Palawan has been stirring buzz around the globe, in large part due to repeatedly being voted as the “Number One Island in the World” in Travel + Leisure Magazine. Take a photo of any of its 1,000+ islands and it’ll most likely look stunning. But photos don’t give justice to the actual place, they always say. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that among the number one island’s major attractions, El Nido, has been a sought-after destination by local and foreign tourists alike.
El Nido, unlike its far neighbors, Puerto Princesa and Coron, tends to be a wild card when it comes to trip-planning. While it should be pretty simple to arrange a trip there if you already have a budget and list of things you want to do in mind, most travelers end up booking that which seems to them like a good deal. They typically end up finding out that they have more options than they thought only when they get to the place.
In the hopes of making planning your El Nido trip a tad bit easier and ensuring that you get a bang for your buck, here are important things that you should consider before booking your much-awaited adventure:
1. There are three ways to get to El Nido.
a. El Nido
Fly straight to El Nido via AirSWIFT. This would be the fastest way to get to get there, although fares are generally steep. Roundtrip airfare from Manila ranges from PHP 10,000 to PHP 15,000 per person. Other direct flights to El Nido offered by AirSWIFT come from Clark, Cebu and Caticlan.
b. Puerto Princesa
Fly to Puerto Princesa via Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or AirAsia then take a five-hour land trip via van or bus. This is usually the cheapest way to get there. Roundtrip airfare from Manila ranges from PHP 3,000 to PHP 6,000 per person and roundtrip shared van transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is between PHP 1,200 – PHP 1,400 per person. If you do not intend to spend time in Puerto Princesa, make sure to take a morning flight there and a late afternoon or an evening flight out.
Fly to Coron via Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or SkyJet then take an almost four-hour fast craft ferry via Montenegro. Although the sea travel time is shorter than the land trip via Puerto Princesa, this option would only be ideal if you really intend to explore Coron as well. Flights to Busuanga (Coron) are also pretty high, ranging from PHP 7,000 – PHP 12,000, and a one-way ferry ticket from Coron to El Nido costs PHP 1,760 per person. If you do not intend to stay in Coron for a few days, better pick one of the first two options.
2. There are two main areas to stay in El Nido.
a. El Nido Town
– The center of El Nido Town is an organized chaos and it is ideal for those who are one or a combination of the following: on a budget; want to experience El Nido Town’s culture and night life. On one hand, Spin Designer Hostel and Ipil Suites are good options for those who want to be in the center of it and intend to be a stroll away from the town’s many restaurants. Country Inn, The Birdhouse and El Nido Mahogany, on the other hand, are our recommendations for those who are fine being a 10-to-15-minute tricycle ride from the center while getting some peace and quiet in the said hotels.
– Further down and around a 20-30-minute tricycle ride from the center of the town and nearer Lio (El Nido) Airport is the area of Lio Tourism Estate. It is perfect for those who want utter privacy and some luxury, while still having that option to check out El Nido Town’s center. Excellent options on this side are Casa Kalaw and El Nido Cove.
b. El Nido Resorts
And then there are the island resorts, all run and managed by Ayala. Under this umbrella are four lodges, collectively referred to as El Nido Resorts. All are high-end, with each one having its own edge over the rest. To put it simply, you would have your own world if you opt to stay in one of them. Since all are secluded island resorts, you wouldn’t have access to the town from there. But if you have a high-range budget, you’d definitely get your money’s worth here as tours, transfers and full-board meals (in two resorts) are already included in their packages. Just take your pick among Miniloc, Lagen, Pangulasian and Apulit. While Apulit is technically in Taytay, which is one and a half hours away from El Nido, it still falls under the said group and those who want a different scene that’s altogether far away from it all should consider staying there.
3. There are four main whole-day tours in El Nido.
a. Tour A – Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Shimizu Beach, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commando Beach (or Papaya Beach for a less crowded option)
b. Tour B – Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave, Popolkan Snorkeling Area
c. Tour C – Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Star Beach, Secret Beach, Helicopter Island
d. Tour D – Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, Paradise Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach
Most tourists rank these tours as such, in order of preference: Tour A, Tour C, Tour B, Tour D. This serves as a guide in deciding which tours to take for the duration of your trip. If you only have one whole day to spend in El Nido, we would recommend that you take Tour A as it showcases what El Nido is really special for. If you have another day, take Tour C as well. And so on. Note that these tours can be taken if you are staying within town. If you wish to skip some of the stops, you may opt to have a private tour arranged and just get a good mix of each tour’s highlights.
4. Don’t limit yourself to the given tours above.
For the days when you’ll be flying in or out, chances are you won’t be able to take a whole-day tour. You can still make the most of your stay by exploring inland. Do check out:
a. Maremegmeg Beach for sunset – around 15 minutes away from town proper by tricycle
b. Nacpan Beach for sunrise or any time of the day – around an hour away from town proper by tricycle
c. Nagkalit-kalit Falls – around 20 minutes away from town proper by tricycle
5. Planning does not end with booking.
I reckon you should be ready to book your trip after finding out the know-whats in El Nido. But we also find it crucial for you to know the must-brings to ensure you come out of the trip unscathed:
a. Mosquito repellent
To keep the bajillion pesky mosquitoes and sand mites at bay. Note that you won’t feel the sand mites’ attacks until they are done sucking the blood out of you so better stay safe than itchy.
b. Water container
Tap water in El Nido is unsafe to consume so just to ensure that the water you’ll be drinking is clean, make a conscious effort to refill your bottle in your hotel’s dispenser before heading out for the islands or even just for restaurants. Some would suggest to simply buy bottled water every chance you get but hey, we’re all for responsible traveling and minimizing our carbon footprint!
c. Meds for motion sickness
This is particularly apt for those who’ll be traveling from Puerto Princesa as it literally entails a long and winding road. Parts of the route are zigzagging and can get pretty rough. Just to avoid vomiting on your seatmate, take your meds prior to traveling.
And that’s that! Go ahead and plan your next adventure to the best island in the world! 🙂