El Nido is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in the world, making it unthinkable to explore the Philippines without spending at least a couple of nights here. In my one-week itinerary in Palawan, I spent four nights to El Nido—three in the “classic” area and one on the enchanting Darocotan Island, where I slept in a beachfront bungalow, a unique experience fully immersed in the stunning nature of this corner of the world.
Situated at the northern tip of Palawan Island, renowned as the most beautiful in the world, in the western side of the Philippines. Despite facing challenges from mass tourism, resulting in some unsustainable developments in the small Filipino town, El Nido’s charm lies in the breathtaking Bacuit Archipelago and its spectacular islands.
Where to Stay in El Nido
About boat tours and what to see in El Nido I will write in a dedicated post, but for now, let’s focus on accommodation tips in El Nido.
Depending on your interests and travel style, recommended areas may vary. Despite the Philippines being generally affordable, El Nido’s prices soar, and the quality-to-price ratio, especially for accommodations, isn’t always the best. However, given that El Nido is a truly unmissable destination, lodging choices are diverse, ranging from super-budget guesthouses to extra-luxurious resorts.
Keep in mind that you are in one of Asia’s poorest countries, where even brushing your teeth with bottled water is recommended, and amenities like air conditioning and reliable Wi-Fi are considered luxuries, especially for budget travelers, it’s advisable not to opt for overly economical accommodations. Personally, for a destination like El Nido, where a minimum of three nights is recommended, I suggest avoiding extremely budget options to ensure a comfortable stay.
Many travelers prefer booking only the first night and then finding accommodation on the spot. However, I traveled in the low season (early dry season), and two girls I met during a boat excursion struggled to find on-the-spot lodging, having to change accommodations every night. To secure a good place, I recommend planning ahead.
El Nido Town
El Nido town serves as the starting point for boat tours and the arrival/departure point for shared vans to other destinations on Palawan Island. It is the epicenter of local liveliness, with shops, bars, and venues where most of the nightlife happens. El Nido Town hosts the majority of hostels and low-cost accommodations. Due to the numerous entertainment options within walking distance, it’s ideal for traveling during the rainy season when boat tours might be canceled.
As I’m not a fan of chaos and nightlife, I didn’t extensively research accommodations in El Nido Town. Instead, I followed the recommendations from other blogs suggesting staying in the Corong Corong area. Bur acually being very tired in the evening, after the full day of swimming, it has would be nice to be able to go back to the hotel, take a quick shower and go out for dinner without wasting time…. If I were to return to El Nido, I would carefully consider downtown options as well.
Corong Corong Beach
Corong Corong Beach is approximately a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute, 100-pesos tricycle ride from El Nido Town. Unlike El Nido Town, where the sun sets behind the tall rocky promontory, here you can witness the sunset over the sea. Or at least you should. In my case, the sky clouded over every evening, ready for the nightly rain shower, and I never saw a decent sunset throughout my trip to the Philippines.
The beach is much quieter here, and you can rent a kayak to explore the nearby beaches hidden by the headland that separates Corong Corong from El Nido Town. There are also several accommodations and restaurants, but the atmosphere is much quieter and more sophisticated, with many hotels and guesthouses overlooking the beach, such as the frequently recommended Panari Lodge.
We were looking for accommodation with a separate shower (in the Philippines, bathrooms are often a “single space,” and showering wets the entire bathroom). We opted for the Country Inn Bay View Resort, further from the sea and in an elevated position. We spent three nights there and had a fantastic experience.
The staff was super friendly, organizing all our excursions, providing the outbound tricycle, and helping us arrange a private tricycle for Nacpan Beach. The breakfast was excellent, with various Filipino and international options. The laundry service was very fast, and the opportunity to buy bottled water at a much lower price than various El Nido bars was appreciated. The room was spacious and clean, with fully functional air conditioning and Wi-Fi. A top-level accommodation at an excellent price, although not centrally located.
Unusual Experience in El Nido: Sleeping on an Island
For those seeking a unique place to stay in El Nido, there are several resorts on the islands in Bacuit Bay, but prices are generally not within everyone’s reach. However, moving to the east coast, about 50 minutes from El Nido Town, you can experience something extraordinary on the small island of Darocotan, away from the crowds, sleeping in beachfront bungalows.
