EL NIDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE (with itinerary, top attractions, tips and how to get there)

Summary: This blog details a comprehensive budget travel guide for El Nido which includes a sample DIY itinerary good for 3 to 5 days; estimated budget is P7,400+ per person which covers expenses for entrance, food and transportation only. It also enumerates some of El Nido’s best tourist attractions, top things to do, travel tips, and a list of recommended budget-friendly accommodations. All needed details for each top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there. Further, this El Nido blog is intended for first time travelers and backpackers either solo, family or traveling in group.

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EL NIDO AT A GLANCE

An aerial shot of all the boats for El Nido island hopping.
An aerial shot of some of the boats for El Nido island hopping.

No bucket list is ever complete without the inclusion of EL NIDO. That is how prominent this first class municipality at the northernmost mainland of Palawan – at least for beach lovers who take in a great joy from the sun, sea and sand.

El Nido evokes so much interest that it is able to draw a hundred thousand visitors annually and has been observed as one of the very few top destinations in the Philippines that do not experience a low season in recent years. To put simply, tourism in El Nido is at its peak. But while it sounds good economically, it does draw a major flak from the earth warriors for the increasing environmental issues that are brought about by its uncontrolled growth, which in turn, was quickly responded by the government by imposing new rules including the limitation in the number of guests and activities around its islands.

Kayaking activity at the mouth of Big Lagoon.
Kayaking activity at the mouth of Big Lagoon. Rental for each kayak is P250.

From its early tourism years up to the present, El Nido continues to beckon an inescapable charm may it be from its towering limestone cliffs, sage-green lagoons, white sand beaches or rich marine wildlife. And with the intervening actions of the government for sustainable tourism, this sought-after treasure trove will surely live on at its pristine state to excite more generations.

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QUICK FACTS ABOUT EL NIDO

  • The name “El Nido” can be translated to ” the nest”, which is inspired by the cave swiftlets or (balinsasayaw bird) that build nest on El Nido cliff using their saliva. Their nests are sought out as food ingredient and are highly valued for its medical use. A kilo of balinsasayaw nest has a price of around P120,000.
  • The municipality of El Nido is composed of 45 islands which are recognized as a turtle sanctuary in 1984 and eventually a marine protected area in 1998.
  • For its unique appeal as a tropical paradise, El Nido has bested other beaches in the world in 2015 when it was voted first by Conde Naste Traveler readers.
  • Despite having a progressive economy, El Nido has only a local medical center which is designed to handle mild health concerns. Severe medical cases from the municipality are directed either to Taytay District hospital (the nearest from El Nido at around 50 kilometers), to Puerto Princesa, or to Manila for the critical ones.
  • Unlike in the past, El Nido now has a good internet and network connectivity at most of its accommodations and restaurants – although not as fast as in the highly urbanized areas in the Philippines.
  • Although there are few that accept credit cards, most establishments in El Nido are on a cash basis. In case you are out of cash, there are at least six ATMs in El Nido, most are found at Real street at the town proper. Note though that during peak season, the ATMs are sometimes empty in the afternoon so it is highly advised to withdraw money in the morning.
  • El Nido has now a good source of electricity, although in my recent experience, power interruption can still happen so better pack an extra battery or powerbank for your gadgets. All establishments uses Type A socket for electricity.
  • For its touristic atmosphere, El Nido is considerably one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the Philippines if we consider the price range of food, tour package, and accommodation. If you are on a shoestring budget, eat on a local carinderia and stay in a dormitory or a backpacker hostel.
The waters at Shimizu Island, included in Tour A.
The waters surrounding Shimizu Island, included in Tour A.

HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO

Access to El Nido can be done either by plane or on a land trip.

Getting to El Nido By Plane:El Nido has Lio Airport, its own airport located 4 kilometers away from the town proper which is exclusively operated by AirSwift servicing from these Philippine destinations:

  • Bohol
  • Caticlan
  • Cebu
  • Clark
  • Manila
  • Puerto Princesa and Coron (Busuanga)

AirSwift is a bit hefty on the pocket. A cheaper alternative is to fly either to San Vicente or to Puerto Princesa Airport, then go on a 4-hour land trip to El Nido.

