It was the first word I ever said as I stepped onto the sandy beachfront of El Nido, the first time I went there in 2010.
I looked out at the infamous limestone mountains beyond the sea fronting Poblacion. Everyone who’s been to El Nido has to have a picture with that mountain in its background. And I just had to make sure I had mine.
3 years later, as I walked through the narrow streets of El Nido towards the same view, on my 5th trip to El Nido, I still have the same reaction.
Every traveler has that awakening moment that made them become who they are today.
Mine is undoubtedly El Nido, one of the first places I traveled to alone.
Many has changed since the first time I visited El Nido in 2010. Since then, I’ve been in El Nido 4-5 times already and I can’t seem to get tired of its beauty. So to help those who want a cheap trip to El Nido, here’s a complete guide to my favorite place in the world.
WHERE TO STAY
Northern Hope Inn
This is one of the best places to stay in El Nido at an affordable price. At P1400 for an aircon room for 4, I am sold. That’s only P350 each, possibly the cheapest, but decent place to stay in El Nido. The room has two double beds and a private CR. They also have rooms for 2, fan room. It is located along Serena St, near the port and the gas station.
(+63) 939-902-2216 (Smart)
(+63) 927-735-3221 (Globe)
Has an awesome, awesome room for 4 right by the beach. During high tide, you can hear the waters slamming into the thinly-veiled porch at the side of the room. We paid P2400, if I remember correctly per night for a room for 4. The thing about the Alternative when I stayed there in 2012, is that you cannot book via text or call. You need to book a room via Agoda as we had done. Even if the site provides a phone number, I don’t think they ever replied to my inquiries there. Neither via email. Besides the malfunctioning comfort room (there were times when water was scarce), the room was pretty decent. Also located along Serena St, the Alternative Inn has a beautiful nest restaurant at the top too.
El Nido Inn
Must be one of the cheapest places to stay in El Nido. I stayed here for one night I think in 2010 so I’m not sure if the rates are still the same. We paid P500 for a fan room for 3, with its CR outside. It is located on the main street of El Nido, Hama Street, in a huge, open lot. The sign is small, so you have to ask around for it. I don’t have the numbers for it as we only walked in during our time.
This was the first place I stayed at in El Nido. Despite having confirmed our booking a few days before, they completely messed it up and we had to pay more. Our room was given to a foreigner who arrived as a walk-in 10 minutes before us. Frustrating? Yes. They are along Hama Street, right in front of Squidos. We paid P1200 for a room for 6 then. Original price was P1800, but because they gave our P900 room to someone else, we made them give us a discounted rate. Do note that I visited them in 2010, so you have to ask them for their current rates.
P350 for a fan room dorm bed. The room has 9 people (3 decker beds). CR is pretty decent. They have a cozy common room. I’m not sure if they’re still open though. Booked via text.
WHAT TO DO
This is one of the most basic tours in El Nido. It consists of Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Shimizu Island (with the gorgeous colors in November), Secret Lagoon and the 7 Commandos. Make sure you do 7 Commandos last because it’s perfect for the sunset. They have beers there, so it’s a fun activity to end the day. Great spot for swimming too. Tour A is the best tour to hire a kayak as well. You can kayak in the lagoons. For a virtual tour, click the link above. This used to cost P500 in 2010. In 2012-2013, it costs P700. Since November 2013, the government has raised this to cost P1200 (standard published rate).
One of the lesser demanded tours. It consists of the caves and the snake island, which I didn’t really appreciate when I visited it in November (too many seaweeds). During other months, it looks pristine and gorgeous, without the seaweeds at the side. This used to cost P600 in 2010. Then in 2012, I took it for P700. Now it costs P1300 per person.
The best tour in the whole series. The one highly recommended for adventurous people and the one I would go back again and again for. This tour consists of the Hidden Beach (pristine, white sands, hidden behind a huge limestone cliff), the Secret Beach (it’s a secret!), Matinloc Beach, Helicopter Island and Star Beach. It’s the farthest out of all tours, thus, the most expensive. But definitely worth it. Make sure to take underwater shots at the entrance of Secret Beach. Now I’ll be jealous.
Tour C used to cost P700. Then in 2012 – 2013, it cost P900. Now it costs P1400.
Have you ever seen beaches side by side? Well, here’s your chance. From the top of a hill, you get a 360 view of the whole thing – two beaches, one rocky area, a small hill and another island. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. To get to Nacpan and Calitang, you can take a tricycle for P1200 (haggled down already for 3-4 pax) from P1500-2000. Or take a van and bring lots of friends with you. If you know how to motorbike, you can use that too. Costs about P700 I think.
Never been here. But it got famous because it was included in the clearest water list. El Nido is your nearest jump off point so might as well take the chance.
Despite having been to El Nido several times, I’ve only climbed it once. Well worth it. Do note that this is a limestone cliff and it is dangerous. Be prepared before you go up. Try not to be hungover either. A guide costs P500 for 3-5 pax.
