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El Nido Palawan: A Budget Travel Guide

EL NIDO PALAWAN

El Nido is definitely one of the must-visit places in Palawan. Before, the only way to visit the island is through a chartered flight. The town is more accessible now opening it to more types travelers including ones on a budget. Known for its beautiful limestone islands, amazing pocket beaches and multiple snorkeling and diving sites, El Nido definitely is one of the most beautiful places in the country.  Here’s a budget travel guide to this paradise.

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El Nido features amazing limestone islands and pocket beaches. Top-load the boat if you can for unobstructed views. Don’t forget to wear sun-screen. (Tour C)
HOW TO GET THERE
  1. Book a Puerto Princesa Bound flight. Major airlines like Air Asia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have direct flights to PPIA. You may also book a direct El Nido Airport flight through Air Swift if you have the budget. You may also use your GetGo points to book the flight.
  2. From Puerto Princesa International Airport ride a tricycle to San Jose Bus/Van Terminal. Travel time: 20-30 minutes
  3. From San Jose Bus/Van Terminal ride an El Nido bound van. Travel time: 5-6 hours. We recommend getting a van (vs bus) since travel time is faster. Bus ride can take up to 8 hours.
  4. Vans will stop at the El Nido transport terminal. You may ride a tricycle going to your hotel/inn or town center.
WHERE TO STAY

There are numerous hotels, inns and hostels in El Nido town center. You may check out the list here: List of Hotels in Palawan (Make sure the the hostel/hotel is in El Nido). Some budget choices are Our Melting Pot and At The Moment Hostel. Their location is very good and prices are very affordable. You may also check out Hostelworld for a list of hostels in El Nido.

We stayed at ATM (At The Moment Hostel). It’s located near El Nido Bakery and a short walk away from different eateries and restaurants. They offer air-conditioned dorm rooms and private rooms with free breakfast.

Getting around El Nido town is easy. If you’re staying in the town center everything is walk-able. We never rode a tricycle, except when heading to and from the bus terminal.

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El Nido town proper is sandwiched between limestone mountains and the beach. There are a lot of quaint restaurants and shops to explore and try-out.
TOURING EL NIDO

Tours are standardized and organized at El Nido. There are four main whole day tours namely Tours A, B, C & D. There are also mainland tours which includes a hike to Taraw Cliff and a visit to Nacpan Beach.

  • Tour A: Seven Commandos Beach, Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Secret Lagoon (P1,200/head)
  • Tour B: Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave and Snake Island (P1,300/head)
  • Tour C: Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach, Snorkeling, Talisay Beach, Secret Beach (P1,400/head)
  • Tour D: Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Nat-Nat Beach and Paradise Beach (P1,200/head)
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A stop-over at Talisay Beach, a pocket beach at one of the limestone islands. Our boat passed by an “alley-way”, both sides with towering limestone islands. (Tour C)

All tours are whole day tours usually with free buffet lunch. Snorkeling gears and masks are also provided.Some tour operators provide beach towels as well. Advertisements for these tours are posted everywhere. You may also book through your hostel. Prices are standardized for all tour operators so there’s no need to worry. Just take note of the inclusions.

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Helicopter Island – one of stops at Tour C. The island got its name from its shape. It features a long white sand beach with a protected snorkeling area.

 

These tours usually start at 9am and end at around 3-4pm in the afternoon. Some tours would take longer because their destinations are farther. The highlight tours are A and C. These tours go around El Nido’s lagoons and hidden beaches. Some tour operators offer a Tour A-C Combo (Highlights of Tours A and C only) but since we had enough time, we decided to get both at different days.

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The famous Small Lagoon where the entrance is hidden between rocks. You may swim or rent a kayak to explore the place. Kayak rental will set you back P300/head. (Tour A)
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The entrance to the small lagoon. (Tour A)

The tour you’ll take would really depend on what you feel like seeing/doing. If you’re interested in caves you may try out Tour B with Snake Island as its highlight. If you want a pocket-beach hopping tour, Tour D is definitely for you.

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The beautiful Talisay Beach as one of the stops at Tour C.

There are instances that you will not be able to visit all the destinations because of the sea conditions. When waves are strong, you will not be able to visit Secret Lagoon and Secret Beach. There are also instances where they change one of the stops (usually the minor ones) completely. Don’t be surprised when it happens.

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Finding Nemo. Snorkeling is also a great activity in El Nido. Some tours would provide life jackets and snorkeling masks. At one of our tours, the boat stopped beside a limestone cliff for this activity. The reef was amazing.
BUDGET TIPS
  • Flights: Major airlines regularly offer seat sales to Puerto Princesa. We got our flights for only P400/each round-trip from Manila. Make sure you turn on notifications on Twitter or use the “see first” option on Facebook. (For tips on booking budget flights you may read our Coron blog)
  • Tours: Touring El Nido would really depend on your allotted budget and time. Tours would take a day. If you’re a first-timer it is best to get Tours A and C which would take up 2-full days. If you don’t have the luxury of time you may get the Tours A & C Combo. Tours would be the bulk of your expenses in El Nido.
  • Meals: Restaurants in El Nido is quite expensive (at least for budget travelers like us). Meals ranges from P190 – P200+ on average. It was quite expensive compared to our meal expenses in Long Beach, San Vicente. Beach front restaurants are the most expensive. If you’re looking for budget options try the different side streets with smaller restaurants and food stalls. At night, locals would also set-up ihaw-ihaw at some areas offering Filipino street food. There’s also an El Nido Bakery located at Rizal Street for affordable baked snacks.
  • Accommodation: You may check out Hostelworld for budget accommodations in El Nido. The cheapest accommodation option is getting a dorm room, usually priced at P500/head.
  • Transportation: Van rides from Puerto Princesa is 500/head. From Long Beach, San Vicente it’s 300/head. Tricycle to and from the El Nido bus/van is 50/ride.
  • Other tips and expenses: Bring a waterproof bag if you can. Stalls in El Nido sell them at quite a hefty price. Do not forget to bring your sun-screen as well.
POSSIBLE SIDE-TRIPS

How to get to Coron from El Nido: You may book tickets at El Nido town proper. Ads for these transfers are posted almost everywhere. Price ranges from P1,500 – P1,800 and would take around 7 hours depending on the transfer and weather. It’s best to ask different operators first before booking your tickets.

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