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’re 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, day trips 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.
El Nido also has a wide range of restaurants and bars, live music and plenty of atmospheric hostels for backpackers wanting to meet other travellers. Check out our recommendations for the best hostels in El Nido below…
Where to stay in El Nido?
Most travellers will choose to stay within El Nido Town Proper which although its small size, has easily enough dinner options for a week-long stay. Accommodation tends to get booked up in advance so it is good to have a look at what is available before you arrive. Many hostels and guesthouses are available on Booking.com but you can also book high end hotels if you prefer.
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 $10 US and double rooms from $31 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 $18 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. Dorm beds start at $12 US per night and there are even glamping tents which cost $35 US.
Mad Monkey 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 (16 km) down a dirt road.
Top 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 to discover and on a 3-4 day adventure will see some amazing sites. Be aware that is is not possible to kayak to all of the islands. Some require you to be accompanied by a licensed guide. Try to pick good weather days and don’t contemplate this in the rainy season! It just won’t have the same appeal.
El Nido Island Hopping Tours – A, B, C and D
Showcasing the best scenery that the Philippines has to offer, you definitely need to check out some of the outlying islands of El Nido! The advertised Island Hopping Tours have set itineraries and are helpfully distinguished by the reveal-all names of tours A,B,C,D. If you want to explore the islands of the Bacuit archipelago but have no idea which tour to pick, don’t worry as we’ve got you covered! Check out this article: Which El Nido Island Hopping Tour should I choose? It will help you to understand the difference between each tour so you know which one to pick.
Visit the Nagkalit-Kalit Falls
There are many attractions that will take you inland to explore the beautiful scenery. Jungle treks to areas such as the Nagkalit-Kalit waterfalls are popular and offer some incredible views. The falls themselves are around 10 metres and there are also beautiful pools to swim in.
Hike up Talaw Cliff
A climb up Talaw Cliff from El Nido Town will offer travellers some amazing views of the bay and outlying islands. The hike takes 45 minutes and it’s best to go early in the morning before it gets too hot. If you’re not sure of the route, you can hire a guide which will cost you around 500 PHP. Be sure to bring a pair of gloves so you can grip onto tree branches and rocks as there is not a proper trail. You will have to climb and hold on to the rocks (some are sharp). Leggings are also recommended to avoid getting scratches. Be sure to bring insect repellant too.
Hire your own dirt bike and explore the area at your own pace. Bella’s Rental comes highly recommended.
Snorkelling and Diving
You can do this independently or to see some of the best spots, book onto one of our recommended El Nido Island Hopping tours.
El Nido Full Moon Party
Much like Thailand, these parties are held every month. Go crazy with some of the strong alcohol buckets and dance in the glow of the fire artists all night long!
Zip-line between the islands
Try out a 750 m zip-line on Nacpan Beach. The experience costs around $22USD and is best done around sunset.
How to get to El Nido
Located 230 km from Puerto Princesa, there are three ways to reach this stunning location either by land air or sea.
- By Land: You can catch a bus from Puerto Princesa direct to El Nido. Taking around 6 hours and costing 600 pesos, this is by far the cheapest option however, it does take the majority of the day.
- By Sea: If you’re coming from Coron (Palawan), a boat leaves daily around 8 am from the port and costs 1,780 pesos per person. The journey takes around 8 hours and you will arrive in the afternoon.
- By Air : This is by far the easiest and fastest route to El Nido. The airport is located just a 20-minute tricycle ride away from the town centre. Direct flights are from either Manila or Coron. A flight from Manila with Air Asia costs around $25 US. Be sure to check the cheapest prices on Skyscanner. From there, you can grab a minivan from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. This takes around 5-6 hours and costs about $10-$12 US. There is also a local bus which will save you a few dollars but take much longer. You can book local transport on 12Go.asia.
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.