El Nido is home to fantastic boat tours, and beautiful beaches. It’s a great place to base yourself for exploring the stunning Bacuit Archipelago, made up of 45 islands, it consists of stunning limestone karst formations, crystal clear blue waters, and hidden lagoons. It’s considered one of the most beautiful areas in the world, so definitely one for the bucket list! The town of El Nido doesn’t exactly have a fantastic beach, but it does have several tasty eateries and bars. For beautiful beaches and even more stunning sunsets, head on over to Nacpan Beach or Lio beach and you won’t be disappointed, as long as the weather is on your side that is!
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- Visa – British Nationals can enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days. However, as I stayed for 5 weeks I got a tourist visa from the Philippine Embassy which allowed me to stay for up to 59 days. For the most up to date information, consult the Philippine Immigration website here.
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – I felt relatively safe whilst I was in El Nido, exercise usual caution around looking after valuables and being safe alone or at night.
- Currency – Philippine peso (PHP)
- Language – Filipino is the national language which is the standardized variety of the Tagalog language, as well as English. I also spoke with several Filipinos especially in Cebu who spoke Cebuano. There are 4 indigenous languages (including Tagalog and Cebuano) with around 10 million or more native speakers and a further 8 languages with around 1 to 3 million native speakers. As a general rule though as a tourist – most people can speak English.
I decided to incorporate a tour to the underground river near Puerto Princesa into my trip to El Nido. The journey started around 8:00 AM, however, most of the day was taken up by visiting the Underground River, which finished at about 4:00 PM, by which time, we switched vans to one bound for El Nido and set off on our roadtrip. The driver incorporated several restroom stops along the way as well as stopping at a roadside restaurant with pretty views by around 6:00 PM. After a quick pit stop, we were back on the road and arrived in the El Nido terminal station at around 9:30 PM. I didn’t realise and thought that I would be dropped off at my hotel but apparently, vans are not allowed to go right into El Nido centre only tricycles, so I jumped in a tricycle and 10 minutes and 50 pesos later I was at my hotel.
The journey and the whole day was quite a long tiresome one, it’s not physically exerting but there is a lot of waiting around, and the road to El Nido is not the easiest, full of twist and turns and uneven road surfaces, I felt a little battered and had quite a headache once I arrived. So when you’re making this trip try to be prepared, wear something comfy and cosy, have plenty of water and snacks, and maybe some music to zone out to. A couple of times I nodded off but was abruptly woken up with a bump in the road, or a swerve to miss a dog or another road user. So don’t necessarily expect to be able to nap, because I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere but even this was a challenge for me!
After scouring booking.com for the best deals I decided to stay at Amakan Bed Bunk and Breakfast. The location was great and it was only a short walk to El Nido Beach and a handful of great restaurants. There were also plenty of tricycles in the area, so it was easy arranging to travel to further afield places like Nacpan and Lio Beach.
As I mentioned earlier its a since to get around El Nido by simply walking around town (it’s very small) or hopping in a Tricycle when you need to travel further afield. Try to find out from your accommodation or other travellers how much you should expect to pay for particular journeys so you get the best value for money.
I had a lazy morning catching up on life admin at a fantastic vegan cafe, ‘Taste El Nido’ enjoying their air conditioning, wifi and escaping from the sun a little so my poor sunburnt pink skin can heal (always remember to top up your sunscreen guys). In the afternoon I fancied some pampering as after two months of non-stop travel, tonnes of walking, and carrying my rather heavy backpack I needed some TLC, and couldn’t have found a better place to offer it than ‘Sutra’, located in the middle of El Nido Town.
I had a foot spa and clean, which involved lots of sanding down of hard-soled feet and tidying of toes, as well as a sumptuous massage to top it off. My feet were as soft as a baby’s bum! Then to soothe those achy muscles and give my skin a drink of moisture, to make up for all the sun exposure – a full-body Swedish massage. All in it came to around 1500 PHP which was totally and utterly worth it! You’ll see lots of massage places and nails salons in El Nido, but I can highly recommend Sutra, the interiors are well decorated, clean and comfy, the staff are so friendly and helpful, and there’s powerful air conditioning and free tea/coffee/juice. Definitely worth stopping by!
