El Nido Itinerary: Plan Your Next Adventure
El Nido is one of the hottest (most popular) beach destination/place to visit in the Philippines right now. It’s even more popular than Boracay. In this 5 day El Nido itinerary guide, I’m going to show you how you can explore some of the Philippine’s most amazing islands and beaches.
Situated on the west coast of Palawan island and only about 1.5 hours by plane from Manila, El Nido is famous for its stunning limestone islands with their hidden lagoons and secret beaches dotting Bacuit Bay. Imagine Halong Bay in Vietnam or Yangshuo in China but in the middle of the clearest and bluest water you’ll ever see in your life. And that’s Nido.
I spent 10 days in El Nido exploring the town and surrounding area. The El Nido itinerary I’ve come up with is one that should satisfy those who are looking to see the most important sights, get some time to relax on the beach, but also find some less touristy spots in Palawan.
If you’re looking for where else to visit in this beautiful country, check out my 15 favorite destinations in the Philippines.
For a list of ALL my Philippines itineraries and travel info check out my Philippines Travel Guide page.
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Table of Contents
PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I've used for short-term travel. When I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They're very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.
When to visit El Nido
End of November – Beginning of March – It’s the coolest time temperature-wise; you might experience occasional rain showers and rough seas at times while other times things will be dry and calm; I was there at the end of January and it was hot in the morning and early afternoon and then it sometimes got cool and windy in the late afternoon, making swimming in the ocean uncomfortable; you’ll see lots of Europeans tourists
End of March – May: the driest season; Filipinos like to come here at this time; the weather is hot but the sea is calmer and you don’t have to worry about monsoon rains
June – Beginning of November: monsoon season; prices drop and seas become rougher and there are frequent rain showers
HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
Palawan may be the Philippines ’ most popular tourist destination at the moment, but it also has one of the country’s least developed road systems. Some locals and hotel owners told me it’s because Palawan’s corrupt governor siphons off funds for his own benefit. Some of the roads to popular destinations are still unpaved and some of its most beautiful places can only be accessed by motorcycle because of the rough roads.
* Prices are for April 2020
- Manila / Cebu – El Nido: You can fly from Manila or Cebu directly to El Nido. BUT flights are pricey. US$130-$175
- Manila / Cebu – Puerto Princesa – (Port Barton) – El Nido: A cheaper way to get to El Nido is by flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa (US$50) and then taking a van to El Nido (550 – 700 pesos / US$11-$14). The van takes 5-6 hours. You can also insert a stopover for a few days in the lovely and remote beach town of Port Barton (600 pesos / US$12).
- Manila / Cebu – Coron – El Nido: An alternative is to fly into Coron (US$70) and then take a ferry to El Nido (1,800 pesos / US$36 – buy a ticket from Isla Expeditions on Serena Street). Coron is one of the best places for diving in the Philippines as it’s home to many shipwrecks from WWII.
- Manila – Puerto Princesa – El Nido: The boat from Manila leaves each Friday at 7 pm. It takes 24 hours and costs 2,689 pesos (US$54) for tourist class. You can then take a van to El Nido.
- Manila – Coron – El Nido: Another popular way to get to Coron is by ferry. The ferry leaves Manila every Friday at 7 pm. It takes 11 hours and costs 1,400 pesos (US$28) for tourist class.
You can also find out more info on getting to and from El Nido in my Port Barton post.
PRO TIP: When purchasing plane tickets for the Philippines, check to see whether the ticket covers checked baggage. If it doesn’t, it’s cheaper to purchase it online rather than at the airport.
I experienced this the hard way. I thought I had purchased checked baggage online BUT when I got to the airport, Air Asia said I didn’t and charged me 1,100 pesos. Online it would have cost me 430 pesos.
AND airlines in the Philippines have strict carry-on baggage limits of 7 kg. They DO check and if you’re over the weight, they charge you a lot!
HOW TO GET AROUND EL NIDO
I’ll explain how to get to each of the beaches here, but overall you’ve got a few options. None of them are great. First, if you can, renting a scooter or motorcycle is the best. You can do this for around 300 pesos per day. BUT if you’re like me and can’t drive one, you can get around by tricycle (tuk-tuk), free shuttle bus (Lio Beach), or van (Nacpan Beach).
