes it ideal for those who want to chill and enjoy the open-air deck beach view.
KNOWN FOR: Pan de Coco (Coconut Bread)
WHERE TO STAY
There are many different types of accommodations available in this destination ranging from hostels to luxurious resorts. The following is your guide to our top choices for each range in El Nido.
1 | Amakan Bed Bunk Breakfast (Budget)
2 | Ipil Suites (Mid-Range)
3 | Lagen Island Resort (Luxury | Resort)
When doing research online of where to stay for specific destination, we use the following sites to conduct our research:
Book your room with these trusted online booking sites. Booking online in the Philippines almost always guarantees the best price and a room when you arrive. We use these sites frequently to get the best prices and enjoy convenient bookings. Click each of the buttons below to find the best place for you at the lowest rates:
TIP: Ipil Suites is the best property to experience this destination
This chart is your guide to get an idea of how much to budget daily in El Nido. Actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages … some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less. Prices are in USD.
A bed in a hostel dorm costs from 350 PHP ($7 USD), but smaller dorms can cost from 500 PHP ($10 USD). For a private double, prices start around 700 PHP ($14 USD).
Most budget hotels begin at 700 PHP ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast. For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night. AirBnB is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 500 PHP ($10 USD) per night. For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.
Resorts and luxury accommodations vary greatly from 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) to 5,000+ PHP ($100+ USD). However, there are some really nice resorts and luxury accommodations which are surprisingly affordable.
Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 50 PHP ($1USD). For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 100 PHP ($2 USD). For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 200 PHP ($4 USD). Knowing that their target customers are primarily tourists, Western food venues can be pricey compared to Filipino food. Also, some of the ingredients need to be imported, which contributes to the higher cost. Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 200 PHP ($4 USD) for a meal and drink.
Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 200 PHP ($4 USD). A beer at the bar will cost around 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD).
A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300-600 PHP ($6-12 USD) per person. However, food in this country is so inexpensive, and kitchens & refrigerators are hard to come by, I don’t recommend cooking your meals here since there is plenty of delicious street food to eat at very cheap prices. You won’t make it as good as they do and the food is too delicious to miss!
There are many modes of transportation available in the Philippines and each varies greatly.
Public Transportation is cheap. Bus services on the islands are inexpensive. Local buses (called jeepneys) are the most common type of transportation in towns and cities. The fare is usually between 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD).
On islands without a bus system, a taxi or tricycle is the only form of transport with fares starting at 50-500 PHP ($1-$10) USD for short trips.
Taxis are everywhere, and they’re very cheap. Most fares shouldn’t cost you more than 500 PHP ($10 USD) around town.
To get between islands, you’ll need to take a boat or to fly. There are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option.
Flights between islands usually cost about 2,000-3500 PHP ($40-70 USD). However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel. It’s only recommended if you have limited time.
Attractions & Activities
Most attractions and activities in the Philippines are pretty cheap. Most attractions throughout the area are FREE to enter, though some of the more well known and popular ones cost 5-100 PHP ($.10-$2 USD) to enter.
Depending on the activity, most day tours only cost around 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD), oftentimes less. You have more bargaining power if you go with a group. If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!
Other activities such as Island Hopping, scuba diving, helmet diving, swimming with whale sharks, jungle trekking, canyoning, ATVs, jet skis, wakeboarding, cruises, parasailing, horseback riding, cultural experiences, and tours can cost as much as 1,250-5,000+ PHP ($25-100+ USD).
The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. Learning to scuba dive usually costs about 15,000-20,000 PHP ($300-400 USD), but often includes FREE accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.
Always book your tours and activities when you arrive. Stick to travel agents who are selling on the ground. If a travel agent won’t negotiate with you, move on to the next until you find one that will. Booking tours online is almost always more expensive.
Typical Costs in El Nido in 2020:
- Hostel Dorm Bed: 250-350 PHP ($5–7 USD) night
- Budget Hotel: 700 PHP ($14 USD) night
- Mid-Range Hotel: 1500 PHP ($31 USD) night
- Street Food: 50-150 PHP ($1–3 USD) meal
- Restaurant Meals: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) meal
- Local Beer: 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD) bottle
- 1.5L Bottle of Water: 38 PHP ($.75 USD) bottle
- Jeepney Ride: 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD) ride
- Tricycle Ride: 20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
- Long-Distance Bus Ride: 400-500 PHP ($8–10 USD) ride
- Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
- Domestic Flight: 2,000-3,500 PHP ($40–70 USD) flight
- Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip
The following is some of our best advice on traveling to this destination. This is your guide on what you need to know BEFORE you go to El Nido!
Tips & Hacks
The following are this guide’s Top 10 Tips when visiting El Nido:
- Be aware that a tourist VISA is only 30 days. You can extend it upon arrival, or within the first 30 days, for an additional 30 days for a fee of approximately 3,000 pesos.
- Don’t buy into the fear factor. The Philippines has an unjustified reputation of being a dangerous place. It’s true there are security guards everywhere, but that is to deter theft.
- Manila is NOT the Philippines. Get outside of the cities to see the real Philippines.
- Don’t over plan. Boats, buses, and even airplane schedules are notoriously unreliable. Be flexible.
- Check the weather. The weather varies greatly throughout the Philippines daily.
- Typhoons can have a huge impact on your plans. Account for this when planning your trip.
- It’s not cool to raise your voice or show outward frustration in public.
