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10 Things to Do in El Nido, Palawan – Travel Up

El Nido is one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. This coastal town in Palawan is renowned for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and stunning limestone cliffs. Composed of 45 islands and islets, each with its own unique geological formations, El Nido consistently ranks as one of the best island destinations in the Philippines – and the world.

I remember our first trip to El Nido back in 2010 when getting there involved long land travel from Puerto Princesa. I was amazed at how beautiful the place was when we spent a week island-hopping around the different sights and enjoying secluded beaches and coves all to ourselves. One of El Nido’s nicknames is “Heaven on Earth” and seeing the tropical landscapes, towering cliffs, and secret beaches for the first time, I couldn’t agree more.

Fast forward to our Palawan Road Trip to celebrate Art’s birthday in February 2018 and I was dismayed to see how fast the pace of development is changing the landscape. Walking around the busy poblacion or town center felt like being in Bali or Khao San Road rather than a laid-back provincial town in the Philippines.

I couldn’t believe there was an actual multi-story mall along the highway near town and stores just right below the cliffs. I kind of have mixed feelings about El Nido as it is now because of how it’s changed since I first saw it.

What with all the problems surrounding Boracay which forced its closure, I hope that businesses and tourists alike will remember that it’s El Nido’s natural beauty that draws travelers in the first place and keep everything low-impact and sustainable. However,  I can’t blame people for wanting to visit, because it is an amazingly beautiful destination. I just hope the natural beauty of the beaches, cliffs and smaller islands will be preserved despite El Nido’s increased popularity.

Until recently, El Nido was relatively unknown to foreign travelers compared to other Southeast Asian destinations. But because of social media and easier access (with direct flights to El Nido from Manila and other key hubs like Cebu), more and more tourists are visiting, drawn to the place because of the stunning seascapes and adventure it offers.

There have been debates about which destination is better: Coron (another island of Palawan) or El Nido, as usually tourists choose between the two Palawan spots because of the flights. But sea travel has made it possible to visit both in one trip. If you have time to spare and want easy access, you can book custom private boat tours from El Nido to Coron to maximize your island-hopping trips around the Philippines.

For first-timers, the easiest way to get around El Nido is to join the neatly packaged island-hopping and land tours to different island clusters. There are also a few notable spots inland, which I list below.

1. Marvel at El Nido’s iconic lagoons and beaches

One of the most popular island-hopping tours in El Nido, Tour A focuses mainly around the beautiful lagoons surrounded by limestone cliffs in Miniloc Island and a few nice beach stops. You get to relax on the white sand beach and enjoy a picnic lunch of grilled specialties at Shimizu Island, go snorkeling at the Seven Commandos Beach, and have a chance to see a few sea turtles.

2. Visit secluded caves and coves

Island Hopping Tour B takes visitors to a few caves, coves hidden within the islands and other notable sights. The most well-known attraction in this tour is Snake Island, a narrow sandbar that connects mainland Palawan to neighboring Vigan Island. You also visit several Caves including Cathedral Cave and Cudugnon Cave (where locals used to hide from Japanese invaders during World War II), and swim or snorkel in the hidden beach of Pinagbuyatan Island.

Since this is slightly more expensive than other tours, tourists usually don’t book this as much and prefer to do Tour A or Tour C.d

3. Explore world-famous islands and secret beaches

Island-Hopping Tour C is a favorite of tourists because it brings you up close to the fine, white beaches and breathtaking landscapes. You get to visit the famous islands of Dilumacad and Matinloc, where the “Bourne Legacy” was filmed and visit the unique Helicopter Island, named for its limestone cliffs resemble that of a helicopter. This tour also includes a stop at Matinloc Shrine where you get to hear local stories and a stop at Talisay Beach, a great spot for snorkeling.

One of the highlights of this tour the visit to the Secret Beach, a hidden pocket of fine sand enclosed by towering karst cliffs. It is accessible only via a small opening that requires visitors to swim through it. If you only have a day to spare for island-hopping and the weather is good, I’d recommend you do Tour C. Boatmen usually cancel Tour C if weather is bad, so you can do Tour A, B or D as a back-up.

4. Explore offbeat beaches closer to town

Tour D takes visitors to some of the beaches nearer the mainland including Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan, Paradise, Natnat Beach and Bukal Beach.

Often overlooked by mainstream tourists in favor of the more popular destinations, these spots can offer tranquil and secluded  getaways if you just want to enjoy the simple beach life. These require less travel time and can be easily visited if you don’t have a whole day to spare.

