Palawan is the crown jewel of the Philippines and El Nido is arguably the most impressive spot in Palawan. With it’s dramatic, enormous limestone cliffs, unbelievable lagoons, and pristine beaches it truly is paradise on earth. What makes El Nido even more appealing is that it can be done on a very tight budget for a backpacker or you can enjoy luxury hotels. Either way, the island-hopping tours, the key feature of an El Nido experience, are $15-$20 per day no matter what your budget is. The town itself of El Nido has a simple charm with reggae bars, beach restaurants, and a low-key atmosphere.
I’ve been to El Nido twice and on both my visits stayed for at least ten days, which was a great amount of time to explore on land and on the sea! I’ve done all of the island-hopping tours except tour D (although I’ve kayaked most of Tour D) and visited many of the beaches and hikes on land. In this blog post, I’ll share with you many of the awesome things to do in El Nido. There are several great beaches, an insane hike and of course the four incredible island0-hopping tours.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN EL NIDO – MY PERSONAL PLANNING TIPS
1. Make sure you do at least two island hopping tours and one of them needs to be Tour B or Tour D. A and C are great but can be popular and crowded. Tour B and D are both awesome, just different and not as grand scale in the attractions the offer. I highly suggest these as you have a more relaxed day but of course, do either A or C for that epic El Nido adventure. If you have time do three or four.
2. Make sure you do one or two day-trips inland. There are lots of surf beaches and things to explore and with a $5 bike rental, you will have a great expedition.
3. If you are in okay shape, DEFINITELY hike Taraw Peak. One of my favorite (short) hikes in Asia. Epic. Epic. EPIC.
4. One day hire a kayak from El Nido Town and explore Cadlao Island at your own pace without the craziness of the island-hopping crowds. Chill out on the islands and take it easy.
So with those tips covered, I’ll know head into all of the best things to do in El Nido. I’ll start first with the island hopping because it is phenomenal but after the island hopping you will find the beaches, hikes and other things to do in El Nido as well as my suggestions on where to stay.
20 BEST THINGS TO DO IN EL NIDO
ISLAND HOPPING IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
I was lucky enough to experience Tour A, Tour B and Tour C, but have not yet made it on Tour D. However, even the day I paddled out on a kayak was amazing so don’t stress about which ‘letter tour’ will be the best. It’s El Nido, you are going to be visiting lagoons and beaches that will blow your mind no matter what tour you are on.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING A TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Three Lagoons at Miniloc Island, Shimizu Island, Snorkel with turtles at Seven Commando Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING B TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING C TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING D TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Cadlao Island, Pasandingan Beach, Small Lagoon, Natnat Beach, BBQ Lunch
Below I will show you what each tour looks like and describe the locations you will visit so that you can decide which tour you are keen for.
Tour A: Most popular and includes big and small Lagoon. Key attractions but can get crowded. Awesome day! View my full blog post about Tour A: Click Here
Tour B: A more relaxed day with off-beat island locations, hardly any crowds, epic landscapes. View my full blog post about Tour B: Click Here
Tour C: Second most popular, great snorkeling and the secret lagoons and beaches are amazing. View my full blog post about Tour C: Click Here
Tour D: Shorter tour much closer to El Nido, underrated and less crowded.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour A
SEVEN COMMANDO BEACH
Coconut trees lined Seven Commando beach and we, of course, sipped on a few after a quick snorkel. Our boat docked here for a 45-minute chill/exploration session. Many people snorkeled but we just hung out on the beach and had a swim. The rocks in El Nido are incredibly sharp, Seven Commando Beach was no exception. Wear shoes if you are planning on exploring in caves and on rocks like us.
On my second visit to Seven Commando Beach, I also did a beach clean-up. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent.
View full blog post: SEVEN COMMANDOS BEACH IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
BIG LAGOON EL NIDO
Cruising up the lagoon was our first real look at how dramatic the cliffs and landscape was in El Nido. The lagoon has a narrow and the boats manage to navigate alongside each other as everyone on board arches their necks checking out the intense cliffs. The boat glides across the glassy water, almost crystal as the narrow entrance finally opens up into a giant lagoon. The boat did a slow circle in the lagoon letting us take in the sights before heading back out the narrow stretch.
View full blog post: THE BIG LAGOON IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
LUNCH AT SHIMIZU ISLAND EL NIDO
Our guides had been cooking on the grill all morning as we cruised around from island to island. It was time to see what they had produced. It was an absolute feast. I’ll be honest I’ve been on some tours where you get a cruddy sandwich and a bag of chips. This blew it out of the water. Grilled pork and chicken, fresh grilled fish and fruits and of course an abundance of rice. There was plenty for everyone as we sat around on the logs watching monitor lizards amongst the trees. A bit of exploration post-lunch never hurts and we found a very shallow spot for a couple of jumps.
