El Nido is a tropical paradise on the island Palawan, one of the 7000 islands in the Philippines. After visiting 40+ countries and many (tropical) islands, El Nido still ranks as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!
While the village itself is definitely nice, the reason to visit El Nido is the amazing nature around it. The white-sand beaches are splendid, the underwater world is breathtaking (sorry, couldn’t resist this pun;-) and the limestone cliffs that rise from the crystal clear ocean are impressive…
It’s a place to unwind and relax, however, there are also lots of fun things to do in El Nido, read more below!
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El Nido travel guide
- When is the best time to visit El Nido?
- How to get to El Nido
- Best things to do in El Nido
- Where to stay in El Nido
When to visit El Nido?
The good news is typhoons are not a problem in El Nido and you can visit year-round. However, the best time to visit El Nido is between November and May. I visited in February and personally thought that was a great month to go to El Nido. It wasn’t too hot yet (around 30 degrees Celsius) and we didn’t have any rain during the week we spent there.
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.
A direct flight only takes a little more than one hour, however, these flights are usually quite expensive (around €125 one way). Most backpackers, including myself, take a plane from Manila to Puerto Princesa and travel overland from Puerto Princesa to El Nido (230 kilometers). Cebu Pacific has daily flights and is very affordable, we only paid €25 per person!
Once you have arrived in Puerto Princesa you can take a bus or a minivan to 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 tuktuk to get there, keep in mind this will also cost you around 100php, depending on your negotiation skills).
- Bus ticket: 380php (we paid 295php back in 2015)
- Duration: our bus trip took 8 hours plus 3 hours waiting time, so 11 in total.
El Nido – Puerto Princesa by minivan
- Departs from: Corong-Corong bus terminal, on the southside of El Nido
- Minivan ticket: 500-600php (we paid 400php back in 2015)
- Duration: our minivan trip took 6 hours, so it was much faster than the bus.
I recommend to choose the minivan, they stop less often and therefore take less time (in general, it’s the Philippines so anything can happen;-).
Also check out this post: 7 amazing islands in Southeast Asia
The best things to do in El Nido
There are lots of fun things to do in El Nido, both for beach bums as well as for the adventurous! You definitely won’t be bored during your time in El Nido…
- Go scuba diving (and get your PADI!)
- Join an island-hopping (tour A-D)
- Rent a kayak
- Hike the Canopy Walk (also known as the Taraw Cliff)
- Go ziplining
- Relax on Nacpan beach
- Or on Las Cabanas beach
- Hop on a scooter to explore more nearby beaches
- Explore El Nido village (and the market)
- Watch the sunset
1. Go scuba diving (and get your PADI!)
We did our PADI Open Water course in El Nido and I couldn’t have imagined a place more perfect for this! Instead of doing our ‘confined’ practice dives in a boring pool, we did them in the amazing waters around El Nido.
During our dives, we saw lionfish, parrotfishes, sea turtles, rays and lots of different coral… I fell in love with diving in El Nido and have been diving whenever I get the chance ever since.
If you plan to go diving, underwater visibility is best from March until May (between 10-30 meters)
Read all about our PADI Open Water Course in El Nido
2. Go on an island-hopping tour
One of the must-do activities in El Nido is an island tour! There are 4 different tours: A, B, C, and D.
The tours are sold everywhere in El Nido, every tour operator offers pretty much an identical tour (they visit the same locations and lunch is included). However, it’s up to you do some bargaining and get yourself a good deal.
If you get a big enough group together you can hire a private boat and decide on your own preferred itinerary. We did tour A and tour C, however, I’m sure B and D are nice as well.
Stops on Tour A:
- Commando beach
- Shimizu beach
- Secret Lagoon
- Big Lagoon
- Small Lagoon
Stops on Tour C
- Helicopter Island
- Secret Beach
- Talisay Beach
- Matinloc Shrine
- Hidden Beach
Costs of the island tours in El Nido: back in 2015 we paid 1800php per person for Tour A, Tour C, and the environmental permit. However, prices have increased since, expect to pay around 1200php per tour.
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.