The free shuttle bus to Lio Beach leaves from this place (near Frendz Hostel).
El Nido Itinerary
Here’s my suggested itinerary for 4 to 5 days in El Nido. You can do this itinerary in any order. I’ve arranged the activities this way because you’ll need a day of rest at the beach after doing an island hopping tour. The tours can be exhausting. It’s best not to do 2 tours in a row.
The A, B, C, and D tours take place every day, but the Sibaltan Tour (don’t skip this one) takes place only on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
Day 1 – Island Hopping Tour A
Start your island-hopping adventure with Tour A. Yes, it’s the most popular tour and there’s going to be an annoyingly large number of people. BUT you want to start with this one because the places you’ll visit you will never see the likes of again in your life. Big lagoon and secret lagoon are magical and unique. By day 5 you might be too exhausted of the island hopping tours and you might be tempted to skip it.
What you’re supposed to see on Tour A:
1. Big Lagoon – brilliant – the best part of the tour – you need to pay 350 pesos for a kayak
2. Secret Lagoon – cool – wear water shoes here because you need to walk and swim over lots of rocks
3. Shimizu Island – snorkeling – the coral is dead here so there aren’t that many fish
4. 7 Commando Beach – this is a beautiful beach with crystal clear water
5. Payong Payong Island – we didn’t go here; instead, we went snorkeling at Advance Reef and so quite a lot of colorful fish and coral
How much does the island hopping tour cost?
These are prices from January 2020 if you buy in El Nido.
- Tour: 1,200 pesos (US$24)
- Entrance fee to Big Lagoon: 200 pesos (US$4)
- Environmental tax: 200 pesos (US$4) (a one-time fee that covers all tours for the next 10 days)
- Kayak rental: 250 – 350 pesos per kayak (US$7) – pay this at Big Lagoon
The total cost of the tour can be up to 1,950 pesos (US$40). Ouch!
PRO TIP: If you buy Tour A on Klook, the price may be cheaper (it was when I checked – US$17.35) than buying from your hotel or an agency. BUT it doesn’t include the US$4 entrance fee to Big Lagoon, the US$4 environmental tax, and the US$5 to $7 kayak fee.
What’s included in the price of Tour A?
Check what’s included in the price of your tour. Some tour companies don’t include the price of the entrance fee for Big Lagoon, while others do.
When I bought my tour, I paid 1,600 pesos upfront and then when I got to Big Lagoon, I had to pay the extra 350 pesos to the kayak rental place.
The price of the tour usually includes lunch and snorkeling gear.
The only time you might need cash is at 7 Comando’s Beach where you can buy a cold drink and a snack.
Where can I purchase Tour A?
All tour companies go to the same places no matter where you buy Tour A.
You can buy them from your hotel or hostel or from the numerous travel agencies around El Nido.
I bought mine through my hostel, Happiness Hostel. They use R&R Tours.
You can also buy through Klook, which also used R&R Tours when I was there. As mentioned earlier, they seemed to be cheaper than what I found in El Nido.
PRO TIP: Here's a list of essential items to pack for all of your island-hopping tours while in the Philippines:
- Dry bag - You're going to get wet while in the boat and your things will get wet if you don't have a dry bag. Leave your backpack at your hotel.
- Waterproof bag or pouch for your cell phone especially for your visit to such places as the Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon in El Nido.
- Water shoes - It's important to have a pair because sometimes you'll need to be walking on rocks to get to your destination. You'll thank me later for bringing them.
- Sunscreen - Make sure to put it on 30 minutes before being in the sun and/or water. Banana Boat worked the best for me. You can buy it in the Philippines, too, but it's pricey (500 - 700 pesos depending on the store--shop around!)
- Mask and snorkel - OPTIONAL - Most tour companies provide you with a mask and snorkel, but if you want to bring your own, I highly recommend the full face mask and snorkel. It's ideal for those who aren't confident swimmers.
Day 2: Nacpan Beach
On the second day of your itinerary, head out to the best closest beach to El Nido–Nacpan Beach. It’s a beautiful, long beach with clear water and nice soft sand. Nacpan Beach is located in Nacpan village, a dusty town of unpaved roads and a few shops and restaurants. The beach is surrounded by just a handful of hotels and hostels.