- Be polite at all times. Realize that your country’s sense of humor may be different from Filipino humor and take this into account when interacting with Filipinos and while in public places.
- Things move at a slower pace. Accept it … don’t get frustrated … but do account for it.
- Don’t drink the tap water… but stay hydrated! Save money by buying large bottles (6-10 liters) of water and using it to fill your water bottle or hydration bladder in your backpack.
For a complete list of our travel tips & hacks, check out the following guide and be sure to download a FREE copy for yourself.
The Philippines has its own currency called the Philippine Peso. Banks, ATMs, and money-changers can be found in El Nido. If you are exploring the neighboring islands or provinces, make sure to bring enough cash that will last until the next time you get to an ATM or bank since most tours, transportation, and budget accommodations only accept cash.
Health & Safety
While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is El Nido, you need to use common sense just as you would in any country, especially when traveling, and in a city, town, or area you are unfamiliar with.
Consult your hotel or resort front desk as they are more likely to give you reliable information than a random stranger on the street. Be careful when approaching strangers and selective about who you approach. Always pay attention to your gut feeling and follow it.
There are many things to consider when traveling in order to stay safe … things that we may not be accustomed to during our normal everyday lives. The following are articles about tips on how to stay safe while traveling in the Philippines:
- 6 Common Accidents to Avoid
- How to Beat the Heat in the Philippines
- Taxi Safety Tips: Dos and Don’ts
- Motorbike Safety Tips
- Beach & Ocean Safety Tips
- Sun Safety Tips
Staying fit & healthy can be challenging when traveling in the Philippines.
The tropical Philippines climate requires you to prepare for illnesses that you may not normally be accustomed to.
The following are our Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling in the Philippines:
- Maintain a Balanced Diet
- Stay Hydrated but Only Drink Bottled Water
- Get Plenty of Rest
- Allow Your Body Time to Adjust
- Keep Active
- Sanitize Often
- Be Aware of Food Safety Concerns
- Take Your Vitamins
- Practice Safe Sex
- Be Prepared Should You Get Sick
You need to have a local-based SIM card in order to stay connected when in the Philippines. Network giants such as Globe and Smart have SIM cards you can use to make calls, send text messages, and also to connect to the Internet. A SIM card costs around 50 PHP ($1 USD) and usually comes with a FREE load worth 50 PHP ($1 USD). You can buy a card containing a code you can enter on your phone to replenish your load or buy an electronic load that is available almost anywhere in the city.
While you may not have problems with signal strength when in the city, it is not always the case when on islands or in remote areas of a province. So when arranging for transportation pick up, say when renting a boat to take you to and pick you up from the island, it would be best that you make it clear what time you need to be picked up before the boatman leaves.
Recommended Travel Apps
Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you’re traveling. Most are available for iPhones and Android phones.
- Grab (taxis/ride shares)
- Angkas (motorbike ride-hailing)
- WhatsApp (phone calls)
- Skyscanner (flights)
- Rome2Rio (transportation)
- Agoda (accomodations)
- Booking.com (accomodations)
- AirBnB (accomodations)
- Traveloka (flights, accomodations, activities)
- Klook (attractions & activities )
Be certain to download and set up apps BEFORE leaving on your trip to make certain each is installed and working properly.
For our complete list of travel apps that we use and recommend while traveling in the Philippines, checkout our checklist below.
Trying to decide what to do when traveling to a destination for the first time can be a bit overwhelming given your lack of familiarity with the place along with all of the available options.
We’ve created the following itinerary to help simplify the process and ensure that you get the most out of your trip. Although we provide a 7 day itinerary for this destination, it can always be adjusted to fit the length of your trip.
The secret to a successful and stress-free trip is to start by using a packing list. This will reduce anxiety from the start and ensure that nothing important is forgotten when packing. To make this process easy for you, we’ve created a detailed packing list. Click the link below to download it for FREE now.
Carrying your checklist with you during your travels can be useful when repacking, by helping to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.
Things to Remember
This guide recommends to take note of the following while traveling in El Nido or in the Philippines in general.
There is a nationwide ban which prohibits smoking in public places including indoors, the streets, on sidewalks, in restaurants , and on public transportation, requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas. Selling tobacco to and purchasing from or for minors is also prohibited. Violators are subject to fines (up to 5,000 PHP | $100 USD) and even 4 months in prison.
The minimum legal drinking age is 18. Alcohol such as beer and hard drinks can easily be bought in grocery and convenience stores. The most common alcoholic beverage is beer, generally served cold. Local alcoholic drinks include tuba (coconut wine which is usually very strong) and potent moonshine-like clear liquors made from sugar or fruit. Imported beer, wine, and name brand hard alcohol are available but expensive.
Drugs are illegal in the Philippines. Don’t use, buy, or sell any non-prescription drugs while in the Philippines … not even marijuana. It is considered an especially heinous crime to buy from, for, or sell drugs to children. The penalties are severe … up to and including death.
Public nudity is illegal in the Philippines and is not tolerated. Most locals consider it offensive. There are laws which prohibit provocative and erotic clothing and swimwear, therefore carefully consider your clothings and swimwear choices to make certain they are not too revealing.
Foreigners & Expats
If you are not a Filipino citizen, remember that you are a guest when visiting this country … be certain to act accordingly. Respect the people, their customs, and the environment and wlidlife. You can be deported and banned … so behave … but have fun and enjoy all that this wonderful destination has to offer.
Don’t Forget …
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