El Nido is a majestic spot on the island of Palawan.
It features beautiful beaches, a small seaside tourist town, and a surrounding of limestone islands and karsts sculpted by long ago volcanic activity.
Here you can get your fill of local seafood, beachlife, diving, island hopping and a dash of partying.
As of December 2018 the Airswift magazine estimated the tourist visitors at 120,000 per year which makes El Nido relatively quiet when compared the better known Boracay.
With the recent closure and semi re-opening of Boracay along with Palawan regularly featuring in ‘Best Island of the World’ competitions, I think El Nido is going to get busier and busier.
How to get to El Nido
Airswift has direct flights from Manila and Cebu, otherwise one can fly to Puerto Princesa and then take the six hour bus.
There are also ferries from Coron but be warned that the coast guard often cancels these due to weather so don’t rely on one if you have a tight time-frame. This happened to a few people I encountered.
El Nido Airport
El Nido airport is a simple little affair that appeared to only serve Airswift twin prop planes that seat ~70 passengers each. There is no where to buy food or drink.
On arrival they made a fuss over making sure that everyones’ bags were matched with baggage receipts which slowed everything down a bit.
Once you have collected your bag you head outside and grab a trike which had a fixed fair of 300 pesos to El Nido town or 350 pesos to Corong Corong.
A trike can fit two passengers or maybe more at a squeeze. Then it is onto the very bumpy road to town. Apparently the reason they don’t fix the road is to stop people speeding.
Flying out of El Nido the ticket stated the counter cutoff as 45 minutes before the flight. I arrived about 80 minutes early but did observe people still checking in after the 45 minute cutoff.
Airswift provided free water and tea, and later some little tapioca type sweet buns.
Where to stay – El Nido Hotels
El Nido is fairly rustic and still in the process of development. As such much of the accommodation is pretty basic with the exception of a few ultra high-end places out of town.
I always like to stay in town near the action rather than be trapped in a resort. I stayed at ‘A Place to Remember’ which was perfectly serviceable but more a three star hostel than a hotel.
There were two places that caught my eye.
Cuna Hotel is close to the main strip, appears to be one of the few four star hotels and has an infinity pool on the roof to keep you cool while visiting their restaurant and bar.
I even cheekily used the pool a couple times although I wasn’t staying at hotel.
Marygold Beachfront Inn Resort
Marygold Beachfront Inn Resort has quaint little bungalows on the beach. It looked like the pick of the beachfront accommodation in town.
It also serves burgers and beers at tables in the shade just inset from the main beach.
The public can sit here, so I spent a couple of my days drinking beer watching the world go by and going for the occasional swim. Just ask them nicely to put a few beers in the freezer so you get proper cold ones.
Note about accommodation – Get in early
If you are visiting a busy period make sure to book well in advance.
I booked about two and half months ahead and neither Cuna or Marygold were available but I was visiting in peak season.
What to do in El Nido
There are a bunch of boats that leave from the main beach everyday, you can take one of the four standardised tours to go and see the islands.
It can get very busy with many people going on the same few routes. Your hotel or one of the tourist information shops will be able to arrange a trip for you.
You can also spring for a private boat if you have a few friends and want to drop some cash.
Several dive boats operate in the area. You can do your PADI course here or just go for a dive with a divemaster.
There is a little beach in front of the town that serves as access to the boats. I swam here several times and was lucky enough to spot a giant green sea turtle moving through water about a meter from me.
I heard it used to be quite polluted but I only saw one bit of plastic floating through the water so the cleanup effort has been fairly effective.
Corong Corong Beach
The second closest land accessible beach is Corong Corong beach (Calaan is the closest but I didn’t visit). It isn’t ideal for swimming due to a very long sandbank and exposed rocks in the sand. I would skip it.
You can walk to Corong Corong in about 40 minutes from the main town via the main road which isn’t particularly scenic.
From Corong Corong you can walk along the beach to Marimegmeg Beach in about 30 minutes which is a nice walk. There is a section of rocks you won’t be able to get around at high tide although I think there might be a locals’ track that runs up to the left.
Marimegmeg Beach and Las Cabanas
Marimegmeg Beach is a good swimming beach with a few bars and restaurants.
There is quite a bit of development going on and if the signs are right a rebrand to ‘Vanilla Beach’ is underway.
Current tourist price of a trike here from or to El Nido township is 150 pesos oneway. There were some nice looking hotels going in and a large outdoor pool adjacent to the beach. I couldn’t work out what resort this was.
