Mar 18

paradise islands with white sand and crystal-clear waters around El Nido Even by Philippine standards, El Nido is far off the common map. It’s not easy to get there cheap or uncomplicated. You either can shell out big bucks for one of the few and overpriced flights by SEAIR or go the ‘hammer route’ – via MiniVan or Bus from Puerto Princesa via Roxas and Taytay over dusty gravel roads – which certainly is a 5-6 hour ordeal you can still tell your unborn grand children about.

Yet, what awaits you is rough place of sheer beauty, a warp back in time to when punctuality, electricity, hot water, Cable TV and other modern amenities where still very much unimportant and the beauty of nature was sufficient to make ones day. Make yours!

Go East young man!

Rough Minivan trip over dusty and unpaved roads from Puerto Princesa to El Nido The said MiniVan trip will usually cost you around 500-700 Pesos from Puerto Princesa, where you will be picked up from your hotel in the morning. The way back is normally a bit cheaper, as they will simply drop you at the bus terminal of Puerto Princesa upon return.

The first thing that awaits you at the North-East end of Palawan is the sleepy yet charming El Nido town itself, located at the pristine Bacuit Bay with sparkling blue water, lined with razor-sharp rocks and a view to kill for. You can see similar limestone and rock formations like in Thailand or the Halong Bay of Vietnam.

View into the Bay from El Nido town Even though it looks like a long shot, scientists say, that Palawan was formerly part of continental Asia and only separated a couple of million years ago, thus the similar topography, but you can’t tell for sure these days as nobody was around when that happened.

Either way, the limestone cliffs look absolutely impressive, with pretty diverse forms, shapes and silhouettes.

El Nido town itself is pretty small, with only about 3.000 souls living here. Maybe that’s what makes up part of its charm also.

Where to stay?

El Nido town is a very small and sleepy settlement Arriving in El Nido, your first goal should be to secure some accommodation, which is easy enough, as there is basically only 1 road of hotels and pensions to check. I would recommend to avoid the hotels directly at the beach, as they obviously lost their plot regarding affordable hotel fares and charge anything from 2.500 Pesos up to 4.000 Pesos per night. for some mediocre rooms.

Also be aware, that even now in 2010, El Nido has a huge electricity problem, meaning that all power will be off from 6.00am until 2.00pm, so whatever you pay for your hotel – your power (and all modern amenities like TV, Aircon and even Hot Water) won’t work during that period, no matter how much you actually paid for it.

Generators are few and far between here, so if you decide to pay a fortune for your hotel room, make sure, they’ve got one´.

Why not go for more affordable rates, if what you get for it is basically the same – a room with bed and cold shower? Haha! But seriously, in the 2nd row you can easily find rooms for as low as 650 Pesos per night and they might even throw in some morning glory…ahhh, I mean hot coffee for you.

What to eat?

Magnificient limestone rocks and pristine beaches Your food options mainly include a string of restaurant along the main bay of El Nido, with prices all pretty similar and dishes starting usually around the 100-250 Pesos mark. Beer costs almost the same anywhere with at least 50 Pesos to shell out for a small San Miguel bottle, a bit more for San Miguel Light.

Tip: check the small stalls, stores and mini markets in the 2nd row or around the market place and City Hall – here you can buy San Miguel Grande or Red Horse Litro bottles for anything between 55 to 75 Pesos and save about 50% on your alcohol bills. Most stalls also serve food options for the more adventurous gourmet, but quality may vary drastically from ‘okay’ to ‘yikes’. In general, if it’s fried in hot oil, it should be safe to eat, as ong as it’s hot.

Especially fish is not always sold fresh and is to be cooked, fried or baked over and again – until it’s all sold. Tuna, Snapper, Hornfish, Squid are the most common sea creatures found here and can be had for amazingly cheap fare.

What to do?

Most activities in El Nido are almost solely centered around watersport, although trekking, hiking and caving are also catching up. If you are not the lazy type who is happy already to sit at the main beach watching the sea and letting time pass on its own, your day will usually include one of several standardized boat tours.

different kind of limestone rocks and powdery beaches abound You will go with Outrigger boats around the dozens of different types of islands around El Nido, checking out bays, caves, beaches, lagoons and lonely Robinson Crusoe islands.

Those tours cost anything between 450-700 Pesos, depending on how many islands you will visit, what’s included (water, lunch snorkeling) and how many people will be on ‘your’ boat (typically 2-6).

When Lunch is included, it’s taken on one of those paradise islands you wouldn’t even know that they existed.

The Skipper will prepare some fish, rice and even salad for you, some bananas or pineapple will be your desert. Snorkel gear is an absolute must, as you definitely want to cool down after a while.

