Essential El Nido Palawan Guide: What You Need to Know

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Consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, it’s hard to compete with the raw, natural wonder that awaits you at El Nido.

This is the classic Philippines, where you’ll find white sand beaches, sparkling lagoons, and jagged limestone karst rocks that rise abruptly from the still water.

Island hopping, beach lounging and drinking beers late into the night are all on the cards here, and El Nido offers an unbeatable mix of adventure and partying.

El Nido grew quickly from a small fishing village, and into what is arguably the Philippines’ most popular backpacking destination.

While that’s great for travelers looking to meet other people, bear in mind that El Nido can be very busy, particularly in comparison to the more laid back Coron which is found to the north. 

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Philippines (Country Guide)

Ultimate El Nido Palawan Guide

Where is El Nido?

El Nido Philippines Location Map

El Nido is found on the northernmost peninsula on Palawan island, the largest island in the wider Palawan Province. El Nido Palawan is around 150 miles to the north of the provincial capital, Puerto Princesa, and around 250 miles to the south of the Filipino capital Manila.

This is a small, former fishing village on the coast, but it’s constantly expanding to deal with demand. El Nido Palawan is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago, a beautiful collection of islands, limestone rocks and coral reefs and atolls that stretch into the South China Sea.

There are hundreds of small islands in this area, many of them unnamed and uninhabited, and from El Nido, you can explore a huge number of them.

How to Get to El Nido

Boats in El Nido Palawan

Once incredibly isolated, and often known as the Last Frontier of the Philippines, El Nido’s speedy development has ensured that transport options are much more convenient than they used to be.

It’s easier than ever to travel to El Nido Palawan, but that also means that more people than ever before are visiting.

While infrastructure has improved drastically, it hasn’t necessarily kept up with demand, and in peak season the best flights and hotels, and even ferries, can book out completely, so always try to plan your trip in advance. 

Flying to El Nido

El Nido has a small airport close to the town, where you can catch light aircraft to Puerto Princesa or Manila, with the airline Air Swift, who actually owns the airport.

Flights are limited, so most travelers will choose to fly into Puerto Princesa, the provincial hub to the south. Here you can explore the Underground River and Honda Bay before heading north.

From Puerto Princesa to El Nido by Bus

If you choose to fly into Puerto Princesa and take the bus to El Nido, the journey time is around 5 hours. Although, this can be considerably longer in bad traffic or bad weather. There are air-conditioned buses or smaller minivans that ply the route.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even take a local Jeepney. Road conditions are better than ever but still unpredictable in places.

From Coron to El Nido by Ferry

From Coron, you can also take a ferry to El Nido, which is where a lot of travelers find themselves while exploring the wider Palawan area. Ferries leave in the morning, and you can either take the cheaper slow boat or the faster but more expensive catamarans.

The fast boats take around 4 hours and are much more comfortable than the slow boats, which often take up to 8 hours, sometimes more.

Expedition from Coron to El Nido

One fantastic way to put some real adventure into your transit is to take an expedition that leaves from Coron and ends in El Nido. These expeditions typically last 5 days and involve camping while island hopping between the two locations.

We’ve done this three times and it is an amazing way to experience the Philippines. You have to be up for an adventure though, this is not a trip of luxury. But it is a trip of insane islands, incredible sunsets and adventure.

History of El Nido

Drone View of El Nido Palawan

El Nido has a long history of human habitation stretching back tens of thousands of years.

The local population is in part descended from the Tabon culture, the earliest human beings to settle in the Philippines. Successive waves of immigration by Malays, Chinese, Spaniards and then other Filipinos have led to a multicultural area.

Until very recently, El Nido was a relatively unknown fishing village. Locals were employed in the fishing industry, or they would search out the prized Swiftlet Nests, or Nido, that has given the area its name. 

The tourism boom has changed El Nido forever, and the fishing industry has been all but replaced by jobs in tourism, while the village has expanded exponentially to take in new developments and a new wave of immigration from across the Philippines.

El Nido will face many problems going forward, much like the island of Boracay has, but hopefully, the tourism industry here will learn from the mistakes of other Filipino islands when it comes to mass-tourism.

10 Amazing Things to Do in El Nido

1. Enjoy El Nido Bay

El Nido Bay - El Nido Palawan

El Nido Bay is the main beach and lagoon that’s found by the town itself. While the water here isn’t always the cleanest, and it’s not advisable to swim, the beach is still lovely.

