Visitare El Nido

Discover El Nido, the Paradise of the Philippines

Dark rocky walls towering amid lush greenery, emerging from crystal-clear waters of intense blue, dotted with beaches of the whitest sand… I’ve heard, and even used myself, the word “Paradise” to describe a delightful place, but I believe I’m not exaggerating when I say that among all the “Paradises,” El Nido is the “Most Paradise-like Paradise.”

Okay, maybe not exactly El Nido City, where restaurants, shops, and accommodations overlap in dusty alleys filled with the omnipresent buzz of tricycles… but what surrounds it, in the Bacuit archipelago and the spectacular islands it comprises.

Popular among backpackers about a decade ago, thanks to its simplicity and low costs in such a beautiful place, El Nido has become increasingly famous over the last decade and consequently has also entered the radar of mass tourism. Sure, it’s still a quieter destination compared to, for example, the Thai beaches like Phuket or Phi Phi Island, but it’s no longer the pristine paradise it once was.

Visitare El Nido

I admit that before visiting El Nido, I was a bit worried because it was described as a backpacker’s paradise (thus with reduced comfort and services) and as a place of wild cementing and full of places to drink, socialize, and have fun… In reality, I found a town super organized in tourism management and not as dedicated to nightlife as I feared, but it’s absolutely possible to enjoy peace and relaxation without necessarily isolating in an exclusive resort.

How to get to El Nido

El Nido is a paradise that cannot be missed on a trip to the Philippines, and along with the Underground River of Puerto Princesa, it was the reason that convinced me to visit the island of Palawan.

In fact, my circular itinerary on this island included 4 nights in El Nido, arriving in the evening after visiting the Underground River. After visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world, you can be dropped off at Salvation Junction intersection, without having to return to Puerto Princesa, and take another van that will take you to El Nido in about 4 and a half hours in the evening, allowing you not to waste a day traveling.

Between El Nido and Port Barton, the journey is about 3 and a half hours, and there are frequent vans. You can book them directly at one of the many agencies on-site, which, however, only accept cash payment, or at the same price through the 12go website and pay by credit card as I did.

However, there has been an airport just outside El Nido town for a few years now, served by small AirSwift planes, which must be booked well in advance, or you can get to El Nido by facing about 4 hours of ferry from the island of Coron on a sea that I’m told is often very rough.

Travel to Philipines: my itinerary in Palawan

Boat tours in El Nido, everything you need to know

The beauty of El Nido lies precisely in the nature surrounding El Nido Town and the spectacular Bacuit Bay, dotted with islets of limestone rocks covered with lush vegetation and seabeds rich in fish swimming in crystal-clear waters. The main activity to do in El Nido is indeed to take a tour on a bangka, the traditional boat, which from the beach of El Nido takes you to discover postcard landscapes and incredible sea.

There are 4 tours, simply called A, B, C, and D, and the prices are essentially the same for all the countless agencies that crowd the beach and streets of El Nido Town. These are shared tours, and the boats accommodate about 10-20 people depending on the tours. You might feel a little cramped at first, but once out of the “harbor area,” you can move by sitting in the bow of the boat or on the side edges, where you can also sunbathe ;).

Departure is generally between 8:30 and 10:00, and return between 16:30 and 17:00, with the order of the stops varying depending on the crowding.

One thing I really appreciated is that the various boats keep in touch and organize themselves so that there are never too many boats in the same place at the same time, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of these places without overcrowding.

All tours include 5 stops that are a mix of snorkeling spots, where you can swim in crystal-clear waters, relax on the whitest beaches, or other activities like kayaking tours or cave visits. Lunch is always included, set up on the beach at one of the stops, and it’s a buffet of vegetables, noodles, grilled fish, meat, rice, and fruit: definitely abundant and always delicious.

Even if you’re not an experienced swimmer or even if you’re afraid of deep water, the boat tour in El Nido is an absolute must-do! The staff is super friendly, attentive to every need, and for the snorkeling stops, you can enter the water with a life jacket, attach yourself to the guide’s float, and simply lower your face into the water to admire the spectacle below. If you still don’t feel comfortable, know that the water is so clear that you can see many fish and corals even from the boat!