SECRET LAGOON EL NIDO
This spot was amazing but probably my least favorite as there were more than fifty tourists crammed into a tiny lagoon at once. We had to swim to a small hole and clamber through. One through sun shone down into a tennis court-sized lagoon, totally enclosed by sharp cliffs. It was a great spot but a little bit of an anti-climax. However, the beach around the corner once back out of the lagoon was really cool. The landscape here was by far my favorite spot of the day and I camped on my favorite spot at the front of the tour boat as we left snapping a few shots to capture the entire scene. I have never seen anything like it before in my life.
The second time I visited Secret Lagoon in El Nido on Tour A, I was armed with a drone. It gave me a whole new perspective on the lagoon and the scale of the beach. I’ve added those photos below.
View full blog post: THE SECRET LAGOON IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
SMALL LAGOON EL NIDO
Our last stop of the day would be the small lagoon. By now I had become a bit desensitized to the majestic beauty all around me. But the small lagoon hit another chord. We were offered kayaks as we arrived but also given the option to swim. Being the cheap guys Jorden and I were of course we swam. It wasn’t too far just a few hundred yards both ways. Swimming through this lagoon was beautiful, calming and a great way to end the day. We went as far in as we could and just spend a while floating on our backs taking in everything around us.
The second time I visited Small Lagoon was actually with the Red Bull Cliff Diving team, which was a whole new experience. They had set up ladders to a platform and were jumping from 21m and 27m for their competition. I’ve put the video below about this epic experience.
View full blog post: THE SMALL LAGOON IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
El NIDO ISLAND HOPPING TOUR B
Pinagbuyutan Island is probably my favorite island in El Nido. It has huge towering cliffs that shoot straight down dramatically over the small stretches of the beach below. There’s nothing more than a shack and coconut trees on this desolate island. When we rolled in there was just one local selling coconuts and no other tourists. It stayed that way for most of our visit.
We walked around the edges of the island in between the tall grass and scattered palms. This is how island hopping is supposed to be. Quiet, relaxing and away from the crowds. Luckily for us, we were in no rush and actually spent several hours at Pinagbuyutan Island.
There are also some great snorkeling spots just off the shore with beautiful reefs waiting to be discovered below the surface.
View full blog post: PINAGBUYUTAN ISLAND IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
ENTALULUA BEACH OR PAPAYA BEACH
One of the stops on Tour B in El Nido will be Entalula or Papaya Beach. Both are awesome and we hung out at Papaya Beach. It is quite similar to Seven Commando Beach, which you will find on Tour A. Beautiful clear water, a nice sandy beach with a backdrop of coconut trees.
This is a great stop to relax and chill on the beach with your friends. There aren’t too many activities here other than just hanging out and maybe sipping on a coconut from the local stand.
We did a beach clean-up at this stop and collected several large bags of trash. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent. I have posted the video of the cleanup below.
Snake Island is an epic spot, one I didn’t even know about until we arrived. So often in El Nido, all of the focus is on lagoons and secret beaches that anything else is almost pushed to the side. Anywhere else in the world and Snake Island would be the number one attraction.
This beautiful island arcs out into a sandbar that connects to the mainland at low tide. This area reminded me of a mini French Polynesia with the steep, green hills as a backdrop to the cerulean blue water.
I really enjoyed this spot and flying the drone here was so much fun with something to look at in all directions. Snake Island was a great surprise and not a spot I had seen before so it was great to be exploring something a little different in El Nido on Tour B.
View full blog post: SNAKE ISLAND (SANDBAR) IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
On Tour B there are two caving opportunities. The first cave is Cudugnon Cave, which was actually super cool. The boat parks on the beach and then you crawl through a little hole into a hidden area inside the cliffs. Here there are amazing rock formations and you can actually keep climbing up pretty high. It was remarkable that this cave exists hidden inside the cliff walls, out of view from passing boats.
The second cave was pretty wild. Cathedral Cave was incredible and one of my favorite caves I’ve visited in the Philippines. You jump off the boat and either swim or kayak in. We swam inside despite our guide saying there were snakes. I’m still not sure if he was serious or not!
Inside huge stalagmites and stalactites hang from the roof and grow from the floor. It is mindblowing to look around at the rock formations inside this sea cave. Under the surface, the water has a luminescent glow so definitely bring your snorkel to enjoy this cave. We explored it all the way to the back where things get quite creepy and gross but it is here that you can see the luminescent glow of the blue water on the walls. Make sure you go all the way to the back of the cave to look back towards the entrance to check that out.
