So here’s an El Nido budget guide, i.e., how to travel to El Nido, Palawan, with about P7000 for 5 days.
Contrary to popular belief, vacationing to El Nido can be as cheap as in any other provinces in the Philippines. I’m not really sure why there’s a public perception that you need P10,000-P12,000 per person or even more to go here. Perhaps this was before rate standardization. Here’s what I know: today this place can also be a backpacker’s paradise.
One of the first tips I can give you if you want to get discounted rates on tours and rooms is to go during off-peak season. The caveat is that the off-peak season coincides with the rainy season and if you somehow get stuck in the middle of the typhoon, you won’t be able to go on any island hopping tour.
El Nido budget guide and itinerary
El Nido is 5 hours away from Puerto Princesa City, so when creating your own itinerary allot 2 days for travel. The last trip that we found from San Jose Terminal to El Nido is at 9PM with the Cherry bus. You can find Cherry Bus schedules here. Meanwhile, from El Nido to Puerto Princesa, the earliest schedule for vans and buses is 5AM.
If you only have 3 days in El Nido, I suggest spending two days for island hopping in routes A and C and the third day lounging in Nacpan Beach.
Sample 5-day El Nido Palawan itinerary
– Trike to crossing
– Jeep to San Jose Terminal
– Bus to El Nido
– Island hopping in tours A and C
– Nacpan and Marimegmeg beaches
– Lunch at Prince restaurant in Nacpan
– Back to Puerto Princesa
I’m gonna show you the budget breakdown for a 5-day trip for 2 people. These are the essential expenses when backpacking to El Nido. I’m aware that there’s a lot of miscellaneous expenses I haven’t included, which is why I put a safe budget recommendation at the bottom.
Please note that we were able to get discounted rates because we went during off-peak season. During summer, or any time between December and May, you’ll be hard-pressed to get discounts. In some cases there are even higher markup rates, except for the island hopping tours, which are regulated and thus follow a set of published standard rates.
Discounted rates mentioned below are good for locals only, as far as I know. For instance, tricycle drivers are most likely to amp up the price up to 5x for foreign tourists. I’ve read an account where a trike driver asked for P250 for a trip that would’ve cost P50 if not a little big higher.
Transportation: P1030 each
Round-trip fare from Puerto Princesa City to El Nido: P1030 each
Accommodation: P1000 each
P500 per night for 2 pax; 4 nights = P2000
*Dinner at Republica Sunset Bar = P400 each
*Lunch at Prince restaurant = P200 each (P200 per meal plus P15 extra rice, P50 per fresh coconut)
Food not provided in accommodation or tour: P500 each
Boat and land tours: P2300 each
Tours A and C = P900 each (discounted rate)
Inland tour via tricycle = P1000 (discounted rate)
Entrance fee to Nacpan beach = P50
Kayak rental fee = P300 per kayak
Total budget for 2 people: about P5700 each; safe budget would be P7000 each
Accommodation, tours and restaurants
El Nido is teeming with all sorts of accommodation, from 5-star hotels to budget-friendly inns and dormitories.
For commuters: from the terminal in El Nido, hail a tricycle and just tell the driver to drop you off to your selected lodging. Don’t worry, most of them are familiar with the inns in the area.
For backpackers, there are inns that offer P400-500 room rates for 2 people. Some of these are:
- Aniceto Pension: P550 per night
- OMP (Our Melting Pot) Hostel: aircon with free breakfast, P500 per night: official Facebook page / check current rates here
- Tay Miloy’s Inn, fan room: P400-500 per night: official Facebook page
- Erlittop Garden: bamboo hut, P500 per night: check current rates here
Planning to visit El Nido soon? Check out the lowest prices of accommodations in El Nido here.
If you know of other cheap accommodation to add to this El Nido budget guide, feel free to share in the comments section below. 🙂
Island hopping and inland tours
So basically there are four island hopping tours in El Nido. The most recommended ones are tours A and C. If you’re short on time, avail of these two. Tour A is also called lagoon tour because it includes the famous Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon. Meanwhile, tour C includes great snorkeling spots, including Star Island and Matinloc Shrine.
I’m going to skip the other tours because I believe they have already been comprehensively discussed in other travel blogs.
The tours have standard rates per person, which is good news for solo travelers. These are:
- Tour A – P1200
- Tour B – P1300
- Tour C – P1400
- Tour D – P1200
There are travel agencies that offer complete packages including round-trip transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, accommodation and tours. Almost all lodgings also partner up with tours, so for convenience you can simply inquire at the the reception of your selected lodging.
During off-peak season (June to November), it’s cheaper to avail of the tours individually instead of getting a complete package. Travel agencies offer each tour for as low as P800-900. Island hopping tours normally begin at 9AM, so be on your way looking around travel agency offices for cheap packages at about 7AM. Don’t worry, there are dozens and you can easily spot them especially near the beach that serves as jump-off point for island hopping tours.
Note: Confirm that the environmental fee, as well as vest and snorkel rental, is already included in the quoted rates.
If you’re visiting during high-peak season, reserve in advance.
For the inland tourist attractions, you can rent a tricycle (good for 4 people) or, if you know how to drive, rent a motorcycle (good for 2 people). The regular price for tricycle tours is P1500 though it can be haggled down to P1000, and motorcycle rental fee for a whole day is P400.
Renting your own motorcycle for a day is the cheaper choice, but I suggest to rent a motorcycle only if you’re experienced in handling one. Our trike driver told us that most foreign tourists opt to rent a motorcycle and are infamous for getting into accidents, citing two reasons: (1) a lot of those involved in accidents are not good drivers in the first place, (2) it’s hard to navigate the motorcycle to Nacpan Beach because the last hundred meters or so is a dirt road.
Not exactly a part of El Nido budget guide, but I included this just in case. Before our trip, I made a list of must-try restos gathered from Tripadvisor and other online readings. Sadly, most are disappointing save for the Republica Sunset Bar. All in all, the ones we’ve tried are:
- Republica Sunset Bar
- El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe
- Seaslugs Restaurant (now has a new name I wasn’t able to note)
- V and V Bagels
I actually wrote an initial draft detailing our dining experiences here, including order an overpriced hot chocolate that seems like Milo with lumps of powdered milk and lack of service water (or offered alternative such as mineral bottles) in at least two of these. In the end I decided not to since it would’ve sounded only like a long rant. I’m not sure if there’s really a lack of good restaurants in El Nido or we just happened to dined on poor choices.
Anyway, I think it’s better to dine instead in ordinary carinderias. It’s cheaper and will probably serve better-tasting food. Again, this is our experience. If you have any recommendations, please post them in the comment section.
Aside from the restaurants in the list, we also liked Prince Restaurant in Nacpan Beach. Their garlic-sauced crab dish is a must-try and costs only P200 for 2 people.
Hali and I like Republica Sunset Bar because the food is decent and reasonably priced. In addition, as previous travelers have said, Republica Sunset Bar offers the best view for sunset watching in El Nido. We were happy to be chugging down cold beer and snacking on chicken croquette and burger while watching the sunset. Make sure to be there at 5PM or even earlier to get good seats.
And here is how I’m ending this El Nido budget guide, with us viewing the sunset in El Nido.
Any other tips to add to this El Nido budget guide for backpackers? Post them below!
P.S. You may also like to read our review/experience in El Nido, Palawan here.
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