Known as one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in the Philippines, the little tourist town of El Nido can be found on the island of Palawan. There’s a lot to love about Palawan, from the lovely tropical weather to the beautiful islands sitting just a short distance off the coast.
However, when we arrived in El Nido we found that there was a lot we actually didn’t know about the place itself, and it wasn’t quite as easy a travel experience as many of the other Southeast Asian countries we had visited before.
If you’re planning your own trip to Palawan and El Nido, here’s everything you need to know before you go to make your life a little bit easier.
Getting to El Nido
Located at the edge of the island of Palawan, there are a couple of different ways to get to El Nido. Palawan has two airports – El Nido Lio Aiport (ENI) and Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS).
Puerto Princesa is the main airport in Palawan and there are a regular flights to and from many of the other islands of the Philippines. From the airport it takes at least 5 hours by bus or transfer to get to the town of El Nido.
If you’re landing at Puerto Princesa and are planning to make the drive to El Nido book yourself a private transfer and make sure it has air conditioning. It’s a super long, bumpy and uncomfortable drive and you will be infinitely happier that you have the space to stretch out if you have booked your own car.
Alternatively you can try to book your flights directly to El Nido airport. If this option is available it is absolutely without a doubt worth the extra money for the airport. El Nido airport is only about 10 minutes away from the main streets of El Nido and the airport is super small, more like a private waiting room.
To find direct flights to El Nido make sure you check out Air Swift who offer direct flights between El Nido and Manila, Boracay, Cebu Island, Sicogon and Basco.
Visa information for the Philippines
If you’re travelling on an Australian passport you won’t need a visa for stays of less than 30 days for tourism or business purposes. If you’re staying for longer than 30 days you will be required to apply for a visa before you travel.
The Philippines can sometimes be a bit of a dangerous place to travel to, with political issues present across the country, high levels of crime and terrorist attacks and kidnapping often present. Always check the latest advice on Smartraveller before you travel.
The town of El Nido
The town of El Nido itself is probably not the beach side location you might be thinking of. In fact, there is definitely nothing special about the main town. While buildings are colourful and bright, there is definitely a layer of grime and dirt that covers most of the town.
Despite the influx of tourist revenue, there doesn’t seem to have been many improvements made to El Nido in recent years. Many of the shops and restaurants are more than a little run down. Power outages are a daily occurrence and generally internet is sporadic at best. In worst case scenarios you might not be able to find it at all.
Getting Around El Nido
Rent a motorbike to explore a little more of Palawan and get off the beaten track in El Nido. Having your own transport allows you to get out to some of the best beach bars to watch the sunset, explore a little more inland of the island and tackle some of the hills in the area without feeling like your legs are dying.
If you’re not confident on a motorbike you can also jump in a tuk tuk to take you from A to B. They’re pretty cheap although they seem a little bit crappier than other Southeast Asian countries if we’re being honest. Negotiate your price before you jump in to avoid being charged inflated prices at the end of your ride.
Internet Access in El Nido
There’s no way to get around this one. There is almost no internet access in El Nido.
Nope, pretty much none at all.
We tried to find it for our whole stay. From hotels to bars and cafes, if they were advertising an internet connection we would stop there for a drink and try to connect. And it was hopeless.
On our very last morning in El Nido we did come across what has to be the only place in the whole town that has an internet connection strong enough that you can actually get online. Head straight to Template Bar & Restaurant if you want to get online and not waste hours of your time.
If you’re really struggling you can also buy a sim card to access the internet as well, although we didn’t have any luck with sim cards either. Prepare yourself for a few days being disconnected and you won’t be disappointed.
ATMs & Money in El Nido
Quite simply, cash is king in El Nido. There are pretty much no ATMs anywhere in El Nido, and if you do come across one you’re likely to find that it will be empty or doesn’t accept international bank cards. If you’re desperate, your best bet would be to try the bank. There is one ATM here that probably works the best in the town.
To avoid any issues make sure you get some cash out in advance and have enough money on you to cover your time in El Nido. You will be able to find an ATM either at Puerto Princesa Airport or El Nido Airport, so this is probably the best place to cash up unless you have brought cash with you from Manila or another island in the Philippines.
Where to stay in El Nido
If you’re visiting El Nido during the peak season you’re probably going to have a very hard time finding accommodation, especially if you’re on a budget and looking for something half decent. Many of the hotels and airbnb’s book out months in advance and if you leave it too late you’re likely to be left with a handful of 2 star options, if you’re lucky.
As a general warning many of the mid-range properties are unlikely to live up to their online photos or reviews. We found that the average accommodation in El Nido was extremely underwhelming and in all honesty even our basic hotel room wasn’t worth half of the price we paid for it. To avoid disappointment during your stay don’t expect any working internet (we could only get online between 2am and 6am in our hotel room) and don’t get breakfast included in your stay price, they’re not very good.
Luxury accommodation options in El Nido
There are however, some amazing and very luxurious places to stay in El Nido, if you have the budget and book them far enough in advance. Some of the absolute best options include the collection of El Nido Resorts – a group of sustainable island resorts in El Nido as well as on surrounding islands. The El Nido Resorts include –
Apulit Island – the eco-adventure island located in Taytay that offers exciting adventures in a beautiful tropical paradise.
Miniloc Island – the eco-discovery island, located on Miniloc in El Nido, is the perfect destination for those in search of a fun and vibrant holiday.
Lagen Island – the eco-sanctuary island in Lagen, this resort is nestled between a huge four-hectare forest and a calm lagoon, perfect for anyone looking for a private relaxing holiday.
Pangulasian Island – the eco-luxury island, perfect for anyone looking for the ultimate place to stay in El Nido. Grab yourself a sunbed on your over water bungalow and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding the resort.
Some of the other amazing unique stays around El Nido include –
Buko Beach Resort – there are only 6 rooms here so it’s no wonder that it books out early. Buko is home to super cute little beach huts, decorated in the traditional style including thatched roofs and bamboo walls and bed.
Panorama Resort – some of the cutest and most Insta worthy accommodation you might come across in El Nido, these little beach huts are absolutely gorgeous and even includes a private beach.
El Nido Overlooking – keeping true to it’s name, each room here offers stunning views from their very own balconies and terraces overlooking forests that run all the way to the sea.
The Nest El Nido – one of the most popular places to stay in El Nido, the Nest is a bit on the pricey side, but it’s right on the beach and offers beautiful views and rooms for your stay.
Best time to visit El Nido
The best time to visit El Nido is during the dry season, between December and May. Throughout these months you’re likely to have mostly sunny days with few showers or completely cloudy days. April and May are the hottest and most humid months of the year, but they are still considered a good time to visit.
The rainy season is generally in effect from June until November, when you can expect at least a couple of showers most days, as well as monsoons and heavy rain in some cases. July and August are the wettest months of the year, so try not to plan a summer getaway during that time.
Keep in mind though, if you’re visiting during the peak season you should also expect highly inflated prices for flights and accommodation. Book anything you can well in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on a good place to stay and a direct flight to El Nido Airport.
Important to know in El Nido
It might not be one of the first things you think about, but it’s important to know that there are no medical clinics or hospitals in El Nido. There are a couple of health clinics on the outskirts of the town, but if you need anything major you’re likely going to need to be transported to Puerto Princesa, about 4 to 5 hours away.
Also, local water in El Nido should not be trusted and can make you quite sick if you drink straight from the tap. Make sure you’re always drinking bottled water, avoid ice cubes in your drinks and if you can request your food not to be made in tap water.
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