Located towards the northern end of Palawan lies El Nido. A place of enchanting nature, unique geographical formations, and pristine white beaches. Did I mention that it’s made up of 45 islands and islets? All of this makes El Nido the ideal hub for travelers with an adventurous spirit and zest for life. After spending 7 glorious days on this tropical island, here is my list of the 12 best things to do in El Nido, Palawan.
1) Overnight camping
Because who doesn’t want to wake up with a front-row view of the sea?
As you’d expect, there is no electricity, no showers, and no bathrooms. Be prepared to rough it up for the night, but it’s definitely worth it. With 2 beach bars, a few swings, a basketball hoop and ofcourse, beach volleyball, who wouldn’t want to camp on this beach?
There are a few tour companies that camp on other, more secluded islands. If you really want that “survivor” experience be sure to confirm which island you’ll be staying at before you book. However, I think that the camping trips to 7 Commando Beach are always filled with energetic travelers, whereas the more secluded options may not have as many guests.
For all costs and details for beach camping in the Philippines, check out this post!
2) Rent a kayak and explore remote beaches
The islands surrounding El Nido are just a short boat trip from the mainland, but if you have some time, it’s a great idea to rent a kayak and start paddling.
I stayed at Garden Bay Beach Resort where you are able to walk out of your room, onto the beach and hop into a kayak. Keep paddling for about 45 min and you will reach Bukal Island. This island is part of Tour D which is one of the less popular tours. The water is crystal clear and the beach secluded and private.
It took us a bit longer to reach the island as we had a little swim along the way. Actually, we capsized and both ended up in the water! And technically there was only one paddler as I was photographer/sunbather and needed to conserve my energy for the days to come.
Throughout our time in El Nido, we saw many people kayaking, leaving the mainland with energy and excitement in their faces. However, a completely different expression was seen when they returned. Be careful to head out to the further islands. They may seem closer than they really are. And if the weather changes you could be in for quite a rough paddle on the way back in.
3) El Nido Party Boat
Leave it to a South African to start a Party Boat in the Philippines!
Firstly, you get unlimited alcohol. Yes, unlimited! And yes, the beers are cold and the cocktails are strong. My favorite – the “Pam Special”. It was this drink, and the many others, that lead to us behaving like children on Snake Island before 12 o’clock (don’t judge!). Lunch is also included and we had the most delicious pork, chicken and mussels served on board the boat. There’s good music, great hosts and if you’re looking to add a bit of fun to the regular island hopping tours, EL Nido Party Boat should be on your list of things to do in El Nido.
The island hopping tour has no set itinerary, but guests are asked where they’d like to stop off at. Thereafter, a decision is made based on where most people haven’t been to.
The party boat is usually fully booked, but a recent typhoon in the Philippines resulted in fewer visitors to the island. With only 1 day free for the El Nido Party Boat, we decided to go ahead with our booking even though we were advised that not many people had booked for that day. And to our surprise, the other guests didn’t even pitch. However, the party still went on and we had the entire boat to ourselves. People pay big bucks for a private tour, yet ours only cost us $50 each.
We left at 11 am and having already done Tour A and C, we decided to head to the islands on Tour B’s itinerary. At around 6 pm, slightly burnt and intoxicated, we anchored at Las Cabanas Beach where we had a magical swim in the rain before heading back to the harbor.
4) Scuba Diving in El Nido
They say that you should never get your hopes up as you will be left disappointed in the end.
However, not having high expectations left me completely and absolutely blown away.
Scuba diving in El Nido was nothing short of spectacular and one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Having explored only 2 of the 30 dive sites, I can’t imagine what else is hidden beneath the waters of El Nido.
Our first dive site was South Miniloc followed by the diving wall at Entalula Island. Amongst the lively coral, we caught sight of turtles, groupers, stingrays, barracuda, nudibranchs, clown fish, parrot fish and many other tropical fish. Being surrounded by the most beautiful school of yellow snappers was the highlight of my scuba diving experience in El Nido.
Diving the Gili Islands in Bali was great, but El Nido is the epitome of diving. Unfortunately, my skin had a bad reaction to the scuba diving mask. Yes, I ended up with a rash on my face for the rest of my vacation, but it was totally worth it to be able to dive in El Nido.
2 dives will cost 3 200 PHP ($60) per person which includes a light snack and all your diving equipment. We were back in El Nido before lunch time so it leaves you with plenty of time to do some of the other activities in the afternoon. There are many diving shops in El Nido which all offer similar deals. However, our trip was booked with Ranmarc Diving and they were absolutely great.
5) Visit Nacpan Beach
Nacpan Beach is a beautiful, long beach lined with coconut trees situated about an hours drive north of El Nido. Over the years, it’s popularity has increased and while it is still “untouched” compared to the likes of Las Cabanas Beach, I’m sure there will be many hotels and beach clubs lining the shores in the years to come.
