El Nido Travel Guide with Itinerary and Budget (2024)

Consistently voted as one of the “Most Beautiful Islands in the World”, El Nido is everyone’s dream island destination. Adorned with imposing limestone cliffs so characteristic of Palawan, it boasts incredible biodiversity both above and below the surface. If you booked a trip to El Nido, Palawan, this El Nido Travel Guide will help you plan and also give you an idea about the expenses you might expect for your visit. I promise I only included the essentials. Enjoy!

El Nido Top Tourist Spots

I first travelled to El Nido in 2013 went it wasn’t that known among foreign and local tourists. Since then, it became one of the most popular islands in the Philippines. It became too touristy that I wasn’t able to recognize the once laid-back town when I came back. The ugly face of tourism boom welcomed me. Fortunately, it isn’t representative of El Nido as a whole. Here are some of El Nido’s top tourist spots.

Big Lagoon

The Big Lagoon in El Nido is a breathtaking natural wonder, featuring crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Featured in movies like The Bourne Legacy, it’s perfect for kayaking and swimming.

Small Lagoon

The Small Lagoon is not small at all! Although smaller in comparison with the Big Lagoon, this lagoon still feels grand and majestic. It is accessible through a gap between two giant limestone rocks, which you can get through by swimming or kayaking.

Matinloc Shrine

More formally known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc, Matinloc Shrine was built in 1982. Though now abandoned, it remains sacred to the locals and offers outstanding views from its cliffs.

Cadlao Lagoon

Cadlao Lagoon is located on Cadlao Island, one of the many islets in Bacuit Bay near El Nido town. This spot, my favorite snorkeling site in El Nido, offers an excellent snorkeling experience, with waters teeming with corals and diverse marine life.

Nacpac Beach

Nacpan Beach is a 4-kilometer stretch of cream-colored sand beach with crystal-clear turquoise waters. Located 17 kilometers north of El Nido town proper in Palawan, it is easily my favorite beach in El Nido. The only downside is the presence of sand mites, so be sure to pack some insect repellent.

Pinagbuyutan Island in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Pinagbuyutan Island

This is my favorite island in El Nido. Part of the underrated Tour B, is not far from town proper and takes about 30 minutes by outrigger boat to reach. The island features towering cliffs that dramatically descend to the small stretches of beach below. Aside from a shack and coconut trees, this desolate island remains largely untouched.

Taraw Cliff

Climbing Taraw Cliff is a highlight of any trip to El Nido. Located in the heart of town, it offers a magnificent view of Bacuit Bay. While people of various fitness levels and ages can attempt the hike, it is crucial to hire a qualified local guide for safety. You can request one from your hotel receptionist.

secret beach

Shimizu Island

Shimizu Island is a popular lunch stop on El Nido’s island-hopping tours. Surrounded by towering black limestone cliffs and adorned with beautiful palm trees, the island features a pristine stretch of white sand. The crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

Entalula Island

Entalula Island features a beautiful, though small, beach with white, powdery sand. Surrounded by crystal-clear waters and scenic views, it’s a serene spot perfect for relaxing and enjoying nature.

How to get to El Nido

Manila to El Nido (by air)

The most popular way to get to El Nido is by taking a plane. You may take a direct flight from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 to El Nido’s Lio Airport. Air Swift operates daily flights from Manila and fares vary depending on the season. Expensive, yes, but this is the fastest way to get to El Nido. 

Manila to Puerto Prinsesa (by air)

Alternatively, you may take a direct flight from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 to Puerto Princesa International Airport, Palawan’s main airport. From there, take a shared van to El Nido (travel time is 3-4 hours and one way fare is from PHP 600 or $10). Although not as straightforward as the first option, this is the most budget-friendly way to get to El Nido.

Tip: If you decide to take the Puerto Prinsesa route, get the earliest flight from Manila so you’ll get to El Nido before lunch time. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines fly to Puerto Prinsesa daily. There are van transfers from Puerto Prinsesa to El Nido as early as 7:00 AM.

seven commando beach
drone shot of Seven Commando Beach

Manila to Puerto Prinsesa (by sea)

Traveling from Manila to Puerto Princesa with 2GO Travel is another budget-friendly option, though it takes around 24 hours. 2GO Travel offers comfortable cabins and amenities, allowing travelers to enjoy vast ocean views and a leisurely journey to Palawan’s capital. From Puerto Prinsesa, take a shared van to El Nido (travel time is 3-4 hours and one way fare is from PHP 600 or $10). As this arrives at around 9:00 PM, consider staying overnight in Puerto Prinsesa before continuing your journey to El Nido the next day.

Coron to El Nido (by sea)

If you are traveling from Coron and continuing the journey to El Nido, there are a few fast ferry services to choose from. Traveling from El Nido to Coron by fast ferry (vice versa) takes around 3 to 4 hours. This scenic route offers stunning views of turquoise waters and limestone cliffs. 