The extension of Marimegmeg is Las Cabanas Beach. Las Cabanas has a zipline installed to a nearby island.
Marimegmeg and Las Cabanas are probably the nicest beaches that are close to town.
Nacpan beach is about a forty minute trike out of town past the airport.
I didn’t end up checking it out as they want 600 pesos return per person for a van which was booked out the day I asked and 1500 pesos return for a trike.
Since Marimegmeg and Las Cabanas are much closer I decided to skip Nacpan.
Get a massage
The massages here run between 400-600 pesos for an hour. There are several shops along the main strip.
Facilities all tend to be pretty basic. You are often fairly close to other clients and most of the massage tables don’t have a face hole. Also, many shops are cooled only by fan which may bother some.
The massage technique is passable and as always usually comes down to the masseuse.
I heard the only place the had tables with face holes was out at the Corong Corong Commercial Area. It is called Asian Massage El Nido but I didn’t end up trying it.
Where to eat – El Nido Restaurants
The food in El Nido isn’t absolutely amazing but there is plenty of fresh seafood to keep your tummy happy.
Osaka Castle is a Japanese restaurant in El Nido run by a Japanese expat.
I was thoroughly surprised to find high grade fatty belly tuna and fatty salmon on the menu here which of course I ordered. These dishes cost near what they do anywhere else and must have been imported but I haven’t had quality like that outside of Japan except occasionally in Singapore.
I also tried their tempura and their miso which weren’t anything to write home about.
As you might guess by the name L’Assiette is a French restaurant.
It is relatively high-end compared to much of the offerings in El Nido so expect to leave with your wallet quite a bit lighter than when you walked in.
I tried some home made foie gras, some terrine and some mussels here. The first two were lovely, the mussels were good but I suspect may have been from a can although they were presented in proper shells.
Also gave their cocktails a crack but I would recommend just sticking with the wine list.
There was a serious menu of specials that gave the impression the owner imports decent produce on a regular basis.
Sea Jane Resto Bar
This cute little place has fresh seafood on display out the front and an upstairs area to sit and look over the sea.
Local dishes like Prawns Adobo, as well as lobster, crab and fish can be had here. Just make sure you pick out your seafood and confirm the price on the scales (one of the waiters got the price for lobster mixed up and underquoted).
Note you can buy much cheaper seafood at the Corong Corong markets however you need a place to cook it.
Where to drink – El Nido Bars
Getting cold beer here can be a bit of an effort like many places throughout the world, also getting decent cocktails takes a bit of hunting with the usual spirits of questionable origin in circulation.
In terms of local booze San Miguel is a decent drinking beer and the Filipino rums are rather quaffable – Tanduay Premium or Don Papa were my favourites.
SAVA Beach Bar
Sava Beach Bar is a relatively new offering in the El Nido scene. It is catering to the higher end with ‘premium spirit’ cocktail options available.
They made a decent Margarita (although the standard spirit version was less appealing), had good chips, tables looking over the beach and funky decor.
Scape Skydeck – Cuna Hotel
Up to top level of the Cuna Hotel is the Scape Skydeck which has beautiful views over the sea, the township of El Nido and the surrounds.
Food here is pretty westernised so I didn’t try anything nor did I get into their cocktails so can’t comment as to their quality. It is however a great vantage point and certainly worth a visit.
It also has an Infinity Pool.
Pukka Bar is a reggae bar on the beachfront popular with the backpacker crowd. It wasn’t a bad place to stop for a drink although wasn’t playing anything remotely near reggae when I stopped by.
Bar without a name
There was a decent bar on the corner of G. Del Pilar St and Calle Hama that played techno music later in the night.
It had no signs that I could see nor is it listed on Google maps. Hence I dub this place ‘Bar without a name’.
Happiness Bar and Art Cafe
Both these place were very popular. I didn’t try Happiness but I had a go at the Art Cafe, it was okay but a bit busy and generic for my tastes.
El Nido Map
This map shows the main strip along with some of the places mentioned in this post. If you zoom out the beaches and airport are also marked.
What type of people are here – El Nido demographic
The majority of people I saw were European backpackers. There were of course people from all around the world of different ages as well.
The locals both from El Nido and Palawan are well outnumbered by the visitors.
Where to by a travel adapter in El Nido
Got all this way without a travel adapter and then discovered that most of the hotels and inns don’t have spares? Not to worry, head to Abot Kaya ‘Mall’.
It is a two story shop just outside of Corong Corong beach in the commercial area. Among the aisles in the electrical section on the ground floor you will find power boards and double adapters that fit into the local socket and take most other plug types.