El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Escape from the ordinary beach towns

El Nido has to be one of the most laid back, beautiful places in South East Asia. It is definitely a key spot for backpackers, or at least those fortunate enough to find their way to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. For those willing to spend a little time here, there are many hidden treasures found in and around the small coastal town.

The first thing I noticed when getting into town was the breathtaking cliffs that enclose the town while opening up to the sea. Though I didn’t partake, I’m sure this would be a rock-climbers paradise. The porous walls were incredibly magnificent and add an feeling of comfort and security from the outside world.

For lovers of the ocean (or simply if you like pretty things), I would highly suggest taking one of the island hopping tours. Of course it’s touristy, but there’s a reason it became popular. It’s amazing. #Fact. There are many people who offer the same itineraries, so ask around and see who is being suggested by the locals. The prices often won’t vary, and don’t be shocked if you have to pay an extra “National Park” fee on the beach before boarding the boat. It’s not a scam.. well, it kind of is, but it’s a legitimate one. The islands that you can visit are simply stunning. With caves, swimming in isolated lagoons, pinnacles, cliffs, snorkelling coral reefs, a delicious BBQ on the beach, and more jam-packed into the day – this was one of my highlights in the Philippines.

Now if you’d really like to get away from the crowds, often the best way to do this, especially in South East Asia, is to rent a scooter for a day or two. They’re really just like riding a bike, but you must be smart about it. No matter how good a driver you might be – that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Go slow, wear a brain bucket (helmet), and stay safe. One of the many differences in the Phils to the rest of SE Asia is the fact that they drive on the right hand side. Please ride safely and at your own discretion. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!

There are many beaches and small fishing towns a very short scooter ride from El Nido. I went to a nearby beach not 20 mins away by scooter with a friend to enjoy a beer and watch the sunset. Another group of friends took off for the day with a local and went to an isolated beach with good a decent break for a day of surfing. For a sleepy fishing town, there’s definitely no shortage of things to do while here – but it also makes a perfect spot to just stop and relax if you want. With gorgeous sunsets, a breathtaking mountainous backdrop over an ocean’s bay, nestled in sheer cliffs… I could easily find myself returning to El Nido again and again.


Kids playing in El Nido, Palawan
Kids playing on the beached boats strewn along the shore
An island off the coast of El Nido, Palawan
Resting on a secluded beach, this is an island off the coast of El Nido, Palawan
Lots of fish around El Nido, Palawan
“Just keep swimming.. Just keep swimming”
Island hopping BBQ - El Nido
A delicious lunch in the shade during our island hopping tour
Dusk over the bay - El Nido, Palawan
Dusk strikes over the bay
La Salangane - El Nido, Palawan
Photo rights reserved to La Salangane
La Banane Hostel - El Nido, Palawan
Photo rights reserved to La Banane Hostel
Island Hopping Adventure - El Nido
Keeping the boat level as we whip across the ocean! Would you do this?
Kids playing on the beach in El Nido
Kids playing on the beach in El Nido
El Nido island hopping tour
Typical boats used for the island hopping tour

 

There’s a few ways to get to El Nido. Most people arriving to Palawan come through Puerto Princessa. Buses are easily arranged, often from the comfort of your own hotel. P.P. is roughly an 8 hour bus ride from El Nido – but Holy Roads Batman. Most of the journey is driven on roads that have so many potholes, the moon’s surface would look flat in comparison. It’s definitely a bumpy ride. You can also take a ferry up the coast, or down from the neighbouring island of Coron. This said, I tried getting to Coron by ferry, and ended up waiting more than a week every day being told “Maybe the ferry will run tomorrow”, though that day never came. Inclement weather was the culprit, though it was quite frustrating not knowing a day out. Additionally, there’ a small airport in El Nido. It’s owned and operated by one of the budget airlines in the Phils… but this monopoly has made any flights to and from there EXTREMELY expensive. I found tickets to and from El Nido seemed to often be about double what you’d pay from Puerto Princessa. It’s undoubtedly the fastest route, but that comes with a price.


View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map

There’s plenty of accommodation to choose from while staying in El Nido. This ranges from budget backpackers spots (such as the french run La Banane, located right on the beach, with nice and helpful staff… AND right next to the Sea Slug! yum!), to private bungalows, right up to high-end resorts. It really depends what YOU want while there. I was good with the backpacker hostel, as I was there for El Nido, and not necessarily pampering myself with luxury (the location is naturally luxurious enough, in my opinion!).
There are plenty of restaurants in El Nido to get your feed at. Sadly, as with most of the rest of the Philippines, I found it quite hard to get a good local dish from the canteens there. It seemed most ‘local’ places would cook their food in the morning and just let it sit out at room temperature all day. I like to consider myself daring with international dishes.. usually. However, I don’t think playing with things like e.coli or salmonella really qualify as adventurous dining.  I ended up sticking it out paying tourist prices to eat at tourist restaurants. That being said, the quality of food at El Nido’s touristy restaurants was fantastic… and safe! One of my favourite spots was a French restaurant called La Salangane, which makes delicious French dishes. The bonus: they also make their own fruit infused rum in barrels behind the bar. At 80 pesos (approx $2 USD) a shot, it’s easy to get wrapped up trying several of the tasty mixes with some post-dinner mingling and dancing. My most visited restaurant had to be Sea Slugs, which is located right on the beach, with live music, local and western dishes (all at western prices however – but a good way to try some Filipino dishes), and decent service.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time). 

