One of the places you shouldn’t miss visiting in the Philippines is Palawan — and El Nido is its prime destination. In the past, El Nido used to be a luxury destination but as it gets more mainstream, rates have been lowered and standardized. Moreover, getting here is easier via budget airlines.
Here is our Budget Guide to El Nido, including a sample 5 days itinerary.
About El Nido
El Nido is located in the northern part of Palawan. It has over 40 islands where you can find white-sand beaches, lagoons, limestone cliffs, caves and forests. It also has snorkeling and diving spots.
Personally, I prefer Coron over El Nido for a variety of reasons: less crowded, better nature sights in my opinion, etc. Many people agree on me on this. However, this is just from a local’s point of view — I’d been living in the Philippines since forever so I have already seen a lot of similar destinations.
P.S. Here’s our Travel Guide to Coron.
El Nido’s town proper serves as the tourist hub, where you can find inns and resorts, restaurants and agencies offering island hopping tours. Everything in El Nido town proper is walking distance, but if you want to explore beyond the town, you can rent a motorcycle for P500-600 per day or charter a motorcycle or tricycle with a local guide.
How to get to El Nido
El Nido is 6-7 hours away from the nearest airport, which is Puerto Princesa Airport.
From Puerto Princesa
- Take a local flight to Puerto Princesa City.
- Option 1: Once at the airport, there are vans directly headed to El Nido (P500 per person). Travel time is 5 hours. This is the most convenient option.
- Option 2: For budget travelers, you can walk outside the airport and ride a tricycle or jeep to San Jose Terminal. From there, take a bus to El Nido (ordinary bus ticket starts at P290 per person). The buses operate from 4AM to 10PM, there is departure every 2 hours. Travel time is 6-7 hours.
- Get off at El Nido Terminal. Ride a tricycle to your selected accommodation (around P50).
There is also a direct flight from Manila to El Nido via Air Swift but it is very expensive.
- There are fastcraft ferries plying the Coron-El Nido route daily. Travel time is 3-4 hours. Book your Coron-El Nido ferry ticket here.
- There is also a direct flight from Busuanga Airport to El Nido and vice versa via Air Swift. Travel time is 40 hours. From Busuanga Airport, you need to take a van to Coron town proper.
When is the best time to visit
The best time to visit El Nido is from January to April, which are the sunniest months. High-peak season is from March to May, since it’s summer and school vacation time. Off-peak season is from June to November.
If you want to avoid the crowd, visit here during ber-months. Yes it’s the rainy season in the Philippines, but the province is usually not affected by the typhoon. Occasionally, tours may get cancelled but this is pretty uncommon.
El Nido Travel Tips
Here are some useful tips when going to El Nido:
- It’s advisable to bring enough cash with you. There are a few ATMs in El Nido, but occasionally they run out of money especially during peak season or holidays. Credit card is accepted in some establishments, but not all.
- Bring your own ecobag and reusable travel bottle. Single-use plastic is banned in the island. You can refill your water in your hotel; most tour operators also provide purified drinking water.
- Stick to purified water provided by resorts and restaurants. Tap water isn’t drinkable in El Nido and can easily give you diarrhea.
- Dress appropriately. You can wear bikini when in the beach, but while in town make sure that you are covered up.
- Practice the LNT principle. Bring your trash with you, don’t touch or step on corals.
- Mind your safety! There are clinics in El Nido, but the nearest hospital can be found in Taytay which is next to Puerto Princesa, several hours away.
El Nido Budget Tips
Here are some tips for a budget-friendly travel!
- There are numerous budget inns and hostels where you can book a room for around P1000 or less (good up to 2 people).
- There are standard rates for the tours in El Nido. However, it’s possible to get discount in different ways: you can book via travel agency during off-peak season, book a group package, or you can simply book via Klook which offers cheaper rates compared to online travel agencies.
- Rent a motorbike to explore the surrounding areas in the town proper instead of getting the packaged tour. Motorbike rental only costs P500-600 per day.
- Bring your own snorkel. For each tour, you have the option to rent a snorkel for P200.
- The best things in life are free! There are free things you can enjoy in El Nido, including sunset viewing in Corong Corong.
Best Things to Do in El Nido
Here are the best things you can do in El Nido.
1. Island hopping
Island hopping is the main activity in El Nido, so you can’t miss it! You can see amazing beaches and lagoons, limestone karsts, snorkeling spots and more.