You can either rent a scooter or catch a tricycle to get to Nacpan Beach. Drive 40 min from El Nido in a northerly direction. The signage isn’t that great but keep your eyes out for the “Nacpan Beach Resort” sign and turn left. You will then follow a dirt road for another 15 minutes. It’s an adventurous ride indeed with some questionable bridge crossings, but a must-do.
After arriving at the beach, take a walk to your left and you’ll reach a point where Nacpan Beach merges with the smaller Calitang Beach, both known as the Twin Beach of El Nido.
6) Surfing at Duli Beach
Duli Beach is a far quieter and less popular getaway than its neighbor Nacpan Beach. Once you reach the soft, sandy shores, there’s an open stretch of white beach, sea and palm trees with very few people.
For surfers, Duli beach offers a fun beach break and is ideal for a longboard surfing session. However, the waves aren’t as exciting as those in Indonesia, and if you are a regular surfer, you may be a bit disappointed. You can rent surfboards from any of the cafes nearby for 200 PHP ($3.5) per hour.
Duli Beach is about a 90 min drive from El Nido and should be included in your trip to Nacpan Beach. After taking the Duli Beach turnoff, drive an additional 20 minutes on a very rough and muddy dirt road. You will then reach the coast where you need to pay a 40 PHP entrance fee.
7) Eating Seafood
Did I mention that I absolutely love seafood? Nothing can beat fresh seafood grilled on an open flame (ok, perhaps a Korean BBQ can!). You can imagine my excitement when walking the streets of El Nido and finding restaurant after restaurant serving only the freshest seafood. With a choice of king prawns, lobsters, mussels, crab, and fish all served grilled I was in my element.
8) Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach
Las Cabanas. The name just slips off the tongue and has that exotic, tropical ring to it.
The beaches in El Nido itself aren’t great and so most people flock south of El Nido to Las Cabanas Beach for some fun in the sun. It’s a popular stop for beaching as well as sunset drinks and there are many beach bars lining the shore.
If you only have one chance to visit Las Cabanas, make sure it’s to catch the sunset. After spending the day on an island hopping tour, we raced to Las Cabanas Beach for sundowners. I ended up spending a few hours enjoying the calming sounds of the waves whilst sipping on cocktails, followed by dinner on the beach.
Las Cabanas is about a 15 min tricycle ride from El Nido which will cost you about 160 pesos ($3).
9) Island hopping tours in El Nido
El Nido is all about island hopping and you cannot visit the beautiful island without doing one of the tours available.
There are 4 different tours, marked with letters A, B, C and D. Each individual tour has the same itinerary, with tour A and C being the most popular. From snorkeling to beaching, to canoeing, the island hopping tours of El Nido offer everything you could possibly want from a truly tropical experience. To check out my review on tour A, B and C, click here.
Tour companies are dotted all over El Nido where they offer the same itineraries at a standard price. They generally require you to be at the harbor around 9 am but expect to only leave an hour later. It’s El Nido time so cheer up and don’t get too impatient if your boat doesn’t leave on time. You should return to El Nido around 5 pm, just in time to watch the sunset at Las Cabanas Beach.
Most island hopping tours include a BBQ lunch on the beach as well as snorkeling gear and a life jacket but be sure to confirm this before you book. You can purchase soft drinks, ice-cold beer (70 PHP), ice creams and coconuts (50 PHP) at most of the lunch stops.
10) Rent a scooter and explore
Whilst El Nido is a very small town, you will need a tricycle or scooter to explore the surrounding areas. Tricycles can be found on every corner, at any time, going just about anywhere. But the fun in missioning around El Nido isn’t necessarily the destination you are heading to, but the journey.
Going off onto deserted roads, riding through villages and forests with no real direction is quite the adventure. It’s times like these, where all you can do is breath in and appreciate the beauty that is out there.
We hired a scooter for 4 days and ventured off to Nacpan Beach and Duli Beach as well as other spots around El Nido. Scooters are a dime a dozen and can be rented for about 500 PHP ($9) per day. However, try prearrange one during peak season.
What I didn’t do in El Nido
11) Zipline over Las Cabanas Beach
A 750-meter zip line connects EL Nido and Depeldet Island offering you the opportunity to fly from one island to the next. There is a choice between one-way zipline ticket or return. However, it’s recommended that you go to the zipline around 5 pm and make your way to Las Cabanas Beach for sundowners after.
For only 500 PHP ($10) one way, it’s something to include in your itinerary if you have time. Unfortunately, we didn’t.
12) Climbing Taraw Cliff
Taraw Cliff is a sharp and jagged limestone cliff that overlooks El Nido. Whilst the view from the top is incredible, the hike is a dangerous one and it is recommended that you have a guide with you. Yes, people have injured themselves and even died whilst attempting to reach the peak.