View full blog post: THE CATHEDRAL CAVE ON PINASIL ISLAND IN EL NIDO PALAWAN
EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING TOUR C
The first island on the itinerary of Tour C in El Nido is the famous Helicopter Island. It isn’t hard to figure out how this island earned its name with a distinctive helicopter shape, visible from a side profile. It is incredibly busy… always but you can still have a great time here. You can hang out here on the beach or go for a bit of a walk but the best way to explore Helicopter Island is with your snorkel and mask.
When your boat docks walk down towards the left (while facing the island) and then snorkel around the corner. Here you will get away from the crowds and be able to explore some beautiful coral. There are also some unique shelves and rock formations under the cliffs if you go far enough. I embedded a video from my underwater exploration at Helicopter Island below.
MATINLOC SHRINE (OR NEARBY BEACHES)
Matinloc Shrine is a bit of a weird stop on an island hopping tour and it is probably the least impressive thing to do on Tour C. It is essentially an abandoned shrine. Your captain will likely ask if you do indeed want to visit or just go snorkeling/visit another beach. I believe it costs extra to visit as well. All you do is get off and go look inside the abandoned building. Bit of a waste of time when there are beautiful beaches, reefs, and turtles nearby!
We chose to visit a nearby beach instead (no extra fee) and went snorkeling and exploring. The beauty of the area near Matinloc Shrine is that there are lots of different beaches, coves, and snorkel spots so your captain should be able to pick a spot that isn’t crazy crowded!
Our captain took us to an amazing snorkel spot and beach but we just hung out on the boat and ate there. We snorkeled after but there was no need to get out and unpack the food we just ate it straight on the boat. I can’t remember the name of this spot for the life of me but most of the tours will choose lunch at one of a few spots.
Hidden Beach is a cool little cove hiding behind the karst limestone cliffs. Your boat will drop you at the entrance and you swim/wade through the water until you make your way into the cove after about 200m. It is usually very crowded in here although it is incredibly beautiful. If this cove was empty it would be one of my favorite places in El Nido but both times it has been full of life jackets and hundreds of people so it is often a bit more manic than magic. Nonetheless, I’ve always enjoyed sitting on the sand here and admiring the jagged cliffs and the beautiful scenery.
On my second visit to Hidden Beach, we did a cleanup and carried out 1.5 bags of trash and even swam out with it. It’s great to leave places better than when you found them and added a challenge to our Hidden Beach experience.
SNORKEL SPOT (TURTLES!)
Our final stop of the day was right next to Matinloc Shrine again where our captain told us there was a great reef. He wasn’t wrong and our guides even spotted a couple of turtles for us to swim with. There was a huge drop-off and it was an epic spot for free-diving and getting a closer look at the coral below. There were some really cool table corals and lots of fish in this area. We were the only tourists enjoying this spot, which is what I liked about Tour C in El Nido. It seemed a bit more flexible than Tour A, which was all about the lagoons. Tour C was a bit easier to change depending on what you were interested in.
HIKE TARAW PEAK IN EL NIDO TOWN
Expect extreme humidity. That’s what to expect! Holy hell this was the most humid climb of my life. But seriously, expect a short, steep intense climb and then to enjoy an epic, epic view for sunrise on jagged rocks. If you like adventure and miss this one in El Nido, you messed up!
The trail winds through the small neighborhood before throwing you into the jungle. From the first minute, you are clambering more than following a trail or ‘climbing’. The jagged rocks mean that you are constantly concentrating so you don’t misplace a step as they are unforgiving.
There are sections that are relatively vertical but nothing too extreme. There were lots of amateur hikers and climbers both male, female, young and old on the trail so don’t be scared of this hike because of the sharp rocks.
There were a few sections that were a bit sketchy but there is always something to hold on to. I’d say the level of difficulty for this hike is moderate to above average because of the rock clambering. I don’t want to discourage you from climbing Taraw Peak but some people may struggle or get frightened so I made sure to take these two photos in probably the two most sketchy spots.
Once we cleared the final little ascent the view opened up and what a view it is. You have a birds-eye view over El Nido town and the entire bay, where the island-hopping boats are all lined up for another day of touring. We could see all the way out to Cadlao Island and beyond.