Visitare El Nido: Snake Island

Tour stops & costs

Once the tours were different, with Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon in the same tour, but to alleviate crowding, the two lagoons have been divided into two different tours and in November 2023, when I went, the tours were:

Tour A: the most popular, with the splendid Big Lagoon where you can rent a kayak for an additional 300 pesos, the suggestive Secret Lagoon where you pass through a hole and find yourself in a secret pool surrounded by high limestone walls, Shimizu Island where lunch is generally served, the beautiful white beach 7 Commando Beach, Pyogn Payong Island (another beach stop that in our case was replaced with fantastic snorkeling at Paglugaban Island where I saw my first blue starfish!). Cost 1,200 pesos + 200 pesos Lagoon Fee

Tour B: the second tour we chose to do, with two snorkeling points at Popolcan Island (instead of Pinaguyutan Island) and near the Cathedral Cave, lunch at the splendid Snake Island where a tongue of white sand emerges from the transparent sea, relaxation on the fabulous beach of Entalula Island and Cudong, where near the beach there is a suggestive cave. Cost 1,300 pesos

Tour C: the second most popular option, especially for the Secret Beach, which can only be reached by swimming through a swim passage in the rocks! However, due to this peculiarity, it is subject to tides and currents, and during the period we went, there were very frequent days when it was not reachable. The other stops are the Hidden beach, considered one of the 3 most beautiful beaches in the world, the beaches of Star beach and Talisay beach, and snorkeling near Helicopter Island. Definitely the recommended option for those who love white beaches and shallow crystal-clear waters, but keep in mind that being a bit further away, it is the one in which those who suffer from seasickness could have some problems. Cost 1,400 pesos

Tour D: is the tour where Small Lagoon has been included, and this one is also focused mainly on pristine beaches, as well as being the quietest and least crowded. Cadlao Island with its lagoon and Paradise Beach, quiet beaches with water that looks like a swimming pool of Pasandigan Beach and Nat Nat Beach. In this tour, there are no snorkeling stops, and it is often the least crowded: so you will have the chance to relax to the fullest. Cost 1,200 pesos + 200 pesos Lagoon Fee

We wanted to do tour A and tour C, but when we were told that the Secret Beach probably wouldn’t be reachable, we opted for tour B, which we liked a lot, despite the evening tiredness from the prolonged time swimming at the snorkeling spots.

There is also the possibility of taking private boat tours, even customized ones, but obviously the costs increase significantly, and I cannot provide information about it.

Big Lagoon, El Nido, Palawan

Things to know and bring on boat tours

First of all, it should be noted that to get on and off the boat, both at El Nido beach and at all the other “onshore” stops, the boats stop about ten meters from the shore, and you must therefore walk in the water for a while. On average, the water reaches the knees, but on a couple of occasions, and if waves arrive, it can reach the hips. So I recommend taking off your clothes and staying in a swimsuit from the start, or at most keeping only the t-shirt.

While walking to/from the boat, put your bag/backpack over your head to avoid getting wet, even if it would be ideal to have a waterproof bag like those sold on the beach for a few pesos: even on the boat, the floor is often wet. We chose not to buy it and had a water-repellent bag inside which we had plastic bags, and they were enough to protect the things that shouldn’t get wet.

Rock shoes are definitely better than flip-flops because they allow you to walk on any type of surface, as well as offering better grip when getting on and off the boat. If you don’t have them, they can be rented at the port.

For 100 pesos, you can also rent a mask and snorkel, essential for tours where snorkeling is planned.

Then remember to bring PLENTY of sunscreen and reapply frequently, sunglasses, and a supply of water, preferably in a thermal bottle so that it stays cool and avoids the use of plastic. In some stops, you will find shacks selling drinks and fresh water, but obviously the price is much higher.

How to book boat tours in El Nido

Boat tours are generally booked by the evening before, so the various operators have time to organize and distribute the boats. In fact, even if you book at a certain agency, you might be put on another boat since the companies coordinate not only to avoid crowding the stops but also to distribute passengers on the boats. In fact, this is exactly what happened to us: we booked through our hotel, and on the second day, the lady from the agency waiting for us on the beach assigned us to a boat from a different company because they didn’t have boats departing for tour B.