On this island, there are three accommodations of varying levels:
- Bice Camp Darocotan: Simple beachfront cottages, very basic, perfect for backpackers and those on a tight budget.
- Isla – The Experience: Raised sea-view bungalows with many socializing activities, medium budget.
- Dryft: An eco-resort/glamping with air-conditioned cabins and tents at a significantly higher price.
We chose to stay for one night at Isla, and it was a truly unique and unforgettable experience that I want to talk about a bit more.
Isla Experience – The Unique Experience in Beachfront Bungalow
As soon as I saw the pictures of this place on Instagram, I decided to go there. Wooden and thatch beachfront bungalows overlooking an intense and crystal-clear blue sea on a small island away from mass tourism. And then a sunken wreck for snorkeling, pigs wandering around the beach, evening bonfires chatting with travelers from around the world—basically, Isla Experience is a perfect representation of those island vibes that make us dream!
We spent only one night here, and everyone was rather surprised at the short stay. Still, I must say that for us, one night was ideal. Keep in mind that it’s an eco-structure with limited comfort, communal bathrooms, and on a small island where blackouts and lack of running water can occur (we couldn’t shower because there was no water both in the evening and the morning before leaving). While this is to be expected when traveling in some countries, adapting for a more extended period is not always easy.
This eco-structure not only offers an unforgettable experience to guests but also contributes to a project supporting the education of the inhabitants of the small village on the island. Contributions cover the expenses of young students to reach the school on the main island, literacy courses for adults thanks to teachers who reach the island once a week, and the important project of building a local school.
Isla’s sustainability goes beyond supporting the local population; there’s also a great focus on the surrounding environment. Electricity usage is limited as much as possible, with power being cut off from 22:00 until the next morning when solar panels start storing power again. Of course, there are no air conditioners in the bungalows, but battery-powered fans are more than sufficient, hoping the charge doesn’t run out overnight, as it happened to other guests.
You can reach Darocotan Island in 10 minutes by a free boat from Teneguiban. Departure times are fixed, available directly on the facility’s website, which you can also contact to organize shared van transportation from El Nido (shared van 650 pesos per person, private taxi 1500 pesos total).
Upon arrival at Isla, you’ll be greeted with a glass of mango juice and a smile from the staff who will explain the structure’s operation, activities, and meal times (payable separately in cash). They’ll then accompany you to your beachfront bungalow.
The bungalows are elevated, entrance is from the stairs at the back, and after crossing the small room with a bed protected by a mosquito net, you will step onto the terrace with a paradise view: white sand and crystal-clear water in front of you, no windows or other obstacles between you and the beauty of nature. At night, the starry sky above you and the sound of the waves lull you to sleep.
Isla is also a meeting place, where you can socialize with other travelers, dining together at a single table with a buffet dinner of local dishes for less than 500 pesos. Opportunities to socialize are also available during various activities organized by Isla, such as sunset tours, beach volleyball games, evening bonfires with karaoke, and “Pigs out,” when the facility’s pigs are let out of the enclosure to splash in the sea!
Unfortunately, when we were there, many of the scheduled activities weren’t actually carried out—probably because all the guests had been there for several days and would be replaced by new travelers the next day. It seemed like it wasn’t worth doing the activities just for us who would be there only that day. It slightly spoiled the poetry, I admit.
Staying at Isla the Experience is a bit more expensive than regular accommodations, but it’s still an affordable price. We paid around €85 per night without meals. Perhaps a bit overpriced considering that the bathrooms were communal, and we couldn’t even shower due to a lack of water. However, for one night, it’s an experience that I recommend, especially for the beauty of the place and the emotion of sleeping in a beachfront bungalow on a small island!
If you choose to have this experience, I recommend being prepared for possible power outages, Wi-Fi and water shortages, and bringing lots of insect and mosquito repellent. Also, be prepared to take home a unique memory of this truly unusual experience!
El Nido is more than a tourist destination; it’s a journey into enchantment. Choosing where to stay is part of the adventure, and amid the lively streets of El Nido town, the tranquility of Corong Corong, and the magical atmosphere of beachfront bungalows, there’s a perfect retreat for every traveler…
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