The Awesome El Nido Trip - Island Hopping & Beach Camping
The part of our visit to the Philippines that we were most looking forward to was our El Nido trip. Nearly everyone we had spoken to who had previously toured the nation of over 7000 islands, would bang on and on about El Nido. Our expectations were high!
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After a bit of research, we realised that the beauty of El Nido is not in the town itself but out in the surrounding waters. So to explore the stunning limestone rocks, soft sandy beaches, lagoons, caves and marine life, a number of boat tours should be taken. We had three days in the area so opted to take two of the four day-tours available.
However, we wanted our El Nido trip to not just be another lemming El Nido island hopping tour with all the other tourists in town. Sure, the El Nido island hopping tours are great, but there must be something else we can add to make it extra special. Thankfully, we found the idea of El Nido camping through El Nido Paradise.
Getting To Your El Nido Trip
El Nido is in Palawan, a collection of islands situated in the mid-west of the country. Palawan is the largest province in the Philippines and you’ll find El Nido town at the Northern end of the main island. There are a number of ways to get there depending on where you are coming from.
Getting From Manila To El Nido
The quickest and most direct way to get to El Nido from Manila is to fly on Air Swift’s tiny 50 seater plane. You’ll land at Lio Airport, where it’s then just a 20-minute trike ride to El Nido town. You can reserve your flights through El Nido Art Cafe, who by the way serve awesome food, using this email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting From Coron to El Nido
This is the journey we took and we recommend adding Coron to your itinerary if you’re already making your way to El Nido. Check out this post for travel details from Coron to El Nido and the best Coron itinerary.
Getting From Peurto Princesa to El Nido
The most common and cost effective way to travel between Puerto Princesa and El Nido is by tourist van or public bus. You can buy a tourist van ticket for around 700 pesos from any tour company. The journey will take approximately 6 hours. There are also two public bus companies (Cherry and Roro), who do the same journey for a little fewer pesos.
Alternatively, we recommend breaking up the journey with a stay at San Vicente or Port Barton. For now, both are areas with very little tourist numbers for that remote Palawan experience.
El Nido Island Hopping Tours A B C & D
Once in El Nido, you’ll quickly realise that there are four El Nido island hopping tours available. These are simply named A B C and D. At the time we visited, winds were fairly high, so tour C was not available due to large waves deemed unsafe. Tour C takes boats furthest out into open waters, so is the most likely tour to cancel at short notice. That’s something to consider when choosing your tours if you have limited days for your El Nido trip.
This was a shame, as tour C is supposed to be the most impressive out of the four options. But with the assistance of El Nido Paradise, we instead opted for tours A and B with El Nido camping on the beach for the night in between. The cost for this 2-day & 1-night package is 3500 pesos per person and includes all meals, drinks, snorkelling equipment and camping gear.
El Nido Trip – Day 1 – Tour A
The first day of our much anticipated El Nido trip was spent on Tour A. Tour A took us to some of the best lagoons, open to tourists, in El Nido.
The first stop on Tour A is Small Lagoon. To be honest, this was not the best introduction to El Nido, because when we arrived, the area was already full with dozens of other tourist boats. This is in complete contrast to less visited Coron and we were obviously beginning to compare the two.
The boat couldn’t get close to the opening of the lagoon so we had the option to swim or hire a twin kayak. Our guide suggested we hire a kayak due to the long distance, so for an extra 300 pesos, we took his advice. After a 15 minute struggle to kayak between the traffic of boats and other kayakers, we made it into the lagoon.
It’s a beautiful lagoon with turquoise waters and high limestone walls. We were one of the last boats to arrive so after 20 or so minutes, the lagoon began to empty of other kayakers, leaving a more peaceful experience for the remaining few minutes.
Big Lagoon was our favourite stop on Tour A and the whole El Nido Trip. We were impressed by the long and wide corridor with waters at only knee to waist height. On both sides of the corridor are the famous limestone cliff walls and once at the end you’re able to swim in the deep waters of Big Lagoon.
Again, we were one of the last to arrive so almost had the lagoon to ourselves as we returned to our boat through the epic limestone passage. Our guide decided to serve our grilled fish lunch aboard the boat at Big Lagoon instead of the usual next stop of 7th Comando Beach. He’d heard the beach was already busy so would be a nicer experience to stay at Big Lagoon. Crowds of tourists were starting to become a running theme while El Nido island hopping!
After lunch, our El Nido trip took us to Secret Lagoon. A tiny lagoon with access through only a small hole in the limestone walls. The line of tourists waiting to enter made us begin to feel like we were at a theme park. But once inside, we enjoyed the serene, almost cave-like lagoon. Thankfully, guides were limiting the number of people within.
