How Much to Budget for El Nido (6 days, 5 nights)

How Much to Budget for El Nido (6D/5N)) | SGMT
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An El Nido vacation can cost as little as ₱5,000 to as much as…I don’t know…₱5,000,000 or more. This budget, which we used for our Palawan trip last June, is somewhere in between. It’s nowhere near luxurious but it’s not exactly cheap either. It’s for smart spenders — people who are willing to pay, but not needlessly — who want to treat themselves to a nice, easy, stress-free holiday covering the best of both Puerto Princesa and El Nido.

For the Palawan itinerary covered by this budget, see:
El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers.

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Airfare – ₱1,322

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We got our round-trip Cebu-Puerto Princesa tickets during a Cebu Pacific seat sale. Philippine Airlines and Air Asia also fly to Puerto Princesa while direct flights to El Nido can be booked with AirSwift.

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Accommodations (5 nights) – ₱5,884

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This price is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room, and covers:

For more accommodations options, see these lists:

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Firefly Watching Tour – ₱1,037

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This activity starts at around 6 PM and is a great option if you have a free night in Puerto Princesa. You can save a few hundreds if you go DIY, but the tour package, which we booked through AsiaTravel, already includes hotel pick-up and dinner as well as the tour itself.

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Dolphin Watching Tour – ₱1,000

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Another half-day Puerto Princesa tour, this one takes place in the morning and is a wonderful last-day activity for people whose flights don’t leave till the afternoon. After canvassing prices, we booked with Dolphin and Whales Travel & Tours and had the best time.

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Island Hopping Combo Tour – ₱2,000

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After considering the pros and cons of single vs. combo tours and comparing tour operator prices and reviews, we decided to go on El Nido Paradise’s Combo Tour A & C. Our rationale in a nutshell: a combo tour saves both time and money. Separate tours would have taken two days and cost ₱2,600. The drawback is having less time in each stop compared to a regular tour but we decided we would rather do all the sightseeing in one day so that we can spend the whole day after that just chilling and beach bumming. No regrets: we loved our island hopping tour — you can check out our experience in Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C so you can decide for yourself — and we got to spend the next day lazing around Nacpan Beach, which some people have called the most beautiful beach in the world.

You can check out El Nido Paradise’s other tours here.

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Van Transfer – ₱1,150

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To avoid hassle, we also pre-booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. Each van transfer (PP-EN and EN-PP) costs ₱550 and we also paid a ₱50 surcharge to be picked up from our hotel in Puerto Princesa. It’s a 6-hour ride so check out: How to Survive the Van to El Nido.

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Meals – ₱3,200

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There are tons of dining options in El Nido but meals in restaurants and cafes can prove to be rather expensive. We didn’t want to scrimp on food so we budgeted ₱400 per meal for a total of 8 meals. Whenever we went over ₱400, we re-balanced our budget by eating at a carenderia next time. Luckily, we enjoyed free breakfast at the inn/hostel/hotel we stayed in and the tour price for island hopping already included an absolute feast for lunch.

Our go-to place for good food in El Nido was Trattoria Altrove. Art Cafe was also good. For cheap meals, try the carenderia across the Catholic church in El Nido — a meal of rice and delicious chicken adobo only cost us ₱60 there.

In Puerto Princesa, we enjoyed dinner at Kalui, which certainly lived up to its reputation as the no. 1 restaurant in the city.

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Miscellaneous – ₱1,407

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Some of the expenses we took out of our miscellaneous fund are:

  • ₱500 – transportation to and from Nacpan Beach (₱1,000 per tricycle, negotiated down from ₱1,500)
  • ₱150 – transportation to and from Marimegmeg Beach (₱300 per tricycle)
  • ₱25 – transportation from the El Nido van terminal to Spin Designer Hostel (₱50 per tricycle)

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Total Budget – ₱17,000

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For a frugal traveler like me, ₱17,000 can sound like much but, when you think about it, it’s for 6 days, it already includes airfare, and it enabled us to have the most unforgettable experiences in both El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Anyway, if you were going to spend nearly ₱20,000 on travel, wouldn’t you rather spend it on your own country so your countrymen can benefit from it as well? And Palawan is absolutely worth it. If you haven’t been yet…go! You won’t regret it.