BUT it takes 30-45 minutes by public transportation to get to the beach. So, it can be inconvenient. If you stay out here, you’re stuck with few dining options.
You have to pay an environmental fee of 50 pesos (US$1) to visit Nacpan Beach. You’ll pay the fee when you arrive in Nacpan town.
Getting to Nacpan Beach:
You have two options without a motorcycle:
- You can hire a tricycle for 1,200 pesos (US$24) round trip.
- You can take a van that will pick you up from your hotel for 600 pesos (US$12) round trip. Here’s the van schedule from January 2020.
Where to hang out at Nacpan Beach
When you arrive at Nacpan Beach (facing the ocean), you’ll see to the left tons of people and you’ll see to the right an empty long beach. Turn right and just keep on walking and you should find a beautiful spot all to yourself.
How’s the swimming at Nacpan Beach?
The water is as clear as an aquarium, but it’s also shallow, which is not ideal for swimming. And sometimes the waves can get big. When I was there, the waves were a bit rough in the morning but they calmed down towards the end of the day.
Make sure to stay to watch the sunset. It’s quite magical!
There are also places to eat on the beach. I had a pizza at Sunmei Restaurant. It was ok. They put tons of cheese on it but not enough sauce, so it was kind of bland. You can also have a bite and a drink at the infamous party hostel called Mad Monkey Hostel.
Day 3: Sibaltan Tour
The highlight of my time in El Nido was taking the Sibaltan Tour. Sibaltan is on the opposite side of Palawan from El Nido. It’s an untouristy and unspoiled section of the Palawan. It’s like visiting your own private slice of paradise.
This tour should NOT be skipped.
On the tour, you’ll do the following:
- Snorkel and/or kayak over a reef teeming with the most colorful and abundant fish I’d seen in Palawan. And you won’t have any other tour boats around you.
- Visit a deserted island with the second most beautiful sandbar you’ll see in the Philippines (the first is off the coast of Malapascua). The water is so warm and so crystal clear it’s like you’re swimming in a pool or a bathtub.
- Visit a primary school at a traditional fishing village. This was a great cultural experience that is a nice break from beaches.
This tour is very new and only one business does it, meaning there aren’t going to be other tourists around. It’s ideal if you’re not going to do a 3-day or 5-day island hopping tour from El Nido to Coron.
You can read all about the tour in my comprehensive guide to the Sibaltan Tour through Happiness Hostel.
If it’s too windy, though, the coast guard won’t allow the boat to go out or you might not be able to do the snorkeling part of the tour. I was lucky and we had really calm seas.
Where to purchase the Sibaltan Tour
The tour right now is only available from Happiness Hostel. You don’t need to stay there to buy the tour. It only takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It cost me 1,950 pesos (US$40). The tour includes all forms of transport and lunch. The tour lasts from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
Day 4: Las Cabanas
I was pretty beat after every one of my Island Hopping adventures and needed a day to recuperate. So, I suggest taking it easy on day 4 and heading out to Las Cabanas (a.k.a Vanilla Beach) for some good R&R. This beach is only 15 minutes by tricycle from El Nido. An alternative is a visit to Lio Beach.
Las Cabanas is a great place to swim, relax on the beach, see a spectacular sunset, and grab a drink and a meal on the beach.
Getting to Las Cabanas Beach: The best way to get there is to take a tricycle from El Nido. It takes around 15 minutes. It cost me 150 pesos (US$3) one way. When you return, you can just pick up one of the very many tricycles that are waiting for customers outside of McDonald’s at Las Cabanas (150 pesos). You can’t miss it.
When you get dropped off at Las Cabanas, you’ll see a shopping complex with a McDonalds. Just keep on walking through the corridor of the shopping mall until you get to the beach.
You can lay out your towel and swim on the beach right in front of the shopping complex. There are some beautiful views of the limestone rocks and islands of Bacuit Bay including Helicopter Island.
Alternatively, you can turn left and keep on walking down the beach passing the ziplining and X hotel. You’ll come to a fairly empty beach with some shallow water and few tourists. You can lay your towel down here or you can keep on walking, passing a bunch of rocks and a fancy hotel with its own dock for boats. Here you’ll come to a really empty beach with a stunning view of the limestone islands and with some decent swimming.