Here are destinations with their respective airline that travel to San Vicente Airport:

  • Clark (via Philippine Airlines)
  • Manila (via Skyjet)
  • Puerto Princesa (via AirJuan)
  • Busuanga (via AirJuan)

For the full list of destinations that travel to Puerto Princesa, visit this link: Cheap Flights to Puerto Princesa which includes Cebu and other major destinations in the Philippines.

El Nido Shuttle and Bus Terminal

Getting to El Nido by land: You can take a bus or shuttle service from the following top tourist destinations in Palawan:

  • via Puerto Princesa. Bus is available at San Jose Terminal which can be reached via tricycle from Puerto Princesa Airport for about 15 minutes, fare is P100 for a group of 4. For bus rates and other details, visit phbus.com. You can also contact the following van operators for a pickup from any place at the town proper in Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa: Travelista (+63 928 622 8666, +63 926 744 1040) with daily trips to El Nido every 2 hours from 5AM to 5PM, fare is P500; and Eulen Joy Express (+63 999 709 3766, +63 915 829 3735), with trips every two hours from 7:30AM to 6:00PM, fare is also P500. Travel time to El Nido is roughly 4 hours.
  • via San Vicente. From the airport, charter a tricycle to the terminal near the market. Van trip from San Vicente to El Nido departs at 1PM, fare is P400.

The bus and shuttle service will terminate at the small terminal in El Nido town proper where you will charter a tricycle to your respective accommodation. A regular tricycle fare from the terminal to the beach area is P50.

If you are in Coron, you can get to El Nido via Montenegro Fastcraft, travel time is around 4 hours depending on the sea situation. The ferry departs at 12:00PM, regular rate is P1,700. For more details, contact them at +63 917 496 2009, +63 908 571 3984.

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TOP ATTRACTIONS IN EL NIDO

Here are some of the best attractions that you can find in El Nido, Palawan.

TARAW CLIFF

The Fun-sized Traveller on a dreamcatcher activity at Ferrata.
The Fun-sized Traveller on a dreamcatcher activity at Taraw Cliff courtesy of Ferrata Nature’s Canopy Walk and Dreamcatcher.

The waterfronts of El Nido is more fascinating if you look at it from the top, and there is not a better area to do it than in Taraw Cliff. Getting to its top on a DIY is highly risky because of its steep trail that are only held together by sharp, pointed limestones that is why it is no longer permitted, though some still dare.

A good alternative to get to Taraw Cliff is through Ferrata Nature’s Canopy Walk and Dreamcatcher activity which provides an easy trail to get to the top of the cliff, though not as high as the more tricky trail. Ferrata Nature activity area is located 5 minutes away from the beach where the island hopping kicks off. To get there, you walk straight to the main road then turn right at the junction with a Barangay Maligaya welcome arch. The activity area will only be a minute away on foot.

The hanging bridge on the way to the limestone peak at Taraw Cliff.
Ferrata Nature Park’s Canopy Walk. The hanging bridge on the way to the limestone peak at Taraw Cliff.

The activity jumps off on a forest, where sightings of small and big monitor lizards are possible, then to a well drawn-out steps all the way to the top. You will be accompanied by a guide and will be required to wear proper harness for safety. The activity costs for P700 for both Canopy Walk and Dreamcatcher; if you only want to avail one, fee is P400. Operating hours is from 8:00AM to 5:00PM.

Rating: 4/5

BIG LAGOON

Lies at the far east coast of Miniloc Island, Big Lagoon has been one of the most visited tourist attractions in El Nido for its humongous limestone cliffs that work like giant portals ready to take you to another dimension.

The Big Lagoon at Miniloc Island.
The Big Lagoon at Miniloc Island.

