El Nido (Palawan): Does It Live Up to Expectations?

Snorkeling in El Nido
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Last June, Hali and I went on a vacation to El Nido, Palawan, for my birthday. El Nido is one of the top tourist attractions in the Philippines, so we were really looking forward to this trip.

We’d seen the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, the Twin Beaches of Nacpan and Calitang, among other places in El Nido. We enjoyed our trip here, but to be honest, we were a little underwhelmed. I’ll tell you more about this below.

Our trip to El Nido (Palawan)

Palawan is one of the best places to see in the Philippines. Palawan is an island province and it has 3 main tourist destinations: Puerto Princesa City (particularly the UNESCO Heritage Site Puerto Princesa Underground River), Coron and El Nido.

Of these, El Nido stands out as the premiere destination. It used to be a luxury destination, but with the growing number of budget resorts and hotels, cheap airfare and affordable tours in El Nido, it has become accessible even for the regular people.

El Nido is famous for clear lagoons surrounded by remarkable karst structures, white-sand beaches and snorkeling & diving spots.

El Nido Bay in Palawan
El Nido Bay.

Hali and I stayed here for 5 days. We made most of our time by booking the most recommended island hopping tours (Tour A and Tour C) and then allotting a day for relaxing on the beaches of Marimegmeg and Nacpan & Calitang.

We went on Tour A on our first day. These included the famous Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, where you can take pictures or go on a kayak. I particularly took note of these, because a friend once said El Nido is a place where you don’t need fancy names — the beauty speaks for itself.

By the end of the day, Hali and I discussed how the tour went. I asked him whether he thinks El Nido deserves its reputation as the frontier of Palawan. He said he wasn’t sure, we’d only been here for a day. That was fair enough.

El Nido couple shot
During one of the tours. (Photo by Hali)
El Nido, Palawan, in the Philippines
Welcome to El Nido, Palawan. (Photo by Hali)
Kayaking in Big Lagoon in El Nido
Kayaking in Big Lagoon.

The next day, we went on Tour C. We found it more enjoyable than the previous day. There are more spots for snorkeling activity. Matinloc Shrine is the most memorable because swimming here felt like being in a giant aquarium, where your eyes are fed with thriving corals and hundreds of fishes. Our guide even took some leftover food from lunch and fed it to the fishes, so at one point we were literally surrounded by the underwater creatures.

Matinloc Shrine in El Nido, Palawan
Matinloc Shrine.
Snorkeling in El Nido
Snorkeling spots in El Nido features various corals and hundreds of fishes. (Photo by Hali)
 
 

On our last day, we rented a tricycle to take us to the beaches in El Nido. We went to Marimegmeg Beach (also called Las Cabanas, which is actually a name of a resort in the area) and then Twin Beaches of Nacpan and Calitang. During our short stay in El Nido, Nacpan Beach is the one place that took my breath away.

Marimegmeg Beach in El Nido
Marimegmeg Beach. (Photo by Hali)
Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan | budget-friendly El Nido travel guide
Nacpan beach with this lovely dog. (Photo by Hali)
Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan
At past 9AM, we were the only tourists in Nacpan Beach. (Photo by Hali)

We stayed for a few hours in El Nido. We were there at around 9AM so we were the first ones in the area. A dog followed us to the hill with an overlooking view of the Twin Beaches and we took pictures together. Then Hali and I waddled in the water before enjoying a seafood lunch in a nearby eatery.

By the following day, we departed back to Puerto Princesa Airport.

Our Review of El Nido

We had a nice time in El Nido, Palawan. In particular, what we enjoyed most are seeing the karst formations, kayaking in Small Lagoon and snorkeling in Star Island and Matinloc Shrine.

Is it the paradise expected?

El Nido is undeniably beautiful, but I wouldn’t call it the best. I went on the trip expecting to be blown away, but I was a little underwhelmed. I feel like I will need to see more of El Nido to see why it’s the one carrying the tourism banner of Palawan or understand what sets it apart from other destinations in Palawan or other provinces in the Philippines.

There are other places I liked better

For me, Coron is considerably better in terms of nature sights, activities, ambiance and even prices. In fact, I fell in love with Coron on my first day that I immediately planned a return trip.

View deck in Kayangan Lake, Coron
View deck in Kayangan Lake, Coron.

Also, the beaches in Balabac Group of Islands may even be better than those in El Nido. The clear water in Candaraman Island alone is incomparable.

