Everyone planning a trip to the Philippines will hear about El Nido, and if you haven’t, well, keep reading!
This small and idyllic destination is composed of 45 islands and islets each with its own unique geological formation and is located at the Northern end of Palawan, 5 hours from the capital, Puerto Princessa.
El Nido is the gateway to the awe-inspiring Bacuit Archipelago, one of the most magnificent sights in Asia. The Islands are full of impressive limestone karst cliffs, beautiful white sand beaches, dive sights, mangroves and unspoilt nature. The turquoise waters, hidden lagoons and caves make island hopping El Nido’s #1 attraction and the definition of perfection.
There are so many guides out there explaining the ins and outs of this picturesque spot so we won’t bombard you with too many logistics, instead, just check out the top things we did in El Nido!
If there’s one piece of advice we can give you… don’t rush through this town. Sit back, relax, sip a coconut and island hop to your heart’s content.
1/ Island Hopping All Day, Every Day!
Island Hopping is the biggest attraction in El Nido (apart from the falafels) and when you arrive here, you will quickly get accustomed to the 4 main tours offered by all agencies: A, B, C and D. There are signs everywhere.
Here’s a brief rundown of the tours and where they visit:
- Island Hopping A (Lagoons): Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commando Beach and Shimizu Island.
- Island Hopping B (Caves): Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, Entalula Island and Cathedral Cave.
- Island Hopping C (Beaches): Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach & Hidden Beach.
- Island Hopping D (Cadlao Islands): Pasandigan Beach, Nat Nat Beach, Bucal Beach, Cadlao Lagoon and Paradise Beach.
All tours are subject to change depending on the day, the weather, the tide, etc.
What is the best tour company for island hopping in El Nido?
As with any major tourist attraction, it is very overwhelming to choose which company to use so we’ve done the work for you. Trust us when we say, Ape Tours is the tour company to use for your day out on the water.
For the majority of the day, you’re alone on the water without any boats around as they do their trips in reverse from the other boats. The boat was a good size & the food on board was some of the best food we ate in the Philippines. There was rum & beer provided, the music was playing and the staff, Ivan and Dimple, were awesome, friendly, engaging AND took photos all day, that they later give to you on your own SD card.
We did a combined tour of A and B but to be completely honest, any tour you do, it would be hard to be disappointed so don’t stress on where you go, just relax and enjoy. There’s nothing to dislike about island hopping in El Nido, especially when you have some of the best food!
2/ Party on the El Nido Party Boat
Taking Island hopping to a whole new level.
Combine a boat, free-flowing booze, an international crowd, music, sunshine, island hopping, a beachside bbq and you’ve got yourself the El Nido Party Boat. Run by 3 girls from South Africa and California, we were out on the boat for a full day island hopping, swimming, snorkelling, singing and dancing.
The full day tour costs 2500 PHP ($50 USD) with everything included. Although it is a little pricier than other island tours, you won’t think twice about the cost when you’re out there on the water. A must do in El Nido! Must.
3/ Get yourself PADI Certified
“Nah we won’t go diving again, there’s no point in getting the certification”. This became a regular conversation each and every time we’d take ourselves diving in the past. One thing we failed to realise is there will always be another time!
El Nido’s beaches are rich in marine life and there are more than 30 dive sites ranging in depth from six meters to 30 meters. Experiencing life underwater is like no other so we eventually bit the bullet and committed to getting our PADI Open Water Certification.
The course lasted 3 days and cost $400 USD each including a day of theory/exam and 6 dives both in confined water and open water. I’ll have to admit, I never want to remove my mask underwater 12m ever again but it sure is a skill to learn should any emergencies arise! We passed with flying colours and had the best time doing so. If you don’t want to get your certificate, they still do introductory dives.
Interested in getting your certification too? Trust the guys at Submariner Dive Centre in El Nido town. They were awesome!
4/ Visit Nacpan Beach by Motorbike
Nacpan Beach is rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Unfortunately for us, we chose the wrong day to go (thank you rainy season!) and couldn’t experience the beach as we would have liked. The 45-minute ride to Nacpan is one in itself. Taking you through the countryside of Palawan, you can either rent a motorbike (500 PHP, $10 USD) or take a shared shuttle from the town.
Be careful, if you’re riding a motorbike, the last 15 minutes are spent on a dirt track, with unpaved roads & some seriously questionable bridge crossings that we saw people fall off their bikes. Please don’t try and be cool. Wear a helmet.
