Coming to the Philippines was a no brainer, but deciding which island to visit and which tours to take was the stressful part. I visited El Nido on Palawan for five days and loved every second of it. The food, the people, and the island life – it’s something that’s foreign in the US and made me so much more appreciative of the little things in life.
Where and What is El Nido?
El Nido is a town in the northern part of Palawan island, which is about a one-hour flight from Manila. When deciding to come to Palawan, I debated between El Nido and Coron. It was a tough decision, but El Nido’s beautiful beaches ultimately won over Coron’s scuba diving experiences.
There are two ways to get to El Nido. The first, and cheaper, option is to fly to Puerta Princessa and then take a van for 4-6 hours to reach El Nido. However, I opted for the faster, and more expensive, option, which is to fly directly into El Nido airport and take a 20-minute tricycle ride into El Nido. Once in El Nido, it’s like paradise – beaches, island hopping, food, drinks, they have it all!
The morning we landed, we explored the town by walking along the main street and by the water. At every corner, there were street vendors selling meat on sticks (which were delicious) and juice stands with fresh juice and smoothies. I had a mango banana smoothie at least once a day, every day. Blessed.
We rented mopeds and scooted about 40 minutes to Nacpan Beach. It’s rated as one of the best beaches in the world and the best in the Philippines! I can see where the reputation comes from as it is a white sand beach with super clear blue waters. The water was so warm, unlike those in the US, and I could see the seafloor even when I couldn’t touch it! It was really cool seeing the color transition from light blue in shallow water to darker blue in deeper water.
Further down Nacpan beach, there’s Twin Beach, which is a strip of beach with water on both sides (essentially a really narrow peninsula). We hiked past Twin Beach and up on the hill to get a better view. The vantage point offered phenomenal views of the islands and the entirety of Nacpan Beach. It looked like an advertisement promoting the Philippines.
Verde Safari & Duli Beach
These two beaches are a little further past Nacpan Beach. They’re not as popular as Nacpan so it’s less crowded, but still offer the same breathtaking views and beaches.
Verde Safari Beach was difficult to get to as we had to ride along a dirt/sand road for 30+ minutes before reaching the beach. But once at Verde Safari, we had the beach to ourselves. The beach was pristine and looked untouched. The water was so shallow that I walked out until I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean, but was still in knee-deep water. It was definitely worth the effort.
Duli wasn’t as difficult to get to so there were more people than Verde Safari. It was similar to Nacpan except with less vendors and people.
There were numerous postings on TripAdvisor saying this is closed, but in reality it’s not – it’s just more regulated and requires a guide. This was one of my favorite things about El Nido. The hike itself was no walk in the park; it was more of climbing/scaling rocks than hiking along a trail and definitely not doable on our own.
We began the hike at 5:30 AM and our guide led us to a trail behind local houses. At first it was regular hiking, but it quickly became climbing over jagged rocks and scaling the sides of massive cliffs. We took our time because one slip and we could’ve been seriously injured – the rocks were that sharp!
Once at the peak, we realized all the effort was worth the view. We arrived right as the sun came over the mountains and saw all of El Nido from a birds-eye view. The boats lined the shores of El Nido while the islands were faintly visible through the haze in the distance. All the while, we could clearly hear the roosters crow some 400+ meters above El Nido. We stayed at the peak for over half an hour because the view was too good and we had to make the trek worth it.
We spent two days island hopping on Tour A and Tour C, the two most popular tours. I compared the two tours here, but to summarize, Tour A is the mainstream tour with all the photo ops while Tour C is more active, where we had to swim to reach many of the destinations. Overall, I liked Tour C better because I was in the water more, but my favorite spot is snorkeling at Shimizu Island on Tour A. You can’t go wrong with either tour.
Town of El Nido
The town of El Nido was not crazy lively, but there was enough to do for five nights. Most restaurants and bars were open at night and it was easy to find a dinner spot on the beach. We went the more adventurous route and opted for local and street food. A lot of places would have raw seafood and meat on display, and they’ll grill whatever we choose on the spot. We also bar hopped to a couple of beachfront bars, tiki bars, and local brewery. The town itself wasn’t big so after a couple of nights it was easy to tell which places were poppin’. It was also easy to meet other people from the boat tours and walking around, so we spent most nights hanging out with new friends!
It was bittersweet leaving El NIdo. I had gotten used to waking up to roosters at 5 AM, drinking a mango banana smoothie, and being on or in the water the entire time the sun was up. I had forgotten what it’s like being back in reality. Regardless, I’m glad I was able to thoroughly explore El Nido and the surrounding islands. It definitely did not disappoint. I can’t wait to explore other parts of the Philippines in the future!