There are a range of boat tours on offer in El Nido, all handily coded Tour A, B, C and D, with the most popular being tours A and C. So my first choice was Tour C, which kicked off at around 9:00 AM. We travelled for around 45 minutes and then arrived at a secret beach, it was allegedly the original inspiration for the film ‘The Beach’ featuring my all-time favourite actor ever Leonardo Dicaprio. The film was, however, actually filmed in Thailand as apparently, the Filipino authorities wouldn’t allow the rock formations to be damaged to install camera equipment. You have to swim through a tiny opening to reach the secret beach which can get a bit tricky with the waves crashing against the rocks, but luckily one of the boatmen was there to pull and push us through. Back on the boat we sailed for a further 30 minutes and reached another site, which was home to a shrine. You could visit the inside, however I stayed in the ocean and did some snorkelling instead.
After some time snorkelling and enjoying the area, the boatmen prepared us a tasty lunch of rice, vegetables and lots of seafood and meat for the carnivores. The vegetables were delicious though so I was quite happy. Check out this beautiful fruit platter they also prepared for us all.
One we finished enjoying our delicious lunch we set sail for more snorkelling opportunities in the area as well as visiting some more hidden beaches, enjoying the sunshine and freshwaters. After a while, we headed to Helicopter island. I sat down with another tour member and enjoyed fresh coconut on the sand, he told me all about how he enjoys cycling and how he astonishingly cycled from Puerto Princesa to El Nido! So Yeah if the whole sitting in a comfortable but bumpy van doesn’t appeal – apparently it is possible to cycle to El Nido! After what seemed like only a few minutes though the weather turned and the heavens opened – see those dark brooding clouds in the background?
Some of the boats hop footed it straight away but we stayed to wait for it to clear, in the meantime we enjoyed the warm sea with the cold rain on our faces – once we had to get out of the warm sea heated by the Filipino sun it was the first time I ever felt cold in the Philippines! It was still pouring with rain, and with the wind, there was no escaping it on the boat, we were all soaked! By around 4:00 PM we arrived back in El Nido.
As I mentioned earlier the beach in El Nido isn’t great, luckily though, just 45 minutes away by tricycle is the stunning Nacpan Beach. The journey was pretty smooth sailing on concrete roads to begin with (well not always smooth but Philippine smooth), then however we got to the dirt track leading to Nacpan Beach, now that was a bumpy ride!! A short while later, we arrived just near the entrance where I had to sign a tourism register and also pay 50 PHP environmental fee for entry to Nacpan Beach.
Here came the real challenge a dirt path that was completely saturated with water and was now a swamp floor, we waited for vans and other tricycles to pass so we could quickly speed along without stopping and avoiding getting stuck. Whilst we waited, there was a tricycle heading towards us, and the front wheel looked as though it was almost buckling with the weight of the passengers and unable to grip, it almost toppled over completely at one point. It didn’t though, everyone made it out unscathed, and then it was our turn to cruise along the swamp path, we made it out the other side free of mud and ready to hit the beach!
I decided to go to Sunmai a well known and recommended restaurant right on the seafront, it has a great atmosphere, with chilled music and followed later in the afternoon with an acoustic band. I enjoyed a vegetable pasta lunch there and several San Miguel Apples, which went down a treat.
I also rented a sun lounger and umbrella just on the beach and knuckled down for an afternoon of complete relaxation. The beach was beautiful and wasn’t too busy either. The sea was amazing too, beautifully clear and warm! I alternated between the sea and the sun lounger all day (interrupted by a short rain shower – see those familiar brooding clouds again?) before moving on around 5:00 PM to catch the sunset at Lio Beach just 30 minutes away.
Lio Beach Sunset
The sunset was just as beautiful as everyone had described to me. We arrived around 5:30 PM, still an hour to go for sunset so I had a wander along the beachfront. There are tonnes of restaurants right on the beach, ranging from Chinese, traditional Filipino, cafes, pizzerias and seafood restaurants. There is a Shaka there too – my favourite vegan restaurant in the Philippines, but it was closed, my driver said he thought maybe it was being refurbished. So I settled on the Vegana Pizza at ‘Pizza & Amore’, which was delicious! Then I headed to the beachfront to watch the sun go down. A perfect ending to a very chilled day. 15 minutes later by tricycle, I’m back in El Nido at my Hotel.
Picked up on time as usual around 8:30 AM, and walked along to the harbour. There was a lot of waiting around as with Tour C, but we were sat on the boat at around 9:15 AM eagerly waiting to go, unfortunately, we were still eagerly waiting around 45 minutes later due to delays with the coast guard but by 10:00 AM we set sail!
Seven Commando Beach
Our first stop was 7 Commando Beach. We would have 40 minutes here on this beautiful stretch of idyllic sand, sprinkled with just a few huts selling cold drinks, and fresh coconuts, we could snorkel or just soak up the sun, that’s if there was any! Unfortunately, the bad luck of weather which caught us at the end of Tour C joined us for the beginning of Tour A. Just after getting off the boat and scoping out 7 Commando Beach, the heavens opened! I dived straight into the warm sea and bobbed around enjoying the warm waters not wanting to get out to brave the wind and the rain. Luckily once we had finished enjoying 7 commando and was back on the boat the weather started to clear and became mild again.
