With a slogan like “friendly paradise” and after three days of traveling and a terrible sleep in a crappy hostel in Manila, I was praying that this island would live up to those words. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.
El Nido is located in the province of Palawan in the Philippines. It is famous for its white sand beaches which have been referred to as some of the best in the world. With its coral reefs, towering limestone cliffs and its geological and biological diversity, the government has made El Nido a managed resource protected area as of 1998.
I traveled to El Nido on my recent trip to the Philippines. I had two nights and just under three days to explore, which is more than enough time to get a good taste of this beach town. To help inspire your trip to this beautiful beach destination, I’ve put together a two day itinerary to help get you started.
First have breakfast at the Art Cafe which is quoted in Lonely Planet and by travelers as being “the place everyone will end up at at some point.” Their menu includes just about everything and anything and it’s good quality, made with local ingredients from their farm.
Next head out on an island hopping tour. With the many lagoons, beaches, etc. surrounding El Nido, it’s no surprise that the island hopping tours are incredibly popular and basically a must-do. Every second shop in El Nido town is a tour booking agent selling the same tours as the next. The tours are labeled A, B, C and D and go to different groups of islands, however A and C are by far the most popular.
Anyway, we selected tour A and booked through the Art Cafe after all the hype and good things we’ve heard about the cafe. Tour C has more snorkelling involved but in the rainy season we were told the waters are a bit “stirred up” and you don’t see as much. Tour A goes to the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Miniloc Island, Simizu Island and Seven Commandos Beach, it includes a lunch stop along the way and has the option to take the tour with a kayak rental in some places. I would strongly recommend taking the kayak option because it allows you to cover more ground then you’ll get to only snorkelling.
The cost of the tour is 1,200 PHP plus a few hundred extra if you want the kayak option. You must also pay the 200 PHP environmental fee which is valid for 10 days, and if you want to snorkel you’ll need to rent a mask (200 PHP) and/or fins (200 PHP).
After you arrive back, get washed up and head to Kaptain’s Diner for dinner. This was a recommendation by our hostel (Our Melting Pot) and I was happy to finally see a menu with some Filipino specialities on it (many places in El Nido serve a mix of everything but). I had the chicken kare kare which is one of their most popular dishes.
If you’re not water logged and exhausted by now like I was, the Reggae Bar is “the place” to go out each night!
Even if you spend your night partying, force yourself to get up at a decent hour for another day of adventure. Today, hire a tricycle to Nagkalit-kalit Falls and the Twin Beaches. This should cost around 1000 PHP for the day and they will stay with you the entire time.
As you arrive at the entrance it’ll seem a bit odd since it’s literally just a painted sign on the side of the road with a lady who will come out of her house and provide you with a guide. The guide will cost 200 PHP each person, and make sure you have exact change! You need a guide for this hike as it’s impossible to navigate alone. Note that you’ll also need to pay a 10 PHP to a lady at her backyard before you enter. Don’t ask me why!
The hike isn’t really that difficult if you are moderately in shape. The pathway can be muddy, especially in rainy season, and is quite rocky too. You’ll also cross multiple waist-deep rivers along the way. However, I did the entire thing in flip flops to avoid my running shoes getting ruined so that’s an indicator of the difficulty. It will take around 45 minutes each way and although the waterfall at the end is beautiful, the walk along the way almost takes the cake!
After the hike, head to Nacpan and Calitang Beach, also known as the Twin Beaches. The Twin Beaches were ranked by TripAdvisor in 2016 as being one of the most beautiful in the world. The drive to these beaches are an adventure in itself, especially after any rain. The access road is quite long, maybe 30-40 minutes and is muddy, rocky and bumpy!
When you finally do arrive, have some lunch at one of the little restaurants right near the parking lot that overlook the beach. I ate at Kyla’s Cocina and had the vegetable noodles and a banana shake which cost me around 240 PHP.
When you’re done lunch, enjoy the beach! If you are facing the ocean, walk left all the way down to the end of the beach and there is a little waking trail that goes up a small hill where you’ll be able to see both Nacpan and Calitang beach (like pictured above). Nacpan is where you’ll want to spend your time, but its neighbour is the reason it gets its name the “Twin Beaches”.
Head back to El Nido town to get cleaned up and for dinner, hire a tricycle for around 50 PHP to take you to Republica Sunset Bar. This little Spanish restaurant has some amazing views and even better sunsets, however, rainy season kind of dampened any hope of seeing a sunset for us. Either way, rain or shine, the view is great and the food is yummy. I got a variety of tapas (3), and a cold beer, and my bill was around 450 PHP. It seems odd to find good Spanish food in the Philippines but this place is owned by Spanish expats so you’ll definitely be impressed.
And there you go, an idea of how you can spend two days in El Nido, Palawan. However, if you have a few extra days to spare, you may want to do some of the following:
- Be a beach bum at: Las Cabanas, Duli Beach, Dagal Dagal Beach, Palabayan Beach
- Hiking the Taraw Peak (Note: This isn’t just a light and easy hike, you are legitimately climbing up limestone cliffs. A guide is strongly recommended)
- Ziplining as Las Cabanas