Island Hopping in El Nido, Philippines

El Nido is a small town situated on the northern tip of the island of Palawan, in western Philippines. The town of El Nido itself really isn’t much to write home about but the ramshackle houses, bars, restaurants and accommodation in El Nido, are sprawled among some truly stunning scenery. The town sits between majestic limestone karst and forms the gateway to one of the world’s most beautiful sets of islands, the Bacuit Archipelago. While the beach at El Nido, Palawan, is far from spectacular, there are great restaurants, a chilled out bar scene and a good range of places to stay. This is why island hopping in El Nido is easy. It’s also easy to explore the myriad beaches, coves, bays and islands of the area.

Island Hopping in El Nido
Bacuit Bay

Getting to El Nido, Palawan

Given that the Philippines are a collection of literally thousands of islands, flights are one of the fastest, easiest and best ways to get around. Fortunately, internal flights in the Philippines are also extremely cheap. After staying in Manila it’s possible to fly directly to El Nido from Manila; but most people enter Palawan at the airport in its capital, Puerto Princesa. From there it takes between 5 and 7 hours, by bus or minivan, to get to El Nido. It’s also possible to arrive in El Nido by boat, from Coron, to the north east.

Island Hopping in El Nido
Arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport, Palawan

Island hopping in El Nido

I might as well cut to the chase. The main reason people visit El Nido is to go island hopping and explore the outlying islands that make up the Bacuit Archipelago. These limestone outcroppings, which rise from the crystal clear ocean like enormous Gothic cathedrals in tribute to Mother Nature, shelter hidden beaches, swathes of powdery, golden sand, secret lagoons, gardens of coral, dazzling tropical fish and lush patches of green. Tours can be booked all over town and are fairly standardised across the various travel agents, with a range of four day-trips named A-D. Reading up a little may give you an idea of which trip you prefer although I’m sure everyone has their favourite. I did a couple while I was there, A and C, and both were fantastic. It’s well worth doing more than one. The trips usually include snorkelling, perhaps some kayaking, a chance to relax for a while on a couple of the beaches and, from my experience, a pretty decent barbecue lunch. Travelling by boat through the mass of islands was a great experience and, although on a very popular tour with loads of other boats and people around me, it gave me a real feeling of adventure and a sense wonder at finding myself in such a place, crashing through the ocean waves.

Island Hopping in El Nido
The crystal clear waters around El Nido

When you’re not island hopping in El Nido

While island hopping in El Nido is by far the most popular activity there are other things to keep you occupied. You could opt for staying on the beach in town, which is alright if you want a relaxing day nearby the restaurants and bars of the town, although it’s nothing too inspiring. A better option is to pack some lunch and make the short ride, by tricycle taxi or motorbike, to the spectacular beach, Las Cabanas. You can easily spend a few days soaking up the sun and admiring the scenery here. This beach is a particularly breathtaking spot to watch the sun set over the mystical limestone mounds that pepper the horizon. Apart from island hopping in El Nido, its clear waters also make it a popular for diving, rock climbing is available and there are some great places to eat in the town.

Island Hopping in El Nido
Spectacular sunset at Las Cabanas Beach, El Nido

The practicalities

El Nido has plenty of accommodation but gets busy and places by the beachside fill up particularly quickly. To avoid traipsing round with heavy luggage, in the tropical heat, and ensure finding somewhere nice, it’s best to book accommodation in El Nido before you arrive. If you’d rather be a little further out of the town, the guesthouses and hotels along the road leading into El Nido, on Corong Corong beach, offer a more picturesque setting and you can even stay on the beautiful Las Cabanas beach.

Share your experiences of El Nido or other fantastic beaches in the Philippines below!

About James Gill

Born and raised in the UK, James got his first taste for travel on an inter rail trip, round Europe. Since completing his English Lit. degree, he has spent most of his time working and traveling in Asia. As well as the UK, James has lived in Thailand and southern China and is now trying his luck in Australia. He has backpacked throughout Southeast Asia and China and travelled in America, Australia and Europe. He is a keen reader and loves eating spicy food.

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