Up until a few years ago, El Nido wasn't that accessible directly from Manila. You had to fly to either to Puerto Princesa or Coron first and from there board a bus, van, or boat. While these options are still the most popular, it is now also possible to go to El Nido directly by air. This is, of course, the quickest way to get there although not exactly the cheapest.
El Nido is located approximately 620 kilometres southwest of Manila. If you are flying, you can expect to land in just 1 hour 15 minutes. If you are travelling from Puerto Princesa, the overland travel by either bus or shuttle van usually lasts from 6 to 9 hours. Crossing the sea between Coron and El Nido usually takes from 3.5 to 9 hours depending on the vessel and the weather conditions. You will need to add these hours to the time it took you to reach either Puerto Princesa or Coron from Manila. Please refer to the dedicated article for further information.
The convenience of flying directly to El Nido from Manila will set you back, at the very minimum, around PHP6,300 for a one-way ticket. In comparison, accessing El Nido via Puerto Princesa will cost around PHP4,000. Meanwhile heading from Coron to El Nido will cost nearly PHP5,000.
Flights from Manila to El Nido
If you decide to fly from Manila to El Nido, expect to spend between PHP6,300 and PHP8,300. There are in fact seat sales on this route from time to time so it pays monitoring the best deals available.
As of this time, AirSwift, a boutique airline, is the only airline company that offers regular commercial flights between Manila and El Nido. If you are traveling with a bit of luggage exceeding the allowed 7kg carry-on luggage, you might want to purchase either a premium or value ticket as it includes 10kg of free check-in luggage. If you purchased your ticket under the promo or budget category, you will need to book a prepaid checked-in luggage at an additional cost.
AirSwift can bring you to El Nido all the way from Manila in just 1 hour 15 minutes. It takes about the same time to fly to Puerto Princesa and Coron, but from both these destinations you will then have to spend between 3.5 and 9 hours to reach El Nido.
Buses from Puerto Princesa to El Nido
Assuming that you are already in Puerto Princesa and have decided to make the journey to El Nido by bus, note that the bus fare varies depending on the type of the bus: you have a choice of ordinary or air-conditioned coaches. The former costs around PHP385 while the latter is more expensive at PHP480. The two bus companies that serve this route are Cherry Buses and Roro buses. No, not those Roro buses that board a ferry. It is just another transportation company with the same registered trade name.
The duration of your travel between Puerto Princesa to El Nido usually ranges between 6 to 9 hours. Based on our experience, ordinary buses take the longer as they stop frequently to pick up passengers. There usually two bathroom breaks in Taytay and Roxas.
The two bus companies mentioned above operate from San Jose Bus Terminal and run several trips daily, usually every one or two hours. The first Cherry Bus leaves at 9am while the last one departs for El Nido at 9pm. Meanwhile, the first Roro bus of the day leaves at 4am with the last trip scheduled at 10pm. If you want to save on accommodation, you can take one of these night buses.
In general, Cherry buses are newer than Roro buses. However, neither company offers meals onboard and is equipped with toilets. You won't have to worry as there will be bathroom and meal breaks but we would recommend packing some snacks. We remember stopping at one of the restaurants and they were selling chips and other snacks at ridiculously high prices. Also, some Cherry buses are supposed to be equipped with WiFi though it has never worked with us.
It is worth mentioning too that most people travel El Nido from Puerto Princesa by shuttle vans. They are available right outside the airport and cost between PHP500 and PHP700. Please note however that some vans leave only when full while others have scheduled trips. Try to choose the latter option as waiting time could stretch out for hours as if there are not enough passengers vans will wait for the next arriving flight. Once you hit the road though, travel time is generally faster than in case with buses. Road condition is pretty good and you can expect to arrive in El Nido in just 5 or 6 hours.
Ferries from Coron to El Nido
If you are coming from Coron to El Nido, ferries are the way to go. Depending on the type of the ferry fares typically range between PHP1,150 and PHP1,760. Similarly, the length of the trip is also dependent on the weather and the boat. An outrigger boat would usually take around 5 to 9 hours while a cargo vessel may take approximately 8 hours. The quickest option is to catch a FastCraft which can get you to El Nido in just a matter of 3.5 hours.
There are boats that depart daily from Coron to El Nido. The outrigger boats, Bunso and Jessabel, leave between 7.30am and 8.30am while the FastCraft departs at 12 noon. MV May Lillies, a passenger and cargo ship, also serves this route once a week on Monday at 7am. You can book tickets online or purchase directly from the port. Please note that some trips may be cancelled if the weather conditions are not good so it's best to have a plan B – just in case.
Whether the voyage will be a smooth one or not depends a lot on the weather conditions. If you are prone to seasickness then we recommend opting for the FastCraft instead of the much slower outrigger boats or cargo ship. There isn't much in a way of facilities and amenities but they do serve lunch which is already included into the ticket price. There is WiFi in the port, you just have to ask for the password.