5/ Watch the Sunset at Republica Bar
Republica Sunset Bar is the place to be during sunset. It was one of the most breathtaking, colourful sunsets that we saw in El Nido. Get there early (4:30pm/5:00 pm) to grab yourself a seat at the front of the bar. They also sell Spanish tapas and jugs of sangria.
6/ Zipline your way down to Las Cabanas Beach
Thank you rainy season for putting on the rain for us during the last few days here 🙁 We were disappointed to miss out on this but one thing we know is… you can’t control the weather! Fortunately, we had done a similar experience in Morro de São Paulo, Brazil. If you’re here in El Nido, head to Las Cabanas Beach and do this on behalf of us, send us a pic and be sure to tell us how awful it was ;). Cost 500 PHP ($10 USD).
One a clear day, Las Cabanas Beach is another stunning location to watch the sunset.
7/ Indulge in Different Cuisines
Food is such a large part of travel and for us, it can make or break a city/town. When there are ample choices it’s so fun to explore the restaurant/cafe scene and food becomes a huge part of our day! For a small town like El Nido, there was a fantastic amount of places to eat, you definitely won’t get bored eating in this little town!
Related Article >> Where to Eat & Drink in El Nido.
8/ Treat Yo Self to a Massage
Who doesn’t love a good massage? Let’s be real here, island hopping is exhausting and your body is craving some relaxation time. Right? I thought so. There are so many massage parlours along the main strip of El Nido and the cost varies slightly. For a Swedish massage, the cheapest we found was 400 PHP ($8 USD).
9/ Rent a Kayak or Paddleboard
Renting a kayak or paddleboard from El Nido is another great way to get out onto the water. Unfortunately, just 2 days before we arrived the government in El Nido decided to ban all kayaks and paddle boarding into the big and small lagoons (yet many still use them). They’re trying to maintain the “pristine” look of El Nido and rightfully so! If your tour company has a kayak, you may be lucky to use it.
If you still want to head out yourself from El Nido beach, you can rent clear bottom and normal kayaks from Art Cafe for hourly or full day rentals. Per Day 1000 PHP ($20 USD), Half Day 650 PHP ($13 USD) or by the hour 250 PHP ($5 USD).
10/ Enjoy a Comfortable Sleep at Bulskamp Inn
El Nido has a huge range of accommodation from seriously budget to secluded luxury resorts, but where should you stay in El Nido? We stayed at Bulskamp Inn and would highly recommend this hotel to any budget or mid-range traveller.
The rooms and sheets are cleaned daily which is a rare occurrence in Asia, the beds are comfortable, the location is great, the staff are extremely accommodating and the shower works! Bliss. Rooms start at 1200 PHP for a double room with fan ($24 USD) and AC 1800 PHP ($36 USD). Currently, they are not on any online booking engines so you have to email them directly to make a booking.
How long do you NEED in El Nido?
Need is a strong word but we would easily say you do in fact NEED at least 4 days in El Nido to experience the basics of what it has to offer.
Island hopping alone can take up 2-3 days so plan accordingly! We enjoyed walking around the town when we weren’t out on a boat but the only downside is, a lot of restaurants are closed during the day as 80% of people will be on a boat.
Top Tips for El Nido
- Buy yourself a “dry bag” (shown below). They are sold all through the town (don’t forget to bargain). These will come in handy on all your island hopping tours.
- There is one ATM on the island with a maximum withdrawal limit of 10,000 per transaction and a 200 ($4 USD) fee. Everywhere takes cash apart from a small handful of restaurants (Art Cafe, Mezzanine Restaurant being two of them).
- The best time to visit is from December – May when the skies are clear and the rain is minimal.
- Power goes off at least 3-4 times a day sometimes for 30 minutes or up to a few hours.
- Try and book a hotel with a generator so you can still use your A/C and fan (you’ll thank us!)
- The average cost of a meal is 200-350 PHP ($4 – $7 USD) with local food slightly cheaper at 100 -150 PHP ($2 – $3 USD)
- Make use of the happy hours at many of the bars. 2 for 1 cocktails usually between 4:00 pm – 6:00/7:00 pm.
- WIFI and phone signal are considerably stronger in El Nido than anywhere else in the Philippines.
- Hold onto your ETDF ticket/number. This is the Eco-Tourism Development Fee and you will need this whenever you do an island hopping tour. Cost 200 PHP ($4 USD). Take it everywhere you go.
- Don’t feed the monkeys at Snake Island – They will bite you!
We absolutely loved El Nido. Although it was definitely one of the most touristic places in the Philippines (minus Boracay) the people here were much friendlier, we loved the variety of restaurants, island hopping tours, the sunshine and a clean hotel!
Recipe for a perfect vacation!
Married Days Survived: 803