The difficulty in getting here surely helps filter out the number of people visiting this little piece of paradise. This is helping keep it from completely booming into another Borocay – though that day may come faster that you think. I saw many new highways being built, and the world does seem to catch up eventually. So my suggestion to you – don’t delay! Go to El Nido today!! Get there before the hordes of tourists do.
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

Have you been to El Nido in the Philippine Islands? What was your favourite thing to do while there? If you haven’t been yet, what would be your first activity you’d want to do while there?

About the Author:

From a young age, Ian was always a wanderer. He's since travelled to all 7 continents, and has spent the majority of his life pursuing this passion. Follow him in his off-the-beaten-path adventures and discoveries!

18 Comments

  1. flipnomad September 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    el nido is my favorite place in the philippines 🙂 so gorgeous!

    • globe_trottah September 6, 2012 at 6:21 pm - Reply

      Ditto that kiddo! I actually read up on some of your tips while there – including the island hopping (which I had been a bit hesitant of doing prior to your article)! I’m going to have to head back there one of these days to continue checking out some of the other hidden gems around that area!

  2. Micki September 7, 2012 at 3:28 am - Reply

    What a gorgeous, gorgeous place! We were in the Philippines a few years ago, and never made it as far as El Nido. From the pics, it looks like we really missed out!

    • globe_trottah September 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Oh, Micki.. there’s really only one solution then. You’ve gotta go back!! 😉 I liked it so much, I think I’ll be back as early as next March!!

  3. InsideJourneys September 12, 2012 at 1:10 am - Reply

    Absolutely gorgeous. Usually, I eat local as well but I steer clear of seafood that’s been sitting around all day unrefrigerated.
    I’ve not been to the Philippines but each time I see photos, I just want to go. It’s a beautiful place.

    • globe_trottah September 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      I love eating local.. especially street stalls! But when the locals don’t even eat at the stalls, you know something’s up 😛

      The sheer beauty of the Phils alone should entice anyone to make the trip over there, though they’re still in the early stages of building a sustainable tourism infrastructure. Expect lots of fees, delays, and high tourist prices. I suppose it’s the yin and yang of travelling somewhere so beautiful, and with such a wonderful culture.

  4. Ryan Mach October 25, 2012 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    There was this article in NyTimes about an exclusive island hopping tour in El Nido (not the usual type) in which you get to have a fantastic tour around some islands that most tourists haven’t gone to. Then you get to help the locals, spend the night eating local dishes and sleeping in tents. But it’s quite expensive. Couldn’t find the link, sorry.

    Anyway, I live in Manila and I haven’t been to El Nido (came as far as Puerto Princesa). It’s my dream destination. Hopefully I can ‘Get there before the hoards of tourists do.’

    Good read!

  5. Turista Trails October 26, 2012 at 4:10 am - Reply

    I’m a Filipino and I’m yet to visit that place. Good for you. Love your photo with the kids huddled.

    • globe_trottah November 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      I love that photo too 🙂 It was great seeing so many of the kids out playing on the beach each night! It brings a different element of the life there, when you get to see how the children are brought up! El Nido was certainly a highlight of the Phils on my last visit, though I should be back again in March in search of more gems!

      • Turista Trails February 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm - Reply

        It’s almost March, so where are you heading next here in the Philippines?

        • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End March 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm - Reply

          Heya – I’m coming in right in the heart of Holy Week! It’s going to be crazy. I’ll probably spend the majority of this trip around Luzon. I’ll be there for 2.5 weeks. Where will you be during that time? (and thank for following up!!)

  6. Kat March 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Hey, just wanted to say what a wonderful write up about the Philippines. Traveling to El Nido for the first time in early April, and happened upon this piece. And thought it was great that it didn’t fall into the trap of defining us over here, by (or against?) our women. Happened upon many-a-backpacker-site that did exactly the latter.

    Cheers,
    K.

    • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End April 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Hey Kat – glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve not seen any of these articles, but it doesn’t sound very positive. I certainly think that El Nido has a wonderful vibe, as does the rest of the Philippines for that matter! Hope you have a great trip!

  7. Kat March 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Also, something I wrote on a recent trip to Mindoro’s Puerto Galera. —

    http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/columnist1/43500-tourism-and-the-poor-filipino-face-2

  8. […] cultural element to it. It added to the excitement. I really enjoyed island hopping over in El Nido, Palawan. It was some of the most breath taking scenery imaginable. I had a fantastic time in […]

Leave A Comment