View full blog post: TARAW PEAK – EPIC CLIFF CLIMB IN EL NIDO
VISIT NACPAN BEACH BY MOTORBIKE
A moped costs 350 Pesos or $7 USD. We split that between two people and you have your transport sorted for the day for a few dollars. Gasoline is usually only a couple of dollars. You will need to leave your passport with the rental person but that is fair, remember you have their bike!
Nacpan Beach is about 30 minutes away from El Nido town and one of the most pristine beaches in the area. The water clarity is perfect and coconut trees and chill cafes and bars line the beach. Down to the right is empty shoreline to hang out on and down to the left is a small hill to explore.
I remember hearing that there was great shrimp at Nacpan Beach and I can testify that it is true. My lunch was beautiful and I topped it off with a mango smoothie for good measure. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo, but let’s be honest you can’t taste a photo. Just trust me to get the shrimp.
CHECK OUT VERDE SAFARI BEACH
After Nacpan Beach our next stop was Duli Beach.. or so we thought. It was a 30-minute drive and after 40 minutes we thought we had finally arrived. The beach looked amazing but our map told us we had actually arrived at Verde Safari Beach. It was a blessing in disguise as this was an amazing stretch of shoreline that was entirely empty. A few fishing boats were resting on the shore in front of rows of coconut palms.
SURF OR HANGOUT AT DULI BEACH
With less than an hour before the sun would set we finally arrived at Duli Beach. A few small huts were scattered along the beach and only two local kids were trying to surf the whitewash. Jorden and I grabbed the GoPro and headed out deep into the thick of the action. The locals thought we were drowning and were preparing a rescue before I came back and told them we were fine. Jorden headed in and I spent the entire sunset floating around in the impact zone. The waves were big but not barreling clean. This was one of my favorite nights from our one month trip in the Philippines.
SUNSET AT LAS CABANAS BEACH
Almost every night I stayed in El Nido, I would run the 5kms from El Nido town up and over the hill to Las Cabanas beach for sunset. It became one of my favorite things to do in El Nido. It’s an incredible vibe down there with huge palms on the beach and the sun sets out over the horizon. There is even a zipline over the water. I never had my camera as I was always running but have a few basic photos from my phone. Trust me this is one of the best sunset spots in El Nido.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
There are lots of accommodation options in El Nido, whether you are looking for a budget-friendly hostel or a luxurious resort. This blog post breaks down its best regions to stay in depending on your intention of visit. For example, you may want to be in the heart of the action in El Nido town or you may be looking for the tranquility and luxury of Lio Beach. I’ve spent more than a month exploring El Nido and know the area quite well. I’ll do my best to show you what each region offers and then highlight the top accommodation picks in each spot so you can pick the best area to stay in El Nido for you.
The town proper of El Nido is the main hub of the region. You can find a great selection of shops and restaurants aside from the beautiful beaches, tour operators and laid-back nightlife. Below are my top picks in El Nido Town Proper for each different type of budget.
Happiness Hostel (Budget): Right in the center of the town, Happiness hostel, offers a cozy stay and chill vibes to all their guests. It is one of the recommended budget-friendly hostels in town. The dorms offer a semi-private accommodation with a closed personal bed with a sliding door that has a light and a fan inside. Let’s be honest we all appreciate that privacy of a screen in a dorm room. If you are a beer and food lover, Happiness beach bar serves sumptuous food and cheap beer.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Happiness Hostel.
Frendz Hostel El Nido (Good atmosphere): Nestled in the heart of El Nido, this newly-opened hostel offers free Wifi, rooftop swimming pool (at a hostel!), and bar which has an incredible sunset view, specialty coffee, and first-rate rooms. The restaurant is excellent and provides a wide variety of options. Frendz Hostel is a great place to meet new friends and create memories with them. All of the staff will really become your “frendz”.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Frendz Hostel
Spin Designer Hostel (Value): Let’s go for Spin! This rad hostel is located at the bustling town of El Nido. This property is highly recommended by many travelers as the service is superb. Spin Designer Hostel also provides a shared kitchen with a barbecue facility. It is value for money and very close to shops and beach. If you stay here you will make friends with like-minded strangers and be in the prime location for island hopping and hiking Taraw Peak.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Spin Designer Hostel
Vellago Resort (Luxury): Vellago Resort is a luxurious boutique hotel located just outside El Nido town proper specifically on Seven Commando Beach. Boasting white sand, turquoise water, and countless coconut trees. You can enjoy the best sunset on the beach bar or on your balcony. Guests can experience island hopping with a speed boat, snorkeling, kayaking, play beach volleyball, or sit back with a cold drink and take in your beautiful surroundings. One of the highlights of your stay here is that they set up a romantic dinner on the beach every day.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Vellago Resort.