Nacpan Beach in E Nido
drone shot of Nacpan Beach

How to get around El Nido

Although there aren’t many transportation options in El Nido, you can absolutely get by by renting a motorcycle. The roads are in great condition except the roads leading to Nacpan Beach. For less than PHP 500 ($10) per day, you can rent a motorcycle. Gas is only a few dollars which can already last for a day of adventure. Another option is by taking a tricycle, which costs less than PHP 50 ($1) per ride depending on the distance. 

Where to book an island-hopping tour?

There are 4 main island hopping tours – A, B, C, and D. Having tried all island tours, I recommend that you start with “Tour A” and “Tour C” as these two routes include the best islands and lagoons. 

4D3N El Nido Expedition with Big Dream Boatman

If you’re seeking an extraordinary Palawan Expedition, consider the Coron to El Nido Boat Tour with Big Dream Boatman. This tour elevates island-hopping, getting you to popular spots ahead of the crowds. After exploring iconic locations, they guide you to hidden gems in El Nido, far from the tourist masses. The experience is enhanced by a generous spread of hearty meals, featuring fresh seafood, meats, and vegetables, all expertly prepared by their chef throughout the trip.

Where to stay in El Nido

There are numerous accommodation options in El Nido, from small guesthouses to luxury resorts. Whatever your budget is, there will surely be somewhere that will fit your needs. If you are looking for a place right in the center, then choose the seaside backpacker street (main town or Poblacion). More accommodation options are located in Calle Real, located just on the opposite side of the main street. If you want to stay somewhere off-the-beaten, then Nacpan Beach is a great choice.

Here are some of the best places to stay in El Nido, based on TripAdvisor reviews:

vegan food in El Nido
Taste El Nido’s best-selling Eggplant Lasagna and Smooth Red

Where to eat in El Nido

  • The Nesting Table – I loved the cozy vibe of this restaurant and their emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
  • Taste El Nido – The Vegan Cafe PH – I’m not vegan, but I definitely enjoyed my meals here. Their eggplant lasagna, mac and cheese, COFFEE (legit coffee) and smoothie bowls (smooth red and cool blue) were both nutritious and packed with flavor.
  • THE CAVERN Pod Hotel & Specialty Cafe – This cafe’s unique ambiance and selection of coffee, pastries, and light meals made it the perfect spot to unwind and relax after a long day of exploring El Nido.
  • Bella Vita El Nido – Italian food lovers won’t want to miss Bella Vita. Their wood-fired pizzas and homemade pasta dishes were both delicious and authentic.
  • Altrove – I loved that Altrove’s menu included a variety of dishes from all over the world. It was a great spot to try something new and the food was always top-notch.
  • Big Bad Thai Bistro & Bar – I’m a big fan of Thai food, and Big Bad Thai did not disappoint. Their authentic dishes such as Tom Yum and Pad Thai were packed with flavors and very filling.
  • Happiness Beach Bar – This beachfront bar and restaurant was the perfect spot to grab a cocktail and watch the sunset. Highly recommend their Shakshuka, Pita Falafel, Amaretto Sour, and Happiness Salad.
  • Ashoka – Authentic Indian Cuisine – As an Indian food fan, I was thrilled to find Ashoka. Their Chicken Tikka Masala and Garlic and Cheese Naan were made with the freshest ingredients and always hit the spot.
  • Gusto Gelato + Bistro – After a hot day of exploring, I loved grabbing a refreshing scoop of gelato from Gusto Gelato. They had a wide range of flavors, as well as light bites and sandwiches. I personally liked their Eggs Benedict and Affogato.
  • Osaka Castle El Nido Sushi & Ramen – Highly recommended for you Japanese food lovers! Their spicy salmon poke bowl, Osaka original Takoyaki and ramen were both delicious and filling.
kayaking in El Nido
kayaking at Small Lagoon with my friend Ken

El Nido Travel Guide: 5 days Itinerary and Budget

Travel to El Nido (Day 1)

  • Earliest Flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa (or direct to El Nido)
  • Van from Puerto Princesa Airport to El Nido (PHP 500 / $10)
  • Tricycle from Van Terminal to hotel (PHP 50 / $1)
  • Check-in to your accommodation
  • Lunch at El Nido Town Beach
  • Tricycle to Las Cabanas Beach (PHP 50 / $1)
  • Sunset and dinner at Las Cabanas Beach

Island Hopping Tour A (Day 2)

  • Breakfast (book a hotel with free breakfast)
  • Pay environmental fee at the beach (PHP 200 / $4)
  • Tour A: Small Lagoon or Big Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Payong-payong, Secret Lagoon and Seven Commando Beach (PHP 1,200 / $21)
  • Back to accommodation
  • Dinner

El Nido Island Hopping Tour C (Day 3)

