The Ultimate Guide

So you’ve finally decided to head over one of the world’s finest island destinations, El Nido. Well, you’ve come to the right place! Sink your teeth in and explore our playground! Lastly, don’t forget to bookmark and share this page with your friends.

The Rise of El Nido

Like any unbelievably beautiful place in the world, El Nido’s fame spread across the globe by word of mouth. It was first discovered by scuba divers in the 1980s, and later attracted the novelist Alex Garland in the 1990s. Surrounded by towering cliffs and palm trees, this writer finished his novel The Beach while he was living in El Nido for six months.

By the year 2000, the shirtless heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio sent shots of awe across the globe with the release of a film based on Garland’s novel. After the film screening, millions of tourists started pouring into where the film was set, in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Little did people know that the real inspiration for the film and its novel was not set in Thailand. It was set in no other than El Nido, Palawan.

And while it may be unfair that Garland didn’t do justice to El Nido’s rise to fame, he intentionally changed the setting to protect this place from the public’s prying eyes. Regardless, El Nido has been consistently ranked as one of the world’s most incredible tropical escapes. Located in northern Palawan, its prominent feature is the 50-island Bacuit Bay, which is part of a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.

In this bay view of glassy turquoise water, numerous skyscraper limestones stand on beds of virgin white sand and thick forests. These limestone walls form secret passages, enchanting lagoons, and cathedral-sized caves, all surrounded by lovely coves, long white beaches, and colorful diving sites. When you boat along these beautiful jade islands, it’s like traveling to a lost world where dinosaurs used to live. El Nido truly is pristine and breathtaking!

Explore Our Guides per Destination



Town Proper
El Nido’s busy town center and entry point to island tours.


Corong-Corong
A great area to hang out and watch the sunset facing Bacuit Bay.


Lio
An exclusive beach town with a charming public cove.


Nacpan

El Nido’s longest white beach, most loved by backpackers.


Duli

A surfing spot with incredible glassy waves and an amazing beach.


Sibaltan
The breezy side of El Nido with more islands and cultural tours.


New Ibajay
An important archaeological site and emerging eco-tourism zone.

 

Popular Destinations

Big & Small Lagoon in Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Philippines

In the west coast of El Nido, the island-speckled Bacuit Bay can be explored through four different tours (Island Hopping Tour A, B, C, and D), each featuring about five islands. These will be further expanded into seven tours in 2019 with around three islands each, according to El Nido’s local government. The best island tour in town is a little pricier but a lot more memorable for you’ll be exploring Bacuit Bay on a yacht! How awesome is that?

Island hopping activities here take off from a light gray cove in the Town Proper, where you can also find matchbox hostels and pension houses wedged in between specialty diners, souvenir shops, and tour agency offices. It’s a tight, busy hub with little if no sidewalks and most places are within walking distance to each other. But if you hate walking, you can hop on and off a tricycle, the Filipino version of tuk-tuk.

Other than Bacuit Bay, two highly commendable areas for travelers are Corong-Corong and Lio, both offering a more relaxed island vibe than the crowded Town Proper. Corong-Corong is about 10 minutes south from the Town Proper, while Lio is 20 minutes north by motorcycle.

Offering the best sunset views, Corong-Corong Beach and Marimegmeg Beach (also called Las Cabañas Beach) in Corong-Corong are a great area to chill out on a late afternoon. Dotted with a few resorts, meanwhile, the more exclusive Lio features a secluded, long white cove facing a different group of islands. If you can drive, it’s best to rent a motorcycle and explore El Nido yourself!

Both areas have great panoramic views of the gorgeous Bacuit Bay, which turns into a breathtaking scene at sunset and twilight hours. So, if you don’t like the cramped and touristy Town Proper that much, do swing by these two beach destinations and melt your worries away with a cold drink for a perfect lazy afternoon.

Off the Beaten Track

What first-time visitors do not know is that El Nido is huge and covers almost 1,000 square kilometers, or about the size of Berlin or Bangkok. In short, El Nido isn’t just about beaches, islands, and island parties. In fact, only a quarter of El Nido is touristy. Further up north and on the eastside of El Nido are more cool activities only the curious ones dare to see!

For example, there are ten epic, long white beaches just waiting for you in the mainland. Other than those in Corong-Corong and Lio, the more accessible ones are in Nacpan and Duli. The latter also serves as the only surfing destination in El Nido (November to April). The east coast of El Nido, on the other hand, features two interesting destinations, the rustic villages of Sibaltan and New Ibajay.