Getting to the Big Lagoon from its small opening is a thrilling experience, as its pathway slowly peeks through a canvass of crystal blue waters threaded together by a labyrinth of hard rocks.

While here, you can take a swim or kayak around the lagoon for P250 rental fee per kayak. If you fancy a cliff dive, make sure to go all the way to the lagoon to its large area where you can find a 50-meter deep diving platform.

Photo op at Big Lagoon before hopping on the kayak.
Photo op at Big Lagoon before hopping on the kayak.

The lagoon is included in El Nido Tour A and draws a handful of tourists, but because of its sheer size, it never feels crowded around the area even on a peak season.

Rating: 5/5

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SMALL LAGOON

Another beautiful body of water at Miniloc Island is the Small lagoon which is only inferior to the nearby Big lagoon in size but never on its charm.

The Small lagoon beside the Big lagoon at Miniloc Island.
The Small lagoon beside the Big lagoon at Miniloc Island.

The Small Lagoon is enclosed by two humongous cliffs that keep its inmost area at peace, free from the harsh currents of the open sea outside. While here, enjoy the placid atmosphere on a kayak for a P250 rental fee or swim around its clear, cold, shallow waters.

Small lagoon is the highlight of Tour D, along with other tourist spots in El Nido.

Rating: 4.5/5

SECRET LAGOON

Miniloc Island nestles three of the most stunning lagoons in El Nido which includes the Secret Lagoon, a small patch of water surrounded by a high wall of limestone cliffs.

Inside the Secret Lagoon. The waters here are not as clear as the ones found outside.
Inside the Secret Lagoon. The waters here are not as clear as the ones found outside.

The water inside the lagoon is shallow and would not reach its tiny hole opening so tourists would have to crawl through to get inside which can be displeasing during a peak season as people would have to line up.

Beside Secret lagoon is a beach hidden in a big limestone boulder. The beach makes up whatever space the Secret Lagoon lacks, so while waiting for other tourists, you may rest on its white, coarse sands or frolic around its blazing, clear waters.

At the Hidden beach beside the Secret Lagoon.
At the Hidden beach beside the Secret Lagoon.

Secret Lagoon is included in El Nido Tour A, along with Big Lagoon.

Rating: 3/5

SNAKE ISLAND

Snake Island surprisingly doesn’t have snakes around its soft, white sandbar that hisses like a snake to a stretch of 200 meters. Formerly known as Vigan Island, the waters around Snake Island is shallow, with some deep pools in between, providing a clear view of the coral gardens that are teeming with marine wildlife.

The Snake or Vigan Island.
The Snake or Vigan Island.

Get to the island on a low tide so you can walk the fullness of the sandbar. At its end is a mangrove area which leads to another island. A fun activity to do while here is to hike up to its viewing area and capture a full view of the island. The viewing area has a small bar to chill out and have some drinks.

The Snake Island is one of the stops in Tour B.

Rating: 4/5

MATINLOC ISLAND

An aerial shot of Matinloc Island showing its white shrine.
An aerial shot of Matinloc Island showing its white shrine.

The now abandoned Matinloc Island was once beaming with praise at a time when it was used as a residence and a place of worship. Nowadays, Matinloc would only come alive during fiesta, when locals gather around its shrine for veneration, merry-making and festivity.

The seascape viewed from the limestone peak at Matinloc Island.
The seascape viewed from the limestone peak at Matinloc Island.

Matinloc Island is included in Tour C and has an entrance fee of P100 per person. While here, adore the haunting feel around its old house, particularly on its underground. Don’t forget to climb to its jagged limestone peak to get a view of its surrounding seascape.

Rating: 4/5

NACPAN BEACH

Nacpan beach is one of the few beaches in El Nido that do not require an island hopping tour as it can be accessed by a tricycle or van. It is composed of two juxtaposed beaches that are patched with soft, creamy sands and verdant trees on its both ends. The water around the beach is rough due to the presence of strong winds that discourages swimming.

The twin beaches at Nacpan.
The twin beaches at Nacpan.

