The Ultimate Guide to El Nido, Palawan

El Nido has been described as an "unspoiled paradise on earth", a "Philippine gem" and "the Philippines' last frontier". This was my first ever trip to the Philippines and I wanted to see if the hype was true.

philippine beach

(Okay, to be honest, whilst I was indeed intrigued by these descriptions, the real reason I wanted to visit was because it's where Garland wrote The Beach, which was my favourite book as a 14 year old. Of course I wanted to see the beaches that inspired The Beach!)

I found that what El Nido has are undoubtably the most breathtaking beaches I've ever had the privilege of seeing (sorry Australia), with many fun things to do there. And whilst it is undoubtably way more touristy than when Garland visited (and displays the regular negatives that tourists bring), it still definitely has this feel of 'edge of the world' remoteness that certainly shocked my sheltered outlook at the time. So although I didn't always enjoy Palawan, it opened my eyes to the fact that was my character flaw, not Palwan's and something I wanted to change about myself. Which I'm very grateful for! So that, combined with those insanely pretty beaches has stayed with me for many years afterwards - thank you El Nido!

things to do in palawan

Thus, I wrote this blog post - partly to prepare you better than I was, so you can enjoy it more than I did, partly as a tribute to this magical place. I hope you enjoy my Ultimate Guide to El Nido Palawan. 

5 Things to do in El Nido

#1 Chill out at Marimegmeg Beach

things to do in el nido

Marimegmeg Beach is not the closest beach to El Nido but in my opinion it is the prettiest, closest beach. By this I mean there are certainly closer beaches but they aren't as nice as this one. Even so, this wasn't my favourite beach in Palawan, but it's perfect for days where you want to go to the beach, but you don't want to have the effort of getting there by boat or long tricycle ride.

to do el nido

marimegmeg beach

There is a bar on the beach that makes good sandwiches and drinks and it's the perfect place to watch the sunset:

sunset palawan

My friend Jon also wrote a guide about El Nido which you can see here: DIY guide to El Nido (opens in a new tab)

#2 Hire a boat and go to Pinabuyutan Island

pinabuyutan island el nido

From Marimegmeg beach it's pretty easy to visit my favourite island: Pinabuyutan Island. It's my favourite because I'd never seen (and haven't since seen) a more beautiful beach. It's the epitome of beach perfect. 

paradise philippines

With the help* of our friends Sab and GK we hired a local fisherman to take us to Pinabuyuan Island and back. 

pinabuyutan island must see

(*This here means that Sab kind of bullied the local fisherman into lowering their prices in what felt like a moment that left her and the fisherman all feeling like they got the worst end of the deal. But considering that Sab, GK, Tan and I had all come from Europe, we could have just paid more to the fishermen who'd no doubt had way less money than us... Like I feel icky thinking back on it. Sorry) 

pinabuyutan island

We paid 1200 PHP (which is about £20 or $25) in total for the four of us. Aka £4 each for a ticket to paradise and back. Whilst I feel bad about Sab bullying the fisherman now, at the time I had my own financial traumas and hang-ups and felt protected by her 'expertise' and happy that we 'got a good deal' and 'weren't being ripped off' or 'seen as walking atms'. 

el nido philippines

I also thought I looked fat in this photo. We all make mistakes. 

As to the beach itself it's perfect for taking Pinterest photos (which is what Sab and GK did) and perfect for taking Instagram photos (which is what Tan and I did). We swam a bit too (for the gram) and GK climbed a coconut tree (for the Pinterest). Yes, we all went across the world to take photos for our computers (all heil the screens). In terms of 'things to do there' there are no cafes or restaurants or anything - if I went back, I would make an effort to be in the moment and do nothing. 

Extra info: My friends Rachel and Ruben wrote this blog post: Palawan Travel – A Philippine Treasure Destination, which I think compliments this blog post well. 

#3 Hire a tricycle for the day and see Nacpan Beach

nacpan el nido palawan

I used to have a love/hate relationship with tricycles: I loved them because they are exciting, I hated them because I felt like they were dangerous. 

A tricycle is a motorcycle that's been diy altered so it can take a passenger or two (or four) on the side. Lots of the sidecars seem to be made out of old cars, most are colourful and all (at the time) seemed to my sheltered western butt to be about as safe as a rusty nail.

Jeepney (popular in Manila) next to a Tricycle - photo credit: pixabay

Of course, nowadays I am less sheltered and more chill about tricycles. At the time I wasn't comfortable hiring a motorbike, and maybe you aren't either, in which case hiring a tricycle and driver for the day to take you up to Nacpan beach is my recommendation. 

nacpan beach philippines

Voted #2 out of things to do in El Nido by TripAdvisor, Nacpan Beach is basically another beautiful beach in Palawan. 

There is a small restaurant there, it's safe to swim in the ocean, and if you take a tiny walk down the beach you will find this:

triple beach philippines

Which is a triple beach!

triple beach nacpan

The tricycle driver that we hired waited for us at the beach. I was surprised that he didn't expect payment until the end of the day - I figured it would be half before, half after or even all before, not all at the end - but that again says more about me than him. 

must see philippines

Nacpan Beach is far away from Corong Corong, about 40 minutes drive, but it felt further to me because the ride was 'bumpy'. (Again, I was a sheltered princess.) Even so, I still decided it "was totally worth it though!"

palmtrees philippines

#4 Rent a kayak in El Nido 

kayaking philippines

You can hire a kayak on the beach in El Nido for a mere 200 php (about £3/ $4)

secret philippines

It's a great way to combine exercise with finding deserted beaches, coves and water so clear, you can see for metres and metres

secret philippines

more fun philippines

#5 ABCD Tours

For most, their favourite part of El Nido are the ABCD Tours which are four different tours that take you to see hidden coves and beaches. We heard mixed reviews about these, with lots of people saying that the service and quality of the tours weren't worth it for the money (about $30 each), though the places that they take you were incredible. 