Shimizu Island is a great snorkelling area because of the fantastic surrounding coral. We spent 45 minutes floating on the surface as we watched marine life go about their lives beneath us. We regretted not owning an underwater Go Pro at this point!
El Nido Camping on Papaya Beach
The last stop on our day 1 El Nido trip was to Papaya Beach which would be our home for our overnight El Nido camping. When we first arrived, we were again disappointed by the number of other tourists, but as the sun began to set, the crowds thankfully set off back to El Nido town. Left behind were just Shelley and me, two girls from our tour group and one other couple on their own private El Nido camping trip. The six of us would have Papaya Beach to ourselves!
As we enjoyed the sunset, quiet beach walks and hammock swinging, our guide set up camp at our chosen beach location. Papaya Beach is a lovely beach, the best we’d seen so far in both Coron and El Nido. The sand was extremely soft and each end is bookended by limestone cliffs. It was the perfect setting for El Nido camping.
A Windy El Nido Camping Night
We enjoyed grilled fish, chicken and vegetables as we swapped travel stories. After dinner, we drank local beers and rum while getting to know our friendly guide, Jay. Later in the evening, our conversation was interrupted by sudden high winds blowing from the sea. On two occasions, our tents would try to take off down the beach and our guide’s best efforts to keep the oil candles alight were left in vain as the winds kept coming.
Before settling into our tents for the night, the winds disappeared to allow us to fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. But it wasn’t long before the strong winds returned. Our El Nido camping experience would be a sleepless one, as the winds continued to bash our tent from side to side for the entire night. But we didn’t care. We were in the wonderful Philippines and still enjoying El Nido camping. Camping is not something we endure regularly so we were happy to be there despite the sleep deprivation.
Once the sun had risen enough to provide some light, we gave up trying to sleep and begun to pack up the tent so it wouldn’t get blown away without our weight inside. We struggled to eat our breakfast of eggs, bread and fruit while trying to protect it from the wind and sand. The rest of the morning was spent relaxing on Papaya Beach before our tour B pick up.
El Nido Trip – Day 2 – Tour B
Our day two El Nido trip would be spent on tour B. Tour B explores islands and caves so it’s a different experience from our previous lagoon heavy day.
Due to the fairly long distance to reach Entalula Island from Papaya Beach, our guide served us an early lunch on one of its beautiful beaches. Entalula Island is a palm tree populated paradise with soft white sand, grassy picnic areas and more limestone backdrops. Entalula Island is not the usual lunch stop, so we had the beach to ourselves as we scoffed more grilled fish. There’s also some coral just off the shore for more optional snorkelling.
Next stop was Cudugnon Cave, where we joined another long line to enter its cramped hole in the wall. We didn’t find the cave too impressive, and unlike Secret Lagoon, they allow too many selfie-taking tourists inside.
Cathedral Cave would be our next destination. Our boat approached the tall opening on the side of a huge limestone rock but could not fit inside. It was a shame Kayaks were not on offer here as only floating at its entrance was not satisfying enough for us. However, we were the only boat there which was a nice change!
The highlight of Tour B is definitely Snake Island. At low tide, this long sandbar is totally exposed and can be walked in its entirety. At the time of our visit, the water was almost waist deep but still a unique and pretty sight. The blue crystal clear waters can be enjoyed on a floating bamboo bar and up the easy to hike viewpoint.
We were all relishing Snake Island so much that we decided to give the planned last stop of Pinagbuyutan Island a miss. Our previous sleepless night might have also had something to do with that decision. Even our guide looked exhausted.
Check out all our Philippine adventures here! – Finding Beyond in the Philipines
Was Our Awesome El Nido Trip All That Awesome?
There’s no doubting El Nido’s natural beauty. It’s a stunning place to visit for those who enjoy beaches, lagoons, caves, snorkelling and diving. There’s a theory that the area used to be part of Vietnam’s famous Halong Bay, so that says a lot. But we, unfortunately, feel we visited the area too late. The number of tourist boats at many of the locations is too high and at times this spoilt our El Nido trip.
We’re glad we tagged on some El Nido camping. If you plan to book your own El Nido island hopping tour, we recommend booking El Nido Paradise’s beach camping package as we did. El Nido camping will add another extraordinary element to your tour and will take you away from the ever growing crowds.
Our El Nido trip was awesome, despite the large numbers of tourists, so we can’t suggest you give it a miss. We just hope they don’t allow any more boats onto the tours at the same time. Consider what we have written to help make your decision, use a good tour company like El Nido Paradise and remember, it’s popular for good reason.