The waves were quite strong when we hopped off the boat and started to swim to the lagoons and we had to squeeze threw a narrow break in the rocks – hence the ‘secret-ness’ – but this is just between us. On a couple of occasions, the waves came piling in and pushed whoever was trying to get through backwards so it was a waiting game and a quick dash to get through! With boats turning up all the time this part of the visit was probably the most time-consuming. Once inside though the beautiful secret lagoon is beautiful, peaceful and also a perfect photo opp! Several of my fellow shipmates posed for some photos in this awesome space.
Also known as Simizu Island, was our spot for lunch, just a small stretch of sand where several boats had moored to prepare and serve lunch. The reason this island is called Shimizu island is because it is named after a Japanese diver called Shimizu, who enjoyed diving in the area but sadly lost his life here.
Out next stop was just a few minutes away from Shimizu Island and close to another Island (which I can’t remember the name of but was private property with ample ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs). Either way, it was our spot for some snorkelling! The coral and marine life were spectacular here, I lost count of the different species and types of fish I encountered, we spent a good 30 minutes here soaking up all of the marine life and nature around us.
We arrived at Big Lagoon after a short sail along the ocean, and were greeted by lots of boats and also Kayaks! I hadn’t realised but you can’t actually swim into the big lagoon, it can only be accessed via kayak. Either 250PHP for a two-person kayak or 300PHP for a three-person. Luckily another solo traveller and I decided to pair up and put our kayaking skills to the test. He had never kayaked before so I was in front so he could see how it’s done – me having kayaked only a handful of times myself. But it’s really quite straight forward, anyone can do it!
After a few minutes of kayaking, we reached the entrance to the big lagoon which is just out of this world the rock formations are beautiful and the waters vivid blue. Suddenly I spotted three Taiwanese girls from our boat cruising along – they had nabbed the tour guide and roped him into kayaking for them! (I wish I had thought of that) but my arms were grateful for the exercise to counteract all the delicious vegan food I had been enjoying in El Nido!
Situated just a short walk away from my hotel was the entrance to the canopy walk, in El Nido. It’s a little hidden away, you’ll need to walk down an alleyway and then across a baseball court to find the bamboo shack behind it. The climb to the top of the canopy only takes around 15 minutes and isn’t too difficult. Before setting out I signed a waiver and also got some protective gear on including a harness and hard hat. I’d also have my own dedicated guide to come along with me.
It had rained quite heavily just before I started the climb so it was very slippery and muddy, and even more tricky to navigate in flip flops! Although my guide was completely undeterred and easily scaled the slimy rocks in his flip flops. There’s a bridge you’ll need to cross around halfway where you will be hooked up to with your harness, it’s quite high up so those with a fear of heights might find it a challenge! Once you get to the top though you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views over El Nido, with the amazing karst rocks, and dozens of boat in the harbour.
Corong Corong Beach
Only a few kilometres away from El Nido Town, is Corong Corong Beach, just a small stretch of sand when I visited although apparently, it was high tide. There aren’t really many bars or restaurants right on the beach so I didn’t stay very long, and instead visited Las Cabanas Beach. I did return to Corong Corong though for dinner and had a delicious falafel hummus dinner at Sasson’s Shawarma.
Las Cabanas Beach
Another few Kilometres further south is Las Cabanas Beach, we stopped along the way at different viewpoints to take some photographs. And then after a short while arrived first at Las Cabanas Beach. My tricycle driver said that I should walk through a small development of bars, restaurants and shops, which were still being finished but looked like it would be a great place to hang out when fully open, and then I would get to the beach. On the way to the beach, and beautiful viewpoint, I was enticed by 2 for 1 cocktails at Maremegmeg Beach Club and enjoyed a couple of pina coladas made with fresh coconut and pineapple, they were delicious!
I then planned to walk along to the beach but the heavens opened (yet again) and there was a torrential downpour! It lasted around 45 minutes so I obviously had to take advantage of the 2 for 1 cocktails again! So unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the beautiful sunset of Las Cabanas but apparently it’s beautiful!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip to El Nido, and how to spend 5 days there. It was just the right amount of time for me to enjoy the various islands and beaches, as well as sample some of the delicious food at a handful of vegan restaurants there too. Have you visited El Nido? What did you think of it? If you have any questions or queries I’d love to hear from you, get in touch using the comments section below.
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