Make sure to stay for the brilliant sunsets. You can grab a happy hour drink at Maremegmeg Beach Bar while watching the sunset.
PRO TIP: When you arrive in the Philippines, you can buy a SIM card at the airport. There are 2 companies used throughout the Philippines: Globe and Smart. Each of them gives you 10 or 12 GB of memory for 30 days for 1,000 pesos (US$20). I used 2 GB in 30 days.
If you have to "add load" (add minutes or data) for some reason, you can do it at a convenience store around the Philippines. Tell them you want to "add load". You need to give the clerk your phone # to complete the transaction (I usually store my SIM card # in my Contact,s List).
BUT that's not it. You then need to register your phone. If you have Globe, dial *143#. I usually have the store clerk or someone at my hostel or hotel help me complete the registration. If you don't register after every time you add data to your phone, the minutes and data disappear.
Day 5 – Island Hopping Tour C
If you’re staying for a fifth day, I’d suggest getting in one more island hopping tour and that is Tour C. I’m suggesting this one over Tours B and D because here you’ll visit some unique places and see some stunning limestone rocks and island scenery. Tour C goes out pretty far into Bacuit Bay, giving you more of an opportunity to surround yourself among the amazing limestone rocks and islands.
Here’s what you’re supposed to see on Tour C:
- Helicopter Island – snorkeling – the coral is dead so you’ll see very few fish
- Hidden Beach – sightsee – this is probably the scariest and most interesting part of the tour – you need to swim and walk over huge rocks. If the ocean is rough, the waves can throw you upon the rocks. If you’ve got good guides they’ll help walk you over them –
- Talspay Island – Here you’ll have lunch on the beach and snorkel – but again the coral is dead, so there’s not much fish.
- Secret Beach – We couldn’t visit Secret Beach because the sea was too rough.
- Star Island – After Secret Beach, you’re supposed to go to Star Island, but we went to some reef for more snorkeling. I didn’t go snorkeling because it was too cold and windy.
You can purchase your tour through your hotel or hostel or at any of the travel agencies around El Nido.
Cost of Tour: 1,400 pesos (includes entrance fees, lunch, and snorkeling gear)
Environmental Fee: 200 pesos (if you did Tour C, you don’t need to pay this as long as you STILL have the environmental fee pass)
Where to stay in El Nido
The good thing about El Nido is that there are lots of stylish albeit noisy and expensive hostels (US$20) for you to choose from. The good ones sell out quickly. The bad news is the mid-range hotels are of quite poor quality. There are lots of problems with surly staff and dirty bathrooms. Expect between US$50 to US$80. Then there are lots of gorgeous high-end luxury hotels.
There are 5 areas to stay in around El Nido: El Nido town (noisy but convenient), Nacpan Beach (quiet with nice beach), Las Cabanas (pricey), Corong Corong (poor beach), and Lio Beach (few choices)
I personally would stay on Nacpan Beach.
El Nido town – convenient, but very noisy; lots of partying; lots of restaurants; I stayed here but wouldn’t do it again. You can’t swim or lie out on the beach.
- Budget: Happiness Hostel (US$20) (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) – friendly staff, clean rooms, comfy pod beds, but it gets noisy until midnight. The common area is small and at night it turns into a party. AND there’s no WiFi in the rooms because management says people watch Netflix and keep others awake.
- Mid-range: Amakan (AGODA | BOOKING.COM)– I didn’t stay here but a friend did and she said the private rooms were great. I stayed at MaryGold Hotel (US$55), which is right on the beach, but it’s REALLY NOISY and the staff is UNFRIENDLY.
Nacpan Beach – 30-45 minutes away from El Nido town; great beach; very quiet; hostels and hotels. Nacpan Beach is my #1 choice.
- Budget + Mid-range: Seaside Hue Resort (AGODA | BOOKING.COM)– This place has both dorm and private rooms. It’s right on Nacpan Beach.
- Mid-range: Jack’s Place – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) –Jack’s Place has private rooms; It’s often sold out. If you’re looking for a place on the beach, this is a good choice.
