How To Spend 48 Hours in El Nido, Philippines

Woman standing on the bow of a bangka
Woman standing on the bow of a bangka | © Joba61 / Flickr
Katrina Escalona

With its immaculate beaches, aquamarine lagoons, and iconic limestone cliffs, El Nido is one of the most sought after travel destinations in the country. For a weekend-long trip, a well-crafted itinerary will help you make the most of your limited time. Read on and we’ll guide you through the best of this tropical haven.

Day One

Morning to Afternoon — Island hopping around Bacuit Bay

For a short two-day stay, jump-start each morning promptly and fuel up as early as 7:30 am. Have some quality coffee and pastries at Botánica before setting off on one of El Nido’s famous tours around Bacuit Bay.

Four main tours around Bacuit Bay, simply called Tours A, B, C, and D, are generally recognized in El Nido. Tours A and C are by far the most popular, with Tour A highlighting El Nido’s dazzling lagoons and Tour C focusing on its gorgeous islets and beaches. Choose one of the four, or customize your own with your chosen tour company or boatman.

Pro-tip: Because tours B and D are not as popular, the stops on either tour end up being much less crowded than the ones on A and C. So if you’d much rather avoid the swarms of other tourists, opt for either of these two tours instead.

Hidden Beach, a popular stop on El Nido’s Tour C

These tours’ prices range from around 1,200 PHP ($23) to 1,600 PHP ($30). They begin at around 8:30 am and return back to El Nido town late in the afternoon. Your midday meal is also included and is sometimes on board or at one of the islands. At lunch, you can expect to enjoy a variety of Filipino dishes, such as grilled meats and seafood, as well as tropical fruits.

For the tour, make sure to pack some sunscreen and insect repellant, and consider taking some portable speakers along too. It will liven up the mood while out at sea, heading from one stop to the next. Bring some snorkelling gear along if they aren’t already included in your tour. Bacuit Bay has some fantastic snorkelling spots you won’t want to miss.

Whether you choose the fixed Tour A or customize your own entirely, seeing one of the three popular lagoons is definitely an El Nido must (and not only because you have to score that mandatory kayaking pic!). If you have to decide on just one lagoon stop, make it the Small Lagoon, where you can rent a kayak and explore its many nooks and crannies all on your own.

Man and woman kayaking in El Nido’s Small Lagoon

Evening — Happy-hour cocktails at sunset

After a long day out exploring Bacuit Bay, you may want to stop by your accommodation to freshen up before heading back out for the evening. A great place to check into that balances comfort and affordability is Spin Designer Hostel. They have mixed dorms and private rooms, but book early in advance, they tend to fill out quickly. They also regularly organize events for guests to join, such as movie nights, BBQ nights, and pub crawls. Perhaps one of this hostel’s best features is the open, social energy it hones, allowing its guests to meet and enjoy their stay with fellow travellers.

Spin Designer Hostel

Kick off your evening fun with a happy-hour deal that’s impossible to resist. Head over to SAVA Beach Bar right on the town beachfront, where cocktails are two-for-one from 4 to 6 in the afternoon, just in time for sunset to ease in. Greet the golden hour with a cocktail in hand and laid-back tunes in the background — there is no better way.

After taking advantage of happy-hour perks, grab some dinner at one of the most popular restaurants in town, Trattoria Altrove, where brick-oven pizzas are the star of the show. Expect a bit of a wait, because this one’s a long-time favorite.

Night — Dance the night away to live reggae music

After a hearty Italian dinner, you’ll be all set for a night of good music, dancing, and fun. Walk back to the beachfront and over to Pukka Bar, where live reggae bands set the mood, and a jaunty, easy-going crowd keeps it going. The ambience of this place veers slightly from the trendier SAVA Bar. Its rustic native interiors, island beats, and lively energy invites guests to leave the pretense at the door and to simply go with the flow. So feel free to come in your flip-flops and sea-kissed hair. At this bar on the beach, everybody will be sporting the same carefree look. Pukka’s upbeat, happy-go-lucky vibe will reel you in, but try not to turn in too late in the night for an easy early rise the following day.

Live band performing at Pukka Bar

Day Two

Morning — Journey to Nacpan Beach

Before setting off on your second day excursion, enjoy breakfast at another El Nido favorite, Artcafe. The El Nido Boutique and Artcafe offers meals from morning to night, features live bands, and even organizes tours. This all-around establishment doesn’t fall short on serving delicious plates to start the day. They have an extensive breakfast menu for which they are especially known, listing everything from classic Filipino favorites to Swiss muesli and banana pancakes (for those travellers beginning to miss flavors closer to home).

Breakfast plates at Artcafe El Nido

Many will argue El Nido’s most beautiful beach isn’t found on the islands of Bacuit Bay but less than an hour’s drive from the town proper. See this for yourself and head to Nacpan Beach, either by tricycle or a rented motorcycle.

Pro-tip: Renting a motorcycle and making the scenic journey on your own will definitely be more exciting, but note that a portion of the path to Nacpan is still unpaved and rough, so only do so if confident with your driving skills.

Nacpan Beach, El Nido, Palawan

If you’re feeling a little more active, take a detour to Nagkalit-Kalit Falls. Conveniently en route to Nacpan Beach, it’s about a half-hour trek to get to the falls from the drop-off point, just short enough to add something exciting to the itinerary without using up too much of the morning.

Dreamily waste the morning away at beautiful Nacpan Beach and stop by Sunmai Sunset Restaurant when lunchtime rolls around. If you haven’t tired of pizza by then, they also make fantastic brick oven pizzas that go perfectly with their refreshing tropical cocktails. You may choose to spend the rest of the afternoon at Nacpan or head back toward the direction of the town proper, and a bit further past, to check out another inland favorite.

Daybeds and umbrellas on Nacpan Beach, El Nido

Late Afternoon to Evening — Stunning sunset at Las Cabanas Beach

If you manage to pull yourself away from the paradise that is Nacpan, your next destination is arguably one of the best places to witness a breathtaking El Nido sunset, Marimegmeg Beach (also popularly known as Las Cabanas Beach). A section of the beach is a bare strip of sand between the sea and a thriving coconut plantation, great for some (free) relaxing on your trusty beach towel. But Marimegmeg is also dotted with bars and restaurants for anyone who wants a comfy seat and a drink or some snacks to go with the remarkable view. Drop by Maremegmeg Beach Bar, known for their good selection of tasty food and drinks. Kick back on one of their daybeds for a prime viewing spot, or hang around the bar on one of their charming wooden swings.

Marimegmeg Beach sunset

Night — Dinner and night cap back in town

After that magnificent natural light show at Marimegmeg, return to town for dinner and a quick night cap before officially calling it a day. Happiness Beach Bar is the perfect place to end your trip on a high note, with its cool, inviting vibe and its delicious Israeli-Mediterranean menu items. Vegetarians and Vegans will delight in the variety of food choices for them here, something not too easy to come by in the Philippines. But Vegan or not, any palate will appreciate the freshness of the local ingredients they utilize in their dishes.

After a flavorful meal, wash it down with an equally tasty drink. Move over to one of their bar swings, maybe sneak in a photo for the ‘gram, and drink to a beautiful two days in El Nido.

Happiness Beach Bar, El Nido

Pro-tip: One of the best things about El Nido, and perhaps Palawan in general, is its calm and cool atmosphere. You’ll find yourself following the local rhythm and slowing down with it. So despite being on a limited two-day trip, take your time at the stops you especially enjoy — even if it means having to skip another — because rushing will only ruin the experience. So adjust this 48-hour itinerary accordingly, spending shorter or longer at the stops as you please.

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