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
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.
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.
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.
There are many island hopping options in El Nido but the standard ones are Tours A, B, C and D. (A and C are generally considered the best.) Each tour explores different beaches and islands and usually take a whole day. We’ll have two full days in El Nido but we didn’t want to spend both of them island hopping so we decided to go for a combo tour.
El Nido Paradise offers a Combo Tour A & C for only PHP 2,000. (The standard price for Tour A is PHP 1,200 while Tour C is PHP 1,400, so it’s a pretty good deal.) The price includes a buffet lunch and drinking water — guests can bring their own soft drinks and alcohol if they want — as well as a mask and snorkel. Stops include Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Seven Commando Beach, Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach and Hidden Beach. The one drawback about a combo tour is that, there being many stops, guests will have less time in each stop, as opposed to a regular tour. However, we felt that it was an acceptable trade-off: we would rather combine all the sightseeing in one day so that we can have the next day as a full “chill day” for beach bumming.
The one thing I’ve learned after years of traveling is that if you pack too many activities into your trip, you will need another vacation to recover from your vacation. Less is more, most of the time. That’s why Day 4 is a day for doing nothing — at least nothing in particular. I might try kayaking half-day, Hershe might climb Taraw Peak, but nothing’s set in stone. And I intend to spend at least half a day chilling in the beach: not doing, but simply being.
Back to Puerto Princesa! Again, we’re trusting El Nido Paradise to take care of the van transfer arrangements for us. Note: before taking our booking, they made it clear that they don’t actually operate the vans themselves. Instead, they work with van companies who may also take in other passengers (otherwise the costs would be prohibitive). The driver will usually wait for the van to fill up before starting the journey, which can result in a bit of waiting time, but this happens with all the non-exclusive van transfers, whether you pre-book or do your negotiations at the airport or bus terminal. The way I see it, the advantage of pre-booking is that you can pay for transpo ahead of time — which lessens the amount of cash you will have to carry on you — and you’re guaranteed a seat in the van. However, if you don’t like waiting and don’t mind paying a much higher price, you can opt to book a private van. (Find out more here.)
The firefly watching tour is something I’m really excited about! I only heard of it when my cousin Emilia came back from her Palawan trip and told us how magical it was. The tour is usually PHP 1,100-1,200 per person and includes hotel pick-up/drop-off and dinner.
This time, we will be staying at Holiday Suites, which is right across Robinsons Palawan. They have single, twin, double, and family rooms (and a pool!) and the room price includes free breakfast and free shuttle to the airport.
One last hurrah before heading back home. At first I didn’t have anything planned for this day because I didn’t think we would have the time to do anything big before our afternoon flight to Cebu. However, I chanced upon the dolphin watching tours and saw that they were only half-day — it just seemed too good an opportunity to let pass. My last dolphin watching trip was ages ago, and Hershe wanted to do it as well, so we’re going for it, yay!
And that’s it! That’s our 6-day, 5-night nice and easy El Nido and Puerto Princesa itinerary.
Have you been to Palawan? Is there anything else you think we should try to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 01 June 2016.
Hey glad to know your coming in a very nice place of mine.Surely you will going to enjoy seeing the breathtaking view of el nido island. 🙂 :)..
Hi Joanna! I’m sure I will enjoy it. Are you from Palawan?
Yes i live in palawan,Puerto Princesa grown up here..and we usually spend time vacation in el nido. 🙂 🙂 glad to know you will visit there.
Nice!! Matagal ko nang gustong pumunta dyan but I never had the chance till now. I’m so excited! Especially sa firefly watching tour hehe. I’m sure I will love Palawan. 🙂
Yay to nice, easy, and stress-free vacation! Don’t worry I haven’t been to El Nido either but my husband has! How crazy is that!
Have fun. Can’t wait to see your photos!!
Thank you! I hope you’ll come and visit too, one of these days. xo
The Firefly tour!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hey! I just got back from Palawan and have to catch up on tons and tons of things to do, but I just wanted to say real quick that (1) we didn’t get to go on the firefly tour because it rained the whole day and the tour organizers had to cancel, which was sad but worse things could have happened, and (2) I finally got started on Much Ado About Nothing — didn’t get to finish it because I had a really chatty seatmate on the van, where I was watching it, but you’re right, it’s awesome, what I’ve seen of it anyway, and I love how the words roll off the actors’ tongues, someone’s finally got me interested in Shakespeare, yay! Thank you!
Hi–I hope it was a wonderful trip!! Too bad about the firefly tour but there’s a reason to go back=) Oooohh, I’m thrilled you started watching Much Ado About Nothing! A million exclamation points can’t express how happy that makes me and I’m relieved you like it so far. Thank you for taking the time to tell me. Hooray!!
As always, trips with you are awesome. I like how you arrange our itinerary. We get to have some time to chill and relax in between tours. Till our next trip! 🙂
Thanks shang! xoxo