El Nido, Palawan – The ordinariness (and some might say the ugliness) of El Nido only heightens the contrast between the mundane and the sublime. Spanish for ‘the nest’, El Nido is the gateway to the fabulous Bacuit Archipelago. The town, sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs and Bacuit Bay, is cluttered with buildings that creep onto the beach and businesses that cater to tourists. Centre stage is the looming Cadlao Island just offshore.

Taking a room in town means being close to restaurants and beachside bars, but also closer to the everyday sights and sounds; otherwise, you can stay in one of the nearby communities, or splash some cash for accommodation in the archipelago itself. Something of a French invasion is occurring amongst accommodation, restaurant and other tourism related businesses.

Not to worry, DIY explorers have several options at their disposal within an hour of town. A 20-minute tricycle ride south, the best sunsets in the area are at Marimegmeg Beach, also known as Las Cabanas Beach, where you can kick your feet into the sand and order suitably fruity cocktails at cool-kid happy-hour hangout Beach Shack. Forty-five minutes north of town by motorbike, Nacpan Beach is a divine 3km slice of beige sand that’s perfect for swimming. Development is limited to a few rickety huts specialising in yummy seafood and shakes, and there is rustic accommodation here too. Another fine option is 7 Commandos Beach, which is on the mainland southwest of El Nido but is accessible only by boat. The standard El Nido island-hopping tours come here, but a better way to arrive is on your own by sea kayak from El Nido or Corong Corong Beach, 5km south of El Nido. Allow time to stop and snorkel on the way.

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Accommodations

Once you arrive, walk towards the street and then flag down a tricycle (P10 per person per way) towards town.

A few options about where to stay:

Check into OMP Hostel (P350 per person, including breakfast). In October 2015 I checked into El Taraw Inn for 400-500 php good for two people without breakfast. Both options were in El Nido town which can be a bit congested and noisy.

You can find rooms for P1000 – P1500 and might be able to squeeze in 4 people on two double beds.The Birdhouse, our glamping hotel (disclosure: this is a project of the author and his wife), is opening in the next few months and will have P2000 options for up to 4 people.

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Orange Pearl Resort offers beachfront rooms but the bargain with them is in their tents. During 100% occupancy they rent out tents for people willing to sleep under the stars in front of the crashing ocean. These two options are located at Marimegmeg Beach.

Tip: Go directly to hotel’s websites and Facebook pages and contact the hotels directly. Many agents and online booking services get a 10-25% commission.

Island-hopping Tours

The standard tour price is P1200-1400 plus 200 for the environmental fee (good for 10 days). Alternatively, negotiate your own private banca ({2500-3000 Tour A/D; P3000-4000 Tour B/C) good for 6-8 passengers.

That averages to about P315-500 per person assuming you get 8 passengers on your boat. Keep in mind this doesn’t include any food. In preparation for your tour, pitch in P100 each and buy some fresh fish from any of the local fisherman or from the public market located across the bus terminal.

These are the tour options:

  • Tour A: Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Simizu Island, Secret Lagoon and 7 Commandos Beach
  • Tour B: Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave
  • Tour C: Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach
  • Tour D: Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon and Paradise Beach
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El Nido on a budget

For a busy 3 days and two nights you can spend around P5000 per person with activities each day exploring the El Nido area:

Here’s a sample itinerary for 3D/2N:

  • Airfare: on a Cebu Pacific or Air Asia promo= P1500
  • Bus round trip: {280 x 2 ways = P560
  • Island Hopping Tour: P500
  • Land Tour: P1000/4 people= P250
  • Kayak: P600 full day/2 people= P300
  • Food: P100 meal x 3 days x 3 meals= P900
  • Lodging: 2 nights x P500 = P1000

Total: P5010

from ecodistra.com

El Nido, once a sleepy town, has waken up to a huge boom in tourism. In the recent past El Nido was synonymous to a playground for the wealthy to vacation on private island resorts.

Things are changing and the backpacking scene is growing in the noisy, cramped town. These alternatives to the luxury hideaways are creating a huge market for the frugal to come in and island hop past the private islands and onto gorgeous beaches. However, with the increase of accolades El Nido and Palawan in general are receiving the best time to go is now. The prices increases are steadily happening and with the rush in development the charm may wear off.

sources: lonelyplanet, rappler