20 Best Things to Do in El Nido, Palawan
Whether you’re only spending three day in El Nido or if you’re looking to fill a whole week, there are plenty of great things to do from the classic island hopping trips to exploring by motorbike. Or maybe you’d like to try your hand at a new hobby like surfing or kite-surfing. It’s all possible in this tropical paradise.
This small and idyllic region in the Philippines is composed of 45 islands and islets each with its own unique geological formation and is located at the Northern end of Palawan, 6 hours from the capital, Puerto Princesa.
My best advice is not to rush. To get the most out of your visit to El Nido, give yourself time. Excursions out on the water may get cancelled due to weather so it’s best to have buffer time so that you don’t miss out completely on the amazing sights to be seen in Bacuit Bay. I recommend spending at least 3 or 4 full days in the area.
To help you plan your trip I’ve rounded up 20 of the best things to do in El Nido.
- Swim at Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall
- Visit the Twin Beaches of Nacpan/Calitang
- Hike Taraw Peak
- Walk through Mangrove Ecopark
- Go Diving
- Surf at Duli Beach
- Discover Hidden Beach
- Kayak around Small Lagoon
- Chill out at Rooftop Bar
- Get “Stranded” on a Private Beach
- Have the best picnic lunch on Talisay Beach
- Watch Sunset on Las Cabanas Beach
- Have Pizza at Altrove
- Visit Makinit Hot Springs
- Swing on the Tire Swings at Papaya Beach
- Claim a Swing at Happiness Beach Bar
- Get a Selfie with the El Nido Sign
- Visit Snake Island
- Zipline to Las Cabanas Beach
Swim at Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall
Located between El Nido town and Nacpan Beach, you’ll find Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall. To get to the falls you’ll follow a trail through the woods and over a few streams for 30-45 minutes. It’s best to wear water shoes for the walk since your feet will get wet crossing the small rivers. Wear your swimsuit because the reward for the hike is a refreshing swim in the small pool created by the waterfall.
Visit the Twin Beaches of Nacpan/Calitang
The twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang used to be popular with locals but under the radar of tourists…but a lot has changed and are now on the bucket list of most visitors to El Nido. They’re located about 20km north of El Nido and you can visit by motorbike, tricycle, or even as part of the new Tour E Inland Tour offered in town. Nacpan Beach is a 4km stretch of cream-coloured sand with clear water that’s perfect for swimming. At the southern end of Nacpan Beach you can find the shorter Calitang Beach along with a low-rise hill that offers great views of the twin beaches.
Hike Taraw Peak
Taraw Peak is an impressive karst formation right in El Nido town with breaktaking views from the top. It takes about an hour in each direction, but climbing Taraw Peak in El Nido shouldn’t be taken lightly. While the views from the top are incredible, it’s a very physically demanding and dangerous climb. If you decide to attempt the climb, be sure to hire a guide to show you the route.
If you’d like to have a similar experience in a safer manner, check out the Via Ferrata Canopy Walk instead. Open every day 8am-5pm, P500 pp.
Walk through Mangrove Ecopark
If you want to get off the beaten path, check out the Mangrove Ecopark near Las Cabanas Beach. 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.
There’s no shortage of dive shops in El Nido who will kit you out and take you diving in the crystal clear waters of Bacuit Bay. A typical dive trip will include three dives, snacks, and lunch on a traditional banca. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful, colourful sea life including seahorses, cuttlefish, yellow snappers, maybe even a sea turtle of a whale shark. If you’re not a diver, you’re still in luck because good snorkeling is also available at most dive sites.
Kiteboarding is an action sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and sailing into one extreme sport. A kiteboarder harnesses the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water. And you can learn how to do it, right in El Nido. The upscale Qi kiteboarding Palawan in San Fernando village offers a kilometre long private beach, a kite shop, and six rooms for the perfect kitesurfing vacation.
Surf at Duli Beach
Officially, the best surfing in El Nido is at Duli Beach, but you may hear it referred to as Mike’s Point, mainly because the guy who rents the boards is named Mike. Board rentals are 250p/hour and lessons are 600p. Entrance to the beach is 50p and is good for multiple visits. The beach is much quieter than Nacpan Beach so you won’t have to jostle anyone for a spot. The waves are modest but there’s a fairly dependable left-hand point break there calling your name.
Discover Hidden Beach
Hidden Beach is a small crescent of white sand that, as the name suggests, is hidden from passing boats by towering limestone formations. To reach Hidden Beach you need to swim from your tour boat, over some rocks and coral, to a hidden passage that leads you to the beautiful, secluded beach. You can visit Hidden Beach on Tour C while island hopping in El Nido. Tip: wear water shoes as the rocks on the passage to the beach are very sharp.