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El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers

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Image by Jdkoenig [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Jdkoenig [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person left in the Philippines who still hasn’t been to El Nido but it sure feels that way sometimes. Countless friends have gone and come back gushing about the paradise they found out west, in what’s been dubbed the Philippines’ last frontier. And it isn’t just Filipinos either — so many foreigners have found their way to this previously little known paradise that prices have, inevitably, adjusted themselves accordingly. Nonetheless, there are ways to vacation in El Nido on a tight budget — Rappler has a nice article detailing a 3D/2N stay for PHP 5,010 and Google will nudge you towards numerous other blogs’ budget itineraries.

This month I will finally get to visit El Nido myself. (Yay!) My Bali travel buddy Hershe and I were able to take advantage of a Cebu Pacific seat sale and bought round-trip tickets to Puerto Princesa for only PHP 1,322. (For those who don’t know, Puerto Princesa and El Nido are both in Palawan island. Flights to PPS are cheaper and more frequent, so most people fly to PPS and then take a bus/van/coach to El Nido.)

This time — cheap plane tickets aside — I’ve decided I’m not gonna be stingy. I mean, I’m not gonna go all out and stay in Miniloc or Lagen or even Vellago, but my theme for this trip will be nice, easy, and stress-free, even if I have to pay a bit more. That means, for example, pre-booking the van to El Nido and opting for hotel pick-up, even if I could presumably get a lower price if I go to the bus terminal and haggle. That also means, for example, booking a twin room with ensuite bath in the best hostel in El Nido, even if there are undoubtedly cheaper options. Again, the goal for this trip: nice, easy, and stress-free.

I’ve already crunched the numbers and will share my budget in the next article. First, let’s talk about what we will need to budget for. Here is our:

6-day Puerto Princesa and El Nido Itinerary

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Itinerary_Day1

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Our flight gets in mid-afternoon and what with possible delays (* cough * Cebu Pacific * cough *) and baggage claim, it might be late afternoon before we get out of the airport. Puerto Princesa to El Nido is roughly 6 hours by land. We could still get to El Nido before midnight but I figured it would be less stressful if we just spent the night in Puerto Princesa. It’ll be a good way to make the city’s acquaintance, however passing, and maybe try out one of Puerto Princesa’s best-loved restaurants.

I chose to stay at Orchid Lagan Place Palawan for several reasons. One, it’s well-reviewed at both Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Two, it offers free breakfast and a free airport shuttle. Three, it’s located in a street just off Rizal Avenue, which is where a lot of the good restaurants are; Kalui, for example, is only 450 m away and Kinabuch’s is even nearer (270 m). It seems Rizal Avenue is where it’s at, so to speak, so staying nearby will give us a convenient base for catching our first glimpses of the city.

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Itinerary_Day2

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El Nido Paradise is an incredible one-stop shop for everything El Nido. I was asking my friends for island hopping ideas and one of them mentioned El Nido Paradise. I checked out the ENP website and was impressed by their professionalism. With a lot of travel agencies, you’re immediately greeted by a busy, bold-faced barrage of all the tours they’re trying to sell you. In contrast, check out El Nido Paradise — you can tell they know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it in a classy way. They have a Blog section with a lot of helpful, practical articles about El Nido and their Activities section is extensive. Aside from the usual tours, they offer cool stuff like a cultural encounter, overnight camping at secluded beaches, and a drop-off/pick-up service where you can just pick an island in Bacuit Bay, have yourself dropped off in the morning, and then get picked up in the afternoon. All for reasonable prices too — read about the Combo Tour I booked later in this article.

Anyway, all that is a roundabout way of saying that I booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. The van transfer itself costs PHP 550 per person and there’s a PHP 50 surcharge for hotel pick-up. PHP 600 is pretty much the standard rate anyway, based on my research, though I suppose you can talk it down a bit if you want to go through the hassle of haggling.

For accommodations in El Nido, Hershe and I agreed right away that we wanted to stay at Spin Designer Hostel. As its name suggests, it’s a hostel but an upscale one, offering both private rooms and shared accommodations. It’s ranked #1 in TripAdvisor and is very highly rated in Booking.com (9.1 out of 10). The hostel is in the center of town — the beach and wharf are a walkable distance away — but it’s not too central as to be utterly chaotic. We booked a Twin Room with ensuite bath for around PHP 2,600 per night (PHP 1,300 per person) and the price already includes free breakfast. They also have a Standard Room with a double bed for roughly the same price — great for couples — as well as 4-bed female-only and mixed-gender dorm rooms that are a wonderful option for solo travelers as well as families or friends traveling together.

