Not only is El Nido the gateway to the stunning Bacuit archipelago it is also quite possibly, I think we’ve finally found it, the backpacker hub of the Philippines! If you trying to find a place with a distinct backpacker vibe, tour booking shops on every corner, and banana pancakes on every menu, then look no further than El Nido.
The setting – a quaint bay dotted with banca boats overlooking almighty limestone islands. The vibe – beach bars, chilled sunsets, daytrips to lagoons and an array of white sand beaches. This area will suit a full range of travellers, from the adventurous, must get off the beaten path at all costs, to those who want tour options handed to them on a plate.
Where to stay in El Nido?
As tourism in El Nido grows, there are a multitude of options along the beachfront and in the town area. The town is small and a short walk around will find you a room in no time! Note: on the outer islands, although there are some options on the islands in the Bacuit Archipelago they are typically aimed at those with bulging wallets!
Top 3 Backpacker Hostels El Nido
Pawikan Hostel – A basic, no frills, but friendly hostel with dorm beds from $12 US and double rooms from $35 US. With a good location close to the sea, friendly staff and free breakfast, the place is a big hit with budget backpackers. WIFI is reportedly fast which is not common in El Nido!
Happiness Hostel – Located in the centre of town within easy reach of everything and walking distance to the beach, this is sociable hostel where it’s easy to meet fellow travellers. The hostel has dorm beds with sliding doors for privacy and a fan and a light inside from $24 US. The staff (especially April!) are super friendly and can help you to arrange island hopping tours and onward transport. The breakfast is not free, but there’s a nice verandah where you can enjoy unlimited tea and coffee and the downstairs restaurant and bar (Happiness Beach Bar) is excellent. WIFI is reportedly fast.
Mad Monkey Hostel Nacpan Beach – The popular backpacker chain of hostels “Mad Monkey” have opened a new branch in El Nido with the typical shenanigans of happy hours, drinking games and sociable activities every day and night. Their hostels are great if you’re looking to meet fellow travellers and party. The location is pretty spectacular, with a bar and restaurant area that leads right onto to the beach, however it’s quite far away from the main town of El Nido (16km) down a dirt road.
Things to do in El Nido
Kayaking to the outlying islands – If you’re of the adventurous variety then all you’ll need is a waterproof bag, a tent and a kayak. There are many isolated beaches discover and a 3-4 day adventure will see some amazing sites. Try to pick your days, and don’t contemplate this in the rainy season! It just won’t have the same appeal.
Island hopping in a tour – As above but as part of a tour. There are many outfits offering overnight camping on one of the islands in the Bacuit archipelago.
Day trippers – day tripping will allow you to get back to the comfort of your hostel/resort for the evening but during the day you’ll be out swimming in lagoons and checking out the islands of the Bacuit archipelago. Whoop whoop!
Wine and dine – El Nido has a big range of restaurants and bars, live music and plenty of atmosphere for backpackers wanting to meet other travellers.
Climbing, trekking, waterfalls – there are many operations that will take you inland to explore the beautiful scenery. If you’ve had enough of exploring the oceanside there are plenty of options in the interior of the island, and after some jungle trekking, some amazing views looking out over the Bacuit bay.
Motorbike hire – hire your own dirt bike and explore the area at your own pace.
How to get to El Nido
- From Manila – From Manila Airport, you will need to take a flight to Puerto Princesa. (A flight with Air Asia costs around $25 US. Be sure to check the cheapest prices on Skyscanner.)
- From Puerto Princesa – Once you arrive in Puerto Princesa, you can catch a minivan to El Nido. (The van takes around 5-6 hours and costs about $10-$12 US). You can also get the local bus which will save you a few dollars but take much longer.
- From Coron – Boats go every second day(ish) between El Nido and Coron and take around 8 hours. They leave in the morning and arrive in the afternoon. At the time of writing the cost was 1200 Pesos.
Where to next
- Coron – it’s just one days boat ride away and will complete your trip to Palawan. Wreck diving and more island hopping awaits.
- Port Barton – an idyllic spot located a half hour from the highway along an incredible jungle road. The extra travel time is worth it – this is an extremely laid back, relaxed and beautiful spot.
- Puerto Princesa – even though Puerto is small by city standards after a few days in the remote Palawan you might be happy for a bit of hustle and bustle. Banwa guest house is perhaps the best spot for backpackers to chill out in Puerto! Reggae bars, and shopping for cool local artifacts will make your stay complete.