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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
What to read next:
Visiting Palawan? Check out the rest of our guides in 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