Kayak around Small Lagoon
As of December 2018, Miniloc Island’s Small Lagoon is no longer part of the regular island hopping Tour A, though this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a visit. In fact, kayaking here is a trip highlight. You’ll now need to book a premium tour that comes with an extra environmental fee and visitor number restrictions. Prepare to have your breath catch as you pass under a small archway, finding yourself in an open air cathedral of karst cliffs. Small lagoon is tranquil and breathtaking and should definitely be on your El Nido bucket list.
Chill out at Rooftop Bar
If you find yourself near the corner of Rizal St and Calle Hama, look up and you’ll find my favourite chill out spot in all of El Nido. Go around the corner of the boutique, take off your shoes, and climb the wooden steps to the bar that feels like a treehouse. Choose to hang out on bar stools, pillow filled couches, or lounge on big floor pillows. Have a local beer or order up a cocktail and relax after a day of outdoor activities.
Get “Stranded” on a Private Beach
If there are too many people on island hopping trips for you to enjoy the beach, consider getting yourself stranded on a private beach. While there are no arranged tours for something like this you can talk to locals and find someone with a boat who can drop you off at a pristine private beach, coming back to pick you up at a later time. Perfect for an adventurous soul looking for something a bit off the beaten path.
Have the best picnic lunch on Talisay Beach
Imagine tucking into freshly grilled fish and a cold beer while your toes are buried in sugar white sand and the sun dries you off after a colourful snorkeling experience in turquoise green waters. Welcome to a picnic lunch on Talisay Beach, the regular stop on Tour C. Most tour companies offer a beach lunch which may include any combination of grilled fish, rice, watermelon, pineapple, bananas, cucumber, crab, shrimp, chicken, or pork. If you’ve got a company who includes beer, you’ll really have it made. Everything tastes better on a beautiful beach.
Watch Sunset on Las Cabanas Beach
After a day of island hopping, surfing, or exploring by motorbike, head to Las Cabanas Beach south of El Nido town for a spectacular sunset. The beach really comes to life in the evenings, when its bars and restaurants feature live music and the locals gather to drink and enjoy the stunning sunset views.
Have Pizza at Altrove
Looking for the best place to eat in El Nido? Ask around and you’ll hear the same name over and over again. Altrove is best known for their thin crust, brick oven pizza. They don’t take reservations so lineups form nightly so get there early or be prepared for a bit of a wait. While I love eating local when I travel, sometimes a girl just wants a good pizza.
Visit Makinit Hot Springs
Stop at the Makinit Hot Springs, north of El Nido town, 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. They were out when I stopped by so I haven’t seen it myself but from other reviews, the hot springs aren’t as impressive as they sound so you may want to leave this for when you’ve done everything else on this list. But hey, it’s something to do.
Swing on the Tire Swings at Papaya Beach
Papaya Beach is sometimes used as an alternative to 7 Commandos Beach when doing island hopping Tour A. My favourite part of this beach was the cluster of tire swings at one end of crescent of sand. Be a kid again and have a swing with the most beautiful views.
Claim a Swing at Happiness Beach Bar
El Nido has a relaxed nightlife scene but still has some chill places to grab a drink. Happiness Beach Bar is one of the quirkier ones – one of the quirks being that they’re not on the beach. The other noticeable quirk is that the bar is lined, not with barstools, but with swings. A pretty fun way to have a beer if you ask me.
Get a Selfie with the El Nido Sign
If you didn’t get a selfie with the El Nido sign were you really even there? Located on the beach side of Hostel La Banane, the photo op just begs for pictures. Not as flashy as signs in San Juan or Amsterdam but a snap here still fulfils the pics-or-it-didn’t-happen requirement.
Visit Snake Island
Snake Island is one of the islands in the island hopping Tour B package and it’s mostly known for the long sandbar that appears at low tide to connect it with another island. There’s not a single actual snake to be found on the island. When visiting the island, climb to the view deck to get a 360 view, including that famous sandbar.
Zipline to Las Cabanas Beach
So we’ve already established that you’re going to head to Las Cabanas Beach for sunset right? What would be a more fun way to get there from the road than by zipline? Fly Superman-style 750 metres over the ocean to Depeldet Island. Once on the island you have the choice to zipline back or to walk back to Las Cabanas Beach via the sandbar that connects the two. I think sunset drinks always taste a bit better with an adrenaline rush so be sure to put this on your El Nido bucket list.