There are loads of beach bars and restaurants to hang out at when you’re not off island hopping. This will be the first place you see in El Nido, and as beautiful as the bay is, things are only going to get better!

2. Try the El Nido Canopy Walk and Zip Line

Zip line in El Nido Palawan

For a great view over El Nido and the El Nido Bay, then you can tackle the Canopy Walk & Zip Line, which takes you from the town to a high viewing area up above.

A section of suspended bridges, ropes and via Ferrata style pegs lead visitors through the jungle and over the iconic limestone rocks to the summit.

At the top, you’ll have sweeping views over the colorful town, the white sands of the beach, and over the limestone cliffs that surround the bay.

3. Take an Island Hopping Tour

Island Hopping El Nido Palawan

With so many bays and islands and lagoons out there, the only way to really experience El Nido Palawan is to join an island hopping tour.

In fact, there are so many different spots that you’ll need to spend a few days on different trips to even see all the highlights. 

The locals have a tour system, whereby you can sign up for different boat trips each day that take you to different locations. Alternatively, you can arrange a private tour, to customize your itinerary or to get further off the beaten track. 

Explore white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and so much more during this island-hopping tour from El Nido. You can choose from three tour options, which each stop at five islands.

Explore hidden beaches, shrines, lagoons, beaches, caves, and coves at five exotic islands in the Philippines. Plus, enjoy lunch and free snorkel equipment rentals during your experience.

These are the most famous island hopping tours in El Nido:

4. Visit the Big Lagoon

Drone View of the Big Lagoon - El Nido Palawan

Big Lagoon is one of the most iconic destinations in El Nido Palawan, and you’ll want to be sure that you include this beautiful spot on your island-hopping itineraries.

This is one of the most photographed places in El Nido, so you’ll instantly recognize it when you arrive. Tall limestone cliffs, covered in greenery and vegetation, rise high above the perfectly clear lagoon. This is what El Nido is all about, and why it’s become so popular, so don’t miss out on Big Lagoon. 

5. Stay on Miniloc Island

Miniloc Island - El Nido Palawan

Miniloc Island is the place to escape it all because this rustic island is found far from the crowds, nestled amongst the bays and lagoons of the Bacuit Archipelago. 

The small island is home to a rustic local community, and an eco-resort, where you can spend your days doing little as you enjoy the peaceful surroundings, or where you can get active and explore the secluded natural scenery around you. 

Set out to Sea to the lesser-known side of El Nido, away from the tourist crowds. Explore virgin islands, set foot on the jungle isles, and have the day’s freshest catch on board before casting away into another adventure.

6. Go Snorkeling and Diving

Scuba diving El Nido Palawan

If you’re in El Nido Palawan, then you have to go snorkeling or diving. When you’re on the island hopping tours around the archipelago, then you’ll have lots of stops for snorkeling, where you’ll see colorful coral reefs and plenty of marine life.

If you’re Scuba qualified though, then take a dive trip with the local dive shops, as you’ll be able to explore much further afield, and away from the standard island hopping destinations within the area. 

7. Try Paddle Boarding and Kayaking

David Stock of the Divergent Travelers Adventure Travel Blog Kayaking around El Nido Palawan

In the dry season, El Nido has perfectly clear and calm waters, especially in the bays and the lagoons, and it’s the perfect place for Paddle Boarding or Kayaking.

Even if you’ve never tried it before, you’ll be able to quickly pick it up given the great conditions in El Nido, and you’ll quickly realize that it’s the best way to get around.

It’s relaxing, it’s tranquil and you’ll be able to enjoy the sun and the sea as you paddle through blissful lagoons.  

8. Visit Nacpan Beach

Nacpan Beach in El Nido Palawan

Located a 45-minute drive away from the main town in El Nido, Nacpan Beach is one of the most famous places to visit in the Philippines. What was once a secluded haven, Nacpan Beach has now become one of the biggest hot spots in El Nido Palawan.

Here you will find a beautiful stretch of white sand beach fringed with palm trees and a brilliant turquoise sea. As it becomes more developed, there are now bars and restaurants to cater to travelers and day-trippers.

For us, we preferred to access the beach away from this scene, on one of the far ends where we could do some hiking and enjoy the beach away from the crowds.