Unfortunately, I can't give you my honest opinion of the ABCD tours because I didn't get a chance to go on one! 

Firstly, I tried to work my blogger magic (get a tour for free in return for a blog post) this wasted three days of my time in El Nido, and looking back, I wish I'd just paid the $30. The problem was, when I visited there was no atm in El Nido and I was limited to the cash I'd been able to get out in Puerto Princessa - which was less than I thought I'd be able to get out. I think nowadays there are atms in El Nido but it's worth bringing cash (PHP) with you just in case. 

I then got severely bad food poisoning from some bad beach chicken which put me out of action for the remainder of my time there 

If you've been on these tours, let me know in the comments below - are the ABCD tours in El Nido worth it?

The Food in the Philippines 

On the happy note of food poisoning, let's talk about the food in the Philippines!! 

On getting food poisoning: It was my fault.  If you're planning a trip to SE Asia for the first time, no doubt you've looked up a few rules to follow so you don't get food poisoning. Like I did. But after a while I got blase and broke not one, not two, not three, but four of our 'rules to follow so you don't get food poisoning'.   

Firstly I ate food where I couldn't see it being cooked, and on the beach no less. Secondly I ate chicken. Thirdly I ate rice (can often be a bit dodgy). Finally I finished my meal off with a nice iced drink (ice is not good, as it's often made of tap water, which is also not good).

So basically follow a few simple rules and don't be dumb like me.

Enough of bad food experiences in the Philippines, what were good ones that I had?

The Fruit in the Philippines

eat philippines

The fruit in the Philippines is fresh, juicy, delicious and cheap. Of course it is when it's grown right there. In fact, you will probably be lucky enough to eat it straight off the tree. I highly recommend the mangos! 

Filipino Adobo 

must eat philippines

Adobo was my favourite meal in the Philippines. It's basically meat or seafood or veg, marinated in soy sauce and garlic and browned in oil. 
When I came back to the Philippines a year later as a vegan, I tried vegan Adobo and it tasted just as good (and is way less likely to give you food poisoning) 

Where to stay in El Nido

stay where el nido

I'm going to start by saying where not to stay in El Nido: Novie's Tourist Inn because I did and I didn't like it. I mean maybe it's my fault for having high expectations.. but maybe it's also because of false advertising: we booked an air-con room but this meant air-con for just two hours a day(!) and even then it rarely went on at the correct time. 

The wifi was appalling, though that's pretty much true for the whole of El Nido (and let's face it, you don't go for the wifi).

The showers only had cold water. I know, I know, it's a hot country and who wants hot water anyway, but I'm sorry, I do. 

The bathroom smelt really bad too.

The location had its advantages and disadvantages: it's outside Corong Corong which is good as it's away from the craziness, but bad because tricycle drivers will try and charge you a 100 php (£1.70 / $2) to get to Corong Corong - that's so expensive for a 3 minute drive!

It's a stones throw from a nice looking beach (where I wouldn't recommend swimming because of invisible pollution).

el nido beach
The nice looking beach 

All in all, not our cup of tea. Others recommend:
Though we haven't personally stayed at these and can't personally confirm that they are good, our friends who have stayed there said that they were and we trust their judgement. 

How to get to El Nido

how to get to el nido

There are a few ways to get to El Nido:

Fly straight to El Nido 

The most comfortable and the most expensive option would be to fly directly to El Nido. The only way to do this is to fly out of Manila - the capital of the Philippines.

Pretty much everyone we'd spoken to didn't like Manila, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we did like it. It's no Paris, but it has a certain charm and identity to it that lots of capitals (Canberra, Bratislava, Tallinn) certainly don't have.

Fly to Puerto Princessa and take a bus to El Nido

puerto princessa el nido guide

Alternatively you can fly to Puerto Princessa and get the Cherry Bus up to El Nido. The bus is bumpy, they play movies or music which seem to be at a really loud volume when you don't want to hear them, and a really low volume when you do.. Still, both the bus ride there and the bus ride back were some of our favourite memories in the Philippines (we're sad):

On the way there, a few local girls wanted their photo taken with Tanbay and made him feel like a rock star.

On the way back, the bus got really full and a pregnant lady and her husband had to stand. I made Tanbay give up his seat to the woman (I'm a saint). The man was so grateful he tried to give us a bunch of bananas, it was so kind and makes me cry every time I think about it..

Anyway, some practical information if you decide to take this route: we took the Cherry Bus, you can pay on the day, you don't have to worry about booking a seat. 

Depending when you arrive/leave it might be a good idea to spend the night in Puerto Princessa. We stayed with Hotel Centro and recommend them very highly, because their staff are unbelievably kind and helpful. 

where to stay puerto princessa
Beautiful pool at Hotel Centro

When looking for cheap flights you can book with Traveloka, they have the most competitive prices in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. 

Conclusion: The Ultimate Guide to El Nido, Palawan

el nido sunset
Sunset in El Nido

In conclusion, there are many great reasons to go to El Nido. I can almost guarantee you will find the most beautiful beaches of your life. Go with an open mind and heart, don't expect good wifi, don't get food poisoning and you will absolutely love it. 

We can't wait to go back and explore more of the Philippines!

philippines sunset

Have you been to the Philippines? What's your favourite part? 

More Philippines: Coron Palawan itinerary

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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