Have a break - improvised lunch on one of El Nido's Robinson Crusoe islands The underwater worlds around El Nido are surprisingly bland, there are not many big creatures to see anymore, although swarms of small fish, corals and even turtles are still said to be found here. Also several type of jelly-fish can be found here, most of them harmless, but some stinging, so watch out when you see some and only admire their beauty from a safe distance.

Still, snorkeling around those islands is definitely a highlight here. It’s hard to imagine cleaner and clearer waters, the surrounding nature will give you a kick and everything truly looks like out of a movie or just taken from picture postcards. It doesn’t get any better than this!

You can also rent small plastic Kajaks to explore the islands in a slower way or with your own pace.

The most famous islands and beaches around are Miniloc island, Lagen island, Dimulacad island, Pangalusian island (snake island) and Seven Commando beach,

All bliss? Not!

Beautiful Sea Creatures - Jelly Fish The oceans here also seem to be overfished and I was surprised to not see more of macro flora and fauna like for instance in Thailand or Indonesia.

Some corals are still in surprisingly good shape, especially a bit further out from the landing spots of the islands.

Anchoring is still pretty common here, so far every boat I’ve seen during the trips simply throw their anchors unto the reef or into the sand to fix the boat. There were some efforts to sink cement blocks at the main beaches for providing safer anchor options, but it seems that they aren’t used anymore. Maybe someone stole the buoys who marked those, as I didn’t see any of them. Like I said, every boat without any exception simply dropped their anchor into the seabed, thus doing their part to destroy coral and reef life. If you think about it that there can be dozens of boat trips daily to always the same island, you can imagine what those anchor drops do to corals and reefs.

That also makes the environmental fee of 200 Pesos (which every visitor who goes on boat tours has to pay every 10 days) a bit like of a joke.

Local fishing boats in a plastic and sewage soup near El Nido's harborThere isn’t much done to safe the environment here, as also the main bay of El Nido is only pristine and cleaned up at the main portion of the tourist beach. Just walk a bit further left from the harbor of El Nido and you will see that plastic, garbage, sewage and other stuff is still dumped into the bay without regret. Luckily, El Nido is a small place and the impact of tourists visiting as well as the locals polluting it is still negligible.

I’m no expert and don’t know, where all the fish in the oceans around El Nido went, I would suspect overfishing like elsewhere, but the global warming phenomenon El Nino can also be a culprit. Corals die due to higher water temperatures and after the corals the fish populations goes also down the drain, as they find their normal living environment damaged and it harder to feed and survive.


Is El Nido worth visiting? You bet! With its 50 white-sand beaches, gorgeous limestone cliffs and crystal-clear blue waters, this is a paradise destination like even Robert Louis Stevenson would not have imagined it.

panoramic scenery to hold your breath in El Nido It’s also rumored that Alex Garland, who wrote the book ‘The Beach’, came up with the idea somewhere around here, just moved the setting to more popular Thailand. And you can easily see, why those islands here are unique and hopefully treasured for many more years to come. The nature and scenery is just gorgeous and breathtaking, it’s hard to exaggerate or give it enough credit with words.

Unfortunately things don’t look too good. With the damaged oceans looking more and more deserted from marine life and tourism catching up only now, it’s not easy to recommend what to do. Should you stay or should you go?

So far, El Nido is still in top form, a few issues give or take. Will it be better to be left alone? Maybe. But you would miss out on one of Earth’s most beautiful ocean and beach destination. So yeah, go there, enjoy El Nido, enjoy yourself and have a good time, but please be responsible for the nature around you.

Take only pictures and leave only footprints and bubbles!

Some more pictures of Palawan, Puerto Princesa and El Nido can be found here.

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written by Chris

31 Responses to “Explore El Nido Palawan, The Last Frontier of the Philippines”

  1. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    quote…a view to kill for…unquote
    Funny, and so I thought El Nido has a view to die for :D
    I agree. Some corals are still in surprisingly good shape, especially a bit further out from the landing spots of the islands… that despite of the illegal compressor fishing that abound in the area.
    I still like El Nido as compared to Boracay. While Boracay is much accessible as compared to El Nido, I still would prefer El Nido due to its pristine condition, and with lesser tourist commercialism as compared to Boracay, that makes it even better and still on top of my list.
    I guess nothing had changed much after I left El Nido nine years ago. I remember, in the local village where I lived, the electricity is cut-off sometime in between 10PM to 4AM, contrary to what you have experienced in the hotel of which the power shut off occur during daytime.
    I enjoy your reading your write up, chris, and it brought me a lot of memories.
    I wish I can visit El Nido again in the future…

  2. JurgenNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    Great article about a great place! Only thing I disliked about El Nido was the fact that you could enjoy the full beauty only by boat trip. The only accessible beach by foot, the one where the village is located, is quite boring. That means that after 4 days, once you did all of the 4 standardized boat trips, there’s nothing else to do.
    Anyway, we had a great time there, buddy!