  • Breakfast
  • Tour C: Secret Beach, Hidden Beach,  Matinloc Shrine, Helicopter Island, and Tapiutan Island (PHP 1,400 / $25)
  • Back to accommodation
  • Dinner

Island Hopping Tour B (Day 4)

  • Breakfast
  • Tour B: Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave, Snake Island, and Entalula Island (PHP 1,300 / $23)
  • Back to accommodation
  • Dinner

Back to Puerto Princesa (Day 5)

  • Breakfast
  • Rent a motorcycle to Nacpan Beach (PHP 500 / $10) per motorcyle
  • Pay environmental fee (PHP 50 / $1)
  • Lunch and check out from accommodation
  • Take a tricycle to terminal (PHP 50 / $1)
  • Travel from El Nido to Puerto Princesa (PHP 600 / $10)
  • Dinner in the city
  • Take a tricycle to Puerto Princesa Airport (PHP 50 / $1)
  • Flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila (best to get a later flight so you can still explore El Nido before making your way back to Puerto Prinsesa)

If you follow this El Nido Travel Guide, budget around PHP 10,000-15,000 ($180-270) per person. If you have more time to spare, you can certainly do island-hopping for 3 days to maximize your stay and see more of El Nido’s best attractions!

Disclaimer: This El Nido Travel Guide budget can be achieved if you have at least one travel companion. Only the basic expenses will be included in the total calculation (flights, tours and entrance fees, accommodation, transportation and transfers) Other personal expenses such as food, alcohol, souvenirs, shopping, and the likes are not included. Also, please note cost fluctuate depending on season. Information was up to date at the time of writing.

El Nido Travel Guide: Things to Know Before You Go

What is the best month to go to El Nido?

The best months to visit El Nido are from November to May. During this period, the weather is generally dry and sunny, making it ideal for island-hopping and outdoor activities. The peak tourist season is from December to April, so visiting in the shoulder months like November or May can offer a balance of good weather and fewer crowds.

How many days is enough for El Nido?

A typical stay in El Nido is around 3 to 5 days. This allows you to explore the main islands and lagoons, enjoy some beach time, and possibly fit in a few additional activities like kayaking or hiking. If you want to experience more islands or take part in extra tours, you might consider staying a bit longer.

How to stay connected in El Nido?

To stay connected in El Nido, you can use local SIM cards or eSIMs. Holafly eSIM provides good coverage and reliable service in El Nido. You can purchase and activate the eSIM before your trip, so you’re connected as soon as you arrive. Local SIM cards from Globe and Smart are also available and can be bought at the airport or in town. Some accommodations and cafes offer Wi-Fi, though it might be less reliable in more remote areas.

Get your Holafly eSIM and receive 5% off when you use my code PROJECTGORA.

Do you need cash in El Nido?

Yes, it’s a good idea to carry cash in El Nido. While there are ATMs in town, they can be unreliable, and some places, especially smaller shops and island tours, may not accept card payments. Make sure to bring enough cash for your needs, including tours, meals, and souvenirs.

How much does it cost to travel to El Nido?

The cost of a trip to El Nido can vary based on factors like your travel style, length of stay, and activities. Here’s a rough estimate of typical expenses for a 5-day trip:

  • Budget traveler: PHP 10,000 – PHP 15,000 (approximately $180 – $270)
  • Mid-range traveler: PHP 20,000 – PHP 35,000 (approximately $360 – $630)
  • Luxury traveler: PHP 40,000 and above (approximately $720+)

Should I spend more time in El Nido or Coron?

The choice between El Nido and Coron depends on your preferences and interests. El Nido is known for its dramatic karst landscapes and island-hopping tours to lagoons and beaches. Coron, on the other hand, offers excellent diving opportunities, including shipwrecks from World War II, and stunning lakes. If you’re interested in diving and underwater exploration, you might want to spend more time in Coron. If you prefer island-hopping and beaches, El Nido might be more appealing. Many travelers choose to visit both destinations to experience the best of both worlds.

Enjoying the trip so far? Continue your adventure in Coron!

After an awesome trip in El Nido, continue your journey to Coron and discover the best diving sites in the Philippines. This El Nido to Coron Expedition presents an incredible opportunity to explore more of Palawan’s paradise. Alternatively, discover some of Palawan’s off-the-beaten destinations like Port Barton, San Vicente or Balabac.

That’s it my dear readers! I hope this El Nido Travel Guide will help your trip planning. Feel free to leave a comment below, send a DM on my Instagram or message me on Facebook if you have questions, comments or suggestions! 

By Project Gora

Hey there! My name is Milet Miranda, and I'm a full-time corporate employee during weekdays and a traveler during weekends (and get the picture). I'm a foodie at heart and I love joining food tours. When I'm not traveling, you'll find me walking my dogs or biking around my neighborhood.

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