Discover El Nido and Palawan
Once a secret known only to locals, more and more discerning travellers have begun to hear of the enchanting coastal settlement that is El Nido. Comprising 45 islands and inlets, the unique landscape here is still mostly pristine despite newly becoming home to a pumping party scene.
While the settlement started out as a small Indianized village, waves of immigrants started to flood in during the 16th century, and it soon become a melting pot which included Spaniards, Chinese, and Austronesian families from other surrounding areas. What was by then a town gained its present name El Nido, which means ‘the nest’ in Spanish, in 1954 when edible nests of small birds known as swiftlets were found in the limestone cliffs surrounding the area. The beauty of the area was not truly discovered until 1979, when a sea accident left a group of divers in the area marvelling at its untouched beauty. From there on out, dive stations and tourism ventures were established in the area, and it is only now that the international community has learned of the area’s unique traits.
Like the rest of the Philippines, the religion primarily practiced by locals in El Nido is Roman Catholicism. The remainder of the population are generally followers of other types of Christianity. However in recent years immigration from Islamic areas such as southern Palawan and Mindanao has increased, resulting in a more prominent Muslim community arising in the area.
The government has taken initiatives to promote the unique ethnic indigenous culture that has been lost in assimilation throughout many other parts of the Philippines. Sibaltan is the name of the town’s heritage village, and is also a settlement of the Cuyonon tribe. Visitors can learn more about the tribe’s seafaring, nomadic lifestyle—which is what brought them to Palawan in the first place, as they explored farther and farther from their original island home of Cuyo many hours away.
- Believes in concept of face
- Touching is welcomed, handshakes and hugs are common as greetings, as well as beso-beso or air kisses on each cheek
El Nido is located 420km southwest of Manila, and 238km northwest of Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. The tropical monsoon climate has two distinct seasons: a dry season from December to May and a wet season from June to November, with sea conditions worsening considerably under the later.
The landscapes available to see in this area have been widely described as stunning and some of the best that the entire Philippines has to offer. Dramatic limestone cliffs rise up out of deep blue seas, endless sandy beaches with all types of sand imaginable, and the huge mountain under which El Nido town rests. Visitors will never tire of the many different kinds of panoramas that can be experienced here.
El Nido’s nature views are the primary reason people flock to this destination, and every visitor can expect to experience stunning panoramas of coral reefs, waterfalls, lagoons, caves and so much more. A good way to get a feel for the whole area in and around the settlement is to take an island-hopping boat, which lasts a day (and includes lunch) and costs about 1200-1400 pesos per person. Tourists with diving or snorkelling licenses can enjoy a dearth of sea life in the waters around El Nido, be aware that the best conditions for diving are during the months of March to May.
Before you go
- Language: Tagalog, officially Filipino, an Austronesian language distantly related to Malay
- Currency: Philippine peso (php)
- Time Zone: Philippine Time Zone, utc+8
- Voltage: 220
- Electric Socket: Type A/B/C
- Sim cards are sold everywhere in the Philippines
- The biggest mobile network operators are Globe, SMART, and Sun
- A sim card itself only costs about $1, but it is advisable to put it around 1,000 pesos if you are planning to make more international calls or use lots of data.
- There is only one atm in El Nido, located in its municipal hall.
- There are several money transfer services around town.
- It is a good idea to load up on pesos before you leave Puerto Princesa or Manila for this destination.
- Wiring money to yourself through credit card via Western Union is a pretty good way to get extra cash on hand though, and total fees will only come to around 5%.
- It is possible to get cash advances on credit cards here, but you will be dealt a surcharge of 8%.
- Moneychangers abound on the area and do offer fair rates for exchange.
- Tamilok: It is a mollusc that looks like a worm and that can be found inside rotting mangroves. This dish really just tastes like a good oyster.
- Hopia: Pastry filled with (usually) bean paste.
- Danggit Lamayo: Fresh rabbitfish, partially sun-dried, sparingly salted, and then marinated in a special blend of vinegar, garlic and pepper. The fish is then fried in hot oil to give it extra crisp. And is usually served with a side of rice or egg, which makes for a hearty and unique meal.
It’s up to you how much you’d like to tip when in the Philippines, although it is common courtesy to leave spare change when you can.
Taxis: If the driver leaves the meter running and gives you decent service, it’s reasonable to tip 10% of the fare as a sign of appreciation.
Tricycle taxis: there is no need to tip the driver as ideally you must have negotiated a fixed price beforehand before starting on the trip.
Restaurants: A general rule for tipping in restaurants is to do so whenever there is no service charge added to your bill by the restaurant. There are no real rules as to tipping.
Hotels: Try to give the bellhop or concierge a small tip when possible. When staying in better (brand-name) hotels, be aware that this kind of tipping is often expected by hotel employees.
- Suggested vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Try to wear sandals, or any type of footwear, when stepping into the waters in and around the main beach.
- There isn’t really any fully-staffed general hospital currently situated in El Nido. However the Rural Health Unit, a government-run basic clinic with details given below, does exist and is capable of handling common illnesses and even minor surgeries
Emergency Line: 117
El Nido Rural Health Unit (public hospital): Abdulla St, Barangay Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Tourism Board: El Nido Municipal Hall
- Hello (in general): Mah-boo-hi
- Excuse me. / Sorry.: Mawalang-galang po
- Thank you.: Salamat
- You’re welcome.: Walang anuman
- Good morning: Magandang umaga
- Good evening: Magandang gabi
- Goodbye: Paalam
- How much is this? Magkano to
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Tagay
- Bon appetit!: Mabuting gana
- Where’s the toilet?: Nasaan ang CR?
- Help!: Tulong!
- I understand.:Naiintinidihan ko
- I don’t understand.: Hindi ko naiintindihan
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Several small flights of about 50 people a plane enter El Nido from Manila each day. These flights usually cost above 6,000 pesos – as such, it can be a better deal to fly in from the nearby Puerto Princesa International Airport. Upon arrival by air in El Nido, visitors must take tricycle taxis towards the main area, and should expect to pay around 200-250 pesos, assuming a travel group of two people plus moderate luggage.
From Puerto Princesa, an affordable option is to take a bus to El Nido, which should cost 550 pesos for a seat on an air-conditioned bus and 450 for one on a bus without air-conditioning. The whole trip in total takes around 7 hours, due to the buses making several stops along the way in order to pick up more passengers, so try and get comfortable. Buses tend to run from around 5am to 9pm, and the current company operating the bus service is named ‘Cherry Bus’.
Although these smaller vans may not handle bumpy roads as well as the bigger buses, they make up for the discomfort by generally taking less time to arrive to El Nido—a trip on a minivan costs about 500 pesos (including a drop-off at your hotel doorstep) and lasts only around 5 hours. Tickets for these informal minivan services can be bought within the city of Puerto Princesa, but before grabbing one you should be aware that these vans often start their journey later than their announced time and in some cases, you will be asked to change minivans halfway along your journey, resulting in possibly dirty luggage due to gravelly roads in the area.
Mountain bikes can be rented for about 400 to 500 pesos per day. Some shops will provide a map detailing some interesting routes for those choosing to bike around the area.
Motorbikes are available for rent around the main area of El Nido. A day’s rent should cost about 700 pesos a day. This option is good for those who want to explore the roads less travelled around the main beach, luckily, most of these roads are quite well-maintained so riders should be able to handle the terrain well.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.