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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Nacpan Beach: To Go or Not To Go (and Spend P1500)

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I’ll be honest: if the tricycle driver hadn’t offered to take us to Nacpan Beach for P1000 — instead of the usual P1500 — I might never have gone.

Nacpan Beach has been described in superlatives ranging from “the best beach in El Nido” to “the most beautiful beach in the world.” Friends who’ve been there told me: absolutely, I should go. And yes, I’d seen that oft-shared overlooking image of the twin beaches, Nacpan and Calitang, separated by a stripe of palm-tree-lined blinding white sand. Nacpan is nice — no question about that.

But sometimes, the more a place is hyped up, the more I hesitate. I feel like if so many people I know have already been to a place and unanimously agreed that it’s great, then there’s not as much motivation for me to go and see it for myself because…what could I possibly add to the discussion? And superlatives are all very well but I have to admit I’m a bit cynical about them, especially here in the Philippines where a surefire way to go “viral” is to tell us Filipinos we are the best at something. Online poll results I take with a grain of salt, particularly ambiguous awards like “best” or “most beautiful” because, well, how do you define good or beautiful? It’s all subjective. For me, it’s less informative being told that Nacpan Beach is the best beach in El Nido (or the world!) than being told exactly what makes it good, what people love about it.

So…in the end I went to Nacpan Beach. And in case anyone out there is also wondering whether it’s worth the P1500 asking price, let me tell you what I liked about it so you can decide for yourself.
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Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

SGMT | Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach — 
Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to El Nido, set aside at least one day for beach bumming. Spend a lazy afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach and stick around for the sunset. You won’t regret it.
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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 04

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It was more bed weather than beach weather, the day we arrived in El Nido, but we didn’t want to waste the chance to spend the afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach. Never mind that the sun wasn’t likely to put in an appearance that gloomy day. Never mind that we weren’t likely to witness one of Marimegmeg’s spectacular sunsets. Plans are not plans which alter when they alteration find, as they say, and a little drizzle wouldn’t hurt us.

How we got to Marimegmeg Beach

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We found a tricycle driver — or rather he found us, standing outside the office of El Nido Paradise. Tricycle drivers have to hustle a bit in low season and Jack at first approached us with an offer to take us to Nacpan Beach for ₱1500 ($32). When we didn’t bite, he mentioned Las Cabanas — the other name for Marimegmeg Beach — and this time we eagerly agreed.

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Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C

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It was our first time in El Nido, and it wouldn’t be our last
 — or so our guides assured us. According to both Jack, the tricycle driver we engaged on our arrival in town, and Sam, the boatman who led our island hopping tour the next day, most of the people who come to El Nido almost inevitably come back.

First, they go home. They tell everyone they found paradise out west, at the very edge of the Philippines. And then they return, many with a new batch of first-time visitors, fresh converts, in tow. If El Nido were a secret — and it isn’t, not anymore — it seems to be a secret no one can, in good conscience, keep to themselves.

And after going on the island hopping tour myself, I could definitely understand why.

El Nido Paradise - Island hopping combo tour A and C

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The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands to its name, and island hopping tours here are a dime a dozen. The ones around El Nido, though, are special — even to those of us who’ve lived our entire lives in close proximity to swaying palms and white sand beaches.

For one, the seascape is different. Dozens of towering limestone cliffs dot the seas around El Nido. There are strips of white sand aplenty, but many of them are nestled between rocks of gray and clumps of green and glittering blue seas.

Another difference: a sense of space. The town of El Nido itself is cramped and necessarily busy, as one would expect of a place descended upon by busloads of tourists everyday. But out in the sea, there is an unfamiliar vastness. You feel like you’ve come to the edge of the known, that a Dawn Treader-type adventure was waiting just beyond the horizon, if you would only dare to go forward.

El Nido Paradise combo tour A & C

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How to Survive the Van to El Nido

2016 July 02

El Nido

The sharp, harsh, imposing limestone cliffs and the sparkling, placid, impossibly blue waters are just some of the reasons people are determined to visit El Nido at least once in their lifetime.