    Cheers from the Andamans

  3. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    dodong, you are right…more to die for…or kill – almost same thing, in the end somebody is dead. Hopefully not us. Haha! Glad you have good memories about El Nido. I thought similar to Jurgen, that maybe after a few days, you will have seen it all….but now, I almost think I can imagine myself returning very soon. It was really a nice place to stay and relax a few days. True also, that having to use a boat is maybe the only disadvantage…but the beauty of the visited beaches make more than up for it. I miss El Nido already….so maybe we both will return there someday… :D

  4. carrieNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Hi. Appreciate what you have written about the places you’ve visited in the Philippines. My country has a lot to offer indeed… if only the people can be more responsible in taking care of her. Would love to have the same opportunity to travel more often… I should really make the time for it asap! Just reading your blogs actually take me to the places you’ve seen and visited already. Thanks.

  5. SergeyNo Gravatar THAILAND Says:


    Just 2 km south there is good beach Caron-Coron. Also sunsets there are amazing.

    There are some houses there for rent – mostly filipino style – 5-10k pesos per month.

    Food as i noted before is very well made in Stuning vistas – at the end of coron-coron.

    Nice place to spend a week or month, but absence of electricity, good internet, good houses, zero medical services , even absence of hot water – so we decided to leave it.

  6. GracieNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Haven’t been to El Nido but I have heard it’s a very wonderful place. I would like to visit Palawan one of these days. The tips you’ve shared will surely help first timers like me..

  7. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    What I want to do in El Nido is to buy a small rowing boat and use it to roam around the shores of the mainland. I can paddle for days as long as I have lots of provisions in the boat. I used to row a boat in El Nido but it always took me half a day and would come back to my origin. It’s because I have works to be done and also, I don’t bring much provisions (I would only brought drinking water contained in a softdrink bottle and a few bread). Well, that’s all about it for the adventure. for island hopping, one needs a motorized boat. While it may be possible to row a boat in island hopping, I think I won’t do it :)
    El Nido is like a paradise to me and I surely would visit this place sometime again in the future…

  8. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Carrie and Gracie, thanks for the heads-up! Sergey, thanks for the additional tips about Coron!

    Dodong, what an unusual idea! Your workout regime must be not enough, that you come up with rowing a boat at those distances. Hehe, very cool! :D

  9. queeniebeeNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Hi Chris,
    Am I correct in thinking that there has been off-shore oil and natural gas drilling off the coast in Palawan? It seems to me that I read that recently. I wondered what the effect on fish population and the ocean environment in the area would be.

  10. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    queeniebee, that’s the first time I hear about that. Maybe that could be a reason also, although I have no idea how that could affect the ecosystem? :-/

  11. Allen TrottierNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Hey Chris, did you write this post while you were in El Nido? If so, i think I was there at the same time! I was there from March 15 – 28.

  12. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I was there from 1st of March (Puerto Princesa) then on to El Nido for a few days and flying back from PP to Cebu on the 9th of March, so all in all only 10 days a bit earlier than you, Allan Trottier. Next time we coordinate better and catch up for a few drinks! I also met Sergey (who commented above) and his friend in PP for coffee, which was a nice chit-chat. ;-)

  13. pvNo Gravatar NETHERLANDS Says:

    Was in El Nido in 1990 and again 1999 and will be back again soon.

    My answer to your questions: visit it, but do not tell anyone.

    Make places like this treasures in your heart. You will share the beauty always by radiating hapiness.

    Take care of yourself


  14. MyrtlefordNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Hi Chris, I agree with you I’ve been there for so many times. Philippines is really great country for tourist destination. It is perfectly for a person who wants to visit some peaceful place. The foods and drinks are cheap and the people are very friendly ;-)

  15. GiordanoNo Gravatar CHINA Says:

    I have been many times in philippines however I never had the chance to spend some time in ElNido.
    the main reason is ElNido doesnt have a Gym as far as I know, I can accept no internet, I have no problem to accept no hot water or no electricity…but I like to work out at least daily…
    I called from the cheap to the more expansive hotel and none of them got a gym…and as far as I heard there is no private gym outside of the hotel as well…

  16. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Serious Giordano? Lol! Yup, there is really no Gym in El Nido. It’s more like a small village with only 2.000 souls. Maybe you could try jogging around the limestones or swimming or snorkeling in the bay as an alternative work out regime? You can also rent mountain bikes to explore the surrounding hills and barangays. :D

  17. ElGuapoNo Gravatar BRAZIL Says:

    Great post man.