There are standard tours which you can choose from (Tours A-E). The most recommended ones are Tour A and Tour C. (More about the tour descriptions below.)
- Rate: Each tour costs around P1200 per person.
2. Climb Taraw Cliff
Taraw Cliff is the highest limestone peak in El Nido, offering a panoramic view of the coast town. The trail involves climbing across steep and pointy rocks. Recently, the local government has installed Ferrata Nature’s Canopy Walk which is a relatively easy trail — although still tiring! The canopy walk bridge is a bit shaky but will reward you with a wonderful view. It stretches 75 meters long and suspended 30 meters above the ground.
You will need to get a guide and helmet to climb Taraw Cliff. If you want to watch the sunrise from this spot, start your trek at about 5AM.
- Rate: P500 per person | Get discounted tickets here
- Operating hours: Daily, 8AM – 5PM
3. Explore the town by motorbike
Rent a motorbike or charter a tricycle so you can explore El Nido beyond the islands included in the tours. You can visit beaches (Marimegmeg Beach, Nagpan Beach, Lio Beach), Makinit Hot Spring, Nagkalit-Kalit Falls and a few jungle trails.
- Rate: Motorbike rental is P500-600 per day
El Nido is a great place for diving. It has over 30 dive sites, mostly located within Bacuit Bay. The most popular is Miniloc Island, a protected reef where you can find fishes, manta rays and sharks.
There are lots of diving packages offered in El Nido, from introductory courses to fun dives.
The best time to go diving is from March to May, when visibility is clearest.
5. Kayak to nearby islands
If you want to stretch your muscles and explore by yourself, you can rent a kayak for the day. The best places to kayak are Miniloc and Cadlao islands, where you’ll see lagoons (including Cadlao Lagoon, Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon) and beaches.
Make sure to bring your own snorkel and mask so you can see enjoy the underwater coral sites and a packed lunch that you can eat in a secluded beach.
- Rate: Kayak rental is P500 per day
6. Zipline between islands
Another activity you can do in El Nido is the zipline in Corong Corong. To get here, head to Las Cabanas and then hike for 10 minutes to reach the hill where the zipline is. You can choose a one-way zipline to Depeldet Island or have it round-trip which is what most people do.
This is an exhilarating experience and it’s fun to do even for the non-adventurous type. You can enjoy the turquoise water surrounding the islands up in the air. The distance between the two islands is 750 meters and a one-way trip takes 1 minute.
- Rate: P500 per person
7. Chill and enjoy a drink
There are different restaurants and bars along Bacuit Bay where you can chill and enjoy a beer or cocktail.
There is also an El Nido Party Boat, which consists of a custom tour, open bar and BBQ lunch.
Island Hopping Tours in El Nido
Here I’ll be showing you the different island hopping tours in El Nido.
Things you should know:
- The tours normally start at 9AM and end at 3-4PM.
- Inclusions are boat tour, entrance fees to islands, buffet lunch, and life vest. Depending on the tour you avail, hotel pickup may also be included.
- Everyone is required to pay an El Nido Eco-Tourism Development Fee (ETDF) of P200 each. This is valid for 10 days. Do not lose this receipt because you have to show it in every tour.
- As a recent update, combination tours are no longer allowed (i.e., it is no longer possible to see Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon in one day).
Tour A takes you to the iconic Big Lagoon, which is a popular kayaking spot. This is the one featured in most social media posts. Lunch is held at Simizu Island or Payong Payong Beach.
- Stops: Big Lagoon and Hidden Lagoon on Miniloc Island, Simizu Island or Payong Payong and 7 Commando Beach
- Rate: P1200 per person | Book discounted tour here
- Big Lagoon fee – P200 / Kayak rental (optional) – P200-250
Tour B takes you to various caves and the famous Snake Island, which is a narrow sandbar.
- Stops: Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Entalula Island, Cathedral Cave and Popolkan Island
- Rate: P1300 per person | Book discounted tour here
- Cudugnon Cave entrance fee – P100
Tour C takes you to a few nice beaches in El Nido. Highlights include the Secret Beach, a small beach enclosed by karst rocks and can only be accessed via a narrow opening, and Matinloc Island, which is a great snorkeling area.
Visit to the Matinloc Shrine is optional. This is another favorite IG-worthy spot in El Nido.
