In 2014 & 2015, Palawan was voted as the most beautiful island in the world by the Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards. Last year, it slipped down to 2nd place, behind another island gem, Boracay Island. This annual poll is participated by travelers from all over the world. Looks like most foreigners really love going to the Philippines, eh?
Palawan is one of the isolated islands west of the Philippine archipelago. It is not connected to any mainland in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao. The island can only be reached either by plane or ferry. It has 3 famous cities / towns where most visitors go to – Puerto Princesa, the home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (locally known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River); Coron, where the famous Kayangan Lake & Twin Lagoon are location & El Nido, where white sand beaches & luxury resorts are found in the very small islands of Bacuit Bay.
One of El Nido’s main attractions – The Big Lagoon in Miniloc Island
Exactly 3 years ago, my friends & I went to explore the not-so-known beauty of El Nido. Not yet famous in the local tourism scene, the town only had a few accommodation choices, a handful of restaurants & limited hours of power supply (only from 2:00 pm to 6:00 am). The town doesn’t have a bank or an automated teller machine. Very few restaurants / establishments accept credit card payments (with surcharges). The locals lived very simple lives & mostly depend on agricultural livelihood & tourism.
Bacuit Bay – View from El Nido town’s beach
Being in El Nido that time felt like being in a different country – with foreign travelers & backpackers everywhere in town.
Manila to El Nido ✈️️🚐
There are two ways to reach El Nido if you are coming from Manila – the expensive & comfortable direct flight & the affordable flight plus tiring land transfer. My friends & I cannot afford the ₱12,000 (estimated) direct round-trip tickets with Air Swift, so we opted to fly with Cebu Pacific Air to Puerto Princesa (for an affordable rate); then took the 6-hour land trip to El Nido. The van transfer costs ₱500-600 per way, depending on your haggling skills. You can also take the bus at a much cheaper rate, but the trip last up to 7 hours due to various stops.
El Nido 2014 crew @ Cudugnon Cave
Back in 2014, the last 2 hours of the 6-hour land trip were purely through rough roads. With the recent improvements in road infrastructure, the trip can be shortened to 5 hours through paved roads. There were only 3 van operators in 2014 – Lexxus, Eulen Joy & DayTripper Palawan. Apart from DayTripper Palawan, I would also recommend taking the recent addition to the van operators – Camarih Transport. My friends and I had a very safe trip last year (blogpost for the 2016 El Nido trip to follow!)
Where We Stayed
There were only a few accommodation choices in El Nido that time. My friends & I stayed in Casa Cecilia for 4 days & 3 nights. We got the deluxe room for ₱2,500* per night. The room rate includes 2 double beds, private toilet & shower (with toiletries), air conditioning, free Wi-Fi in the reception area & 4 breakfast meals per day.
The property staff were one of the nicest people I met in El Nido. They helped us arrange everything (van transfers, tours, etc) during our stay. We also met the owner who was also super nice.
When you & your tour group are the only visitors of the island 😉
*As per the Casa Cecilia website, the rate of the deluxe room has increased from ₱2,500 to ₱3,000 per night. I think it’s still affordable for 4 people, right?
El Nido Eco-Tourism Development Fee
The local government of El Nido collects an eco-tourism development fee of ₱200 (valid for 10 days) from each person taking the island tours. You can pay this fee in your hostel, hotel or the travel agency where you availed the tours. Back in 2014, they only give you a receipt; but from what I heard, they now issue small green environmental cards which you present to the boat captain every time you take the island tour.
Snake Island is connected to mainland Palawan through this sand bar
What We Did During Our Stay
We only had a few days in El Nido & we wanted to do + see as much as we can. There are 4 island tour options being offered in town – Tour A (Lagoons & Beaches), Tour B (Caves & Coves), Tour C (Hidden Beaches & Shrines) & Tour D (Island Beaches. Tours A & C are the popular ones but we took Tours A & B.
Note: These are group tours; you or your group will be combined with other people in a boat. You can go for a private boat tour but it would cost you more that the usual rate.
Tour A (Lagoons & Beaches) – A MUST IN EL NIDO!
View of Big Lagoon from our tour boat 😍
This tour costs ₱1,200 per person. The rate includes pick-up from your hotel/ hostel accommodation, motorized boat transfers to & from the islands, picnic lunch, life jacket & English-speaking boatmen. Always ask your guide if the snorkeling gear is for free or is for rent (we got ours for free!). Tour starts at 9:00 am & ends at around 4:00 pm.
Route: Seven Commando Beach -> Big Lagoon -> Shimizu Island (for lunch) -> Secret Lagoon -> Small Lagoon
PS. We enjoyed our time there we forgot to take photos of the places we visited. I’ll make it up in the next El Nido blogs. 😉
Tour B (Caves & Coves)
My favorite view from Pinagbuyutan Island!
This tour costs ₱1,300 per person. The tour has same inclusions & tour duration as that of Tour A’s.
Route: Entalula Island -> Snake Island (for lunch) -> Cudugnon Cave -> Cathedral Cave -> Pinagbuyutan Island
Crew jump shot at Entalula Island taken from the coconut tree~
We met some awesome people (both foreigners & fellow Filipinos) in these tours. We all ended up hanging out after the tour/s – had some good laughs over food & alcohol.
Las Cabanas Beach & Sunset
Aside from the island tours, there are also other spots you can visit like the Las Cabanas Beach, Nacpan Beach, Nagkalit-Kalit Falls & Duli Beach. We didn’t have enough time to go the last 3 so we only visited the Las Cabanas Beach (10-minute ride from town proper).
Back to when Las Cabanas Beach was almost empty
We rented a tricycle for ₱150. The driver waited for us up until we finished walking around the beach. Back then, there were only a handful of accommodations & restaurants in the area. It was so quiet & beautiful. It also offered one of the most beautiful sunsets by the beach I’ve witnessed in my entire life.
Las Cabanas sunset 😍
El Nido has its own charm. It is truly a paradise where you will always want to go back. It instantly became one my favorite places in the Philippines. I fell in love with the place I actually went back twice in the last 3 years (separate blogs to follow!)
I’ve heard from people I met in my recent trips that El Nido has gained attention in the local tourism scene. There are so many people visiting the place compared to the numbers 3 years ago. I strongly suggest that you visit El Nido as soon as possible before it becomes full of tourists.
Have you been to El Nido in the last 3-6 months? Can you tell me & the other readers how is the island hopping experience lately? Is the town already full of tourists? Feel free to comment below or send me an email to email@example.com. You can also send me a message on Facebook, drop a comment on Instagram or send me a tweet on Twitter.
Until the next blog post. Thank you for reading! 🤠
PS. Thanks to my good friend Rodel for allowing me for allowing me to use some of his photos.