I’ve been to El Nido twice and I think this should be the perfect time I write a quick and easy travel guide to one of our country’s gems. When I visited El Nido for the first time two years ago, my expectations were not only met but it exceeded above and beyond what I envisioned El Nido to be. With that, I made a list of 10 things you shouldn’t miss when you visit the magical island of El Nido, Palawan. Enjoy.
1. TAKE A DIRECT FLIGHT TO EL NIDO
Part of the experience of going to one of the most beautiful islands in the world is to take a direct flight to El Nido. Yes. Not only because the view is amazing, but you would save so much of your precious time too. Last year I took a Manila to Puerto Princesa flight and embarked on a 5-hour dreadful trip to El Nido town (and share a van with 13 other people). This is ideal for budget travelers but spend a few extra bucks to book an AirSwift flight—you won’t regret it. Two years ago it was still ITI and we landed at the old aiport, now El Nido has the Lio Airport (which is so beautiful and still very Filipino). AirSwift is a Filipino-owned regional boutique airline company with a permit to operate domestic scheduled and non-scheduled air transportation services—it is efficient, clean and the service is amazing. Like I said, you have to pay a little extra if you want to experience this. But I highly recommend it!
2. STAY AT A HOSTEL AND MEET NEW PEOPLE
To tell you the truth, Vina and I were a bit skeptical about staying at a hostel, but once we finally did, we always consider it when we travel. We booked Spin Designer Hostel when it opened two years ago and it changed our perception about hostels. Yes, staying at a hostel may save you a substantial amount of money, but you actually gain so much more—you get to meet new people. People from different countries and different walks of like. Spin Hostel has a lot of common areas for you to interact with fellow travelers. Vina and I met all sorts of people from someone who works at the US Embassy, a beautiful Brazillian couple who moved to Australia, 4 Taiwanese guys who were there for vacation before they graduate college, a PR agent, etc. The best part is, you can connect with them even after the trip is over—and maybe when the time comes when you travel to their country, they are more than willing to help you and give you all those local/insider tips! Vina and I booked a private single bed for 3,000 pesos, but if you want a cheaper option, you can book the mixed dorm (which you share with other people) for 1,000 pesos per night. Go give it a try!
3. STROLL ALONG EL NIDO TOWN
The average traveler would probably stay outside of El Nido town, but since Vina and I were traveling on a budget, we opted to stay in town as it has a bunch of hostels to choose from. We enjoyed roaming around town and checking out different restaurants, cafés, boutique shops and bars. A lot has changed since our visit two years ago—a bunch of new establishments opened but I hope they keep it as it is—not too busy as Boracay. El Nido Art Cafe, Altrove, Pukka Bar, SAVA, Happiness Beach Bar and Cadlao are some of my favorites!
4. GO ISLAND HOPPING (TOUR A, B, C, D)
Okay, doing the island hopping activity is the only way you will get to see the full of beauty of El Nido. If you’ve been to El Nido before, you might be familiar with hearing tours A, B, C and D—a lot. These tour options will take you on a journey to explore a specific part of the islands surrounding El Nido. You will discover beautiful and preserved islands, clear water lagoons, pristine white beaches, snorkeling sites and their hundred of fishes and coral species. Now, which tour should you take? If it’s your first visit to El Nido, then I highly suggest that you do tour A or C. However, tour A is the most popular tour among the others because it covers the famous Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon. Since Vina and I did tour A already two years ago, we went for a combination of tour C and D this time (yes you can do this, as long as the other islands are not out of the way). If you want to take a private tour (meaning you don’t share the boat with other tourists), again, you will need to pay extra. Vina and I opted to do this so we can take our time for every island we visit—also that we won’t be a hassle to other tourists because yes, we do take a lot of photos. Haha!
5. ENJOY A BEAUTIFUL LUNCH SPREAD PREPARED BY THE TALENTED BOAT MEN OF EL NIDO
Fancy a romantic date in the island? I was fascinated to see a fresh fish being fried right at our very boat as we head to the next island. There are so many boatmen and I guess all of them are skilled to cook and do these beautiful carvings on fruits! There was way too much food for two people.
We were served with adobo, fresh fish, eggplant, cucumber, bananas, fresh shrimps, pineapple, fresh coconut (this was not included in the package), they even provided bottled water, C2 and Oreo lol. If I were a foreigner visiting El Nido I would love the food selection. It would even be better if they served it on a huge banana leaf! Take note that they usually serve this on a table (the boat men sets it up on the beach) but Vina and I preffered eating it on this huge tree branch because we didn’t want to eat standing up lol. Also, Instagram is life.
6. EXPERIENCE EL NIDO’S TURQUOISE WATERS
Because I always travel in El Nido during August (a.k.a. rainy season), I have my expectations low of seeing El Nido’s famous turquoise waters, but lo and behold, you still get to see these majestic waters glistening in front of you. Whenever the boat would dock or stop for the next island, I couldn’t help but jump into the ocean immediately. I can’t count how many times Vina and I said the word “wow” when we would stop by a new island or a lagoon. If these photos don’t do justice to El Nido’s turquoise waters, wait for my vlog!
7. SPEND A DAY AT A SECLUDED BEACH
If you have an extra day to spare, then I highly suggest that you visit one of its beaches in El Nido—and you can reach them by land! We hired a habal habal to bring us to Nacpan and Calitang Beach—both are absolutely beautiful. I blogged about it on my first visit (read here). It involves a little hike to get a gorgeous view of the twin beaches, but so worth it, I must say. We also got to visit Duli beach, which is a nice secluded, peaceful beach—no hotels, resorts. Just one restaurant/surf shop. We spent the whole afternoon here playing frisbee, swimming, taking naps, boodle fights and learning how to surf!
8. TAKE PART IN A PUB CRAWL AND EXPERIENCE EL NIDO’S NIGHTLIFE
One of the many things I like about El Nido is that it doesn’t try to be the next Boracay or Bali. El Nido town is still pretty rural and undeveloped, with a few bars and clubs here and there—just enough for you have a slice of El Nido’s nightlife. But then again, since El Nido is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, the prices for alcoholic drinks can get really expensive. It might be cheap for the foreigners/tourists but I find it a little pricey. Here’s a tip, go to Happiness Beach Bar and you can get their “happiness shot” for 50 pesos. Get yourself “happy” and take 4-5 shots, whatever you fancy. If it’s not enough, down a bottle of San Mig or Red Horse.
Spin Hostel hosts pub crawls from time to time so if ever you catch one during your stay, make sure you take part in it! It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and experience the nightlife. There are tons of fun drinking games and shots at every bar you visit—so make sure you join those too!
9. LEARN SOMETHING NEW AND UNLOCK A NEW SKILL
Traveling to a new destination shouldn’t just be about unwinding and relaxing, it should also be rewarding. Take this opportunity to learn something new. It’s all about losing yourself into the arms of a new environment, seeing a different aspect of life, or maybe even as simple as unlocking a new skill. One of the best things about traveling is experiencing new things and bringing those stories (and maybe those newfound skills) with you back home. When we went to El Nido, Vina and I made sure to sign up for the activities prepared by the hostel we were staying at (Spin Hostel). Vina and I took a percussion workshop and surfing classes at Duli beach—it was amazing!
10. ENJOY THE PEACEFULNESS OF THE ISLAND
There are tons of beaches to explore in El Nido, so many that sometimes you feel as if you have your own secluded private beach. Go to Nacpan, Duli or ask the boat men to take you to a not-so-touristy island. When Vina and I went to El Nido for the second time around, we made sure to allot time to just relax at a secluded beach and not take photos (of course this was impossible for us lol).