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. This means a lot of construction, contaminated water, questionable toilets, and high prices.
Check out our list of things to know before you visit El Nido so you can properly prepare for everything that you’ll encounter during your upcoming trip. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: Things to Know Before Visiting El Nido, Palawan
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Getting to El Nido
El Nido is situated at the northern end of Palawan island in the Philippines. Palawan is an extremely popular tourist destination thanks to El Nido, but most flights to the island land in the main city of Puerto Princessa.
Previously there were only two ways to visit El Nido. You could fly into Puerto Princessa and ride in a minivan for five hours on a windy bumpy road. Or you could fly to the island of Busuanga and take the ferry from Coron to El Nido which is a 3-4 hour boat ride.
Luckily, these days there is a third option. A new airport has been built just 15 minutes outside of the town of El Nido (Airport code: ENI) and AirSWIFT operates numerous flights a day between El Nido and other popular tourist destinations in the Philippines, including Manila, Boracay, Busuanga (Coron), and Cebu.
8 Things to Know Before Visiting El Nido, Palawan
1. EL Nido Island Hopping Tours are Pretty Standardized
There are four island hopping tours to choose from when you visit El Nido – Tour A, Tour B, Tour C, and Tour D. Each tour 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 am 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 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 am and the big tour boats don’t depart until 9 am, so you can get an hour’s head start.
2. If it Rains There’s Nothing to Do in El Nido
The most popular activity when you visit El Nido is to go island hopping either in a private boat or as part of a tour group. And the diving off the coast is amazing as well. 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 during 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 Wi-Fi is so scarce in El Nido, 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. 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.
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 Wi-Fi 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 on the island of Palawan. 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 two 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!
Where to Stay in El Nido
4. 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 in El Nido:
- 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.
Typical symptoms of giardia may include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps, bloating, and/or gas
5. ATMs in El Nido 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 in Palawan and book your hotel on Agoda or Booking so you can prepay with a credit card.
6. The Internet Is Terrible
Most hotels and restaurants in El Nido advertise “free Wi-Fi”. But once you sit down and order something you’ll find that the WiFi is 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 the internet is to unlock your phone in advance and purchase a prepaid SIM card. There are two SIM card 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, Palawan area.
The best Wi-Fi 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 to access 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 El Nido but they limit the number of devices that can connect at one time. So if the restaurant is busy you likely won’t be able to sign on.
7. Western Food is Prevalent in El Nido
There are so many fantastic (albeit pricey by Filipino standards) restaurants in El Nido that 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, Palawan:
- Republica Sunset Bar – is the perfect place to watch the 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 pm – 5 pm 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!
8. 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.
We hope this post helps you prepare for your upcoming trip to El Nido, Palawan!
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