Real-time "point and shoot" photographs and anecdotal information from the travels and experiences of rEy Shaun Madolora - Photographer, Traveler, Bicycle Enthusiast, Yogi, Musician, Foodie, Patron of the Arts, and Entrepreneur...
Travel Guide: El Nido - Palawan, Philippines
“A middle-of-the-road budget guide to paradise”
When to Go:
We went to El Nido in August which is “low season” for the Philippines and El Nido, but we still felt like there were plenty of people and there were many times while talking with other travelers that it was said that “we would hate to see this place in high season”!
(Small Lagoon was already packed with people and we were on an early boat!)
There is a higher chance of rain and typhoons and we had a cloudy day or two during the trip, but cloudy days are nice for island hopping around El Nido and you still get plenty of sun. Be sure to plan on spending a whole week here just in case there is some inclement weather. The low season does coincide with the vacation months of Western Europe so expect lots of Spanish and French during this time of year.
(this cloudy day was still beautiful and magnificent!)
We researched several options in this regard, but flying was always the answer. Options are budget driven. We were coming from Manila where you have the option to fly ITI direct into El Nido, but this comes at a price of around $150USD per person (one way). You can also fly Cebu Pacific Air for around $40USD per person (one way) but will have to fly to Puerto Princesa and take a shuttle to El Nido at a cost of $17USD (700PHP) per person. The drive to El Nido from Puerto takes around 6hrs.
We decided to spend a day in Puerto (a day is enough here) to relax from traveling and then take a shuttle to El Nido. The drive is an adventure but it is comfortable and we enjoyed the other travelers we met on the drive. The drive can be impacted by weather so factor this in to your trip. For us it was worth the budget savings to do the drive and plan on the 12hrs of driving. We also enjoyed our time in Puerto as there are some great sights and dining in this capital of Palawan!
Where to Stay:
We stayed on the main beach in El Nido and were glad we did because we were close to everything, but you are always close to everything in the town the size of El Nido. We were happy with our choice to stay at the Entalula Beach Cottages. It is a “middle of the road” accommodation (~$45USD/night) that is perfectly situated on the beach, has exemplary service, and a complimentary breakfast served on your patio every morning. They also have a nice beach area for lounging as well as free WiFi when the power is on (2pm-6am daily). Another option is to stay off the beach or on Caalan Beach. We met other travelers that went this route and were not disappointed.
(View from the Entalula Beach Cottages)
(Entalula Beach Cottages)
What to Do:
This is simple… ISLAND HOPPING TOURS!!! A week in El Nido seems to go by in the blink of an eye… you need 5days here and you will want to stay longer if you can! The town of El Nido is magnificent but the true highlight of the trip is the Bacuit Archipelago. We booked our tours with Art Cafe because of their reputation and were not disappointed. Their tour prices might be a bit more expensive than competitors but we also heard from other travelers that “you get what you pay for”. The tours are ran by expert guides and include a hearty lunch with fish, pork, and beer. Each tour takes the entire day and you will return exhausted!
(Tour A - Small Lagoon - The added cost of the ocean kayak is well worth the expense to be able to explore on your own!)
(Tour A - Simizu Island)
(Tour A - Entalula Island - Lunch)
(Tour A - Big Lagoon)
(Tour A - 7 Commandos Beach)
(Tour C - Hidden Beach)
(Tour C - Star Beach)
(Tour C - The Shrine)
(Tour C - Helicopter Island)
Exploring the town of El Nido is also a must and can be done in a few hours. Treking just south of town to Las Cabanas Beach is a must. A round trip tricycle ride to the beach is 150PHP/$3.50USD (75PHP one-way). We walked there late morning (~45min) and had the entire beach to ourselves for more than 3hrs! It is a magnificent beach with shallow, calm water! Take your own water and snacks because the only resort located on this beach inflates their prices.
(Las Cabanas Beach is located a short hike off the main road)
(Las Cabanas Beach)
Where to Eat:
Western food (Pizza, Pasta, and Sandwiches) seem to dominate the menu items in El Nido but you can still find some great Filipino food and plenty of fresh seafood which is what we prefer. There are no shortage of restaurants on the beach that are great for lunch, happy hour, and sunset dinners!
(The Alternative was our favorite place for happy hour because of the second story terrace and tables nested over the beach. It is also a great place for lunch!)
(The Art Cafe is a great option for dinner with a great selection of Filipino dishes)
(Blue Azul is a super cool place to eat and is one of the few establishments owned by Filipinos. We liked supporting this local family and enjoyed the restaurant where their two young sons also wait the tables!)
(Squido’s stuffed squid did not disapoint!)
(The El Nido Corner Restaurant is an excellent place to watch the sunset over drinks. This restaurant is also locally owned and operated by Filipinos!)
(The Midtown Bakery totally rocks and is a great place to buy fresh snacks for your island tours or beach excursions!)
(Sea Slugs is the perfect place for dinner on the beach and has live music every night of the week)
(Lunch or dinner at Aplaya offers great views of the beach and their menu is diverse offering all the Filipino staple dishes as well as western options)
(A sunset happy hour at the Cadlao Resort is a must as the bar and restaurant offers a magnificent view of Cadlao and Helicopter Islands. The infinity pool is a great effect for sunset photos! Bring a flashlight for your walk back to town as there are no streetlights on the path that runs adjacent to a freaky cemetery!)
We met a lot of travelers during our stay in El Nido that said that this was the best place they have ever been. It is a unique place that is off the beaten path which appears to have stifled corporate development. Let me say that El Nido is well worth the trek off the beaten path and is also a must on a trip to Palawan! When I compare El Nido to the likes of the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia or the Gili Islands of Indonesia I think that El Nido takes the cake! The place is absolutely magical!
A week for a couple in El Nido will cost $220USD Airfare (Cebu Pacific to/from Puerto & Manila); $300USD Accommodations (mid-priced on beach with breakfast); $150USD Tours (3 tours); $70USD Transportation (shuttle to/from Puerto); $30USD/day in meals including happy hours…
Rey Shaun Madolora is a professional photographer, avid traveler, competitive cyclist, yogi, foodie, and entrepreneur who is based in Austin, Texas when he is not exploring the world. This is his fifth trip to the Philippines.