3. Rent a kayak and explore the islands by yourself!
Stefan and Sebastien from Nomadic Boys Gay Travel Blog: one of the best things to do in El Nido is kayaking! There are several islands around El Nido which offer different experiences, whether it’s in a small lagoon or at the open sea. The area is surrounded by numerous islands, all of which offer excellent kayaking opportunities.
Some of our favorites include the Miniloc islands and the islands of Cadlao further north from El Nido. Although it can get quite crowded, especially with people doing the classic A, B, C and D Tours, these islands are still remarkable.
You can rent a kayak for the day and go island hopping, passing the tranquil turquoise-green waters and steep limestone cliffs.
Along the way, you also pass lots of colorful healthy coral, which is ideal for snorkeling if you bring a mask and snorkel with you. We also took a packed lunch with us and stopped over at one of the islands to eat together on one of the secluded beaches.
Just make sure you check the weather because if it’s too windy kayaking can be (too) dangerous. We recommend renting a kayak from the El Nido Boutique and Art Café, who will also advise on safety and a fun but feasible route.
4. Hike the Canopy Walk (also known as Taraw Cliff)
Louis from The Northern Boy: if you want to experience El Nido’s famous Taraw Cliff in a unique way, this top thing to do in El Nido is for you.
The Canopy Walk experience in El Nido is an easy version of rock climbing. This means that even if you have never scaled a cliff before, you can still do this activity.
There are parts of the cliff hike that are steep and will challenge you. Also, the canopy walk bridges can be a little shaky and might spook you a little. That being said: it’s an amazing experience! The bridge stretches out 75-meters and is suspended over 30-meters above the floor.
Other than the boat tours in El Nido, this was definitely one of the coolest things to do. You will have the opportunity to take some beautiful photos!
Good to know: the cost is P500 per person
Alice from Teacake Travels: I totally agree with Louis, hiking up to Taraw Cliff is definitely a must-do when you are in El Nido!
Between drinking all of those juicy coconuts, soaking up the sun and hopping from island to island, this is a chance to get some serious exercise in with one mighty top-notch view at the end! You might even come away saying that this was the highlight of your trip!
Taraw Cliff is the highest limestone peak in the town of El Nido and is admittedly, quite a formation to take on! No late partying the night before because this hike needs to be started at the crack of dawn if you want to see that glorious Palawan sunrise (we’re talking 5 am).
The hike itself is unrelenting. It’s steep, immediately difficult and has its fair share of sharp rocks jutting out from all angles.
Bring water, wear sunscreen, wear gloves, have some seriously sturdy shoes on and you’ll be getting to that peak feeling like an absolute trooper.
Planning to visit Coron as well? Check out Alice’s advice how to travel from El Nido to Coron!
5. Go ziplining
Raluca of Whisper Wanderlust: of all the activities I have done in El Nido, the zip-line is in my top 3 for sure! Besides adrenaline, the views are amazing…
The zip line crosses the Marimegmeg beach, but also some water between two islands. You can choose to go one way, to Depeldet Island or make a round trip.
To reach the zip line, which is close to Las Cabanas Beach (read more about Cabanas Beach below), you have to hike a hill for about 10 minutes. Even if it may seem scary to be so high above the water, I advise you to forget about the fear! The risk of something happening to you is almost absent, and the scenery deserves all the effort.
I recommend that you try the zip line on a sunny day to enjoy the most beautiful turquoise shades of water. The distance between the two islands is 750 meters and one way takes about one exhilarating minute.
6. Visit Nacpan beach
Katherine from Tara Lets Anywhere: Nacpan Beach is often said to be the most beautiful beach in El Nido. It’s about 4 kilometers long, with fine sands and cool, clean water perfect for beach bumming.
It’s not included as a stop in the island hopping tours in El Nido, so you’ll have to rent a motorcycle (more about this below) or tricycle to get here. Travel time is about 45 minutes from the town proper.
The best thing to do here is swim or just get yourself a hammock and relax… You can also do kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding.