The windy Sibaltan is the hotspot of culture—as well as the adrenaline sport kitesurfing—in El Nido. Apart from learning how to kitesurf in the open waters (November to April), you can go see the Balay Cuyonon Museum, a typical seafarer’s house, and the Pangko Maritime Museum, a huge sailboat museum. Both exhibit the way of life of El Nido’s old inhabitants. If you dig local culture, you should definitely include El Nido’s Cultural Tour in your itinerary.

Island hopping can be done in Sibaltan too, with three to four uncrowded, white-sanded islands to visit in one day. You can also bring some snorkeling or diving gear and catch sightings of baby sharks, manta rays, and, if you’re lucky, the ephemeral dugong or sea cow, one of the rarest marine animals in the world.

Probably the most intriguing historical site in El Nido is New Ibajay. Sitting on a vast plain of rice fields are more limestone towers that keep complex cave systems. One of these is Ille Cave, a significant archaeological site in the Philippines due to the Permian era fossils embedded on its walls and the recently dug 9,000-year-old cremation burial of a woman, the oldest in Southeast Asia. You can learn more about the artifacts dug in the area from the museum next to the cave.

Dos and Don’ts

El Nido is part of a 90,000-hectare protected area in northern Palawan. Being here means having to adjust to rules that aim to preserve this paradise. Please also note that plastic is banned in El Nido. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

DON’T buy or accept plastic-bottled water.
DO bring your own refillable water bottle. You can refill your bottle in restaurants and even during your tours, without cost.

DON’T use plastic bags when shopping.
DO bring your own reusable bag. Or just buy the item without a plastic bag.

DON’T take out food from restaurants. At least try not to.
DO use a lunchbox for take outs or dine in the restaurant instead.

DON’T let the waiter add a plastic straw to your drink.
DO drink without a straw instead.

DON’T throw your trash anywhere or in the sea.
DO keep it in your pocket until you find a trash bin.

DON’T feed animals, pick plants, or step on corals.
DO respect wildlife and watch only from a distance.

DON’T collect shells, rocks, or sand.
DO leave what you find.

The Cost of Travel

Tours and Adventures
Tours and adventures in El Nido follow a standard price wherever you are and each usually takes a whole day. Currently, there are six established island hopping tours in El Nido—five in the west and one in the east. These include Tour A, B, C, and D in the west, and Tour E in the east. Joining a group tour costs P1,200 to P1,400 per person. Private tours with a small boat start at P9,000 per day, good for two to four guests. With private tours, you can pick which islands to visit and come and go as you please. Lastly, it would be best to book your tours for at least two weeks in advance as slots can get full especially during peak season.

Food and Drink
Filipino food and seafood are abundant in El Nido, taking up about 60% of the restaurants in town. Other common cuisines include Mexican and Italian, although several Mediterranean, French, American food can also be found here. Walking around the town proper, you’ll find a number of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, serving yummy quick bites and healthy snacks. A common meal in El Nido costs between P150 to P300 (or $3 to $6), although you can get a meal as cheap as P50 ($1) and as high as P1,000 ($20). 

There are also several bars and beachfront hangouts in town. The best ones are found in the Town Proper and Corong-Corong, featuring stunning views of Bacuit Bay. Beers and coconut juice can go as cheap as P50 ($1) while cocktails usually come between P100 ($2) to P400 ($8). Clean mineral water is available in most restaurants and hotels usually at no cost. The local government is limiting the use of plastic, particularly plastic-bottled water, so it’s always a good idea to bring your own refillable water bottle. You can also buy one in the Town Proper.

Hotels & Resorts
With more than 300 accommodations to choose from, picking a place to stay in El Nido can be time-consuming. The most recommended places to stay are beachfront hotels and hotels with bay views, but if price is not an issue, you can choose to stay in an island resort right in the heart of island hopping destinations in El Nido.  

If you’re looking for budget accommodations, we’ve also created a list of camping and glamping sites and budget-friendly accommodations under P800 ($16) per night, with the cheapest going as low as P400 ($8). Entire islands can also be rented out in El Nido for groups, weddings, and other special occasions.

