You’ve probably seen photographs of the stunning limestone formations around El Nido rising majestically above the turquoise water. It is one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines and for good reason, the nearby islands and beaches are absolutely stunning.
But the actual town of El Nido leaves something to be desired. The infrastructure has not yet caught up with the massive influx of tourists. Which means a lot of construction, contaminated water, questionable toilets, and high prices.
Check out our list of things to know before visiting El Nido so you can properly prepare for your upcoming trip!
8 Things to Know Before Visiting El Nido
1. The Internet is Terrible
Most hotels and restaurants in El Nido advertise “free WiFi” but once you sit down and order something you’ll find that it’s either incredibly slow or nonexistent. Before heading to this area of the island, be sure you get all of your work done and notify your friends and family that you’ll be off-the-grid for a bit so they don’t worry.
Your best bet for internet is to purchase a prepaid SIM card if you unlock your phone in advance. There are two options in the Philippines; Smart and Globe. Both offer incredibly cheap prepaid internet packages that start at around 50 PHP (~$1.00 USD) per Gigabyte of data. Smart seems to have better coverage in the El Nido area.
The best WiFi option that we found in El Nido was at the Casa Cecilia Cafe but you’ll be required to spend at least 150 PHP (~$3.00 USD) per person that wants access to the password. That should be no problem as they offer delicious mango shakes for that exact price. Art Cafe is known for having good internet in town but they limit the amount of devices that can connect at one time. So if the restaurant is busy, you likely won’t be able to sign on.
2. You’ll Probably get Sick, at Least Once
When checking TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations in El Nido you’ll undoubtedly see a few reviews stating that the restaurant gave them food poisoning. There were even hotel reviews we read that said the rooms harbored the norovirus. And nearly everyone you meet will have some story of getting ill during their time in El Nido.
I got sick almost immediately upon arriving in El Nido and I’m still not exactly sure what caused it. I only dined at well-rated, Western-style restaurants and I only consumed bottled water.
Take the following precautions to keep yourself healthy:
- Brush your teeth with bottled water
- When dining out, make sure that the restaurant uses filtered water in their ice prior to ordering shakes, cocktails, or iced coffee
- Keep your mouth closed in the shower
- Avoid raw veggies or fruits that may have been washed with unfiltered water
You can go into any pharmacy in most countries in SE Asia and walk out with antibiotics but that is unfortunately not the case in the Philippines. You’ll need to find a medical clinic and get an actual prescription if you think you have giardia or another illness that cannot be cured by standard over-the-counter medication.
3. It’s Expensive (Compared to Other Cities in the Philippines)
While there are plenty of hotels in El Nido, most seem to be overpriced for what you get. The cheapest rooms available will cost you around $30 USD and will be incredibly basic; a bed with only a top sheet, air conditioning, and hot water. You can opt for more expensive hotels but the increase in quality doesn’t align with the increase in price. Your mattress will be just as hard, the WiFi just as spotty, and the views about the same. If you pay more for a room, make sure you get a pool to make it worth your while.
Restaurants cater to foreigners and reflect Western prices as well. Plan on spending around 350 PHP (~$7 USD) per entree. Wine ranges from 150-200 PHP ($3-4 USD) and cocktails are usually 200-300 PHP unless you stumble upon a good happy hour deal.
But the boat tours are where you’ll really blow your budget while visiting El Nido. Group tours A-D (see below) will run you 1,200-1,400 PHP per person (~$23-27 USD) and the cost to hire a private boat for 2 people will be in the range of 5,500-7,000 PHP (~$105-133 USD). Add on the environmental fee (200 PHP/person), fees to visit certain islands, and tips for your boat crew and you’ve got an expensive day!
4. Western Food is Prevalent
There are so many fantastic (albeit pricey by Filipino standards) restaurants in El Nido, you’ll have a difficult time deciding where to eat. You’ll find everything from pizza to ramen to Thai food, and everything in between. However what you won’t find a lot of is Filipino food.
And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Filipino food can be quite heavy and it’s great to have so much variety in a small town. That being said, be sure to try the tocino (sweet cured pork) with garlic rice at least once for breakfast during your stay in El Nido.
Our favorite restaurants in El Nido:
- Republica Sunset Bar – the perfect place to watch sunset while enjoying a cold beer! Try the sashimi, it’s a fairly large portion for the price.
- Bella Vita El Nido – this darling little beachfront restaurant serves delicious pizzas and has happy hour from 3:00-5:00 daily.
- Happiness Beach Bar – we loved sitting in the swing seats at the bar while dining on shakshuka and hummus!
- Altrove – many argue that they serve the best pizza in all of El Nido. Avoid the one in town as you’ll probably have to wait for a table and instead dine at the one that’s on the way to Las Cabanas Beach. It’s just as tasty and far less crowded.
5. ATMs Often Run out of Money
Cash is king in all of the Philippines and El Nido is no exception. You’ll be required to pay for any excursions and most of your food with cash. There are only three ATMs in El Nido and they often run out of money or are out of order. Most people use the BPI Bank ATM on Real Street which means there’s usually a line to withdraw money. There are also two lesser know ATMs at the Municipal Hall on G. Del Pilar Street.
Plan ahead by getting plenty of money out prior to leaving Puerto Princesa and book your hotel on Agoda so you can prepay with a credit card.
6. If it Rains There’s Nothing to Do
The most popular activity in El Nido is to go island hopping either in a private boat or as part of a tour group. And the diving here is amazing as well. And if you’re not on a boat, you’ll be lounging on one of the many beautiful beaches nearby. Many of the restaurants are open air and offer beautiful views of the sea for sunset.
But depending on the time of year that you visit El Nido, you may encounter massive amounts of rain or even a typhoon (if you happen to get really unlucky). Normally when we get caught in rainy weather we use that time to catch up on emails or write new blog posts. But considering that WiFi is so scarce in town, you’ll have a difficult time even doing the simplest things online.
Download a few movies or a full television series prior to leaving Puerto Princesa so you can keep yourself entertained in case of bad weather. Another option is to visit the Underground River but it’s a long day trip from El Nido.
7. The Stray Dogs are in Poor Health
Stray dogs are a staple all over South America and SE Asia so if you’ve traveled a bit you’re probably quite used to seeing them around. But generally you find them to be in decent health. The locals feed them, they are treated kindly, and some countries even spay and neuter their strays.
But the stray dogs in El Nido seem to be in very poor health. Many are sickly and/or injured. If you are a dog lover, seeing this will break your heart.
8. Island Hopping Tours are Standardized
There are four tours to choose from in El Nido; Tour A, Tour B, Tour C, and Tour D. Each offers different destinations but all of the tour boats follow roughly the same schedule. If you sign up for Tour A, you’ll leave at around 9:00am and head directly to either the Big Lagoon or Small Lagoon. There you’ll have to contend with the 20 or so other people in your boat as well as the 20 or so other boats in the lagoons.
Even if you decide to hire a private boat, it’s difficult to convince them to take you anywhere that is “off-the-beaten-path”. The coast guard is strict and your boat captain has to provide them with their detailed itinerary in the morning. So even if you see a beautiful island nearby, they’ll probably be hesitant to stop if it’s not on the predetermined itinerary.
If you want to avoid the hoards of other tourists, hire a private boat and request that they leave early in the morning. The coast guard office opens at 8:00am and the big tour boats don’t depart until 9:00am so you can get an hour head start.
Want more info? Check out our favorite travel guides and books about the Philippines!
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