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Lastly, after check-in, we plan to take a tricycle to Marimegmeg beach. It’s a west-facing beach 4-5 km from town and will be a great place to witness our first sunset in El Nido.

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Tokyo’s Skyscrapers

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If plans for the Sky Mile Tower in Tokyo are approved, it will become the tallest building in the world, with a height that will be twice that of the current champion, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. At a proposed height of 1600 meters — 1 mile, hence the name — it will be taller than even the Jeddah Tower, which is on course to be the world’s tallest once ongoing construction is completed. The Sky Mile Tower complex will be built in Tokyo Bay and will include such cool stuff as hexagon-shaped wave-breakers that will double as freshwater reservoirs and urban farming plots.
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Sky Mile Tower - Tokyo, Japan

The proposed Sky Mile Tower | Image by TJ | CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Lake Kawaguchi: Fuji and Fall

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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 05 Logs and autumn leaves

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The appreciation of fall foliage is serious business in Japan. Just as with cherry blossoms, there is an entire industry devoted to predicting when the leaves would start to turn where. In my case, I was going to be in Tokyo on the second week of November — not exactly peak koyo season in Tokyo yet — so I figured my best bet would be a day trip to Lake Kawaguchi and its famous maple corridor, Momiji Kairo.

Lake Kawaguchi — sometimes called Lake Kawaguchiko, or just Kawaguchiko, since the -ko already indicates that it is a lake — is one of five lakes at the northern base of Mount Fuji. (That area, in fact, is called the Fuji Five Lakes region or Fujigoko and is part of the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan.) Among the five lakes, Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access by public transportation and is therefore the one that is the most visited.
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A bit of sepia before the color overload later

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How to get to/around Lake Kawaguchi

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From Tokyo, you can get to Kawaguchiko by bus or train, but the latter option is more complicated and — if I remember my research correctly — not cheaper even with a JR Pass. Take the bus.

  • From Shinjuku Station: Take a Fujikyu or Keio Bus from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (opposite Yodobashi Camera near the West Exit of Shinjuku Station) to Kawaguchiko Station (2 hours/1750 yen).
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  • From Tokyo Station: Take a Fujikyu or JR Kanto Bus from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) to Kawaguchiko Station.
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From Kawaguchiko Station, take the retro bus around Lake Kawaguchi.

  • A 2-day pass costs 1200 yen. (There is no one-day pass, unfortunately.)
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  • A one-time journey from Kawaguchiko to Itchiku Kubota stop is only 380 yen.
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  • Momiji Kairo is a 1-minute walk from the Itchiku Kubota Museum stop.
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Fuji-san! Fuji-san!

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Being at the base of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi is, of course, one of the best places in Japan from which to view its most famous mountain. That said, there are no guarantees: Fuji-san is famous for being a tease. I know quite a few people who have intentionally sought out Mount Fuji but had to leave Japan sans a sighting. Clouds are known to surround not just the summit but the bulk of the mountain itself and indeed, when I arrived in Kawaguchiko, I didn’t even know in which direction to look for Mount Fuji. I got off the retro bus, walked to the lake, and didn’t even realize there was a mountain — much less the mountain — almost directly across me. It was an overcast day; I had zero expectations of seeing Mount Fuji.

After about an hour of snapping maple leaves, though, a fellow tourist came up to me, speaking in Thai. Upon realizing I wasn’t, after all, a fellow Thai, he switched languages. “Have you seen Mount Fuji?”

I thought he was going to ask for directions so I said, “No, I’m sorry. It’s cloudy, I don’t think –”

“No, no,” he said. “Look!” He pointed.

And there it was: Mount Fuji, just above the roof of one of the buildings of the Itchiku Kubota Museum. Clouds still hovered over its summit but it was there — I just hadn’t bothered to look up. I guess that’s the problem with setting low expectations: sometimes you don’t bother trying hard enough, even though it would have just been so easy.