9. Enjoy Sunset at Las Cabanas

sunset in the Philippines

After lunch one day, grab a tricycle (roughly 150PHP for two) and head to one of the most popular beaches in El Nido, Las Cabanas Beach. First, you’ll want to spend your afternoon relaxing and swimming on the beach.

As the sun sets, grab yourself a San Miguel and head down to the waterline to watch the sun melt into the ocean. Philippines sunsets are truly sensational and there is no better way to enjoy them than this.

10. El Nido to Coron Expedition

Tent camping on a beach in the Philippines

When you’ve finished exploring El Nido, and if you haven’t already been to Coron, then hands down the next best adventure is to join an El Nido to Coron expedition. In doing so, you’ll take to the seas and explore an island hopping, camping adventure like no other.

The waters between the large island of Palawan in the south and the island of Busuanga in the north, are some of the most beautiful in the world. Thick coral reefs, white sand beaches and uninhabited islands dot the waters between the islands, making a trip through here a true adventure.

We’ve actually done this trip three times in our travels, it is that good, and we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again on our next visit.

The beauty is that no two trips are the same, with stops and campsites determined by the seas and weather patterns.

Read more Coron Palawan: Best Things to Do & Itinerary

El Nido Travel Tips

Safety in El Nido

Drone view of El Nido Palawan

This is predominantly a safe place for tourists to visit, however, a large number of visitors does attract unwanted petty theft and other unwanted activities.

Always be careful of your belongings, lock your hotel rooms, and keep a close eye on valuables when you are on the beaches. El Nido has a growing reputation as a party place, so be careful at night, especially if you are out drinking until late at the beach bars.


Philippines Village

El Nido has more ATMs than ever before, however, this is still the provincial Philippines, and they won’t always work or be stocked with cash.

Always carry around some spare Pesos in case you have trouble finding a working cash machine. Many businesses won’t accept cards either, although this is slowly changing, so cash is king in El Nido. 

Transport Around El Nido Palawan

Transport in El Nido Palawan

Local transport around El Nido will be by boat or tricycle. Or you could hire a bicycle or motorcycle if you want to get around on your own accord. 

Wifi & SIM Cards

Like anywhere in the rural Philippines, Wifi access is incredibly unpredictable in El Nido.

Things are getting better, as the infrastructure is improving to cope with demand, but you’re best having a local SIM card if you need to stay connected. 

Our best advice on this is to pick one up in Manila when first arrive in the Philippines. Buy yourself a solid data plan and you’ll be set as you travel the country.

On our last visit, we had cell service everywhere we went in the Philippines. Including many islands between Busuanga and El Nido.

Best Places to Eat in El Nido, Philippines

  • Republica Sunset Bar: Great place for beer and sunset
  • Altrove: They have locations in both El Nido and Las Cabanas, they serve pizza. This place is very popular with travelers.
  • Bella Vita El Nido: Beachfront restaurant with good happy hour specials
  • Boodle Fight: A way to experience traditional Filipino cuisine
  • Happiness Beach Bar: Features swing chairs at the bar and great snacks
  • Art Cafe: Great place to grab a coffee

Best Accommodation in El Nido

Sunset El Nido Palawan

As with everywhere else in the Philippines, it is possible to suit every budget requirement in El Nido Palawan. Accommodation will range from shared dorm rooms with only a fan to opulent overwater bungalows on private islands, and everything in between.

What’s the best? Well, that’s up to you to decide. We’ve stayed in the full range of options during our numerous trips to the Philippines, so we’ll offer you some of our favorite recommendations on where to stay in El Nido.

For budget travelers, we would recommend the Melting Pot Hostel which offers dorm rooms, free wifi and rave reviews.

For mid-range travelers, we would recommend that you look at Golden Monkey Cottages, which has been recently renovated and updated. They offer private bungalow type accommodation with free Wifi, a raved location and several amenities.

For luxury travelers, we would recommend one of these two, El Nido Resorts Lagen Island, that offers a private beach, oceanside pool and overwater bungalows or El Nido Resorts Minoloc Island that also offers a private beach, pool and a more gone with nature vibe in an upscale setting.

Lastly, it is also possible to use Airbnb for your stay in El Nido. Options also vary widely here, so be sure to read reviews carefully and be mindful of cancellation policies for properties.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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