It’s hard not to fall in love with the island of Palawan. In 2014, voted as “most beautiful island in the world” and with a good reason! An island group located in the westernmost part of the country, and the absolute gem of the Philippines. With its crystal clear waters, beautiful remote beaches, hidden lagoons, and a relaxed atmosphere, this is the place for everyone who really wants to get away from it all. Typ ‘paradise’ on Pinterest, and you will certainly see several pictures of Palawan popping up. And the most popular place to explore all of this is the town of El Nido. Yet this paradise gem is still unknown to many people.
Are you planning a trip to Palawan and looking for some extra tips? This ultimate El Nido travel guide includes all the best things to do, where to stay and tips to get around.
How to get to El Nido?
El Nido is located in the very north part of Palawan island. After some research, it became clear to us that the most common way would be flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa and then taking a van from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. There are daily flights between the two cities operating by Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines or Air Asia. Thanks to Skyscanner, we’ve found the cheapest flight deal.
Other options: arrive in style and fly with a chartered plane. Air Swift is the company that offers daily flights from Cebu and Manila. It is definitely the fastest and most direct way to get to El Nido. One-way tickets cost around 7000PHP and can be booked here.
Transport to El Nido
From Puerto Princesa, you have two options to go to El Nido; by bus or by shuttle van. We traveled with the shuttle van, which is the most popular transfer option, and it took us around 6 hours to reach El Nido. The distance is about 200 km, but thanks to the bumpy roads and the snake-like hairpin bends, it seems a much longer distance. This is also one of the reasons why many travelers often skip Palawan. A few years ago, there was no fixed road yet to El Nido, so everyone had to travel almost 24 hours through the jungle by motorbike to get there. Crazy!
But… the ride of 6 hours is worth it! As soon as you arrive in El Nido, you’re overwhelmed by the beauty of this remote place. Beautiful sandy beaches, impressive rock formations that stick out of the sea, traditional boats that float on the water and the relaxed atmosphere make El Nido the true perfection.
Where to stay?
Do you like peace and a cozy family atmosphere? Then go to Lio Villas Resort in Villa Libertad. A fifteen-minute drive from the more ‘crowdy’ El Nido, this family-owned resort has 8 rooms and is a true little piece of heaven. Nick, Mylene and their cute little kids Millie and Max treat you like being part of their family. Every morning the super friendly crew serves you a delicious breakfast and the swimming pool is great too. You can easily book the island hopping tours here at the same price as in El Nido town and they take you to the village and pick you back up after your day-trip. Besides, Lio Villas Resort has one of the best restaurants in the area! Highly recommended!
What to do in El Nido? Island hopping!
El Nido is located in the Bay of Bacuit, which has about 35 islands. These islands can all be visited, making island hopping the most popular activity here. The area around El Nido is divided into 4 zones: A, B, C, and D. We did tour A and C, the absolute favorites. You sail with a traditional Bangka from island to island. Lunch and snorkel equipment are always included.
Both tours are fantastic! On tour A you visit the photogenic Big Lagoon, you go kayaking on Small Lagoon, snorkel and lunch at Shimizu Island, discover the Secret Lagoon and you have time to relax under the palm trees of 7th Commando Beach.
We didn’t do tour B, but if you want to know more information about this one, you can find it here.
Tour C will take you to the Matinloc Shrine, where you will be rewarded with a panoramic view. You visit Hidden Beach, snorkel on Helicopter Island, discover Secret Beach and enjoy a real ‘Expedition Robinson’ feeling with a delicious BBQ lunch on Talisay Beach.
Looking for more adventure? You can also go hiking, mountain biking and mountaineering in the area. El Nido is an incredibly cozy town with lots of nice restaurants and cafes with beautiful views of the ocean. During the day it is very quiet, but in the evening when everyone returns from the island tours it is pleasantly busy and there is a wonderful and laid-back atmosphere.
Watch the most beautiful sunsets and visit stunning beaches
In El Nido, you will be transported by tricycle. Almost at every corner of the street, there are locals ready to take you to the nice beaches and spots on the island. You can also arrange a tricycle in your hotel, the prices are almost the same everywhere. What the tuk-tuks are for Thailand are the tricycles for the Philippines.
Be sure to visit Nacpan Beach, Twin Beaches and end with an unforgettable sunset at Las Cabanas Beach. The ride to Nacpan Beach is pretty spicy, the roads are only bumpy and consist of the largest part of a dirt road with sand. But… once you are there, WOW, what a paradise! We had a delicious lunch here at a local eatery and walked the beach to Twin Beaches. At Twin Beaches you can climb up to the highest point where you can enjoy a beautiful view. We ended up at Cabanas Beach, where we stayed for the rest of the evening. A quiet beach where you have a magnificent view over the bay and the different islands.