In a nutshell
Voted number one most beautiful island in the world, El Nido tops many bucket lists with its dramatic limestone cliffs, pristine beaches, and secret lagoons.
Why go to El Nido
Due to its relative inaccessibility, El Nido remains free from the usual clout of commercialism and overdevelopment that has plagued similar beach destinations in the country. If you wish to enjoy surreal beaches sans the crowd, this is your best bet.
Whether you choose to spend a few days here or is fortunate enough to vacation for weeks, you won't run out of things to do in El Nido. You can literally island hop daily with tour packages A to E that will bring you to mysterious lagoons and secret beaches. You can snorkel, kayak, or swim to your heart's desire. If you're pressed for time, you can even do a combination of these tours.
El Nido also boasts over 30 dive sites and if you're up for it, you can even go on a night dive adventure and watch nocturnal marine creatures you otherwise won't see during the day.
Always wanted to hang ten? Make your way to Duli beach and learn to surf. Stand up paddleboarding is also a popular activity here, head out to Corong-Corong beach and have an unbelievable sunset as your background too. Inland, you'll also be spoilt for choice. Try the longest zip-line, climb up Taraw Peak for a bird's eye view of Bacuit Bay, hop on a mountain bike to explore local villages and lush forests, just to name a few.
When to go to El Nido
There really is no best or worst time to go here. We say go when you're able to, sooner rather than later while many still consider it off the beaten path.
Travel off-season between June to November if you wish to avoid the crowd however the weather can put a damper on your holiday. If surfing is what you're after, go between November to April. If you want the best photos with blue skies and calm waters, summer is ideal but expect hordes of tourists heading the same way.
Where to stay on El Nido
El Nido has always conjured images of luxurious island resorts making it seem out of reach for an average tourist.
Contrary to popular belief though, the main town itself is surprisingly low-key with plenty of options for budget travellers.
Staying in an island resort like Lagen can easily cost you more than 20,000PHP per night.
However, it is possible to score an accommodation in town for as low as 500PHP and still get access to popular attractions in El Nido. Of course, it's not all-inclusive like the fancy resorts so you will have to factor the costs of the tours and activities that you plan to do.
As a general rule of thumb, it is cheapest to stay within the town proper as everything is within walking distance. However, if you prefer some peace and quiet, we recommend staying either in Corong-Corong beach or Caalan.
Where to eat in El Nido
Dining in El Nido can be expensive, let's get that fact out of the way. Expect to shell out between 200PHP to 300PHP for everything on the menu plus drinks and it can be pretty much hit or miss. However, it can be a fun experience especially if you're dining beachfront with tiki torches and live bands.
On the up side, you can have all the fresh seafood that you want. It is worth a mention that one of the best meals you'll ever have on the island is the one prepared by your boatmen who doubles up as chefs during your island hopping tour.
Also, many restaurants in the island are co-owned by foreigners so it's relatively easy to get your pick of pizzas and pastas and other international cuisine. For a more economical fare, dine off the beach. IBR Fast Food comes highly recommended where you can have a meal for less than 100PHP.
How to get rround El Nido
The town proper of El Nido is so small that you can get by just walking around. However, if you're not a fan of walking you can always hail a tricycle, a motorcycle with a sidecar that can accommodate up to 3 people. Even though some blogs claim that it would cost roughly between 10PHP to 20PHP to get around town, it cost us 50PHP every time. The driver told us it's the fixed rate. In hindsight, perhaps this is because we didn't share a ride with the locals.
Going a bit out of town like in Marimegmeg will cost you 150PHP one way. If you wish to save, you can wait for another tourist heading to or from there and split the costs. This is what we did when we were heading back to town.
Alternatively, there are plenty of places where you can rent a motorbike or scooter that will set you back between 500PHP to 700PHP. Negotiate for some discount if you plan to rent for several days.
How to get to and from El Nido
The quickest way to get to El Nido but also the most expensive one is to book a flight with AirSWIFT – a boutique airline that flies daily from Manila direct to El Nido for about 5,000PHP to 7,000PHP one way. Travel time normally is an hour and 15 minutes.
A more economical alternative would be to fly to Puerto Princesa and then get to El Nido overland.
Similarly, Air Asia have daily flights, too, from Manila at 1,500PHP to 2,500PHP and from Cebu from about 1,500PHP to 4,000PHP. If you're lucky to book during a promotional run, you can even score one-way tickets for as low as 300PHP.
From Puerto Princesa, you can catch a van right outside the airport for about 500PHP to 600PHP for a 5-hour travel time or ride a tricycle to San Jose Terminal located about 20 to 30 minutes away. Depending on the bus type, it can costs between 300PHP to 500PHP but travel time can stretch up to 8 hours. For sea travel, routes are only between El Nido and Coron.
Is El Nido a safe place to visit?
Believe it or not, there's 0% crime rate in El Nido. Sure, there have been talks of terrorism threat, but nowadays this is true anywhere else in the world. This is not to say that you should throw caution to the wind. There are no sidewalks so be careful while out and about. It is important to note that there is no hospital in El Nido but they do have a small health centre for minor medical care.