5. Paddle around by kayak

As an alternative to packaged island-hopping tours, you can make arrangements to rent kayaks to explore nearby islands. You can also combine kayaking with the packaged island hopping tours, particularly Tour A for Small Lagoon or Big Lagoon. Stand-Up Paddleboarding is also becoming increasingly popular in El Nido.

You can rent regular and even clear kayaks from El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe for half a day or full day. The activity is weather-dependent, and not recommended if the wind is too strong.

6. Explore the mainland attractions

Aside from the island attractions, El Nido has a lot of hidden treasures that you can reach from the mainland. Tour E or the Land tour includes visits to the twin beaches of  Nacpan and Calitang, Nagkalit-kalit Falls, Las Cabanas, and Marimegmeg Beach.

To save some money on the tour, you can simply hail a tricycle to visit the spots. Alternatively, if you know how to drive a motorbike, you can just drive to the spots yourself by renting one in town.

  • Tour E: (Land tour) inclusions: Twin Beaches, Marimegmeg Beach and some waterfalls. Cost: Php 1,500/pax
  • Tricycle tour: P1500, good for up to 4 pax
  • Van rental: P3000, good for up to 12 pax
  • Motorcycle rental: P500 per day

7. Admire the view from Taraw Cliff

During our first visit to El Nido, one of the highlights for me was climbing up Taraw Cliffs, which offers a breathtaking view of El Nido. Back then, this involved clambering over jagged rocks. There were no helmets, ropes or specialized equipment at the time. We just climbed with our bare hands to reach the top.

However, that original trail was notoriously dangerous. In fact, there have been incidents of tourist accidents and deaths here over the years including a tour guide who tried to save a foreign tourist who proposed to his girlfriend on the jagged peaks. Since then, the tourism offices of El Nido no longer allow visitors to hike up to the highest point.

These days, a safer Via Ferrata trail with metal stairs, walkways, hanging bridges and ropes has been established with the El Nido Canopy Walk. All visitors now wear helmets and are accompanied by guides, which has made the view more accessible and safer for more tourists including senior citizens and children. The walk just takes less than an hour and brings visitors to a lower vantage point than the original point, but which still offers a good overlooking view. Here’s a look at how it is now.

  • El Nido Canopy Walk
  • Rizal Street, Brgy. Maligaya, El Nido, Palawan. Contact Number: +63 (48) 434-2341 | +63 (48) 723-3401. Email: 
  • Hours of operation: Open daily, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • Cost: Php 500/pax

8. Check out the sustainable options at Lio Beach

One of the newer areas being developed in El Nido is Lio Beach, where you can enjoy nature encounters and outdoor recreation, to luxurious spa treatments and calming yoga sessions. The Lio Eco-Tourism Estate area is an isolated area surrounded by virgin beaches, breathtaking landscapes, and turquoise waters.

With all the problems in other beach areas and influx of tourists and possible damage to the environment brought upon by the influx of tourism, Lio is being developed as an ecologically sustainable tourism destination, soon to be home to eco-hotels, restaurants, and residential communities that will follow world-class standards to preserve the natural beauty of El Nido. You can kayak around the area and they even have Bamboo Bicycles for rent here. I haven’t been to this spot yet, but I’ll definitely check it out on my next trip to El Nido.

9. Go on a food trip around town

After a day of island-hopping, the best thing to do is just chill out with good food and drinks at any of the restaurants in town. The poblacion area now has a bustling nightlife reminiscent of areas like Ubud in Bali or Khao San Road in Bangkok. 

El Nido has a diverse food scene, with lots of international options like Japanese food, Mediterranean cuisine, gelato and Filipino grilled specialties. Be warned that most upscale beach-front restaurants serve overpriced food, charging about P350-P450 for the ambiance. However, you can find cheaper and simpler meals in carinderias.

El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe is one of the long-time homegrown haunts, which serves delicious pizzas and pasta dishes. This is one of the oldest restaurants in the area and one of the main spots that serves craft beer from Palaweno Brewery, a local brewery based in the capital Puerto Princesa.

Another interesting addition in the local beer scene is Boodmo, a Ukrainian nano-brewery established in El Nido in 2017. They serve Cadlao IPA and Pale Ale brewed for the tropical climate along with Ukrainian beer chow like mussel and shrimp dumplings with pesto.

10. Catch the sunset from the shore

If you want the best view, there are several beachfront establishments where you can just enjoy a beautiful sunset with a beer in hand.

Or you could just head to the beach, bring a picnic mat and sit on the shore for the best — and free — views.

NOTE: This travel guide was compiled from two separate trips to El Nido in June 2010 and February 2018.

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