You will find agency stands directly on the beach, or you can go directly to your hotel, as we did. Payments on-site are all cash only, but if you want to pay by credit card, you can book online through portals like GetYourGuide and Klook.

Visitare El Nido

The beaches of El Nido

While El Nido Beach is a stop you will surely visit because it’s where boat tours depart, it’s certainly not the ideal place for swimming. In fact, it’s not allowed due to water pollution. However, by renting a scooter or taking a tricycle, you can reach some very beautiful beaches, such as Las Cabanas Beach, located south of Coron-Coron and where there is also a zip-line, Duli Beach famous especially for surfing, or the stunning Nacpan Beach, about 20 km north of El Nido.

Nacpan Beach is a stretch of white sand and crystal-clear water, with a shallow seabed and gentle waves. Exactly the type of beach I like! There are also some little shops with tables, deck chairs, and umbrellas: the typical idea of a relaxing beach. We arrived there in the morning, around 8 o’clock, and found it deserted. A paradise all to ourselves! To get there, we opted for a tricycle, for 1,500 pesos for a round trip from El Nido, and thanks to him, we could use the deck chairs and umbrellas of his acquaintance’s place for free, where we also had a huge plate of delicious bihon for only 60 pesos!

The last stretch of road is dirt, full of potholes, and rather muddy. Our driver was phenomenal, and despite the bumpiness of that stretch, I absolutely recommend this option because it’s fun overall!
Personally, I advise against reaching Nacpan by scooter unless you consider the risk of falling… the final stretch is really rough, and if it rained the previous night, it’s also extremely slippery and muddy.
There are also shared vans that depart at fixed times and arrive at the beach around 11, when it’s obviously more crowded.

Finally, you can rent a kayak for the day and independently reach some beautiful beaches that are usually visited during boat tours. For example, from El Nido beach, you can reach Cadlado Island (tour D), which is right in front. From Corong-Corong beach, on the other hand, you can paddle around the rocky spur to Seven Commandos Beach (featured in tour A) or the nearby Papaya Beach, which is often the less crowded alternative. Keep in mind that in a kayak, you are alone and will have to rely solely on your strength, so if the sea is rougher, abandon this option unless you are fit enough.

Where to stay in El Nido

Although the Philippines is generally an inexpensive country, prices in El Nido skyrocket, and often, especially regarding accommodations, the quality/price ratio is not the best. But then again, you should expect it: the advent of mass tourism often brings not-so-positive consequences…

The main choice is between El Nido Town, where there is more life and you can always walk around, or Corong-Corong, a bit quieter and from where you can see the sunset (which remains hidden behind the rocky spur in El Nido Town), you can find the details in the dedicated article.

Where to stay at El Nido – a unique experience!

I recommend staying in El Nido for at least 3 days, so you are sure to participate in at least one boat tour, as they could be canceled in case of bad weather. We spent 2 and a half days in El Nido + another day staying overnight on an island, and I can say that it was just the bare minimum. We would like to go back and spend at least two more days here, both for another boat tour, but also to enjoy the nearby beaches more, maybe reaching them by kayak.

The idea for the next trip is to visit El Nido together with Coron Island, the perfect destination for snorkeling lovers, hope to update you soon on this destination!

The best time to visit El Nido

The best time to visit El Nido is between November and May, during the dry season, and in particular, the months of February, March, and April. However, even during these months, you have to expect some rain, but generally, the days are sunny and the sea calm. The high season is from December to February, so the beaches are crowded, and the prices higher, while from June to October, during the rainy season, it’s not uncommon for the tours to be canceled due to rough seas. We were there in mid-November, and the weather was perfect: a mix of sun and clouds and no more than a couple of minutes of rain.

El Nido is a place where nature expresses itself in all its beauty, and where it’s possible to find yourself in paradisiacal corners, even if just for a few moments, but where unfortunately the human being is also leaving an increasingly evident mark. So hurry up to visit it before it becomes another chaotic tourist destination where nature is suffocated by cement, plastic, and noise…

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