Ahh, so you’ve heard about El Nido. Yes, it’s a pretty special place. If you’re looking to visit and need some help planning your trip, you’re in the right palce. Below I’ll take you through how to get there, where to stay in El Nido, island hopping in El Nido, plus a few other cool things to do. Hope you’re ready!
While travelling around the Philippines quite a few locals would tell me about El Nido. Most of them hadn’t been there, but knew enough about it to tell me it was beautiful and that I should go.
I’d never heard of this place in my life. Couldn’t be that great then, right?
The archipelago of El Nido was like nothing I had ever seen before. The water was a bright, shimmering turquoise, the sands were white like flour and the towering limestone cliffs left me staring into the sky in wonder. Scattered throughout the islands were unspoiled lagoons and tiny hidden beaches, and under the water lay an endless world of incredible corals and rainbow coloured fish, still untouched after all these years. To put it simply, the place blew me away.
Read more: 10 Reason Why The Philippines Should Be Your First Stop In Asia
When people come back from Thailand I always hear them talk about Koh Samui and how it was the setting for Leo DiCaprio’s movie “The Beach”.
However, while reading through the El Nido Wikipedia page I learned that the original story was actually inspired by El Nido, as the author was living in El Nido at the time that he wrote it. True story? The locals seem to think so.
When you island hop across the archipelago you’ll be able to visit the ‘secret beach’ that is believed to have been the author’s inspiration.
How to get to El Nido
El Nido is not the easiest place to get to. It’s still relatively unknown which means it’s not particularly well set up to receive tourists; something you’ll find is quite common in the Philippines. I actually prefer it this way, because it means the hoards of tourists that can quickly destroy a place tend to pass on destinations like this.
First thing you’ll need to do is get to Puerto Princesa. It’s around an hour by plane from Manila and you should be able to get a decent price flight from Cebu Pacific, Air Asia or PAL (maybe around $40USD one way).
Once in Puerto Princesa you’ll need to get a van to El Nido. The drive is around 6 hours and you should be able to find an air conditioned van for around $15USD.
Where to stay in El Nido
This is where I stayed and it was perfect for an easy and affordable option. It should only run you $30-$45 per night depending on the season. It’s located right on the main strip and in walking distance of everything (although El Nido is pretty small anyway). Click here to get the best rate.
For those of you wanting some more luxurious, this is the best choice in town. Most luxury resorts are located way out of town, but this is walking distance from the centre. Lavish rooms, not cheap, but if you’re going to splurge, there’s no place more beautiful than El Nido! Click here for the best rate.
Spin Designer Hostel
For the backpackers, this is your place. It’s right in the centre, super affordable and rooms are limited to four beds a dorm. Cozy place with great staff – you can’t go wrong. Click here for the best rate.
Island hopping is of course your first priority. This is what El Nido is famous for, and most likely why you’re going there in the first place!
The island hopping tours are standardised and you can choose from numerous different operators. Each one will offer 4 different tours, aptly named Tour A, B, C and D. I only had time for Tour A and Tour C, both of which I’d highly recommend. Anyway, here’s what you can expect.
The tours start around 8am and you’ll head out on a boat like this:
I’m not the biggest fan of boat rides but the ride out to the islands here is surprisingly pleasant. The ocean is calm, you’re surrounded by natural beauty and the morning sun is just warm enough to keep you happy. Kind of liberating, actually.
You’ll then spend the day visiting the various islands, beaches, lagoons, snorkelling and kayaking spots that El Nido has to offer.
The lagoons are my favourite. There’s something magical about swimming in these secluded pockets of water. As the guide tells it, they used to be massive limestone caves, and over the years the roofs eventually caved in leaving the lagoons that are here today.
The snorkelling around these islands is incredible, so make sure you rent a snorkel before your tour starts. Underwater life tends to freak me out a little bit, and I actually stepped on a sea urchin here which stung like ****. I ran to the beach crying and quickly returned with a long bamboo stick, hunting the culprit down to seek my revenge. Luckily for him I was unsuccessful.
I love the hidden beaches and lagoons tucked away in hard to find places. Obviously they’re not so ‘hidden’ anymore, but still breathtaking once you get inside.
During Tour C you will visit the Matinloc Island shrine. Having a peek inside the buildings that remain also leads you to believe someone was living there not too long ago…
At one point I actually found myself staring into the ocean for a good 5 minutes.
“How is it so blue?” I wondered.
It didn’t even look real, but more like a neverending sea of blue Powerade.
Every tour also includes lunch. I was just expecting a bottle of water and a sandwich, maybe a mango too if I was lucky.
Instead, as soon as we dock for lunch the guide and the driver whip out a grill and serve up an insane feast. Grilled pork, crabs, squid, fish, salad, rice, watermelon, banana, pineapple, even a hot drink! Evidently I was so excited with all this that I forgot to take a photo.
That’s another tip to keep in mind: Make sure you have a good daypack with you because the tours are full day tours and you’ll need to bring quite a few things. An even better idea is to take a dry bag. This is one of the most photogenic places in the world and you want your best gear with you, but you need to keep it safe too. Here’s a great list of the best dry bags for travel.