WHERE TO EAT
They have pretty good breakfast there. Their best feature? The banana heart curry. Definitely. Sit by the nests and enjoy a beautiful day with friends. Their shakes are delicious. And during the day when there’s no electricity from 8am – 2pm, they are the only ones with wi-fi. Price ranges from P150 – P300.
As one of the oldest restaurants in El Nido, it is one of the most popular as well. They have delicious (and very well worth it) mixed seafood curry (costs about P300-400, I think, will fit 3-4 people). Price ranges from P200 – P400. This is located right in the center of Hama street.
El Nido Corner
Located in the far end of the beachfront of Poblacion, near the cemetery, El Nido Corner has delicious lemon garlic shrimps. They also have delicious spicy tuna pasta. Price ranges from P150 – P300.
I always eat breakfast here because their P150 meal is already a lot. I love their corned beef breakfast. Sometimes, they also have bands at night.
El Nido Art Cafe and Boutique
Sophisticated, this restaurant/souvenir shop is one of the oldest establishments in town as well. We ate breakfast here once, pretty good too. P150 – P400 price range of food.
Puka Bar and Restaurant
One of my favorite places to party because they have awesome reggae music at night. Totally chill, totally hippie and right by the beach. Beer is about P60 – P70. Food is about P150 – P300. They do have limited beers though. I remember we partied once until 3am and they ran out of beers so they ran us all party people away.
Before the party, you gotta chillax first. Habibi Restaurant has pretty good crepes and sisha. They also have pasta in large servings. Costs P100 – P300.
Skyline Restaurant and Grill
Cheap food, cheap beer (cheaper than the ones at the beach front). We also ate Nido Soup here (the one made out of the nest of the Balinsasayaw/swift). Price range is at P75 – P200.
Tita Mercy’s or Kayla’s in Nacpan
Their restaurant used to be off the beach, facing the dramatic mountains of El Nido and the small reservoir. But when I last visited Nacpan in July 2013, their restaurant was already near the beach, the only restaurant there inside a hut. Price ranges by dish, usually about P200 – P400 per type of meal and kilograms (seafood, pork, chicken, etc). Very much worth it.
Located along Hama Street, right next to Squidos, this must be one of the cheapest places to eat. Costs P75 for breakfast and about P120 for shared bulalo. Delicious too.
For those who are on a budget, there are carinderias in the area, so there is a chance that you can limit your costs on food.
SAMPLE 3D2N ITINERARY
Now that you know what to do, here’s a sample IT.
10am – Arrival in PPS
11am – Lunch in Kalui or Balinsasayaw
12noon – Half day Tour PPS City
4pm – Head to Nicnoks for quick dinners
5pm – Head to Iwahig Firefly Tour
6pm – Arrival at Iwahig Firefly Tour
8pm – Finish Tour ETD for Terminal
9pm – Bus Terminal
10pm – Bus to El Nido (please make sure to reconfirm schedule of RORO or Cherry Buses). RORO takes 6 hours, Cherry Bus takes 8 hours.
5am – ETA in El Nido
6am – Check in
7.30am – Breakfast in Seaslugs (always by the beach during your first day!)
9am – Pick up for Tour A
6pm – back from Tour A (remember to request sunset viewing)
8pm – Dinner at Squidos
10pm – Drinks at Puka Bar
7.30am – Breakfast at IBR
9am – Pick up for Tour C
5pm – ETA from Island Tour
8pm – Dinner at El Nido Corner
5am – Exercise
6am – Start climb to Mt. Taraw
9am – ETA from Mt. Taraw, breakfast, maybe El Nido Art Cafe or the Alternative for some morning shots at their nests
11am – Pick up for Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beaches
12pm – Lunch at Tita Mercy’s.
1pm – Beach bum or climb the hill on the other side
4pm – ETD Nacpan
5pm – ETA in Poblacion
7pm – Dinner at the Alternative? Skyline Grill
9pm – Head to Bus stop
10pm – ETD for PPS
5am – ETA in PPS
8am – Flight back to MNL
WHO TO CONTACT
For tours, contact Sai or Ate Nerizza at:
(+63) 939-902-2216 (Smart)
(+63) 927-735-3221 (Globe)
They have the cheapest tours, they have the best tour guides and Ate Nerizza and Sai are pretty good people to deal with. If you’re gonna do Tour C, request Ricniel, because he is the best guide there is and dives so well, I don’t know how we didn’t drown him when we made him take several underwater shots. He can also guide you to Mt. Taraw.
Do note their rates are usually inclusive of everything – food, snorkels, life vest and all that.
The rates DO NOT include the P200 environmental fee that will last you 10 days. Be a little cheeky and ask them where these fees go, will you? Coz the last time I island hopped, I did notice rubbish around the island. Environmental fees should go to fixing that.