A regular rate for a tricycle tour to Nacpan beach for a maximum of 4 persons is P1,500 while a van rental is around P3,000.

Rating: 4/5

LAS CABANAS BEACH

The beach is named after Las Cabanas Resort, one of the oldest in El Nido. Las Cabanas beach possesses a coarse, golden sand; it is an excellent place for swimming as the waters around the area are clean, shallow and clear.

Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas Beach

Las Cabanas beach faces west which makes for a good vantage point to catch the sunset. There are restaurants and bars on its beach area that give the place a more relaxing atmosphere.

Top activities in Las Cabanas include zip line, paddle boarding, and massage session. To get there, charter a tricycle from the town proper for P150, travel time is around 10 minutes.

Rating: 4/5

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TOP THINGS TO DO IN EL NIDO

For the many top activities to do in El Nido, island hopping is surely the priority. You can’t say you have been to El Nido without hopping on some of its fascinating islands that include the Miniloc Island and its three equally remarkable lagoons: Secret, Small and Big lagoon. Of course kayaking, snorkeling and other water activities are in the bag if you go on a tour.

The Seven Commando Beach which makes for a usual stop for lunch for Tour A.
The Seven Commando Beach which makes for a usual stop for lunch for Tour A.

If you are not into island hopping, sure there is an option for you in El Nido. Try out the land tour which would take you to the mainland beaches like Nacpan and Las Cabanas, or to its shy Nagkalit-kalit waterfalls which are included in Tour E.

For party goers, lucky for you as El Nido hosts a Full Moon party once in a month. Booze up your experience with an action-packed and oh-so-eventful night out! Las Cabanas Resort often hosts the party, head out to its page for details.

If you got the right dough, indulge on the much-touted Nido soup, or the bird’s nest soup.

The dried saliva of Balinsasayaw birds that make up their nest.
The dried saliva of Balinsasayaw birds that make up their nest.

Your stay in El Nido wouldn’t be as beautiful without chasing its sunset. Head out to Las Cabanas or to its nearby beaches: Marimegmeg and Corong-corong beach, which also own a fine, white sand that you can sit on while watching the sundown.

EL NIDO SAMPLE ITINERARY

Here is a sample El Nido itinerary good for 5 days which assumes a party of two and comes with an estimated budget of P7,400.00 per person that includes expenses for food, transportation, tour and entrance fee with kayak rental. The allocated budget does not cover cost for accommodation, souvenir items and other incidentals.

Sitting comfortably at a dreamcatcher at the lower part of Taraw Cliff.
Sitting comfortably at a dreamcatcher at the lower part of Taraw Cliff.

The 5-day El Nido itinerary can be shortened to 2 or 3 days or extended to 7 days by cutting out or adding more island hopping tours, however you see fit for your travel days.

DAY ONE (budget per person: P1,500.00)

ActivityScheduleBudget
Arrive in Puerto Princesa Airport6:00AM
To El Nido by shuttle7:00AMP500
Arrive at El Nido terminal11:00AM
Lunch11:30AMP200
To the hostel for check-in2:00PMP50
Rent a motorbike to tour around3:00PMP500
Nacpan Beach4:00PMP50
Sunset at Duli Beach5:30PM
Back to hostel6:30PM
Dinner8:00PMP200
Socials10:00PM
Lights out12:00AM

DAY TWO (budget per person: P1,950.00)

ActivityScheduleBudget
Breakfast7:00AMP100
Start of Island Hopping Tour A9:00AMP1,650
Lunch12:00PM
End of Island Hopping4:00PM
Back to Hostel5:00PM
Rest6:00PM
Dinner and Socials8:00PMP200
Lights Out11:00PM
Snorkeling around the waters of Shimizu Island.
Snorkeling around the waters of Shimizu Island.

