How to Spend Three Days in El Nido
El Nido is a little beach town nestled at the foot of the karst cliffs on the Northwest side of Palawan. The town is a popular backpacker hangout with all the usual amenities typically found in such places, although it is far less developed when compared with other similar backpacker towns in Southeast Asia.
It is also the gateway to exploring the beautiful Bacuit Archipelago, a collection of (mostly) uninhabited paradise islands with secluded beaches.
We spent three days discovering the highlights of El Nido. We do not recommend that you stay in El Nido town proper which is noisy and relatively expensive when compared to the rest of the Philippines (more on that below).
Here’s a guide to spending three days in El Nido
DAY 1 – Explore the Town and Watch a Beautiful Sunset
There are several ways of arriving in El Nido depending on where you’re coming from. Buses and vans depart from Puerto Princesa daily. Alternatively, if you’re in Sabang or Port Barton, it is best to take a van unless you feel like spending the day waiting for connecting buses at lonely junctions, which might anyway be full or never turn up.
A van from Port Barton costs 500 PHP (this seems to be a very standard price for this route) and takes about 4 hours with some breaks along the way.
El Nido Town beach
On our first day we headed into town to check out the vibe and walked back to our hostel (located in Corong-Corong, about 20 minutes walk away) along the beaches. The first section of the beach is full of shanties and rubbish, but it gets better as you walk further in and approach the resorts where garbage gives way to a vast expanse of cleaner sand. Coconut trees and bangkas line the beaches, whilst the horizon is dotted with karst islands.
The beaches from El Nido Town to Corong-Corong
There is a beach in El Nido town proper which is where all the boat tours depart from. We were warned against swimming in it because the water there allegedly makes people sick.
The best sunsets are not in El Nido but a few kilometers away at Las Cabanas (or Marimegmeg) beach. Any trike driver will take you there. The beaches in Corong-Corong (on the way to Las Cabanas) also offer some pretty spectacular sunsets. This was our favourite spot since it was very close to where our hostel was located.
Sunset from Corong-Corong
If you get a beer from one of the bars along the beaches you can make use of their little plastic tables and chairs decked out specifically for sunset viewing.
DAY 2 – Head Out of Town to the Beaches and Waterfalls
Our favourite spot in El Nido was without doubt Nacpan beach which is a 40 minutes trike ride away. If you’re looking for a gorgeous but relatively empty and undeveloped beach, this is it!
Nacpan makes up one half of El Nido’s twin beaches, the other half being Caitang which is not as beautiful. We got to the beach on a trike, which after some negotiation cost us 1000 PHP (return included). We suspect that we could have reduced the price further but we were in too much of a hurry to try.
There’s a viewpoint on the west side of Nacpan beach which we tried to climb to, but quickly found out that it was inaccessible (at the time of writing) with No Entry signs posted all over; the heavily armed guards may have also been a clear warning sign! Quite a bugger since this spot provides the best view of the twin beaches, but there are some risks that are simply not worth taking!
The other beach of interest is Duli beach which is about 40 minutes away from Nacpan. We were told that it is usually emptier but is less beautiful than Nacpan. Our trike driver offered to take us there for an additional fee but we were too happy at Nacpan to bother relocating.
Another shot of the gorgeous Nacpan beach
The stop for the Nagkali-Kalit waterfalls is on the way to Nacpan beach too. Again you can ask your trike driver to take you there. From the stop it’s a 40 minute hike to the waterfalls. Since we heard that the waterfalls are not too impressive, we preferred spending our time at the beach.
To get to Nacpan you can hire a trike (the driver will wait for you and also take you back) or, if comfortable with the idea, hire your own motorbike from the town. In the latter case, do pay extra attention as the last stretch of the road is not paved and incredibly uneven. In fact we saw some other people skid and fall off their bike on our way there. Another alternative of course is to visit Nacpan and the waterfalls on a group tour from El Nido.
DAY 3 – Go on a Boat Tour
Boat Tours depart from El Nido beach and are regulated, whereby all agencies offer similar itineraries. The tours are conveniently named Tours A, B, C and D. They can be booked from any agency or hostel in town and the price for each tour is a standard one so there’s no need to shop around. When you’re in El Nido we recommend taking at least one (if not more) of the boat tours which will take up most of your day.
A bangka at Talisay beach
The most popular tours are A and C. Since we only had time for one, we randomly chose C but were later told that C was the preferred option by people who did both, so we were happy to have made the “right” choice!
Tour C takes you to five locations all of which are beautiful, namely Helicopter island, Talisay beach, Secret beach, Matinloc island (or rather the coral reef around it) and Hidden beach. The snorkeling around Matinloc is superb and Hidden beach is absolutely gorgeous.
Snorkeling during Tour C
Hidden beach – the most beautiful of them all
A lunch of grilled fish, shrimp, meats, salads and fruits was served during the trip (which was actually delicious) and snorkelling masks were included in our tour price which was 1400 PHP at the time of writing.
Lunch served during the boat trip
Tips for El Nido
- Carry a torch around. Power outages are frequent and if you’re walking along the El Nido highway when it goes out, you will want the trike and bike drivers to notice you.
- A dry bag is a MUST during the boat trip. The boat will frequently fill up with water and if you’re seated at the front you will get soaked as well. All our clothes got really wet during the trip but they dried very quickly on one of the beaches, after which we stored them safely in the dry bag. Dry bags can be bought from any shop in El Nido and are way cheaper than those we saw at Puerto Princesa, Sabang or Port Barton.
- Water shoes are highly recommended for the boat trip. Parts of the beach are rocky and slippery.
- You might want to consider swimming with a body suit since it is likely that you will be stung and bitten by jellyfish or other fish. I was lightly stung several times, and Nikki had a little chunk of skin bitten off by a very hungry (and brave) fish whilst we were snorkelling!
- Avoid getting any water into your nose or mouth whilst taking a shower. We were told that the water in El Nido will make you very sick and indeed, many people claim that they got sick during their stay there.
Michelle at Nacpan beach
We recommend staying in Corong-Corong town adjacent to El Nido town proper. Accommodation is more affordable and the rooms are bigger, there is a lot less noise and less touts; we feel that it offers a better experience in general.
The walk from our hostel to El Nido beach was about 20 minutes long and very doable even in the afternoon heat. We will not recommend hostel we stayed in though, because of some weird loud noises we heard at night which might have been due to the resident rat mentioned in other reviews for the same hostel.
The entrance to Secret beach
El Nido restaurants seem to be more expensive compared to those in the rest of Palawan (except for Coron). We did find one restaurant, Sizzling Republic, which was a few minutes walk away from our hostel which served great portions of delicious local food. If you go there be sure to try their crocodile sizzler! The town also offers a good selection of bakeries and markets.
Snorkeling at Secret Beach
Since we’re carrying both Smart and Globe SIM cards, we rarely had problems accessing data on our phones. Internet access in El Nido seems to have improved a lot in the past few years although WiFi in most hotels leaves a lot to be desired! The data signal becomes very weak as you move away from the town.