There’s a small hill in Nacpan Beach that you can trek to get a view of the iconic “Twin Beach” (Nacpan and Calitang, separated only by a short stretch of sand).
If you get hungry, there’s a small eatery here that sells cheap seafood.
Aside from its beauty, Nacpan Beach is also a good destination because it’s less crowded compared to the beaches close to the town proper. Therefore it’s more exclusive and usually quieter.
The roads to many of these beaches can be a little rough or sandy in parts, but that just adds to the adventure! However, the main roads are really quiet and make for very easy riding.
7. Or relax on Las Cabanas Beach
Noel from Travel Photo Discovery: there are so many spectacular beaches to explore in El Nido and the surrounding islands. But if you are on the main part of El Nido and looking for an amazing beach just a few minutes’ drive from the heart of town where you can enjoy the sunset, check out the lovely Las Cabanas beach with beautiful views of the bay and surrounding islands.
There are limited bars and restaurants but the beach itself and the sunsets are priceless. There is a new restaurant/bar in the middle section of the beach which has a fantastic happy hour just in time for the sunset hour.
Some amazing tropical drinks and a fantastic sunset make your experience at Las Cabanas worth the short drive. It’s easy to catch a tricycle to this beach just outside of El Nido proper.
8. Rent a scooter to explore more beautiful beaches around El Nido
Cat from Walk My World: before visiting El Nido, we thought all the best beaches were only accessible by either a group tour or chartered boat trip from the harbor.
But once we started looking on google maps, we realized there were many stunning beaches all within a short ride from the center of El Nido!
Not only does this mean you can find your own slice of paradise on your own schedule, but you also won’t have to spend much to get there (it costs about $8 per day to hire a motorbike in El Nido).
The most popular beach you can reach is the world-famous Nacpan, a huge palm-lined stretch of sand with gorgeous limestone mountains in the distance.
Also along this stretch of coast is surfer’s paradise Duli. This beach is wild, beautiful and only populated by a couple of shacks selling food. In a place as popular as El Nido, it’s amazing that you can find quiet spots just half an hour away!
You can also visit Lio and Marimegmeg beaches which are a lot closer to town and very pretty, but a little busier.
9. Explore El Nido village (and the market)
With so many things to do just outside El Nido, you’d almost forget to check out the village itself! Be sure to stroll around El Nido proper for an afternoon to check out the market, get a fresh fruit smoothie or something sweet from the bakery.
10. Watch the sunset
After all these awesome activities, the perfect end to your day is to head to El Nido beach, get a cocktail and watch the beautiful sunset…
If you are lucky enough to stay for a couple of days (which I highly recommend, we stayed for a week and still didn’t want to leave), the sunset will amaze you every single day. It’s never the same and you will never get enough of those beautiful changing colors!
Where to stay in El Nido
Where to stay in El Nido on a budget?
Most people visiting El Nido, including myself, are backpackers. Therefore there is plenty of budget accommodation available, both dorms as well as cheap private rooms.
Keep in mind that during peak season (or special holidays like Chinese New Year) it can be very busy. If you are traveling during these times it can be smart to book ahead!
Where to stay in El Nido on a medium budget?
If you are willing to spend a bit more, there is some great mid-range accommodation available in El Nido as well.
For €85 you can book a room in the lovely Sea Cocoon Hotel, with a beautiful swimming pool and breakfast included.
Where to stay in El Nido on a high budget (aka what’s the most exclusive resort in El Nido?)
If you are visiting El Nido on your honeymoon, or to celebrate your wedding anniversary (or another special occasion) and you are looking for an unforgettable place to stay, I recommend to check out the
El Nido Resort on Miniloc Island.
This exclusive resort offers beautiful water cottages on stilts, your classic over water bungalow dream… It takes a 40 minute boat ride from El Nido to get there, but you are guaranteed a once in a lifetime experience!
Looking for another great place to celebrate your wedding anniversary? Check out my post about the amazing Jamahal Resort and Spa on Bali.
How to plan a trip to El Nido: final words
Are you planning on doing some more traveling in Southeast Asia? Read these SE Asia travel tips as well.
This post was updated in March 2019