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Diving In El Nido, Palawan: Everything You Need To Know

El Nido on the tropical island of Palawan is a dreamy place to visit. From stunning white sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, and beautiful hidden lagoons, El Nido is one of the most beautiful places in the world!

El Nido is also one of the premier scuba diving destinations in the world. Because conservation efforts have been going on since 1983 (when El Nido gained the status of a Marine Reserve Park), the rich and varied underwater world of the area has been preserved.

When going scuba diving in El Nido, you can expect to see all sorts of beautiful underwater creatures, such as parrotfish, sea turtles, moray eels, stingrays, giant clams, and lots of different corals.

Diving in El Nido, Palawan

View from the beach of El Nido

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Things to know when planning an El Nido diving trip

How to get to El Nido

There are two ways to get to El Nido from Manila: you can take a direct flight or travel via Puerto Princesa city (flight + bus/minivan).

Direct flight from Manila to El Nido

direct flight from Manila to El Nido only takes an hour, however, these flights are quite expensive (around €125 one way).

Flight from Manila to Palawan + bus/minivan from Puerto Princesa to El Nido

Most backpackers, including myself, take a plane from Manila to Puerto Princesa international airport and travel overland from Puerto Princessa to El Nido town (230 kilometers). 

Cebu Pacific has daily flights and is very affordable, we only paid €25 per person!

Click here to find the best plane ticket deals

Watch a beautiful sunset in El Nido

Once you have arrived in Puerto Princesa you can take a bus or a minivan to the town of El Nido. We did both, we took a bus on the way there and traveled back by minivan.

Puerto Princesa – El Nido by bus

  • Departs from: San Jose bus terminal (you have to take a tuk-tuk to get there, keep in mind this will also cost you around 100php, depending on your negotiation skills).
  • Bus ticket: 380-480php
  • Duration: our bus trip took 8 hours (travel time) plus 3 hours of waiting time, so 11 in total.

El Nido – Puerto Princesa by minivan

  • Departs from: Corong-Corong bus terminal, on the south side of El Nido
  • Minivan ticket: 600-700php
  • Duration: our minivan trip took 6 hours, so it was much faster than the bus.

Book a minivan transfer between Puerto Princesa and El Nido

Neither the bus nor the minivan journey was particularly comfortable and both involved a lot of waiting and stopping along the way.

I've only heard similar stories from everybody who traveled to El Nido, so it probably doesn't matter much which company you book, the journey won't be the best part of your El Nido scuba diving trip.

That being said, once you've arrived in paradise you quickly forget about the hassle…

El Nido Big Lagoon

Where to stay in El Nido

Many people visiting El Nido are backpackers traveling the Philippines on a budget. There is plenty of budget accommodation in El Nido, clean dorms as well as cheap private rooms.

For those with bigger budgets, don't worry, there are some excellent luxury hotels in El Nido as well. In the table below you can find my recommendations.

NameStars RatingPriceAgodaBooking
Camp Talusi Hills9.2US$18Click hereClick here
Sea Cocoon Hotel☆☆☆8.5US$78Click hereClick here
Nacpan Beach Glamping☆☆☆8.9US$165Click hereClick here
El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island☆☆☆☆8.9US$370Click hereClick here

Note: Prices for these hotels depend on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Therefore, the prices mentioned above are a rough indication of the price per night to help you compare the different options. Use ‘click here' to see the latest prices on Agoda and Booking.

Also, during peak season (or special holidays like Chinese New Year) it can be very busy in El Nido. If you are traveling during these times it's best to book ahead!

El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island

What is the best time to go scuba diving in El Nido?

The best time to go diving around El Nido is from March until May. During these months, visibility is the best (10-30 meters) and the water temperature is between a comfortable 26- 29°C.

While visibility is lower between December and February (3-10 meters), this can be a worthwhile time to dive in El Nido as well as you may encounter manta rays and whale sharks. The water temperature is a bit lower (between 24- 26°C).

Diving Perhentian Islands Malaysia - giant clam

Is diving in El Nido worth it?

Yes, absolutely! The dive spots around El Nido were phenomenal. The coral was incredibly varied and we saw a lot of cool fish during our dives, like a lionfish, several blue-spotted stingrays, groupers, yellowtail barracuda, and we also found Nemo.

We also saw several sea turtles which had been a bucket list item for my husband for many years. Our scuba diving instructor told us that during a dive in January he saw a whale shark!

