Philippines

10 Do’s and don’ts to make the most of El Nido

El Nido is a popular destination for visitors to Palawan in the Philippines. Clear blue waters, white sand beaches and El Nido's towering limestone formations makes for some envy-inducing holiday photographs.

El Nido in the morning
El Nido showing off in the morning.

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With publications like Condé Nast Traveler naming Palawan the most beautiful island in the world in 2016, and El Nido the 4th most beautiful beach in the world in their 2017 Readers' Choice Awards, this once-remote coastal paradise has rapidly gained in popularity and is an easy choice for visitors planning an island getaway.

This hype is well-deserved. Just settle down to a refreshing buko shake on the beach after a day spent snorkeling the clear blue water or island-hopping on a boat, and you'll quickly understand why El Nido is consistently ranked as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. The sheer beauty of the area, and its numerous white sand beaches that remain surprisingly quiet despite the recent influx of tourists, are huge draw cards for visitors looking for a tropical paradise.

With all this hype around El Nido, what should you really expect from it? We visited El Nido in early 2018 to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. Here is our list of do's (and don'ts!) for making the most of this island dream.

 

1. Do rent scooters and visit Nacpan Beach

Situated on the northern tip of Palawan, the area around El Nido boasts plenty of idyllic beaches all within an easy scooter ride of the town. Probably the most beautiful of all of these is Nacpan Beach. With a strip of white sand, casual beachfront restaurants and excellent sheltered swimming, Nacpan is the perfect spot to unroll your towel and forget about everything else.

El Nido with scooters
Byron on a scooter mission around El Nido.
nacpan beach
Nacpan Beach just north of El Nido.
Nacpan beach El Nido
Our first view of Nacpan...not at all bad.

2. Do book beachfront accommodation (and book ahead during El Nido's peak season!)

Although there is plenty of accommodation scattered throughout El Nido town and nearby Corong Corong Beach, there are only so many waterfront hotels. Staying in town means dealing with noisy streets, barking dogs and roosters that crow at all hours of the day! A beachfront hotel is a different world however, and nothing beats watching the sun set over a tropical ocean with El Nido's limestone cliffs fading to black in between from the deck of your hotel.

El Nido at sunrise
Let this be the view you wake up to...
El Nido at sunset
...and this be the view you go to bed to.

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3. Do buy barbecue chicken from roadside vendors

Man, do we love a good barbeque chicken, and we're pretty sure we're not alone in this! The street vendors in El Nido (and the Philippines in general) have perfected the art of a rotisserie chicken. Hot, succulent and juicy, the vendor will chop it into pieces for you so you can tuck in as soon as he hands it over. Mmm mmmm...

Roadside barbecue vendors.
Jill with barbecue chicken
Yes, delicious food always gets me this excited!

4. Do drink as many buko shakes as possible!

In a similar category to the above point, the fare in Palawan just can't be beat! One of our absolute favourites was a buko shake. Once we worked out that buko is a young coconut and gave it a try, we were hooked! The combination of icy, creamy and sweet is just the thing for a hot day on a tropical beach.

 

5. Do join an island hopping tour and explore El Nido's countless tiny islands

As beautiful as El Nido's limestone formations are to look at, they are even better to explore! A number of boat operators offer island hopping day tours to many of the smaller islands scattered along El Nido's coastline. These trips are very popular and can be busy during peak season but crowds aside, there are some phenomenal places to check out. Our favourites were the breathtaking Seven Commandos Beach, and snorkeling the Small Lagoon - a saltwater lagoon completely encircled by gigantic limestone cliffs!

Remember to take a long some extra money. Although lunch is included, there is the opportunity to purchase drinks on the beach or added extras like hiring a kayak if you don't want to swim Small Lagoon.

El Nido island tour
Crystal clear water and idyllic beaches on the island tour.
El Nido island tour kayaking
Kayaking at Small Lagoon during the El Nido island tour.
Byron El Nido Island Tour
Byron getting the perfect postcard image on the El Nido island tour.
boat on the ocean near el nido
On board during the El Nido island tour.

6. Do buy a sim card so that you don't have to rely on the town's awful wifi!

When we say El Nido's internet connection is poor, we are not exaggerating. Although most hotels offer wifi the connection is unbelievably slow, and nothing is as exasperating as having to wait a number of minutes or multiple tries for a single page to load. Buying a sim card and connecting to the internet through your phone goes a long way to fixing this problem and we even managed to book a flight online with relatively little effort, but don't expect to upload your holiday videos in real time.

 

7. Do make use of the shuttles between Puerto Princessa and El Nido, but don't expect to feel safe at all on your journey!

There is plenty of discussion online as to the best way to get from Palawan's airport in Puerto Princessa to El Nido, a mere 269 km but a 6-8 hour drive away. Although public buses have had good reviews, definitely the fastest and most convenient way to get between these two towns is on a private shuttle. A number of transport companies run daily shuttles and guests can book a seat the day before or even the day of travel with very little difficulty. Despite their convenience, these shuttles are notorious for their speeding, reckless driving and propensity to fill the minibuses beyond a comfortable (or safe) passenger limit. When it comes to personal safety everyone must make their own decisions so do your homework before you arrive and even during a trip, if you don't feel comfortable don't be shy to speak up.

El Nido Jeepney
Jeepneys are great fun, but perhaps not for a long journey.

8. Do catch a tricycle and go swimming at Marimegmeg Beach

Because of the number of boats moored in El Nido's bay and the proximity to town, the beaches at El Nido and to a lesser degree Corong Corong are not suitable for swimming. Close to town however is Marimegmeg Beach - a beautiful strip of white sand with pleasant restaurants and even some hotels, with lovely swimming and a great place to relax. Because of its proximity to El Nido, hiring a tricycle is a much more economical way to visit the beach than hiring a scooter, and they are very easy to catch in and around town.

Marimegmeg Beach El Nido
Just another postcard-perfect beach around El Nido.
Marimegmeg Beach El Nido
Paradise!

9. Don't worry about not being able to draw money in town

Until fairly recently, there was no ATM in El Nido - a fact that no doubt must have caught many visitors by surprise! Although you will likely still read this information online, don't worry, as BPI Bank have an operating ATM in El Nido town. Queues can build up quickly so we'd recommend timing your visit to the ATM during "off-peak" times. It is also possible to transfer cash to yourself using World Remit, and collect from one of three destinations in El Nido town (see instructions here).

 

10. Don't expect El Nido to be a cheap Philippines destination

Apart from its incredible natural beauty, friendly people and range of activities, a big draw card for visitors to the Philippines are its cheap prices. There are few places in the world where you can live like a king for next to nothing and although you are doubtless being charged "tourist prices", the Philippines still offers incredible value for money. Because of its increasing popularity and the range of activities you will want to do during your visit, El Nido is not a cheap destination relative to other places in the Philippines but that said, it still offers great value and this shouldn't be a reason to put off your visit.

Bevan swinging El Nido
At least this swing was free...
El Nido paradise view
These views are also free...

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