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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Dolphins are always a good idea

Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa | SGMT
SGMT Palawan Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa 03

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Who doesn’t love dolphins? (No, seriously, who doesn’t?) We had the chance to go dolphin watching on our last day in Palawan and it was absolutely one of the highlights of our 6-day Puerto Princesa/El Nido itinerary.

Our flight back to Cebu was scheduled to depart Puerto Princesa  at 3:20 PM and at first we had nothing planned for the day. We figured we would probably just use the time to shop for pasalubong — we were staying at Holiday Suites, which is conveniently located right across Robinsons Palawan — or simply lounge by the hotel pool and enjoy our last vacation day before plunging back to reality. However, while researching Puerto Princesa tours, I stumbled upon a group offering a half-day dolphin watching tour and it just seemed to fit perfectly into our schedule, so we went for it.

A guide picked us up at 6:30 AM and drove us, along with half a dozen others, to the Puerto Princesa Baywalk, where we boarded a boat staffed by another guide, a boatman, and a dolphin spotter. As we headed out to the Sulu Sea, the guide explained that the tours were seasonal (April to October) not because the dolphins were only there for part of the year, but because we were going out to open sea and the waters tended to get too rough for comfort during the rest of the year. She said they can’t guarantee that we would see a dolphin that morning — but, she added with a wide smile, the chances were around 95%. Hurray!
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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

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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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