    Never been to Philippines, but hope to go there one day.

  18. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    @ Giordano: I agree with Chris. You can replace gym work out with jogging around the fishing village or along the shorelines, rent a mountain bike and explore sorrounding hills and barangays, or row a boat just like what I used to do here before. Going to a place like El Nido is not only about scuba diving, snorkeling, and seeing beautiful places but also meeting interesting locals and studying a different culture.
    I immersed myself with the locals in a fishing village for two months and I didn’t have any Internet connection. But since I couldn’t do anything about it, I just enjoyed life as it is. Well of course, I’m not saying you should endure vacation without any internet connection, but I guess if you’ll just be staying El Nido for a few days, you still would survive without any internet connection. You can just connect to the internet once “you’re back to civilization.”
    Visit El Nido and the experience will weigh out the disadvantage of gym and the internet..

  19. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    And on top of that, Internet works fairly well in El Nido. Just use a Smart SIM Card and surf with 3G speeds – no problem! ;-)

  20. SergeyNo Gravatar THAILAND Says:

    Actually smart bro sucks in el nido. Max you can get is 20 kbps.

    But there are free non passworded wifi in elnido hotel – so if you leave close to it you can pick up it’s signal.

    That was about 150 kilobyte per second, which is more than ok for palowan.

  21. GiordanoNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    well guysI totally agree that gym/workout can be replaced with other activities but Im looking for a place to retire, therefore the plan is to have a long holiday first.
    so if you dont mind I will ask you more questions to understand if its the right place, maybe it can help me.

    actually im looking for a place with the following req. since you guys have been travelling more than me although its 5 years I lived in China I have been quite buys to make money to reach this goal “ESCAPE/RETIRE/FREEDOM” ;-)

    I need a place with:
    – nice beaches and nature (so far I loved rendang in malaysia)
    – with a gym since I love boxing and martial arts together with BB
    – a place where I can live with 1000USD per month to cover all, alright I do few things in life (gym, play fusion guitar so lets say music), observing the nature and meeting people; for the food as well I usually cook by myself simple things as chicken and vegetables….
    – I love smoking :D >:)

    once I find a place can really cover these basic things, I think Im pretty done. the plan may be slightly changed if I deicde to buy a property in that place, but it will requires a few more years of sacrifice.

    sorry if im a bit Off Topic, but I will really glad to get your help

    thanks in advance!


  22. SicknoteNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Not long back from El Nido and the mobile broadband was working fine. I was using Globe and have no complaints.

    There is also a gym in El Nido…..50 pesos a session. It’s old lifting equipment but does the job.

  23. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Serious? There is even a Gym in El Nido? LoL! Seems like good news for Giordano, if he is still interested. Great update Sicknote. :D

  24. SicknoteNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Yeah, I was surprised myself when I found it….lol.

    It’s along the same street as TaoPhilippines and the Art Cafe……..when you smell the house drying the fish your close.

    Was not that impressed with El Nido. Took a few boat trips and was surprised by the ammount of dead coral…..very very poor snorkling. Far too many people doing the same trips and that was low season, can only imagine what it’s like in peak season.

    Scenery is amazing though.

  25. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Agree 100% with the scenery and the amount of fish population, Sicknote!

  26. pinoy boyNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    there’s about a thousand islands more in the province of Palawan, and i bet 70% of which are still to be discovered. gotta love this country! :) And thank you for being objective about the Philippines. Cheers mate!

  27. Philippines and Bali soon directly connected » nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] Boracay, El Nido and Bohol would be just one plane change away from Bali! Something really unheard of since the […]

  28. jadeNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Chris, I always stay in El Nido for a quite sometimes. I really appreciate the happy adventure in the area. I enjoy watching beautiful places and white beaches. Also I admire the hospitality of the people in El Nido. However I am very sorry to say that people in the area i visited like Bucana and Villa Libertad, thier life is not quite enough for a better living. All these was caused by the “Thumbnail Act” in the locality. People have limited access and area in fishing that triggers poverty in the area and oincrease in rate of the out of school youth. I am very sorry for them.

  29. SteveNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    We have 9 people and want a way to get to El Nido as well as a house on beach and a cook. Anyone know of a suitable house on the beach, private and appropriate? Also, logistics of getting to this place is desired. We are flying from Manila.

  30. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    jade, thanks for your comment and additions. El Nido is truly worth a visit, even though it’s not the perfect place, like any other.

    Steve, although the town of El Nido is pretty small, it shouldn’t be a problem to arrange the housing for you and your friends once you touch down there. Just walk around the town (most resorts are near the beach) and inquire based on your preferences. Even if some places are fully booked or can’t cater to larger groups of people, within 30 minutes you should’ve been around the whole town having found a place to stay.

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