Best Time to Visit

Best weather conditions – December to May
Best time for island hopping – April to June
Best time for scuba diving – April to June
Best time for sailing and kitesurfing – November to April
Best time for surfing – November to April
Average Temperature – 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)

The best time to visit El Nido is during the dry season between December and May. The sweet spot, however, is between April and June, when the weather is calm, great for island hopping, and the water is at its clearest, perfect for scuba diving.

If you’re heading to El Nido for sailing or kitesurfing, the best time to go is during the Amihan Season, when the wind is blowing from the northeast, between November and April. The north swell also brings awesome waves for surfing, especially during December and January.

There are isolated showers and squalls during the Habagat Season, when the monsoon wind is blowing from the southwest, between June and October. Also expect hot and humid weather during this time. Palawan is not that much affected when it comes to typhoons passing by the Philippines, which is awesome.

The average temperature in El Nido is about 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit) during the day. It can get really hot during noon, so it’s best to always bring water and an umbrella or a hat.

How to Get to El Nido

If you’re coming from Manila, Cebu, or Boracay, you can book a direct flight to El Nido via AirSwift. Travel time is around an hour, with plane fares ranging between P3,000 to P8,000, depending on the season. A cheaper alternative is to book a flight with Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, or Philippine Airlines to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan’s capital. Travel time is around an hour, with plane fares ranging between P1,000 to P7,000.

From Puerto Princesa International Airport, you can book your van transfer going to El Nido. Travel time is about 5.5 hours for P600. You can also rent a private van if you’re a group. We do not recommend taking the bus as the price is pretty much the same (P480 with AC), plus you’d have to go to San Jose Bus Terminal (P100 to P150) and spend more waiting time and travel time.

Once in El Nido, the best way to get around is by renting a motorcycle or van if you’re a group. You can also rent a private boat or yacht when you go island hopping. If you’re just staying in the Town Proper, you can go from one point to another by tricycle for P10 per person.

Your Survival Guide

Visa and Immigration
Most foreign nationals can visit the Philippines VISA-free for 30 days. You can check here if your country is included. To get a 30-day VISA-free visit to the Philippines, you should have a passport valid for six (6) months and an exit ticket booked beforehand. You can extend your stay 30 days at a time up to a maximum of two (2) years at any immigration office. The closest immigration office to El Nido is the Department of Foreign Affairs in Puerto Princesa City, which is about 5.5 hours away by van.

Department of Foreign Affairs
2nd Floor Robinsons Place Palawan
Puerto Princesa North Road, Brgy. San Manuel,
Puerto Princesa City, Palawan (see map)
(+63) 48 434 1771

Internet Availability
Hey, you’re in paradise! Who needs internet? The truth is, internet is often terrible in El Nido. Some hotels, resorts, and restaurants have WIFI but the speed is just frustratingly slow. Local mobile carriers Globe and Smart have LTE connectivity, but the speed can be disappointing too, especially in the Town Proper. If you’re looking for reliable internet, you can head to the restaurants Tambok’s in Lio and Art Cafe in the Town Proper. You can also try using LTE connectivity in Lio, where it’s faster. Otherwise, you might want to consider buying a reloadable pocket WIFI, which is available in Puerto Princesa City. There are also computer shops in the Town Proper where you can pay as you go.

Electricity
Due to the electricity demand in the Town Proper, power outages are common—up to thrice a month. Majority of the establishments in the Town Proper, including Corong-Corong, have electricity 24 hours a day. In northern and eastern El Nido, however, locals generally rely on solar power, which lights up their homes at night between 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Establishments in these areas, if they’re not connected to a major power line, rely on a combination of solar power and diesel-fueled generators. Outside the Town Proper, air-conditioned rooms are rare, except for those found in posh resorts.

Money and Paying Guide
When staying in El Nido, some people run out of cash. While there are a few establishments accepting credit cards, credit card transactions are not common in El Nido. There are three ATMs in Town (see below), one bank, and six pawnshops, where you can receive money sent through Western Union. And while there are ATMs in town, it’s a common scenario that they run out of cash or, in some occasions, won’t work because of power outages. It would be best to book all your accommodations and tours beforehand, bring the cash you need, and add some extra in case of emergency.

Philippine Pesos

Banks and ATMs
There are one bank and three ATMs in El Nido. It’s not advisable to rely on just these as they often run out of money. Sad but true. Best to withdraw your money from major cities like Manila or Puerto Princesa.