Candaraman Island in Balabac, Palawan
Floating in clear heaven. Sand bar in Candaraman Island during high tide. (Photo by Hali)
Candaraman Island, Balabac, Palawan
Candaraman Island. (Photo by Hali)

Also, a lot of the famous spots in El Nido can be found elsewhere in the country. We’d seen the Secret Beach (also called Hidden Beach), which is a small beach cove hidden by cliffs and only accessible via a small crevice. It’s similar to a lagoon in Matnog, Sorsogon. In fact, I was more awed with the latter. The lagoon is accessible only by a small opening in the cliffs during low tide, and you will have to swim across it from the open ocean.

Islet in Matnog, Sorsogon
An islet in Matnog, Sorsogon. (Photo by Hali)

These are of course subjective. I’d been to a lot of places in the Philippines and as such it comes natural to me to compare one place to another.

Island hopping tour can feel short

Hali and I are backpackers so we’re used to talking directly with boat operators and having to decide where to go and how long to stay.

In El Nido, tours are regulated. The island hopping tours start at 9AM and ends at 3PM, or sometimes later if there are no tourists on a hurry to get back to the mainland. Tourists are given 30-45 minutes in each stop. In general, the regulation is a good thing because there are literally thousands of tourists visiting El Nido.

But it also feels a little stifling. For instance, during Tour A, our boat went to the Big Lagoon. I’d seen numerous photos of the Big Lagoon online and it has always looked like a dream — with the person standing upright or lying on a boat, looking at the clear green water surrounded by limestone karsts. In actuality, we needed to get in like to have our picture taken in front of the boat. That’s literally it.

Overall…

My general opinion is that there are many other places in the Philippines that is better than El Nido.

This isn’t a slight on El Nido, but rather a general commentary on how there are other numerous, diverse islands in the country that are of comparable — if not greater — beauty, that it’s worth exploring past the most popular tourist attractions based on blogs and magazines.

Next up: Travel Guide to El Nido, Palawan

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11 Comments

  1. Try going to Bucas Grande, Sohoton Cove. it’s really far, but it’s my favorite so far (not that I’ve been to oh so many places lol) πŸ™‚

  2. Lovely. After going to Coron unexpectedly, I’m now looking forward to go to PPS and El Nido. The seclusion at El Nido might just be what I need!

    1. Hi Sam! El Nido is great but isn’t secluded. Even in lean season there’s still a number of visiting tourists. In fact, one of our boatmen said, “There’s no off-peak season in El Nido.” But yeah, hope you have a great time when you visit. πŸ™‚

  3. I agree. There are so many places and for me nothing is the best because every places is unique on its own. I loved shores, beaches, waves and mountains. It makes me calm and at peace whenever I am in a place like this. By the way, I am also thinking to lessen taking pictures whenever I am on a trip and enjoy the memories instead but I can’t just help it especially in places that deserves to be captured for keeps. Great photos!

  4. Great trip you did, Kat. One thing I can say about Palawan is that the northern tip, El Nido, that has been explored pretty much by a lot of people already. There are no more secrets when it comes to the beaches. You are absolutely right about the southern Palawan beaches though, they are way less popular and from what I have seen, stunning!

  5. You’re right in saying that there might be even better beaches in the Philippines compared to El Nido. The beaches in Matnog and the Cuatro Islas in Leyte have even clearer waters. I’ve heard the beaches in Tawi-Tawi are even more pristine. El Nido’s advantage is that it has so many islands. beaches and lagoons in one place, jsut like Coron up north.

    What we do plan to visit sometime next year are the Linapacan Islands just north of El Nido. It’s been voted as one of the “35 Clearest Waters In The World To Swim In Before You Die” at dailynewsdig.com. Apparently you can stay at El Nido and get a boat to the southernmost islands of Linapacan or get there via Coron (about 4 hours travel time though).

    1. Thank you for this very informative take anonymous person. πŸ™‚ This made me excited to visit Tawi-Tawi and other places down south.

      We also plan to visit Linapacan as well as Dumaran. I already have an itinerary and all that haha. But we don’t have a concrete schedule yet. I haven’t been to Coron yet so I’ll probably go there first before exploring other places in Palawan.

  6. Aww! The photos really show how amazing El Nido is. It’s sad because I never got the chance to visit El Nido the last time we went to Palawan, but looking forward to experiencing this paradise. Thank you so much for sharing it! I’m happy you got to enjoy this kind of paradise!

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