DAY THREE (budget per person: P1,800.00)

ActivityScheduleBudget
Breakfast7:00AMP100
Start of Island Hopping Tour C9:00AMP1,500
Lunch12:00PM
End of Island Hopping4:00PM
Back to Hostel5:00PM
Rest6:00PM
Dinner and Socials8:00PMP200
Lights Out11:00PM

DAY FOUR (budget per person: P1,350.00)

ActivityScheduleBudget
Breakfast9:00AMP100
Ferrata Nature Canopy Walk10:00AMP700
Back to hostel for lunch12:00PMP200
Rest1:00PM
To Las Cabanas Resort3:00PMP75
Chill and Socials4:00PM
Sunset at Las Cabanas6:00PM
Back to hostel for dinner8:00PMP275
Lights Out10:00PM

DAY FIVE (budget per person: P800.00)

ActivityScheduleBudget
Breakfast8:00AMP100
Buy souvenir items10:00AM
Lunch and Check out12:00PMP200
To Puerto Princesa1:00PMP500
Fun dive near the Big Lagoon.
Fun dive near the Big Lagoon.

Things to note in following this sample El Nido DIY itinerary:

  • The itinerary starts and ends at Puerto Princesa as most of the local tourists would use the airport to get to El Nido.
  • From El Nido town proper, Nacpan beach takes about 45 minutes. The road is rough so be extra careful as you drive. If you wish to head out to Duli beach for the sunset, be sure to get there when there is still light as the roads are rougher than on the way to Nacpan beach. It will take for about 30 minutes to get to Duli from Nacpan beach.
  • Some tricycle tour operators can be tricky so make sure to agree on the tour price before hopping on. Be clear that the price is for a round trip tour. If you are an excellent driver, better rent a motorbike to get to Nacpan and Duli beach to save more time and money. Just make use of the Google Map for directions to get to the beaches.

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Concerning El Nido Tours

  • Effective November of 2018, El Nido tours have been divided into 4, splitting the premium stops: Big lagoon, Small lagoon and Secret Beach into separate tours to ensure that boat traffic is less likely to happen.
  • Visitors going to the premium stops must be pre-registered as the local government closely tracks the traffic in these top attractions. Make sure to coordinate with your tour operators for the registration.
  • El Nido tours are now regulated and follow a standard price per tour, which includes lunch.
  • Each tour group is maximized to a certain number of guests so expect that you would join another group if you are small in number.
  • Combination tours are no longer allowed.
More than the islands, it's how they beautifully present lunch that makes El Nido tours truly exceptional.
More than the islands, it’s how they beautifully present lunch that makes El Nido tours truly exceptional.

Here are the 4 tours with its respective tourist attractions and standard price:

  • Tour A (P1,200 per person, recommended for first timers): Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commando Beach
  • Tour B (P1,300 per person, recommended for those who are into caving and spelunking): Cudognon Cave, Cathedral Cave, Snake Island, Entalula Island, and Popolkan Island
  • Tour C (P1,400 per person, recommended for those who truly love a combination of sea and sand): Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Tapiutan Island, and Helicopter Island
  • Tour D (P1,200 per person, the least crowded tour): Small Lagoon, Cadlao Lagoon, Nat Nat Beach, Pasandigan Cove, Paradise Beach, and Bukal Island

Tourist attractions that have an additional fee for entrance are Big Lagoon for P200 under Tour A, Cudugnon Cave for P100 under Tour B, Matinloc Shrine for P100 under Tour C and Small Lagoon for P200 under Tour D.

Komodo Dragon at Ferrata Nature Park
Komodo Dragon at Ferrata Nature Park

Klook.com

Search for more discounted tours from KLOOK. Type “El Nido” and click “search”.

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TIPS WHEN TRAVELING TO EL NIDO

Here are practical tips to help you get a good experience while traveling around El Nido.