Read more: Filipino Food Frenzy: 29 Dishes To Try In Manila
Other things to do in El Nido
So, what to do after the island hopping?
There are various shops throughout town where you can rent a motorbike. You can get them for around 500-700 pesos ($14-$18) a day. If that’s not your thing, a trike will be able to take you wherever you want to go.
There’s a few beaches and waterfalls around the place you can ride to, but if there’s one place I must recommend it’s Nacpan Beach. It’s around an hour away, but the drive is pleasant for the most part and the roads aren’t too bad.
Nacpan Beach is a little hard to find, so ask for clear directions before you leave and continue to stop and ask for directions along the way. Once you get there, it’ll all be worth it.
The beach is enormous, the sand is golden and the ocean is warm and crystal clear. But the best part about it is that it’s so secluded. We had the whole place to ourselves, and maybe saw two other people the whole time we were there. After driving through the long, winding maze of dirt roads to get there, pulling up to the beachfront definitely gave me the wow moment I had been waiting for.
More tips for travellers to El Nido
- There are no ATM’s! This tends to catch a lot of travellers off guard (including myself). Make sure you take out all the cash you need while in Puerto Princesa. You might want to take out a little more than you’d expect to spend, as there’s quite a few nice restaurants and cafes in El Nido town worth trying.
- Make sure you rent a kayak for Tour A. The lagoons are a great place to kayak around and take photos. Just ask your tour operator and they’ll sort it out for you.
- Make sure your camera is charging during the night. Electricity in El Nido typically goes off after sunrise and doesn’t come on again until late afternoon. Keeping a powerbank with you is also a good idea.
From the looks of it El Nido is slowly getting more popular and as a result new hotels and restaurants are popping up around the town. In Manila I also see El Nido tours and even timeshares on sale throughout the malls. However as of now it’s still relatively unspoiled and there were only a handful of other tourists there during my stay.
My advice? Get there asap! It’s one of those places you’ll never forget.
Ready to visit El Nido?
- When choosing where to stay in El Nido, I highly recommend using Booking.com. I consistently found the best prices with them.
- You must purchase travel insurance in the Philippines. Travel through the country is unpredictable and you should be prepared for the unexpected. For a guide to travel insurance, why you need it and how to get it, check out my beginner’s guide here. For my travels, I use World Nomads.
- For some idea of food to try during your trip, check out my Filipino Food Guide!
Never forget 🙂
Unfortunately i havent done it before either, but this could be interesting for you too: taophilippines.com ! I so want to go on one of this trips!
Oh my gosh, I usually don’t go on tours as I like to explore on my own, but that looks incredible. I plan on going to Coron sometime, I’ll remember to get in touch.
Nacpan beach is so nice 🙂 I’ve been to El Nido but haven’t explored the town as we went to El Nido Resorts (we also flew in via a small airplane). It was our honeymoon so we took the expensive route to visit El Nido and truthfully I’m dreading the 6-hour travel on rough road I hear. When you visit Coron, include in your tour itinerary snorkeling on the Coral garden which I loved the most (it’s so colorful under the sea) and kayaking through the mangroves.
Yes, Nacpan beach is incredible, although a little hard to find. Gosh, you’re so lucky to stay in that crazy resort in El Nido, if I ever win the lottery it’ll be one of the first places on my list! The 6 hour bus ride wasn’t so bad 🙂
It was indeed a wonderful and unforgettable El Nido experience! It is truly one of Philippines’ treasures.
You mentioned Mesa in your Manila City Guide post, so let me just say that I absolutely love that restaurant, too. By the way, how did you take those pictures of yourself? Do you ask someone else to take them for you or do you use a tripod?
Yesss, love Mesa. I don’t use a tripod. I was with someone at the time, and also the tour guide takes pictures for you, just leave your camera with him!
Yup El Nido is just too awesome. After going there, everywhere else just seemed lackluster. Visited it two times already. Saw turtles just near the beach and some really huge jellyfish while in transit during our island hopping tour. The water is clear and blue. The people are friendly. The crime rate is almost non-existent as far as I know. Its a good place to stay for one of your soul-searching travels.
I sound like a paid advertiser! But seriously i’ve recommended the place to just about everyone.
For Coron, go to Makinit Hot Spring and experience the weirdness of swimming in hot, clear water with the sea just next to it.
Yes, I’ve heard too many amazing tales of Coron. As for El Nido, I’ve never heard a single bad thing about it!
I love El Nido too, for someone who don’t travel (leisurely) frequently,
I would really love to be back here.
I love the water, the limestones, the lagoons are a favorite too. I found nature’s serenity so therapeutic.
Isn’t it magical? I’ve never seen anything like it.
It’s nice knowing a foreigner like you visiting my country and appreciating what it can offer.
I was in Puerto Princesa almost ten years ago to attend a seminar. I, together with my officemates, was able to visit the Underground River but not El Nido. We still had to travel another two hours to get there.
