I was going to the highlight of my Philippines holiday; exploring the Bacuit Archipelago! This is the main attraction of Palawan and the reason why I wanted to see the Philippines in the first place, besides seeing my dad of course. Both El Nido and Coron are the base for exploring the crystal clear waters with fantasy limestone islands. I went twice to El Nido, due to the fact that my TAO Sailing Experience was sailing from Coron to El Nido and I came from Port Barton. That is why I had to go to Coron first to get on the sailing boat back to El Nido. Check my tips and recommendations on Spectacular El Nido.
I arrived in El Nido with the tourist van from Port Barton. The beautiful journey took about ±4,5 hours for 600PP; including two stops for refreshments and toilet. The tourist vans depart from Port Barton three times a day; 8:00, 13:00 and 17:00. The same timetable, price and duration applies for the other way El Nido to Port Barton.
The next morning after arriving in El Nido, I took the Montenegro Lines (1760PP) direct to Coron. This was an early morning, because the boat left at 6:00! Early alarm to be 1 hour in advance at the terminal; get a tricycle to the port, checking in, baggage inspection (including dogs), paying terminal fee and getting on board. It was still dark, but with noise canceling headphones, warm sweater, eye cover; I managed to sleep the full 4 hours and nice to have a full day in Coron!
The second time I departed El Nido was by AirSwift plane to Manila; they run 4 times a day, duration is 1,5 hour for ±4303PP one way. New and small airport next to Lio Beach which is ±40 min with a tricycle from El Nido Proper.
What to Do in El Nido
El Nido Town Proper is the real center of El Nido, here you can find the main restaurants, shops and entertainment. It is located next to a steep limestone rock that is very impressive. El Nido area has a couple of beaches you can visit as a day tour or even spent the night; rent a motorbike, tricycle, boat, bus, tourist van or just walk. A lot of nice accommodations are located at Corong-Corong Beach and even further up to Maremegmeg Beach.
1. Island Hopping Tours
All locals and tricycle are offering the alphabet boat tours; route A, B, C and/or D around the Bacuit Bay. The cost are 1200-1400PP per person including lunch and snorkeling gear. Many boats run to the nice spots like Big and Small Lagoon and Snake islands. But bear in mind it could get really crowded. I did the TAO Sailing Expedition and we run into spots where uncountable boat were present. We hopped to different spots where the crowed was less but the spots are still amazing like; Pasandigan Cove, where we explored a cave and swam among pink jellyfish.
Our final stop of the tour was the amazing looking Pinagbuyutan Island with the again crystal clear water and high limestone rock formations. I went snorkeling and shot this great shot with my Gopro under and above water.
Tip: Do your tours here but early in the morning with a private boat will be the best option to beat the crowds.
2. Watch the Sunset
The best places to spot the sunset are at Corong-Corong Beach and Maremegmeg Beach. At Maremegmeg beach you can go to Las Cabañas or one of the other bars to chill, have a drink or even dance. Perfect to see the sun set behind the limestone rocks in the sea.
3. Lio Beach
I wanted to go to Lio Beach only for my favorite Shaka fruit bowl. Lio Beach is also called Airport Beach, because it is located next to the El Nido airport. Great to spot the AirSwift planes taking of and depart from here. Nice clean beach where you can get free beach chairs if you are on time. The beach is part of a development area with resorts, shops and restaurants. Feels modern, clean and developed, does not have a real local vibe.
Tip: Walk the pier to have a nice overview of the beach or you can rent a SUP board or kayak at one of the shops on the beach.
4. Nacpan Beach
I went to Nacpan Beach with my TAO tour and body surfed the waves of this incredible, golden long stretched Beach (3km). I arrived by boat but by land it is located 20km north of El Nido and the last 4 km are not paved I heard, bad experience with that, read my Coron blog. The waves are rolling in here with a real beach break, hard to surf I guess. Duli Beach, more up north, is known for its surf.
5. Entertainment in El Nido Proper
At one of my nights in El Nido Proper I ended up at a gambling area with all different kind of games. Filippinos love to gamble, but the money that went around was not too large. It was great entertainment to see the locals and tourist getting to understand the game and getting the thrill of winning or losing. Of course I joined too, but lost at the falling block game; Enjoy!!
Where to Stay in El Nido
I have spent four nights in El Nido, the first time was only very short because had to leave to Coron the next day and I knew I would come back here. But my experience it that the best location for accommodation is Corong-Corong Beach. It is not as busy as El Nido Proper and still close by with the tricycle (50-100PP). My first night I stayed at Spin Designer Hostel (3100PP per night including breakfast). I was not a big fan of this hostel, but booked it because it was close to the port for my early departure the next day. The room was noisy and small, but vibe and facilities were ok-isch.
Tip: Bear in mind that El Nido is expensive compared to other parts of the Philippines. This shows the most in the prices of the accommodations.
On my return to El Nido I booked the Bluemango Rooms & Villas (5800PP per night). This was a perfect room with great vibe and view over Corong-Corong Beach and palm trees. The rooms are located on the far end of the beach away from El Nido Proper. The rooms were booked so could only stay for one night and changed to another accommodation for my last two nights.
This was the best; save the best for last they say and that was what is was; Hotel Focus Room (8000PP per night including breakfast). My private room with garden, amazing shower, trendy decoration and breakfast served on my own terrace. It could not get better. The price is according to it as well I have to admit, but I prefer a more boutique style accommodation than bigger hotels.
Where to Eat and Drink in El Nido
In the whole area from El Nido Proper to Corong-Corong there are many places to eat and enjoy the scenery. I got some local recommendations which is always good. I prefer to eat more the local style but now and then prefer a western dish as well.
The Vegan Café: As you know I love the breakfast fruit bowls. As Shaka is all the way in Lio beach, I went to this nice place in El Nido Proper a couple of times. They offer a range of vegan dishes but I always went for the fruit bowls (280PP) and a coffee. The WiFi is good here and it’s a literally cool place to hang out.
Bulalo Plaza: A local recommendation at the main street between El Nido Proper and Corong-Corong beach, close to the accommodation Focus Rooms. They offer a BBQ outside and local menu. I combined the vegetable and vegetable curry, this was new but the chef did a good job!! It is not trendy but the food is good with a lot of local people which is always good.
El Pahoy: After our TAO Sailing Experience we went to this restaurant at Corong-Corong with the whole group for our last dinner together. This was our chefs recommendation and indeed the seafood pasta was very tasty and spicy. The other food dishes looked great too and the cocktails tasted even better.
Bella Vita: At Corong-Corong Beach you will find this nice and cozy place; loved the vibe and interior. Nice to chill and enjoy the beach with ocean view and have great salad for lunch at the same time! I heard that the pizzas are great too.