Bank of the Philippine Islands (bank and ATM)
Calle Real, Brgy. Buena Suerte,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)
(+63) 48 244 0960
The bank is open Monday to Friday,
9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
The ATM is open 24/7.

RCBC Bank ATM
Municipal Hall, Gregorio del Pilar Street,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)

BPI Lio Tourism Estate Branch – 2 ATMs
Near Globy restaurant and Kalye Artisano
Sitio Lio, Brgy. Villa Libertad,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)

Safety and Security
The crime rate in El Nido is zero. It’s a pretty safe place. Although there has been a few cases of theft, these were made by outsiders and were not reported to the authorities. Do secure your belongings at all times and follow the rules and regulations from tour guides. In case you run into trouble, you can go to the Police Station near the church, or the Parish of Saint Francis of Assisi.

El Nido Police Station
Calle Hama, Brgy. Buena Suerte,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)
(+63) 939 363 8560

Hospital and Clinics
There are two clinics in El Nido where a doctor and a group of nurses can treat minor health problems or injuries. For major cases, the closest hospital is in the next town, Taytay, about an hour away. More hospitals can be found in Puerto Princesa City, which is 5.5 hours away.

El Nido Health Center (clinic)
Lisang St., Brgy. Buena Suerte,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)

Palawan Medical City (clinic)
Rizal St., Brgy. Buena Suerte,
El Nido, Palawan (see map)

Northern Palawan Provincial Hospital
Alimanguan National Highway,
Taytay, Palawan (see map)

More About El Nido

History
Called “The Nest” in Spanish, El Nido is named after the edible nests found on the crevices of high limestone cliffs. Chinese traders have been visiting this area as early as the Song Dynasty in the 10th century to buy these birds’ nests and have been making a highly nutritious soup out of them. The earliest recorded history of El Nido though go as far back as 22,000 years ago, based on the fossils and burial sites found in and around Ille Cave in New Ibajay. Like most places in the Philippines, El Nido was influenced by more than 300 years of Spanish colonization and about 50 years of American occupation.

Culture
El Nido’s culture is rooted in Cuyo, the group of islands found about 100 nautical miles east of the town. During the old times, Cuyonons would sail across the sea for days to plant rice in mainland Palawan, including El Nido, and return only during the harvest season. Because of the limited agricultural land in Cuyo, many of these islanders settled in the mainland, establishing the province’s rich Cuyonon culture. Get to know El Nido’s culture through our Cultural Tour.

Traditional Cuyonon dance in Sibaltan, El Nido

Festivals
There are four events to watch out for when in El Nido. Locals celebrate Kulambo Festival, or El Nido’s town fiesta, on March 15 to 18, with street dancing, singing contests, and lots of local food. The town also designates an environmental awareness event called Kalugtan Arts Festival, held between April 28 and May 1. Sibaltan esidents on the east coast, meanwhile, celebrate Cuyonon Festival on May 17 to 18, featuring dance contests and cultural performances about El Nido’s culture of seafarers. On the night of the full moon, bars along Marimegmeg Beach in Corong-Corong have a Full Moon Party, where locals and travelers hop from one bar to another, and drink and dance until dawn.

People
The earliest settlers of El Nido are from the ethnolinguistic groups Tagbanuas and Cuyonons. Today, El Nido’s population comprise at least 45,000 people, 15% of which reside in the Town Proper while 85% are in the other villages. Most of the migrants in El Nido’s Town Proper are from different parts of Palawan, especially the capital Puerto Princesa City, as well as other countries such as France, Spain, and the US.

Language
Three languages are spoken in El Nido: English, Filipino (based on Tagalog), and Cuyonon, the native language. There is no language barrier when it comes to English, especially in the Town Proper, where almost everybody can understand and speak the language. Other languages spoken in El Nido include Hiligaynon, Bicolano, Ilonggo, Waray, and Bisaya.

Biodiversity
The protected area in El Nido and its neighboring town Taytay covers an astonishing 90,000 hectares of land and marine waters. These include karst limestone cliffs, white beaches, mangroves, and biodiverse forests. This protected area is home to five species of mammals, including the critically endangered Malay Pangolin, and 16 endemic bird species, including the threatened Palawan Peacock Pheasant, Palawan Hornbill, and Palawan Scops Owl. Bacuit Bay is also home to threatened marine animals such as green sea turtles, dolphins, and sea cows or dugong.

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