For myself and many other travelers, Palawan was the place that put the Philippines on the world map (and our bucket lists).
El Nido’s exotic turquoise lagoons and jagged limestone rocks are way too unique and beautiful to miss, and the photo ops here are limitless.
It’s rare that you’ll see Palawan missing from a list of the best islands in the world, and rightfully so.
This travel guide will explain how you can experience this gem of the Philippines yourself!
Where Is It?
El Nido is a small town and municipality located on the northern tip of Palawan, a big island in the Philippines.
The area around El Nido bay has lots of small islands (almost 50 total), making it pretty much heaven for tropical island hopping!
How To Get There
El Nido town can be reached by air, van, bus, or ferry.
The easiest, fastest, and most expensive (but recommended) way to get to El Nido is one of the direct flights sold by AirSWIFT.
The El Nido airport (ENI) is not served internationally, so this means you will first need to fly to one of the big cities in the Philippines — Manila or Cebu — and go from there.
More info: How To Get To El Nido
How To Get Around
El Nido town is pretty small.
It’s small enough to be walkable by foot for restaurants and most other things, but if you want to do some exploring outside of town you’ll need transport.
Scooter rentals are about 500 pesos ($10 USD) per day. You can flag down a tricycle taxi for 100-250 pesos per trip, but the scooter is more economical for long trips or multiple stops.
Airport transfers can be arranged by your hotel and should run about 250 pesos for a tricycle (2 pax) or 1,000 pesos for a van.
El Nido Island Hopping Tours
El Nido’s biggest draw (by far) would have to be the incredible island hopping boat tours.
In my opinion, there is no ‘best’ tour, because they’re all amazing! Do them all if you have time.
• Tour A
This is the most popular tour in El Nido, and for good reason. The crazy blue lagoons and pointy rocks have made Tour A one of the best bucket list items in the Philippines. Lots of great kayaking and photo ops on this tour!
More info: El Nido Tour A
• Tour B
Witness some of El Nido’s best beaches and caves! You won’t want to leave Pinagbuyutan island. If you have a drone, Tour B is also one of the best for getting incredible aerial shots.
More info: El Nido Tour B
• Tour C
Explore hidden beaches and shrines! This is the longest tour in the bunch, and takes you the farthest from town, but you get to see massive dinosaur shaped islands and exotic limestone coves.
More info: El Nido Tour C
• Tour D
Two more lagoons! This tour is underrated and has the least crowds, but all of the sights are amazing, as usual. You’ll have some great kayaking opportunities at the lagoons, and the snorkeling on this tour is some of the best.
More info: El Nido Tour D
What To Bring
Most of the items below can be found in El Nido town in a pinch, but the quality of stuff you buy on the street won’t be guaranteed (personally, I’m not about to use a junky knockoff bag from a street vendor to protect my expensive camera gear).
It’s best to buy vetted products online!
Is El Nido Safe?
Yes! We’ve spent months in El Nido town and I’d say it’s a very safe place.
The Philippines does have some serious issues with drugs and violent crime, but this hasn’t touched the small, remote town of El Nido and it’s been a popular tourist spot for many years now.
You’ll be surrounded by international tourists at all times. Just keep your wits about you, and follow normal precautions like not staying out into the early hours.
Best Time To Visit
El Nido is a tropical destination, so it’s warm all year round.
The best months to visit are November to May, when it’s less rainy and not quite as hot.
We went once in January and once in February, and both times had fantastic weather for almost the entire month.
How Long To Stay
I would plan to spend at least 4 to 5 days in El Nido.
Remember, there are 4 different island hopping tours, and you could easily spend a day or two seeing some of the beaches near town.
We stayed 10+ days and covered all of the island tours (and repeated tour A once), with some rest days mixed in.
El Nido has lots of good places to eat now, but these are some of our favorites:
- Altrove: Best pizza in town
- Botanica Cafe: Good food, fair prices, and they have A/C
- CB Cafe: Our go-to eating place last trip. Great food! Low prices and big serving sizes. Good WiFi.
- El Nido Boutique Artcafe: The most well known restaurant in town. A little pricey. Great food, and they sell souvenirs and tour packages. Good WiFi.
- The Vegan Cafe: Good fruit smoothie bowls
- Credit Cards: Most restaurants, hotels, and other things are cash only.
- ATM: El Nido has several working ATMs now with big withdrawal limits. The fee is 250 pesos.
- WiFi: Most places in town have bad WiFi connections. The best solution is a local SIM card. We had great speeds with Globe.
- Hygiene: There have been some issues with sickness and food prep hygiene in El Nido, so check restaurant reviews beforehand. Don’t drink or brush with the tap water.
Where To Stay
Most people stay in either El Nido town or Nacpan Beach.
Nacpan is more scenic, but El Nido has much more options for restaurants, shops, and hotels, and it’s where the boat tours depart from.
We’ve always stayed in El Nido town. We found the convenience hard to beat, and you can still visit Nacpan on a short trip from town if you’d like.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at David’s Guesthouse in El Nido town for 1,600 pesos ($31 USD) per night. This price got us a clean double bed with cold A/C and a private bathroom.
Keep in mind this is a relatively remote town in the Philippines, and the hotel scene in El Nido is still struggling to develop and catch up with rapid demand, so don’t expect luxury.
Even so, this is one of the best budget friendly hotel options we could find in town. The location was perfect -— just a 3 minute walk to the beach and all the best restaurants -- and the owner was very helpful in booking all of our island hopping tours!