This is for every beach lovers hunting for the picture perfect. Is your holiday dream swimming in the clearest waters of unreal lagoons and lazing on the whitest sandbanks? Then the coastal town El Nido is your destination! With this guide forget the hassle of hours of research, I’m sharing everything with you from how to get there to the best areas to stay and the top activities.
1. HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
2. BEST TIME TO GO TO
3. AREAS TO STAY
4. ISLAND HOPPING
5. DIVING & SNORKELING
6. THE BEACHES ON THE MAILAND
7. ATMs & WIFI
1. HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
Flying to Puerto Princessa is the most common way.
You can fly from Manila to Puerto Princessa airport, the flight takes 1:20 hours and operates daily, then you’ll need to take a mini van to El Nido. It takes about 5:30 hours to get to town and includes two stop, restrooms and food. It is quite a long journey however the drive through the untouched island is wonderful! Amazing views, lush tropical vegetation and local villages along the way.
You can book your minivan in advance online but it is not necessary to do so, you can buy tickets straight outside the arrival hall at the airport. There will be touts calling you, just ignore and make your way to the first office on your left. When you’re in the office, don’t hesitate to barter the announced price, we got a couple of seats for 500 pesos each and were on the road 10 minutes later. Get some water before jumping on the mini van, let the driver know which hotel you’re staying for the drop off and enjoy the scenery.
Direct flight to El Nido is the quickest way.
You can directly fly from Manila or Cebu and it only takes about 1:15 hours. Tickets are a quite expensive however it can save time if you’re running out of days in the Philippines. It’s fairly easy to get to town from El Nido airport, it’s a short 15 minutes ride by taxi tricycle and cost 200 pesos.
2. BEST TIME TO GO TO EL NIDO
El Nido is best to visit during the dry season from November to May.
Coolest months: from December to February
Hottest months: April and May
Peak season: December, March and April
3. AREAS TO STAY IN EL NIDO
EL NIDO TOWN
If your focus is islands hopping, the main town would be your best choice. There is accommodations to suit every budget. Restaurants, ATMs, shops and nightlife. It is a small and busy town so if you’re looking at somewhere to relax I wouldn’t recommend. What we liked about staying there was having everything next door, we were out in the day time enjoying the boat tours and it was nice just coming back to our room after the trip, refresh and check the nearby restaurants without having to use the transports. The main beach isn’t great so don’t waste your time and hop on a boat!
Marimegmeg Beach aka Las Cabanas is a scenic location, ideal to enjoy the sunshine away from the hustle and bustle. Is it located a bit further south, 20 minute from El Nido town by taxi tricycle (one way ride cost about 150 pesos) but the more up-market resorts offer free shuttle to their guests. If you’d like to experience island hopping while you’re there, note that it isn’t necessary to go to the main town to book, most of the resorts have their own tour boat which conveniently depart directly from Marimegmeg Beach.
Corong Corong (not to be confused with Coron island) is located in between El Nido town and Marimegmeg, it has a more local vibe and a few restaurants and accommodations options. It is away from the masses and about a 10 minutes ride by taxi tricycle to town (50 pesos one way) and might be a good choice if you want to be near the center.
The beach is okay but not spectacular however it is a great place for sunset watching. We also stayed there, it wasn’t to our taste and we would have preferred staying in the main town but it might be a good place for you depending on what you’re looking for.
In peak season, Booking in advance is highly recommended as everything get filled quickly! We went there in March without making any bookings and choices were very limited. Off season, you can book online but if you walk-in you have a chance of getting better rates.
4. ISLANDS HOPPING IN EL NIDO
The boat trips were by far the highlight of our visit to the Philippines. Definitely the best way to get the most of the Bacuit Bay and see the picture perfect beaches I was telling you about. Embark on a banca for the day (traditional Filipino boat), jump in pristine water, kayak between natural limestones, explore hidden spots and say hello to the monkeys!
Here is a list of the routes options for you with main points of interest:
TOUR A is the most popular: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and Seven’s Commandos Beach.
TOUR B: Pangulasian Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, and Cathedral Cave.
TOUR C is the second most popular: Helicopter/Dilumacad Island, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, and Tapiutan Island.
TOUR D: Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, Nat Nat Beach, Bucal Beach, and Paradise Beach.
NOT TO BE MISSED!
How to book your island hopping:
Either reserve through your hotel or from one of the agencies in town, cost shouldn’t be more than 1200 to 1400 pesos per person for a sharing boat depending on the chosen tour. Note that if you book via your hotel they might take commission on top of the above price.
You will be charged 200 pesos per person for an ‘environment fee’. The environment fee is a one charge that allow tourists to visit the popular spots. The card can be used as many times as you like but if you don’t carry it with you could be charged for a new one if you visit multiple tourist hot spots.
Those looking to beat the crowds can hire a private boat and get the captain to do a reverse order route. Cost for the day should be around 7000 pesos and can be a great option if you’re in a group or if you prefer some privacy.
Duration of the tours:
About 7 hours. The boats usually leave in the morning and come back by 4 or 5pm.
Snorkelling gear, water on board and BBQ lunch (grilled fish, meat, vegetables, rice and fresh fruits) Just let your guide know if you’re a vegetarian.
Don’t forget to pack:
Underwater camera, swimwear, sun cream, sunglasses, towels, footwear and really important a dry bag, yes you’ll get wet!! Haven’t got one? Don’t worry they sell them everywhere in the main town.
5. DIVING & SNORKELLING
We did both snorkelling and scuba diving and both were fantastic. The sea life is incredibly varied and colourful, you might even spot turtles while snorkelling on island hopping tour. Look how amazing!
There is a great range of spots if you’re into diving, from shallow reef for beginners to caves for the more advanced. What to see, sting rays, sea turtles, barracudas, clown fish, rays, sweetlips and if you’re really lucky you might spot whale sharks from December to February.
6. THE BEACHES ON THE MAINLAND
Tired of islands hopping? Stay on the mainland and take a day trip to Nacpan and Calitang aka the Twin Beaches. The location is stunning and the beaches large enough for everyone to spread out. You can spend the day sunbathing, drinking fresh fruit shakes or playing in the waves. There is a spectacular a view point where the two beaches meet each other. It’s really easy to find, just ask the locals, the Filipinos are the friendliest people.
7. ATMs & WIFI
There are only two ATMs in El Nido town, both have limited withdrawal and often run out of notes. Bringing cash with you is highly recommended.
The Wifi can be real bad in some places; digital nomads I’d recommend to get a 4G SIM card from the airport.
“I had the best time in the Philippines and I’m hoping to go back at some point to visit other parts of the country, it’s huge. If you have recommendations you’re more than welcome to share.
Enjoy preparing your trip to Paradise…