- Luxury: Nacpan Beach Glamping – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) If you want to splurge, Nacpan Beach Glamping is a perfect choice. It’s on the beach.
Las Cabanas Beach – 15 minutes from El Nido; quiet but mostly expensive accommodations
- Luxury: The Birdhouse – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM)– The Bird House is such a cool unique hotel! Stunning views. If you’ve got the money, it’s a nice splurge.
Private Remote Islands – You can have a unique experience and stay in a bamboo hut on your own remote tropical island
- The Island Experience – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) – This hotel has bamboo huts on Darocotan.
- Backpackers Island El Nido – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) – Here’s another opportunity to sleep in a simple hut on Darocotan Island
Where to eat in El Nido
El Nido has some good restaurants for western and vegetarian food. Expect to spend at least 350 pesos per dish (US$7), which is more expensive than other destinations in the Philippines (250 pesos (US$6).
I wasn’t able to find very good Filipino food, though. I ate at two places and although the food is cheaper (150 pesos
If you want to get drinks, El Nido has lots of Happy Hour deals at two for one drinks (200 – 250 pesos). Rum and cokes are especially cheap at around 60 pesos.
Here are the restaurants I tried while in El Nido. I recommend getting the pork tacos at the Hub (look for Frendz Hostel).
- Happiness Café – vegetarian restaurant – excellent food, but very pricey; try the falafel sandwich; their breakfasts are fun
- Art Café – Italian (pizza, pasta) – this restaurant is expensive, the menu is uninspiring, the service is unfriendly, and the food is just not good; the ONLY reason you should go here is for their fast WiFi. They have THE best WiFi in El Nido
- taste – Vegan restaurant – I went here for breakfast – I had the muesli and it’s just about THE best muesli I’ve ever had in my life – expect to pay at least 300 to 400; it’s pricey and their WiFi is unreliable
- The Hub – Mexican, Italian food – excellent food, good Happy Hour special (200 pesos for 2 drinks – buy 1 get 1 free) but horrible service; try the tacos but with pork and not chicken;
- Tuk Tuk Thai – thai food of course – not good food at all; skip this place; expect to pay at least 350 for a dish
- Chicken Schwarma place – I don’t remember the name of the place; it’s on Serena Street; the food is good; it’s food to go
- Angel Wish – I didn’t eat here, but my friend did and raved about the seafood and the price; It was always busy, busy, busy when I walked by
- IBR Restaurant – Filipino food – My first and last taste of sisig; not good but price was decent
- Silog Republic – when you’re walking by this place, the barbecue chicken looks good and the price is decent, but the food isn’t inspiring
What to Pack for Your Trip to El Nido
El Nido is a fascinating destination. You’ll have so many one-of-a-kind experiences—remote islands, colorful tropical fish, secret lagoons, and hidden beaches. I am sure you will have an adventure of a lifetime.
Feel free to leave your questions here or tell me about your own experiences in El Nido!
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More Info on the Philippines:
- Learn how to take public transportation and a Grab and taxi around Manila - First-Timers Guide to Getting Around Manila
- Manila Itinerary: 2 Days Exploring the Culture and History of Manila - In this guide, you'll get a detailed step-by-step itinerary for seeing the sights in Manila.
- Port Barton Itinerary: What to do for 3 Days in Port Barton - Find out how to discover the most beautiful beach in the Philippines.
- One of my favorite experiences in the Philippines was an island-hopping tour of Sibaltan. Get the details here: Sibaltan Tour: Finding Your Secret Paradise in Palawan, Philippines
- El Nido Itinerary: An Adventure of a Lifetime - Learn where to go, what to eat, where to see, and of course, what to do in El Nido.
- Bohol Travel Guide: Exploring the Natural Wonder of the Philippines will tell you exactly what to see and do in Bohol, how to get there, where to stay, and much, much more!
- Siquijor Itinerary: Exploring the Island of Fire will give you the skinny on everything you need to know to travel to Siquijor.
- Malapascua Itinerary: Plan Now! Go Later! will help you plan your trip to Malapascua and Kalanggaman Islands.
- Find out what my 15 favorite places to visit in the Philippines are.
- Solo Travel Guide for the Philippines will give you some pointers on how to best travel solo in the Philippines cheaply and safely and still have a kick-ass time!