I walked back towards the direction of the lake, now keeping an eye on the snow-capped cone. In the middle of taking more shots of the fall foliage, I realized there was now only a thin cloud covering the summit of Mount Fuji…and that it was slowly moving away…and then…

“Fuji-san! Fuji-san!” I wanted to shout, only I wasn’t brave enough. (I was alone.) It didn’t matter. Barely a second after I caught my first glimpse of the summit, a group of Japanese tourists shouted it out for me. “Fuji-san!”
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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 13 Mount Fuji framed by leaves

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The Meiji Shrine

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Rurouni KenshinOne of my favorite TV shows of all time is Samurai X, the English-language version of the beloved Japanese anime series Rurouni Kenshin. It takes place in the early Meiji era and follows the story of Kenshin Himura, a feared wartime assassin who tries to make up for the murders he once committed by traveling around the Japanese countryside and giving help to anyone who needed it. People who try to do the right thing all the time are always infinitely more interesting to me — self-absorbed people are so boring, self-gratification so ordinary — and Kenshin was the perfect embodiment of that ideal. He was someone who inwardly wrestled with darkness but always strived for goodness and peace and light, not just for himself but for the people around him, and he was also selfless enough to voluntarily relinquish his hard-won peace when required, such as when a powerful fellow assassin tried to bring down the Meiji government.

Which isn’t to say that all this passed through my mind as I strolled through the forest and grounds of the Meiji Shrine, or Meiji Jingu, in Tokyo last year. In fact, I only belatedly discovered its tenuous Samurai X connection when I tried to remember why the name “Meiji” rang vague bells in my mind. I mean, I’ve heard of the Meiji era, obviously, but I had a feeling there was something more……… So that’s what it was.

The Meiji shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. It’s a haven of green and silence in the middle of bustling Tokyo, and even though it attracts visitors from all over, it is still undoubtedly a shrine first and foremost.
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This imposing, elegant torii (gate) is just a few meters away from the JR Harajuku Station.

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Kyoto Notes: Temples, Trees and Blossoms

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Before I left for Japan last year, I made all these quick notes on places that I thought would be interesting to see. In this post, I’m sharing my Kyoto notes. There are 5 places listed here, though I only got to visit two — the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kiyomizudera Temple. The latter is in Higashiyama, one of Kyoto’s most preserved historic districts, which I recommend spending some time in. (Better still, stay in the area. I stayed at the Gion Ryokan Q-beh and I highly recommend it.) From Kyoto you can also go on a day trip to Nara — I found this out rather accidentally (tell you about it later) and I recommend it as well.

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Tokyo Notes: Cherry Blossoms and Fall Foliage

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Some of the best cherry blossoms and fall foliage viewing spots in Tokyo. Includes each place’s most picturesque features and short instructions for how to get there (especially for JR Pass holders).
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Sakura, Chidorigafuchi moat, Tokyo Imperial Palace (public domain)

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There’s something about the Japanese culture of appreciation for flowers and leaves. I was in Tokyo last November to view the fall colors, and when I went to the Momiji Kairo (Maple Corridor, or the “Walkway of Red Leaves”) near Lake Kawaguchi, most of the people there with me weren’t foreign tourists but the Japanese themselves. And you could tell it wasn’t just for something to post on Instagram — many had no cameras in hand. A spry white-haired lady was there with her granddaughter. There were elderly couples. Families. Many of them walked slowly, taking their time. Appreciating without feeling the need to keep. It reminded me of a poem we learned in freshman year of high school (hi Mrs. Aranduque!) — if, as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his Rhodora, beauty is its own excuse for being, then the appreciation of beauty ought also, by itself, to be enough.
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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchiko Momiji Kairo 02 Grandma

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Momiji Kairo is in the Kawaguchiko district, 2 hours away from Tokyo (directions at the end of this post). However, there are spots within Tokyo itself that are perfect for viewing both the cherry blossoms and the fall colors.
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Rikugien Garden

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Known for:

  • Japanese landscape garden considered Tokyo’s most beautiful
  • Weeping cherry trees near the main gate that typically bloom from late March to early April
  • Autumn colors particularly beautiful around the stream that runs by the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse, around the Togetsukyo Bride and from the Fujishirotoge viewpoint

How to get to Rikugien Garden:

  • Take the JR Yamanote line to Komagome Station — 5-10 minute walk south leads you to main entrance gate

Hotels near Rikugien Garden

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