3 Day El Nido Itinerary [2019 Guide + Budget]
El Nido, found on the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan in the Philippines is home to gorgeous islands, white-sand beaches, and lagoons. It’s the jewel in the crown of the island once voted most beautiful in the world. Whether you like snorkeling, boating, or beach bumming, this little town will make the perfect homebase during your visit.
Traveling to El Nido for the first time? This detailed El Nido itinerary and travel guide will make it easy for you to plan a trip, save money, and maximize your time.
- How to Get to El Nido
- Day 1 – Island Hopping
- Day 2 – Hike, Waterfall, Beach
- Day 3 – Explore by Motorbike
- 3 Day El Nido Budget
- Tips for Visiting El Nido
How to Get to El Nido
If you’re visiting internationally, you’ll most likely land in Manila. My suggestion: don’t linger longer than you need to – just use Manila as a travel hub. I recommend staying at Go Hotels Airport Road if you need an overnight stay. It’s affordable, new, and clean. They’ll call you an Uber to get you back to the airport the next day.
Tip: Use metered taxis from the airport, not the fixed fare vans. It should cost less than 200 pesos from any terminal.
You can fly directly into El Nido from Manila in about an hour on daily flights operated by AirSWIFT. This is the easiest, fastest, and most convenient way to get to El Nido from Manila, which of course means it’s also the most expensive. Once you land, a 15 minute tricycle ride will get you and your luggage into the town center.
If you want to save some money and have the time, you can instead fly into Puerto Princesa further south in Palawan and then take a bus or shuttle van to El Nido. The flight itself is about 90 minutes and there are multiple daily flights operated by Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirAsia. The bus/shuttle ride north typically takes about 6 hours so you’ll need to set aside a whole day for the journey from Manila. This is the cheapest, and also most popular, way to get to El Nido.
Now that you’re there, how will you spend your time?
Day 1 – Island Hopping
One thing I learned in El Nido is that you need to be flexible with your plans. When an activity involves water, it may get cancelled. If you have the time, set aside two days for island hopping. It’s what El Nido is famous for and for good reason. The beaches are filled with white sugar sand and turquoise water, the snorkeling is superb, and the cliffs are astounding. If you only do one thing in El Nido, make it an island hopping day trip.
Tip: there are a few things you should know before island hopping in El Nido that will make your trip better.
There are four tour routes around the islands and every tour operator has the same options at the same price: Tours A-D with A and C being the most popular. In fact, you’ll have a hard time even trying to book Tour B or D. You can book in advance online, through your hotel, or through offices in town but you won’t know for sure which tours are going ahead until the morning of. The coast guard makes the decision each morning on which, if any, routes are good to go because of sea conditions. Given this, you’ll need to be flexible with your schedule. Have a backup plan if tours get cancelled – motorbike rentals go quick on those days.
Update: As of December 1, 2018 Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon have been removed from regular Tour A and Secret Beach has been removed from Tour C. You will now need a premium tour to visit Big Lagoon or Small Lagoon and you will not be able to visit both in one day. Each lagoon will require an extra P200 environmental fee.
No matter which island hopping tour you pick, you’ll be back in town before sunset. Head back to your hotel and clean off the day’s sweat, salt water, and sunscreen before heading out to watch the sunset and grab some dinner: Altrove for pizza, Artcafe for light fare, or Maa’s Grill for Filipino food.
Day 2 – Hike, Waterfall, Beach
For a change of pace, spend your next day exploring by land. You can either book a tour, hire a tricycle driver, or rent a motorbike and drive yourself but no visit to El Nido is complete without a trip to Nacpan Beach. I recommend driving yourself as it’s faster and cheaper but if you’d rather, you can find someone to drive you out, wait, and drive you back.
Start your morning off with an early hike up Taraw Peak right in El Nido town. It’s a strenuous, steep, hour long climb up a karst formation but you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of El Nido. You can ask around and hire a local to act as a guide for about P1000. This can be a potentially dangerous climb so use your best discretion. If you’d rather skip, just sleep in a little and have a nice leisurely breakfast.
