Rediscovering El Nido in 4 Days: A Travel Guide

Second Time’s the Charm

It’s my second time in El Nido. Back in 2015, I did not have the courage to blog about it fearing that I might not give justice to the beautiful place through my words and photos. El Nido is too immaculately beautiful to describe, not to mention I only have a camera phone back then. And I know it would take guts again to pull-off a lengthy, chunky article about El Nido but it always deserves a story to be told.

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Every year, I travel with my friends for my birthday celebration. Usually, the drill is going to a far-flung place at the end of August with Cath and Cass (my two besties) to conjoin our leaves with the holidays. This year, our destination was Palawan. My initial visit already prompted me to make a promise I’ll go back again because the place’s natural beauty is but timeless to get tired of. The place is entirely perfect for our love of the beach, new sights, and adventures.

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The usual itinerary to Palawan would consist of visiting Puerto Princesa and El Nido to see both the world’s famous Underground River and to enjoy the island tours. For us, we spent four days in El Nido and just a day at Puerto Princesa. I guess our love for the ocean explains that enough.

Decide whether you’re going to put El Nido or Puerto Princesa first, because of the huge traveling hours in between the two places. Suggestively, go straight to El Nido so you’d have ample time to adjust your itinerary considering that it’s farthest from the airport.

How to Go to El Nido

A. From Manila, take a flight bound to Puerto Princesa

From Puerto Princesa, ride a van going to El Nido. Travel time is four hours, fare is Php 500 to Php 550. There are shuttle services parked at the arrival of Puerto Princesa airport that travel from 5AM to 6PM. However, if your arrival is beyond that time, you may check online the available shuttle services or ask help from your hotel if they can arrange that. Balay Paragua had that fixed for us.

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You may also ride the Cherry bus from Puerto Princesa. You may check the full details here.

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B. Take direct flight from Manila to El Nido via Swift Air

Seat fare ranges from 6k to 7k (One way). Check rates here: http://air-swift.com/

Where to Stay in El Nido

There are lots of lodging choices in El Nido ranging from 300 and above. There are hostels, dormitories, inns and posh hotels depending on your budget and preferred location and amenities. Beachfront hotels are popular but we preferred to avoid the crowd to we stayed instead at Balay Paragua which is just a five-minute walk from the beach. Take note that usually the cheap ones are only fan rooms. Air-conditioned rooms start at Php 1500 a night during off-peak and Php 3000 at peak season. Carefully check the reviews online specifically the surroundings, water and electricity supply so you know what to expect.

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I highly recommend Balay Paragua for an affordable inn, with good amenities and guest services. They also offer island tours at reasonable prices.

Note that El Nido has rotational power outage hours so expect occasional brown-out. Some inns have breakfast, some don’t; but worry not because there are too many food establishments around.

Where to Eat in El Nido

As I’ve said in my earlier post, El Nido has too many restaurants, food stalls and eateries to satisfy your gastronomic adventures. The cheapest meal is Php 100- 150 so prepare your wallet for the expenses. Since El Nido caters to mostly foreign tourists, the restau cuisines are international such as Italian, Japanese, Greek, American, French, Mexican, etc. and the prices range from Php 300-400 and above. What should you not miss? The popular pizza and pasta of Trattoria Altrove! Authentic Italian cuisine at its best! We’ve also tried Pinche’s Mexican bestsellers such as soft tacos and enchiladas. We indulged in delicious seafood at Angel’s Wish and tasted the heavenly gelato at Art’s. There are just too many options, but the problem is the budget! Haha!

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Island Tours in El Nido

El Nido is primarily known for its charming islands. The full experience can be achieved in Tours A, B, C and D and are available for booking online, within the vicinity of El Nido, or in your hotel. Island tours are inclusive of buffet lunch consisting mainly of grilled chicken, fish, pork, vegetables and seafood which the tour guides or boatmen prepare themselves. You can combine island tours in one day such as Tour A and C for 2000, but expect shorter hours on each island. We took Tour A and C on two separate days so that we’d get the most out of each tour. Usually the trip starts at 8AM and ends at 4PM. The Eco-tourism Development fee is Php 200. The tour fees are also inclusive of life vest, snorkeling gears and towels. Rental of aqua shoes is Php 100.

Be wary of last-minute tour cancellations as there is a certain charge for that.

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Tour A (Php 1200)– Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, 7 Commando Beach

Tour B (Php 1300)– Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, Snorkeling Site

Tour C (Php 1200)Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach

Tour D (1200)– Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach

Remember to put tons of sunblock. Wear comfy aqua shoes or sandals because there are pointed, rocky parts of the lagoon. Secure your belongings in a dry bag and bring your underwater camera.

Other Sights in El Nido

For serene, laid back beaches, visit Nacpan Beach or Las Cabanas. If you’re up for the hike, check out Nagkalit-kalit falls.

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Interacting with the Locals

El Nido has this peaceful, laid-back vibe. Show respect to the locals by greeting them and avoiding to cause nuisance to the place. I’ve also read that you cannot walk around in bikinis, which is actually true based on observation. (Except at the beach, of course). You may courteously ask for discounts, especially if it’s low peak. Tour guides are friendly too. Tips aren’t mandatory but this will help them and encourage them. Follow specific customs such as leaving your footwear at the entrance of some hotels and restaurants. (This was practiced in Balay Paragua and Trattoria Altrove).

Itinerary

Day 1
6:00 PM – ETD from NAIA Terminal 3 to PPS
7:30 PM – ETA at Puerto Princesa Airport
8:00 PM – ETD from PPS to El Nido

Day 2
2:00 AM – ETA at El Nido Town / Check -In at Balay Paragua
3:00 AM – Lights off
7:00 AM – Registration/Pay Environmental Fee
7:30 AM – Breakfast
9:00 AM – Start of Tour C
12NN – Lunch
4:00 PM – End of Tour
4:30 PM – Snack/Back to Balay Paragua/Freshen-Up
6.30 PM – Dinner
10:00 PM -Lights Off

Day 3
7:00 AM – Wake Up
7:30 AM – Breakfast
9:00 AM – Start of Tour A
12NN – Lunch
4:00 PM – End of Tour
4:30 PM – Snack/Back to Balay Paragua/Freshen Up
6.30 PM – Dinner
10:00 PM – Lights Off

Day 4
7:00 AM – Wake Up
7:30 AM – Breakfast
9:00 AM – Nacpan Beach
12NN – Lunch
4:00 PM – End of Inland Tour
6:30 PM – Dinner / Chill
9:00 PM – Lights Off

Day 5
5:00 AM – Wake Up
6:00 AM – Breakfast/ Pack Up
8:00 AM – ETD from El Nido to PPS
2:00 PM – ETA at PPS
2.30 PM – Hotel Check-in
3:00 PM – Rest/Merienda
5:00 PM – Swimming
7:00 PM – Dinner/Chill
10:00 PM – Lights Off

Day 6
6:00 AM – Wake up
7:00 AM – Breakfast<br>
8:00 AM – City Tour
12:00 PM – Lunch/Back to the Hotel/Pack Up
1:00 PM – PP Airport Check In
3:00 PM – ETD from PPS to MNL
4:00 PM – ETA MNL

Staying in El Nido especially for about 5 days to a week can be tough on the budget. We spent almost 8k in El Nido alone. However, you can choose to scrimp down on accommodation by staying at budget hostels or dormitories. We also found out that we can trim expenses by availing package tours inclusive of the room, island tours and transfers so you may want to check on that. DIY is more expensive. Always ask for discounts. Locals considerably give your haggled prices especially during low peak.

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