1. Scheduling your trip
El Nido is pleasantly warm between December and March. It won’t be scorching hot or uncomfortably humid. As a matter of fact, you might even catch a few whiffs of cool air. During the dry season (including April and May), the summer heat peaks, creating the atmosphere a little humid. Of course, the influx of tourists also skyrockets on these times.
Do note that El Nido is generally spared from heavy downpours and stays relatively sunny during the Philippines’ rainy months, which begin in June. However, waters tend to get rough so you won’t be able to enjoy as many activities as you usually can when the sea is calm.
2. Getting there
Your fastest option is via a commercial flight directly to El Nido, that’s if you don’t mind the fairly expensive fare.
A more budget-friendly alternative is to fly from Manila or Cebu to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan. From there, you can hop on a roll-on roll-off (RORO) bus at the San Jose terminal and reach El Nido in six to seven hours. Or you could rent a private van at the airport or the hotel you’re booked at (if you’ll be spending a few days in Puerto Princesa first). El Nido is about 220 kilometers away, so brace yourself for a four to six-hour road trip.
A couple of cargo ship operators in Manila also ferry passengers straight to El Nido. It’s the least expensive mode, but the journey can take as long as three days.
3. Finding a place to stay
El Nido is famed for its luxury resorts, but the town also has its share of budget-friendly options. If you can afford to splurge, El Nido Resorts offers upscale and secluded accommodations in Miniloc Island, Lagen Island, Apulit Island and Pangulasian Island.
Inland, you will find some two-star hotels and numerous inns and pension houses. At Aplaya, Corong Corong and Poblacion, standard rooms go for P300 to P3,000 per night. Plan on staying beyond a week or perhaps a few months? Do inform the hotel or guesthouse. You just might get to enjoy special discounted rates!
4. Exploring paradise
With 45 islands, El Nido is packed with things to do and places to see. Here are our favorites:
Go island-hopping in Bacuit Bay. You can sign up at any travel agency, although some hotels also arrange tours for their guests. The rates are pretty standard, although you can always test your haggling skills. Oh, and there’s a mandatory P200 eco-tourism development fee. Your basic day-tour options are as follows:
Tour A covers lagoons and beaches, often including Miniloc Island’s Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon, Simizu Island, Payong-Payong Beach and Seven Commandos Beach (P1,200 per head).
Tour B includes caves, coves and beaches such as Codugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave, Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Pangulasian Island and Lagen Island (P1,300 per head).
Tour C takes you to hidden beaches and shrines like Tapuitan Island, Star Beach, Beach and Helicopter Island Secret Beach, Hidden. (P1,400 per head).
Tour D highlights island beaches, namely Cadlao Island, Nat Nat Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Paradise Beach, Ubugon Cave and Bukal Beach (P1,200 per head).
Packages that combine Tours A and C and Tours B and D are available too. You can also request for a private or custom tour. Lunch will be prepared by your guides and served at one of the stops.
Head inland, up north to the remote but lovely beaches of Nacpan, Calitang and Duli. Hire a tricycle to take you to the area.
On the other end, about 3 kilometers south of the town proper, is another quiet and stunning spot worth visiting: Marimegmeg Beach.
From the town proper, trek for 45 minutes to the Makinit Hot Springs and then hike for an hour to the Nagkalit-kalit Falls. Reward yourself with a refreshing dip.
Want a different vantage point? Climb the Taraw Cliff. It’s a three-hour journey to the peak of this limestone karst, but the views that await you make it all worthwhile.
5. Filling up
El Nido offers a variety of local and international cuisine, with loads of restaurants and eateries found across town and along beaches.
Do expect a lot of seafood! Many restaurants like Squido’s and El Nido Corner specialize in seafood dishes. The lunch buffet served during island-hopping tours usually includes grilled fish and tuna ensalada. For some American, Italian, Mexican and French fare, try Artcafé, Altrove, The Alternative, Lonesome Carabao and French Crepes.