Keep yourself safe when travelling.
Puerto Princesa is quite a neat little town I thought! Hope you continue to travel – all the best.
Hi Bren… Try to visit Pangulasian Island… Im sure you will love the place…. 🙂
It’s in El Nido? I don’t think I saw it, but if it’s in El Nido I’m sure its awesome 🙂
Yup 🙂 you must try the three best resort … Pangulasian Island, Miniloc Island and Lagen Island… Found in El Nido…
I think I saw Miniloc Island, from memory, although I definitely did not get to stay in any of those flash island resorts. One day, when I’m rich.. 🙂
im a filipino and i havent been to El Nido. after reading your blog about this place, its ashamed that i never had the chance to go there. but Now, ill definitely wont miss this Place.
Go asap, it’s changing by the day! Try and go in low season, whenever that is…
Thanks, Bren! I’m finding your information really helpful. I’m Australian with Filipino heritage and you’ve cemented my decision to explore these islands now! Keep it coming
Ahh, an aussie! Thanks so much, writing isn’t easy but I’m working on it!
wow…Thanks Bren for the beautiful words about the Philippines and El Nido of course…my favorite place in this planet. I’ve been to these paradise 8 times already and still hooked to its surreal beauty, in fact we had our dream wedding in matinloc Shrine last April, 2013. On your next visit, you should try the more remote islands of Port Barton in San Vicente, Palawan, the much bluer seas of Linapacan and of course Coron which is actually the twin of El Nido(Limestones,lagoons,powdery stretch and of course brackish-lakes, african-safari, hiking,hot spring and wreck diving)…Siquijor, Malapascua and Bantayan, Siargao and Dinagat islands, Calaguas Islands, Calayan group of islands for Cetacean sightings, Carabao and Romblon Island, Apo Reef in Mindoro Gigantes group of islands and Sicogon plus Northern Samar…these are just some of the best places i’ve visited in the country.
Wow, 8 times! Haha, I loved it and I don’t think I’d go there that often, but again, I’m sure there is a lot more to the place than I had the chance to see. Sounds like you have travelled The Philippines in depth which makes me insanely jealous. I’ll be sure to knock off as much as I can off that list on my next visit 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
include on your list the Bicol Region treasures( Calaguas group of islands, Caramoan Peninsula, Burias and Ticao islands in Masbate, Puraran beach and surf camp in Catanduanesv and Subic-Calintaan beaches in Sorsogon…..less crowd, very cheap and local-friendly destinations)
I’ve read your blogs so many times already and it’s just so awesome that a foreigner like you can appreciate my beloved country so much and everything that it has to offer! My friends went to El Nido just late last yr and I wasn’t able to join them since I’ve just given birth at that time. After reading your article about El Nido I feel so much regret and at the same time a renewed spirit to visit the place asap! Thanks for promoting the Philippines and looking forward to your new adventures!
Thanks so much for reading, well, El Nido is a magical place, but I’ve noticed there is so much hype about the place now as many bloggers are slowly finding out about it. I’m sure you’ll still love it though. When you finally do get there, let me know what you think! 🙂
I haven’t been to El Nido.. After reading this, that’s where my next stop will be in 2016. Next year is Boracay. So I have two years to practice motorbiking. I hope you could write something about your adventure in Boracay also (or maybe you already did but just haven’t found it yet). I am not really good in traveling so I base my itinerary on travel blogs. And this is undoubtedly the best and most entertaining travel blog I came across with.
I’ve been to El Nido last year and there are honestly no words to describe it. Loving your posts! Keep it up!
Thanks! I’m scared to go back, I probably never will. I’m too afraid it’s been overrun!
Hi Bren, I’m a fan of your stories. 🙂 Try Coron, Palawan too, definitely my top list at the moment. Enjoy your next travels. By the way, I’m raving aboutt your blog. 🙂
Haven’t been to Coron but will definitely go someday. Thanks for reading 🙂
Hey Bren, planning to go to Philippines at the end of this year (have a friends wedding at Tagaytay Highlands near Manila on Dec 18).
How long do you think would be enough time in El Nido? 3-4 days?
Thinking of allowing maybe a week and a half total in the Philippines, do you think this allows enough time for a relaxing holiday at El Nido + checking out Manila or should it be longer?
Also, is Dec a good time to visit weather wise?
El Nido is pretty far away so you’re going to be spending a whole day travelling from Manila and also a whole day back (1 hour flight + 5 hour bus + waiting) so that’s already two days gone. Four nights in El Nido is probably enough, you won’t get to see everything because there are some cool hikes and motorbike trips there as well as the lagoon tours but you should get a good idea of what the place is like. Also it might have changed a lot since I was there in 2013, I heard it has been developing quickly. As for Manila hard to say, not everyone likes it there because it’s pretty busy/dirty so some people only want to stay a few days, I really like it so I would recommend a little longer, especially if you like to eat. In December will be hot! But not much rain.
Sweet ok. El Nido looks amazing from your blog post, so keen to check it out.