During our time on the Philippine island of Palawan, we spent most of our time in the remote town of El Nido. We have made videos and blog posts for the many activities around El Nido’s islands and reefs, but we’ve never said much about the town itself. Although there may not seem like much to do in a town so small, we had no trouble spending our entire time in the Philippines in El Nido. Here are the basics you need for your stay in El Nido.
Most visitors to El Nido arrive via 5-6 hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa on bumpy/paved/dirt roads. There is also a small airport with access to Manila for those willing to spend the money, but it would be far more comfortable and quicker than the bus if you can swing it.
More than 80% of all transportation, personal and industrial, is carried out by trikes. These taxis are quite cheap and an exciting ride each time you hop inside. The most we paid for a trike was around $3 for a twenty minute ride out of town to a nearby beach. Usually these rides will cost you around $1, though!
These are quite easy to rent in El Nido. While in most countries you may have to show your international driver’s license, in El Nido the rental shops will merely ask for the money (and sometimes your passport as collateral). The average price per day is around 400 – 1000 pesos plus gas. There are some secluded beaches that you can drive to and it’s a great way to see the countryside.
Things To Do
Each and every Filipino in El Nido has some sort of connection to the island hopping tour industry and will incessantly offer you tour packages. We were approached on secluded beaches by old fishermen who wrote out details by hand of the tour they could offer on napkins for us. If you want to just book one beforehand, either look online or visit a tour kiosk in town- they’re everywhere. Very low prices for incredible experiences out on the water.
Las Cabanas Beach
Accessible from El Nido proper via a 20 minute trike ride out of town, this long stretch of secluded sand is absolutely gorgeous. You must walk down a narrow foot path to the beach, but it is well worth it. A few small bars and resorts line one end of the beach, offering an escape from the heat. You can also find a zipline that goes over the beach and ends at a small island close by.
7 Commando Beach
This is the last stop of Tour A (island hopping tour). We stayed for around an hour for the tour, but wished we had gone back. You can get there by hiring a small boat to ferry you, or for the more adventurous, rent a kayak and paddle over!
There are numerous diving shops if you are interested in, or are experienced with, scuba diving. We had a great time with Sea Dog Diving. Located on the same street as the Art Cafe, we selected a discovery dive for our first time and we enjoyed every moment. Crystal clear waters deserve exploration and for the money, we can’t think of a better way to do it.
Nights on the Beach
Every bar and restaurant that lines the beach spills out onto the sand after sundown. Many of the restaurants have long tables covered in the night’s available fish. Pick whatever you want and a cook will prepare your selection and bring it to your table. Equally magical is the low price of San Miguel Beer and Tanduay Rhum which make for a great experience in paradise.
Doublegem Beach Resort – $25/night. Located on Corong Corong Beach, This western-facing resort offers stunning sunset views, a private beach, a tree deck, and more. A $1 trike ride from town, it is secluded but not removed.
El Nido Viewdeck Cottages – $30/night. A short walk from El Nido proper, this hillside estate has cottages for a low price. The main reason for making our list is its great views of El Nido and the bay. It is, however, a climb to get to the top, so keep that in mind!
Kalinga Beach Resort -$45/night. Just north of El Nido’s main beach, this place offers beautiful cottages, gardens, hammocks, and is beach front. With very narrow roads leading to this area, you’ll have to walk 10 minutes to get here from El Nido proper but it’s a nice walk. Trikes can make it down the road, but some drivers may say no.
Four Seasons – $50/night. Though probably not associated with the Four Seasons chain of hotels- this one tries and does respectably. Located on Corong Corong Beach, it has a swimming pool, private beach, easy access to town via motorcycle rental or trikes, breakfast, a balcony/terrace for each unit, and amazing sunset views. We stayed here after a really bad 3 nights in a hostel and loved it. Very close to Las Cabanas if you opt for the bike rental.
Reef Strand Resort – $65/night. Like Kalinga, this resort is on Caalan Beach north of the main one in El Nido. An updated and modern family home, this resort has spacious rooms. Each unit is very spacious and comfortable with a great bathroom and huge bed. Quite comfortable and the owner is amazingly nice.
La Salangane Hotel – $85/night. This hotel on the El Nido’s main beach offers well appointed rooms with great views of the bay. Above a restaurant by the same name, this one location would serve a non-budget fearing traveler well.
Sunset view from the Four Seasons on Corong Corong Beach
Food & Drink
Although Philippine food is pretty good, El Nido has much more than the pancit and adobo chicken food stalls that line typical streets. Many foreigners have fallen in love with this quaint corner of nowhere and many of them have stayed to open terrific restaurants.
A great place to try a huge array of Philippine dishes. We had the squid curry and squid pancit which were great. Squidos is a regular host to an all-you-can eat special that is quite popular. if you want to try their full range of dishes. We thought they had slow service, but we weren’t well adjusted to “Island Time” yet.
One of the fancier restaurants in town with a French owner. This place is passionate about their food and it shows. They have an amazing selection of wines, cheeses, fresh fish, steaks, and a nice selection of house rums infused with local fruits. The filet mignon and tuna filet were spectacular.
This restaurant produces some truly delicious pizzas. The entrance is a small staircase next to a brick oven where they fire the pizzas. At the top of the stairs is an intimate and relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff. A pizza for two people costs between $8 and $10 and the quality is outstanding. Great ingredients and perfectly made. During our short stay, we ate here twice it was so good!
Boasting the “Best Burgers in Town,” Blue Azul (Blue Blue?) surprised us. The burger we ordered was pretty good, but we were surprised to find out that the whole thing was vegetarian. Offering veggie burgers that are Halal certified but taste like sausage, this place is worth a visit. We had a falafel burger and fries that we finished off with Buko Juice (a large coconut with the top sliced off and a long straw).
Lonesome Carabao Lounge
This random Mexican restaurant took us by surprise. Never to pass up a chance at Mexicanfood, we had two different burritos that each impressed. Their drinks, on the other hand, left a lot to the imagination. Stick with cheap San Miguel if you’re thirsty, but their food was great.
Apart from its centrally important role as the activity and transportation headquarters of El Nido, the Art Cafe has a great menu. Indian to Mediterranean dishes are represented along with many others. You can dine, drink, relax, read, and people watch from their balcony for days. Probably the most important place in El Nido for foreigners for innumerable reasons. As one of the only places in town with WIFI during the day, many foreigners relax and connect at the Art Cafe with really good food and beers in hand. In the absence of electricity, the Art Cafe is an oasis from the summer heat. We lived on their balcony for a whole day when we got too burned from snorkeling. It was awesome.
Know Before You Go
We have confirmed that there is now one ATM in El Nido! Not sure how well stocked it is with money, so you might still bring extra cash with you just in case.
No Electricity During the Day
From 6am – 2pm, El Nido shuts down all electricity. However, some places have their own generators to bridge this gap and keep you comfortable. The Art Cafe is well known around town for being the only places with internet access and electricity during the day. Our hotel at the Four Seasons also had their own generator that started around 8am.
UPDATE: El Nido’s Facebook page says that there is now 24-hour electricity in El Nido, but this is the only indication of such improvements. Take it with a grain of salt, however, until it is verified. We were told that banks and ATMs were being opened before we went but they certainly were not.
-Ryan & Stephanie