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El Nido, Palawan is paradise on earth, but as with most paradises, it’s a little tricky to get to. Visitors with a generous budget can fly direct to El Nido via AirSwift; everyone else must fly first to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, and from there take a 6-hour ride by bus or van to El Nido. The long travel time in occasionally cramped quarters can test the patience of even the most motivated travelers, but survival — and even an actually enjoyable experience — is quite possible with a bit of preparation.
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  • Book ahead and specify — insist! — that you want to reserve the seats in front, beside the driver. This way you’re likely to have more legroom and less likely to develop motion sickness. We were able to book our van transfer through El Nido Paradise for only P550 — we recommend them. Instead of you having to go to the bus terminal, El Nido Paradise can arrange to have the van pick you up at the airport (no extra fee) or at your hotel (for a P50 surcharge). They can also arrange your tours in El Nido and accept payments via PayPal, which rids you of the necessity to bring too much cash during your trip.
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  • Sleep if you can. Most people do. Bring sleep accessories if you like, such as a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.
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  • Alternatively, bring entertainment. A 6-hour stint in a van is the perfect excuse to finally read those books or watch those movies you’ve previously been too busy for. Make sure to charge your phone and/or laptop before boarding, and if you have a power bank, bring that along too.
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  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Bonamine an hour before ETD.
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  • Bring water and food you can snack on if necessary.
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  • Six hours can be hell on the bladder; take advantage of the pit stops. The van will stop 2 or 3 times during the journey so people can buy food and do their stuff. Fair warning: the bathrooms along the way aren’t exactly 5-star-resort quality but you’ll be fine.
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  • All vans from Puerto Princesa stop at the Corong-Corong terminal in El Nido. A tricycle (tuk-tuk) can take you the rest of the way to your hotel for only P50.
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  • On our way back to Puerto Princesa, the van we booked was scheduled to leave at 9:30 AM. We got to the terminal in Corong-Corong at around 9:10 AM, and an earlier van that was about to leave invited us to fill its last two seats. We agreed. Unfortunately, they were at the very back of the van — not even the last normal row but in the space where the luggage should have been — and we spent the next 6 hours in a very tight space. We could feel every bump in the road too. Don’t make the same mistake.
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  • If you want, you can have an entire van all to yourself. You can arrange this with El Nido Paradise as well.

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The van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido won’t be the absolute best 6 hours of your life but it’s survivable and El Nido will be worth it.

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Where to Stay in El Nido: 15 Great Options

Need help deciding where to stay in El Nido? Here’s a quick guide to some of the best accommodations in the area — from budget to splurge.
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Where to stay in El Nido

Image by Fabian Irsara [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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Our choice to stay at Spin Designer Hostel was unanimous and pretty much an instant decision. As I mentioned in El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers, Spin ticked a lot of boxes:

  • It’s centrally located — far enough to be non-chaotic but near enough for the beach to be walking distance.
  • Previous guests love it — the #1 specialty lodging in TripAdvisor (4.5 rating) and with a Booking.com score of 9.1 (out of 10).
  • It has an affordable twin room (PHP 2679) with ensuite bath, perfect for friends traveling together. Couples can go for the double room (PHP 2679), groups can stay together in the 4-bed dorm rooms (PHP 982 per bed), and solo travelers can opt for either.
  • The room price includes breakfast.
  • The property is new so there ought to be no problems with rusty pipes or anything like that.
  • It’s beautiful. Look:
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Where to stay in El Nido - Spin Designer Hostel

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You can book a room/bed at Spin Designer Hostel HERE.

Update (July 2016): We did stay at Spin when we were in El Nido last month and I thoroughly recommend it! Try to include a Sunday so you can join their Jamming Nights. 🙂

If you can’t…

Here are other well-reviewed accommodations in El Nido — from budget to splurge.

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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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