About 30 minutes north of El Nido make your first stop at the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall. It’s a 45-min hike through the jungle to get to the waterfall but the path is well trod so it’s a relatively easy walk. The trail is well marked and fairly easy to follow but I’d still recommend hiring a local guide since there’s one fork where you could get lost and they’ll watch your things while you swim. I also recommend wearing a pair of water shoes since you’ll make eight stream crossings in each direction. Swimming in the cool water at the base of the falls is your reward at the end of the trail. There are no facilities there’s so you’ll likely make the hike back in your wet swimsuit. It’ll help keep you cool.
After the waterfall, it’s onwards to the beach! It takes about another 30 minutes to get there and most of the way is over dirt road which can get pretty slow and bumpy in a tricycle. You’ll pay a 100 peso entrance fee but it’s worth it to get to enjoy the 4km long white beach. Nacpan Beach has been called the most beautiful beach in the world and I can’t really argue. White sand and warm water as far as you can see. If the path is open (it was closed due to legal action when I visited in 2017), head to Calitang Beach in the west end to catch a view of the twin beaches.
I recommend bringing your lunch with you on this day trip since food service on the beach is limited and can be notoriously slow (over an hour to get your order).
Be sure to leave in time to get back to town before sunset. After dinner, take a walk along the beach and stop for a drink in one of the nightlight spots like SAVA, Pukka Bar, or Happiness Beach Bar (they have swings!). Or maybe chill out in my favourite spot, Rooftop, an open air bar where you can choose to hang out on bar stools, pillow filled couches, or lounge on big floor pillows. As with many places in El Nido, you take your shoes off at the door.
Day 3 – Explore by Motorbike
On your third day in El Nido you may want to take another island hopping tour. But if you want to do something a bit off the beaten path, you can rent a motorbike and explore the region. A standard bike rental goes for 500 pesos/day while an automatic scooter-style will set you back 750. I took my bike for a loop around the northern part of El Nido, which seemed to confuse the locals. Instead of taking the turnoff to Nacpan continue on the Taytay-El Nido National Highway, but don’t be fooled… this ain’t no highway. The paved road ends at the turnoff so you’ll be riding on a dirt road until you hit New Ibajay about 12km later. There’s a shop or two along the way if you want some light snacks.
Stop in Sibaltan for lunch and check out the kite surfers if the weather is right. Walk the beach and explore the quiet little village. It may be complete now but I found the paved road would come and go throughout the day so be prepared for a potentially bumpy, dusty ride.
Next, stop at Duli Beach and hang out with the surfers. It’s a 2km long sandy beach and you’ll likely have it mostly to yourself. You’ll need to pay a P50 entrance fee and park your bike a short walk from the beach. It’s a veritable oasis compared to the crowds at Nacpan Beach.
Makinit Hot Springs
On the way back south to El Nido town, stop at the Makinit Hot Springs, if you can find it. You’ll need to pay close attention to the spot on Google Maps as there’s no sign and the family who act as guides will need to be home for you to visit so it’s a bit of a crap shoot.
Mangrove Ecopark and Las Cabanas Beach
If you have time, stop at the Mangrove Ecopark south of El Nido town and take a walk on the elevated walkways through a stand of mangroves. You might even spot some snakes, monkeys, or monitor lizards. This isn’t a well-known spot so you’ll likely have it to yourself. Finish up your day with sunset at Las Cabanas beach.
3 Day El Nido Budget
Three Day Total: P5260-P6460 + accommodations
*The cost of meals varies depending on whether you have Filipino food or Western food and where you eat. I found that meals tended to range in price from a little under P200 to P350 or more for a Western meal. You may save money by getting a hotel or guesthouse that includes breakfast. Beer was around P70 in a restaurant/bar and typically P45 in stores.
*Eco Tourism Development Fee – This is P200 fee is required for all tourists visiting El Nido. It is paid once per person, valid for all tours for a 10 day period. If you’ve already paid the fee, take the receipt with you.
Tips for Visiting El Nido
- Keep a spare power bank charged. Power outages are not uncommon.
- Pack a dry bag – you’ll want to keep your things in it for island hopping trips.
- Bring water shoes.
- Most places only take cash but there are two ATMs in town where you can withdraw money: RCBC ATM and BPI Branch ATM