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If you like white sandy beaches, hidden lagoons and vast palm tree forests, El Nido should be on the top of your travel bucket list. Five hours north of Puerto Princesa on the Filipino island of Palawan, this dreamy cluster of islands is not to be ignored. El Nido has not only been named home to the world’s best beaches, it is also a super fun city to stay in and inspite of its growing popularity, it doesn’t feel like a mega tourist trap. Here are nine tips that will make planning your trip to El Nido easier.
The most popular way to get to El Nido is by van and Lexus Shuttle is the most commonly used company. You can book tickets through your accommodation, online, or at the station. Flying to El Nido is quick and easy, although it is quite a bit more expensive than taking a van. If you are willing to pay, this option will significantly cut down on travel time. Skip the bus! The price is similar to that of a van ticket, but you’ll get there in around eight hours, as opposed to five in a van.
The roads up to El Nido have many turns and should you choose to sit in the back of the van, beware of car sickness. The back of the small vans are quite bumpy and this, combined with winding roads, could spell trouble for some folks. Sit towards the front and bring a comfortable pillow to rest your head on. There is a 30-minute rest stop, where you can get some food, stretch or use the toilet. Rest assured, El Nido is well worth the trek.
Although the area which is called El Nido is very large, the actual town is quite small. There are basically three main streets that make up the downtown area – Real Street, Rizal Street and Calle Hama. There are smaller little streets connecting these, but these are three good reference points. The best way to get a feel of the town is to just walk. There are options like tricycles or motorbikes for hire, but the place really not big enough to warrant a ride – just stroll around and take it all in.
The easiest way to witness all the amazing beaches that the islets of El Nido have to offer, is to go on a tour. There are four water-based tours you can take. Each takes you on a different route, highlighting different archaeological wonders. The tours are named by letter, example: Tour A, Tour B etc. Each of these tours range in price from 800PH₱–1,200PH₱ (16US$–25US$). All of them are great, but if you are short on time opt for Tour A. This is the one where you get the best of the best; you see the top spots and most beautiful places.
The city has a limited number of ATMs and they are known to run out of money. To make sure your holiday goes smoothly, budget what you will want to spend and bring enough cash. Also, bring along some money on tours, as there will be opportunities to buy a fresh coconut or grilled banana. Not to mention that some tours don’t include the cost of renting a kayak and you wouldn’t want to miss out on kayaking in the stunning lagoons.
El Nido is more than just its majestic island paradises. Rent a scooter or hire a tricycle (a Filipino taxi) for a day and explore the beaches north of the town. If you travel about an hour north of El Nido, you can chill on the quiet Duli Beach. There you can take surfing lessons and even spend the night in a beachfront bungalow. Alternatively you can travel south to Las Cabanas Beach. Here you can sip island-inspired cocktails at beach bars where the water is right at your toes. You can even zip line across the ocean to the small Depeldet Island, which is connected to Palawan by a rocky sand bar.
To get a better feel for the island without going on a boat tour, you can alternatively do a kayaking tour. They can be rented for around 300PH₱–600PH₱ (6US$–12US$) for a day, this way you can make your way to some of the top beaches after most of the tour groups have gone. Then you not only have the beach to your self, but also the flexibility to leave whenever you would like. Seven Commandos Beach is about an hour away from the main town by kayak, and is absolutely stunning.
Much of El Nido works around the schedules of the daily tours, but these times are always subject to change. Times are especially open to interpretation during the rainy season, which lasts from about June to September. Tours can be cancelled any time up to 7am on the day. Therefore staying flexible is crucial, as is having a couple of back up plans in place, just in case.
Inland, there are a few waterfalls that will not disappoint you. Spend a day exploring the hidden rocky falls that many often miss. Nagkalit-kalit Falls is a secluded two-tier waterfall about a 20-minute hike off the main road. Once you’re there you can paddle around in a naturally made pool or lounge on the rocks. There’s also the Bulalacao Falls which consist of the ‘small’ and ‘big’ falls. These magical spaces are only 15km (9 mi) outside of El Nido town – around a 30-minute hike for the smaller one, while the bigger falls are about about one and a half hours away.