This is definitely something that's very high on my wish list, but only when I can see one in its natural habitat.

Beautiful blue coral near Tioman

What are the best dive spots around El Nido?

There are lots of dive sites around El Nido, with varying depths and conditions. We went to the following dive sites during our PADI course in El Nido:

  • South Miniloc
  • Twin Rocks
  • Puglugaban
  • Nat-Nat reef near Cadlao Island
Dive sites El Nido map

Click here for the interactive map

Is diving scary?

I had been asking myself this very question before setting out on our 5-month trip around the world.

You see, diving was something my husband, really wanted to do. He had been snorkeling for years during our previous holidays and when we were planning our trip this was one of his few requirements.

While I wouldn't call myself a daredevil, I do love outdoor activities like hiking, camping, sailing, and skiing. But I wasn’t sure if I would like diving…

The main reason I wasn’t sure was that as a child I was very claustrophobic.

I never stepped into an elevator, I was scared in confined spaces and a (what was supposed to be fun) family trip to the Caves of Han-sur-Lesse in Belgium had me kicking, screaming, and crying the entire tour (mind you, I was 5 years old).

Not so much fun for all the other people on the tour.

Diving at the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia - Anti Gravity Divers

I was afraid that diving would make me feel claustrophobic as well, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Diving is pure freedom! Well, besides the air and depth restrictions;-).

But diving is the best, it feels like you are flying. Floating weightless through the water, with no sound but your own breath, and surrounded by colorful fish, the underwater world is truly a universe of its own.

So if you are unsure about diving as well. Give it a try! Book a discover dive, where you'll learn the basics of diving and get to explore the riches of the marine environment of El Nido.

If you like it, get your PADI Open Water (read more below). If you don't, well, at least you tried!

PADI Open Water Course information guide

If you want to get your PADI Open Water diving certificate, El Nido is a great place to take a course. While it's not the cheapest place to get licensed, compared to many other countries it's still a good deal.

What's more important, there are several dive schools with a good reputation and during your course, you immediately get to experience the fascinating underwater world, instead of spending most of your time in a swimming pool.

Below you can read more about our PADI Open Water Course, what it was like, and how much we paid for it.

How much does a PADI Open Water Course cost in El Nido?

Colorful corals and fish

We paid 19.800PHP (€350/$400) per person for our 3-day PADI Open Water Course.

I paid with my credit card because I didn't have that much cash on me. The exchange rate I got was pretty terrible so we ended up paying €820/$920 for the two of us together.

This is certainly more expensive than other places in Southeast Asia where you can get your PADI, such as Koh Tao.

Nevertheless, I don't regret spending this money for one second and feel that we definitely got a lot of value for our money.

The dive spots in El Nido are amazing and better than Koh Tao (where I did my advanced PADI course).

Summary of the program of our 3-Day PADI Open Water Course

Our PADI course consisted of a 3-day program. Below you can find our day-to-day program and activities.

PADI Open Water Course El Nido Philippines

As you can see in the table, our PADI Open Water Course included:

  • Theory and exam: learning bout scuba diving theory with an exam to test your knowledge.
  • 2 Confined Dives: these can take place in a pool, but in our case, they took place in shallow water near gorgeous white sand beaches. During these dives, you'll focus on practicing your dive skills.
  • 4 Open Water Dives: during these dives, you can enjoy your wonderful surroundings and get more experience as a diver.

Read more details about our El Nido PADI Course below.

Day 1: Theory

PADI Open Water Course Book

The first day was a full day of studying for our theoretical exam. From our dive school, El Nido Puro Divers, we received our PADI Open Water book and a DVD player with movies covering the same material as the book.

There are 5 sections in the PADI Open Water book (6 if you count the introduction). On day 1 of our PADI course, we studied chapters 1-3 in our book and watched the accompanying videos.

Each section of the book ends with a couple of exercises, which help you test yourself and make sure you know the material. The material is not difficult but it does require focus and concentration.

We studied in our room, I suggest finding a spot that helps you to stay focused without any distractions (so a bar might not be your best option).

Personally, I found it very important to understand how things work underwater. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with potential problems made me feel more confident about going diving.

PADI Open Water chart

In the afternoon of day 1, we met up with our dive instructor Lenoel and went through the theory. Lenoel answered all our questions and tested our knowledge by asking us about the materials we studied.