  • El Nido is generally safe. The crime rate is low and the locals always project a friendly gesture to tourists, as it is true for most of the Filipinos. However, it is always wise to know the people you are with and the place you will get around, safety first!
  • El Nido is an all-year round destination because it is less visited by typhoon than in any other place in the Philippines, but the best time to visit is during the dry months of late March to early June to witness the islands in its most beautiful state. One thing to note though is that the summer months are considerably the peak season so be sure to book your tours and accommodation ahead.
  • Because the activities in El Nido mostly involve walking on rough rocks may it be at sea or at limestone peaks, and on rocky roads especially when going to Nacpan beach, it is likely that you will get some bruises and small cuts so make sure to pack a health kit as there is no major hospital around El Nido.
  • Apply a sunscreen and waterproof your gadgets as you go out of sea.
  • Bring an insect repellent especially if you are staying in a budget hostel.

If you are looking for a tour agency for El Nido and Puerto Princesa, I highly recommend TravelGoalsPAL Travel and Tour for a hassle-free experience.

Facebook Page link: TravelGoalsPal Travel and Tour

WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO

When it comes to accommodation, the best place to stay in El Nido is the town proper, near the beach area where the island hopping tours kick off. It’s a good place as the accommodations here come in an affordable price and give good access to restaurants, tour offices, shuttle services and souvenir shops.

MilanGrace Inn is just a few steps away from the beach at the town proper. Click the photo for rate and availability.

I stayed at Aliyah at their dormitory room which is pretty a practical place if you are on a tight budget. I loved my stay there for 3 days because Nanay Edna, the owner, was so caring about her guests and cleaned up the room regularly. Plus, they give out free coffee and distilled water, so it made perfect sense that I stayed there for awhile. Click here for rate and availability.

Here are other accommodations at the town proper, near the beach:

Spin Designer Hostel. Just few minute-walk from the main beach where island hopping starts off. The place is clean, well-maintained and has the backpacker atmosphere. Click the photo for rate and availability.

If you want a good spot for sunset away from the town for at least few minutes, Las Cabanas resort is a good option for you.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort. Click the photo for rate and availability.

Other unique accommodations in El Nido outside the town proper that offer the best features of the island.

Cauayan Island Resort is a splurge but truly gives out the tropical paradise feel. Click the photo for rate and availability.
El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island. Be surrounded by a high wall of limestones in a cove and enjoy the sage-tinted waters that only El Nido can offer. Click the photo for more details.
Duli Beach Resort. Get away from the crowded town proper and enjoy the golden hour from this remote place. Click the photo for details.

USEFUL PHRASES

Like in any parts of the Philippines, the locals can understand and speak English in El Nido, Palawan. However, here are some good phrases that might prove useful when you find yourself endearing with them.

English to Tagalog (the most prevalent language among the locals in El Nido)
Thank you – Salamat
Good morning – Magandang umaga
Good afternoon – Magandang hapon
Good evening – Magandang gabi
How much is… – Magkano ang…
Where is… – Saan ang…

EXTEND YOUR TRIP

Go to other top destinations in Palawan:

Aside from Coron, San Vicente is the nearest tourist destination from El Nido. Check out the San Vicente Budget Travel Guide which includes a travel itinerary to Port Barton, its most visited barangay, and learn few things about this laidback municipality. And oh, did I mention that San Vicente has the longest beach in the Philippines? Just look at the photo.
Balabac Travel guide with top things to do, travel itinerary and sample expenses.
How about extending your trip from El Nido at the north to Balabac at the southmost part of Palawan. Personally, Balabac group of islands is more fascinating than El Nido. Plus, it’s not touristy. Check out this link for details: Balabac budget travel guide.
Tour around the city of Puerto Princesa on a budget tour. Click the link for details.

Or visit some major tourist spots in Luzon:

Go to the surfing capital of the Philippines – Siargao! Budget Travel Guide here.

Or visit other countries in Asia using these budget travel guides:

Spend one day in Bangkok by going around its most-visited temples in a DIY style. Click the link for details.
Singapore is cheap if you know the ways to get around. Check out my Singapore Budget Travel Guide to learn some tips.
The main beach in El Nido near the town proper.
The main beach in El Nido near the town proper.

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