If you’re going to El Nido, you most definitely need an El Nido Travel Guide. I’ll be upfront in saying this place is not very developed – unless you’re staying in one of their ridiculously overpriced private island resorts.
What to Know
Getting to El Nido is not easy. In fact, up until a few months ago, the only way to get there was to fly into Puerto Princesa, most likely from Manila, and drive 5-6 hours on extremely bumpy roads. Then do it all over again for your flight back. Luckily, El Nido now has an airport and it’s own airline, Airswift, that flies back and forth from Manila daily. What a relief! Unfortunately, on the day we needed to fly out, the one flight they had was sold out, so we had to drive to Puerto Princesa. Flying on Airswift is definitely pricey, and they do not allow alcohol–even unopened and approved by duty-free–through the airport on the way out. BUT it is 100 million times better than driving from and to Puerto Princesa. The drive is horrible and I was carsick the entire time. If I had to do it all over again, I would have left a day earlier to avoid that drive.
Communicating and Spending
Mostly everyone we came across in El Nido spoke English. It was not perfect English, but we were able to communicate well enough. Anyone you come across in hotels, restaurants, tourism excursions, etc. will speak English.
El Nido is not cheap, despite very poor living conditions and low-quality hotels. Our first night, we stayed at what we thought was a nice hotel, but we were very wrong. It was about $250/night and probably one of the worst hotel experiences I’ve ever had. We ended up leaving because we couldn’t take it. We stayed at a hostel in town that wasn’t much better, but at least that was under $100/night.
The currency in The Philippines is the Philippine Peso, or PHP. About 500PHP equals $10. My method was to take the PHP, add a decimal point 2 digits from the right, and double it. So 500PHP = 5.00 x 2 = $10. I hope that makes sense! It totally helped us the whole time. Tipping is not expected in The Philippines, but it is very greatly appreciated. I definitely recommend helping out the locals as much as possible!
From the airport, you can take a tricycle, which is the best way to get around. It’s a motorbike with a little seat on the side – basically their version of a tuk-tuk or jitney. It’s pretty cheap too. It cost us 350PHP to get from the airport to our horrible hotel which was about 15 minutes away.
I felt safe in El Nido the whole time. I used basic common sense and didn’t flash money around or leave my bags laying around, but everyone seemed pretty nice and trustworthy. I will say, I did not see one cop my entire time on the island though. On one stop to get gas on our road trip to Puerto Princesa, there was one guy with a huge gun at the gas station. Not sure if he was a cop or not, but if he was, that was the only one we saw.
I know the government in the Philippines is really corrupt, which explains the extreme poverty there, but it doesn’t seem to drive an increase in crime against tourists. It’s also important to note that the water is definitely not safe to drink there.
What to Pack
It is HOT in El Nido, so definitely be prepared for that. It rained a lot of the time we were there as well, so the dirt streets got pretty muddy. I would bring swimsuits, a long-sleeved swim shirt to keep the plankton from biting you, water shoes to navigate the rocky waters, and typical summer clothes like jean cutoffs and t-shirts. There’s not really anywhere to dress up for and you’d be out of place in a maxi dress or resort wear. I’d also feel uncomfortable flaunting around expensive clothing when most people that live there don’t even have clean water to drink.
Where to Stay
As I mentioned, I would definitely not recommend the first hotel we stayed at. The hostel in town was actually pretty cool. It was my first time staying in a hostel, and I really liked the community feel. We stayed in a private room with a private bathroom, but the overall friendly vibes were still there. The hostel was called Frendz, after all!
Where to Eat & Drink
There aren’t many places I’d recommend eating in El Nido. As I mentioned, the conditions are pretty poor and your chances of getting food poisoning are definitely higher than normal. We ordered food at our first hotel and it was brought to us in tied up plastic bags. The hostel we stayed at had a restaurant downstairs called Hub that I actually really liked. The food was good, but even better than the food was the coffee and the atmosphere. And the convenience of course!
What to Do
El Nido Boat Tours
Going on a boat tour is THE thing to do in El Nido. Seriously, there’s nothing else worth going to El Nido for at all. In fact, I wish we would have left the day after the boat tour instead of giving ourselves a day to chill. Or we at least should have gone on another boat tour. That’s why when you research El Nido, all that comes up is the boat tours. It’s the only thing to do.
We went on tour C with El Nido Paradise* and it was wonderful. We did a private tour, so we were able to pick where we wanted to go and in what order, as well as go at our own pace, which was obviously needed with all the photo and video we had to do! They also fed us lunch during the tour, which was delicious!
Many of the tour companies also offer 3-day/2-night tours (or longer) and the reviews on that are awesome. If you’re going to El Nido and are adventurous, that’s what I’d recommend because for the price, the quality of hotels is not great, and there’s nothing to do in town.
Overall, El Nido was beautiful, but it was definitely more backpacker vibes than I was expecting. The locals there live in extreme poverty and I’m glad I could contribute at least a little to helping a family or two out.
Have you ever been to El Nido or any Philippine Island? What would you add to this El Nido travel guide?
Photos by Ryan Carpenter.
*I received a small discount on the boat tour in exchange for a mention in my El Nido travel guide.