Day 2: Confined Dive #1, Open Water Dives #1 and #2 and Exam

I was super excited about this day as we were going diving for the first time in our lives!

Around 9 am we hopped on the boat of El Nido Puro Divers and headed to our first dive spot near Helicopter Island for Confined Dive #1.

Helicopter island, El Nido, Palawan

On the beach of Helicopter Island our dive instructor Lenoel explained how all our equipment worked (which we learned about in the book and saw on the video, but repetition is key in helping you remember).

And then we walked into the water, strapped on our gear, and descended to the sandy ocean floor. We were just 3 meters below the surface but we were diving nonetheless!

As this was Confined Dive #1, we did several exercises, like taking out our regulator, flooding our mask and emptying it again, and using each other’s alternative air supply.

Even in this relatively ‘boring’ part of the sea (no coral, obviously, otherwise we would damage it by stepping upon the coral), there were still plenty of fish swimming around and I was super excited about the pretty underwater world.

Important note: don't ever step on coral, you will kill and destroy it!

We stayed below the surface for about an hour and a half doing all sorts of exercises before we ascended and hopped in the boat to visit the next dive spot: Miniloc!

This is where we took our first Open Water Dive! We didn’t have to practice any skills but could focus entirely on the amazing surroundings.

Sea turtle grazing on coral

After a delicious lunch with lots of fish, rice, and some vegetables we headed to our last dive location of the day, which turned out to be our favorite place to dive because we saw a sea turtle!

We also saw giant clams which shut if you clap near them and underwater plants that shrink when you carefully move the water close to them, it was fascinating!

After 3 dives we were pretty tired, but our day wasn’t over yet! Back in El Nido town, we studied the rest of the day for our PADI Open Water exam which we took that evening. Luckily we both passed!

PADI Open Water and PADI Advanced Open Water pass

Day 3: Confined Dive #2 and Open Water Dives #3 and #4

Another wonderful day of diving lay ahead of us and I couldn't have been more excited about the amazing experience of the previous day.

At our first dive spot of the day, we did our Confined Dive #2 and practiced the last skills, like taking off our BCD underwater and putting it back on and taking off our mask and putting it back on.

I have been wearing contacts since I was 12 (I used daily contacts on dive days) and I was a little worried this would be a problem, but it really wasn’t!

If you wear contacts like me, just keep your eyes closed when you take off the mask and ask your buddy to stay very close to you while doing this and help you if necessary.

After putting your mask back on you just have to blink a lot to get the salt water out of your eyes, but that’s also true if you don’t wear contacts.

After completing all necessary skill exercises for Confined Dive #2, we were free to roam the reef for a little while before getting back to the surface.

Blue spotted stingray near Tioman

Back on the boat, we sailed to our next dive spot, Puglugaban, where we saw a lionfish, parrotfish, two sea turtles, and lots of different corals.

After 45 magical minutes we had to resurface, but this was such a great dive spot! After lunch, it was time for our fourth and final Open Water Dive at Nat-Nat reef near Cadlao Island.

Last, but certainly not least as we got to see Loro, a 1.50-meter leatherback turtle who is estimated to be at least 150 years old!

About El Nido Puro Divers

El Nido Puro Divers shop front

Overall, I was very happy with our PADI Open Water Course with El Nido Puro. We were the only two students, which meant we had our instructor, Lenoel, all to ourselves and could ask everything we wanted.

This also meant we only had to wait for each other to finish the required exercises, leaving more time for ‘regular’ diving!

Our dive instructor Lenoel was great! He was fluent in English, patient, and explained everything clearly if we didn’t understand it, he explained it again, or better yet, he showed us what to do.

I never felt unsafe underwater as Lenoel was always checking to see how we were doing. To which we always responded with the ‘yes, I am okay’ signal as you can see in the picture below.

Colorful coral around Nusa Penida

The equipment we used was in excellent condition and there were always spare items on board, like backup snorkels and weight belts.

The boat was a traditional Philippine boat, with floaters on the side. Lunch was usually prepared on deck and very tasty with lots of fish, some vegetables, pork, and of course plenty of rice.

The El Nido Puro Diver shop is located in the middle of El Nido, check Tripadvisor for more information.

The one thing I feel could be improved about the course was a bit more time to practice how to assemble our gear and in which order to perform our necessary buddy checks.

We did check our gear and each other’s, but we didn't follow a standard routine. And we only learned how to assemble our own gear when we went diving on Tioman in Malaysia.