- Stops: Matinloc Shrine, Matinloc Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Tapuitan Island and Helicopter Island
- Rate: P1400 per person | Book discounted tour here
- Matinloc Shrine entrance fee – P100
Tour D takes you to the beaches in Cadlao Island and mainland. It also includes the Small Lagoon, which was formerly in Tour A.
- Stops: Small Lagoon (Miniloc Island), Nat Nat Beach, Pasandigan Cove, Paradise Beach, Ubugon Cave, Bukal Island and Cadlao Lagoon
- Rate: P1200 per person
- Small Lagoon fee – P200 / Kayak rental (optional) – P200-250
Tour E takes you to the famous Twin Beach, Nagkalit-kalit Falls and several low-key beaches in El Nido. Travel agencies offer this tour, but you can also do it DIY by hiring a tricycle on your own (P1000-1500, good for 4 pax) or renting a motorcycle (P500, good for 2 pax).
- Stops: Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beach, Nagkalit-kalit Falls, Las Cabanas or Marimegmeg Beach
- Rates: P1500 per tricycle (good for 4 pax)
Where to stay in El Nido
There are different places where you can stay at in El Nido, from hostels to luxury resorts. Most tourists stay at the town proper, which is close to major establishments such as hotels & inns, restaurants, and travel agencies. If you want a luxurious experience, you definitely want to stay in one of the many private islands in El Nido.
Here are the places you can stay at:
- Buena Suerte (town proper)
- Calaan Beach (Masagana)
- The Islands
El Nido offers a lot of budget inns and resorts, ranging from P500 to P1000 for 1-2 people.
Here are some of the most recommended ones:
- OMP (Our Melting Pot) Hostel. Pros: Good location, WIFI in all rooms, free breakfast. Book discounted rooms here.
- Spin Designer Hostel. Pros: Good location, artsy designs, ideal for solo travelers and backpackers. Book discounted rooms here.
- Dormitels.ph. Pros: Located near Corong-Corong Beach, 1km away only from town proper. Book discounted rooms here.
- Outpost Beach Hostel. Pros: Good amenities, with private beach. Book discounted rooms here.
Did not find what you were looking for? Check out other accommodations in El Nido here.
Where to eat in El Nido
There are budget eateries in El Nido where you can get meals for around P100. The rest of the restaurants are in the P200-350+ per dish.
Here are the most recommended restaurants in El Nido:
- Republica Sunset Bar. Offers alcohol and different pulutan. It has a great view of sunset in El Nido. Another great place for sunset watching is Panorama.
- Tratorria Altove. Offers the best pizza in El Nido.
- Taste El Nido – The Vegan Cafe PH. Offers various vegan food and delicious smoothie bowls.
- Nacpan Beach Sunmai Sunset Restaurant. Offers good food and a beautiful beach view in Nacpan.
- Boodle Fight Restaurant Bar. Offers boodle fight options including seafood.
As for us, we personally liked Republica Sunsest Bar. It’s one of the best places to view the sunset in El Nido. Food is good and affordable. Just make sure to get a seat before 5PM. Another restaurant that we liked is Prince Restaurant in Nacpan Beach. Their garlic-sauced crab dish is a must-try and costs only P200 for 2 people.
5 Days itinerary to El Nido
Here’s a sample 5 days itinerary to El Nido, Palawan. This is the one we followed during our trip. We spent 2 days island hopping (Tour A and Tour C) and 1 day bumming in Nacpan Beach.
– Arrival in Puerto Princesa Airport
– Travel to El Nido
– Check in at accommodation
– 7AM – 8AM Climb Taraw Cliff
– 9AM – 3PM Island hopping tour A
– 9AM – 3PM Island hopping tour C
– Inland tour E (Nacpan Beach)
– Travel back to Puerto Princesa
For 5 days, for 2 people, a safe budget is P8000 per person.
Any other tips to add to this budget-friendly travel guide to El Nido? Post them below!
What to read next:
Visiting Palawan? Check out the rest of our guides in Palawan:
- Ultimate Guide to Palawan
- Top Things to Do in Palawan
- Puerto Princesa: Guide to Puerto Princesa Underground River and Island Hopping in Honda Bay
- Coron: Travel Guide to Coron
- El Nido: Travel Guide to El Nido
- Balabac: Travel Guide to Balabac, Island Hopping in Balabac and Onuk Island
- Port Barton: Guide to Port Barton, Top Things to Do in Port Barton and Island Hopping in Port Barton
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