So even though it is very convenient to have your gear assembled for you, I find it important to know how to do this myself.

Diving is all about safety, so there is no such thing as a stupid question or being too careful. After all, better safe than sorry!

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Other top things to do in El Nido

Even if you're not interested in scuba diving, El Nido is highly worth a visit! Be sure to check my El Nido travel guide for the best things to do here.

From climbing the Taraw Cliff to relaxing on one of the pristine beaches, you'll have a great time in El Nido.

Take a boat trip

I can't end this post without including one of the must-do activities in El Nido: an island-hopping tour! There are 4 different tours: A, B, C, and D.

The tours are sold everywhere in El Nido, and every tour operator offers pretty much an identical tour (they visit the same locations, and lunch is included).

However, it's up to you to do some bargaining and get yourself a good deal. Alternatively, you can book these tours online as well:

We did tour A and tour C and loved both excursions. Though I'm sure B and D are great as well, the waters around El Nido as simply stunning…

Stops on El Nido Tour A

  • Secret Lagoon
  • Shimizu Beach
  • Seven Commandos beach
  • Big Lagoon (entrance is restricted to 500 people per day so if you want to make sure you can visit this magical spot, be sure to book ahead)
  • Small Lagoon

Click here for the interactive map

Stops on Tour C

  • Helicopter Island
  • Secret Beach
  • Talisay Beach
  • Matinloc Shrine
  • Hidden Beach

Click here for the interactive map.

Note: everybody going out on the water, be it a tour, diving or kayaking, needs to get a 200php environmental permit, which is valid for 10 days.

If you're visiting protected areas such as Big Lagoon you'll also have to pay a 200php users fee. This money is used to preserve the unique nature of El Nido for future generations.

PADI Course El Nido: in conclusion

Getting our PADI Open Water Certificate in El Nido was certainly one of the highlights of our 3-week trip around the Philippines and of our 5-month trip around the world.

After getting our PADI Open Water, we did a lot more dives. We went diving at the Perhentian Islands, got our PADI Advanced Open Water at Koh Tao, Thailand, and explored the wonderful underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and many other spots.

Have you ever tried scuba diving? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!

If you have more time to spend on this beautiful island, also read these about these excellent things to do on Palawan Island.

Planning to go diving in El Nido? Read everything you need to know about El Nido diving and doing a PADI Open Water Course here (costs, dive sites, etc). #Philippines #ElNido #Palawan

This post was updated in February 2023.


Tuesday 1st of March 2016

Glad to know you had a good PADI experience in El Nido. I had mine in Batangas (cheaper indeed ) and also good service, but hey, you were in one of the best beaches so that matters!


Tuesday 1st of March 2016

Very true Karla:-)


Monday 29th of February 2016

Sharing this immediately! I have so many readers who would love this sort of information at their disposal. Thank you for sharing this with us!


Monday 29th of February 2016

That's great to hear Nicole! Thank you:-)


Monday 29th of February 2016

What a gorgeous place to get certified--looks like a great experience! And that's so nice it was just the two of you in the course--would be nice to have the personal attention like that! We aren't certified yet, but we did a "discovery dive" in Curacao several years ago--it was so much fun! We really need to get certified one of these days! :)


Monday 29th of February 2016

Yes, the personal attention was a definite plus and if you want to get your PADI, the Philippines are a great place to do the course! I have heard great things about diving in the Caribbean, would love to go there and check it out!

Jennifer Melroy

Monday 29th of February 2016

Just wait until you get to 100+ dives. Originally, I just loved diving. At about the 100 dive mark, I started not wanting to dive if the conditions weren't good.

Also you should go dry suit diving in Iceland. It's amazing.


Monday 29th of February 2016

Haha, it'll be a while before I am at 100+ dives. But I am planning to go diving on my upcoming trip to Cuba:-). Dry suit diving in Iceland is on the bucket list, I hear it's amazing!


Monday 29th of February 2016

I'm so glad you were honest about your trepidation about diving (and that you ended up loving it). I've not been diving before, but I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about it. I thought I was the only one!


Monday 29th of February 2016

Nope, definitely you are definitely not the only one Mags! I am glad I tried it out, took it slow and asked all the questions I had. It made me feel safe and able to enjoy diving instead of being afraid. I can absolutely recommend giving it a try, you might end up loving it as well:-)