El Nido on a Budget

May 11, 2015
El Nido Bacuit Bay from the nest | www.dangwerelost.com

Contrary to belief of many, a trip to El Nido, Palawan on a budget is possible. A third-world traveler like me was able to do it and so can you.

What we often see about El Nido are the privately-owned island resorts advertised as the go-to places of celebrities and high-profile personalities on holidays. But what most people don’t know, El Nido is not all about private resorts, it is a small town northeast of Puerto Princesa and the town proper is the jump-off point of all island hopping activities within Bacuit Bay. The town proper already hosts a lot of accommodation options for any budget all you have to do is look in the right places. Tour agencies can be found almost in every corner of the town; if you get lucky your host/hotel can arrange the tours for you.

Why visit El Nido?

You have to allow nature to take your breath away every once in a while over its beauty. And you will have a lot of those moments in El Nido.

Sunset-in-El-Nido

My pictures don’t give it justice because the views are 10 times over prettier than these images. You just have to take my word for it, book that flight and go.

Wherever you look, whether it’s above or under water the view will be spectacular.

El Nido, Palawan

Remember that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio called The Beach? It was actually a movie adaptation of a book written by Alex Garland. The entire movie was shot in Thailand but in reality the book was written when the author was staying in El Nido. It was that beautiful it inspired a bestselling author to write an equally beautiful story with the place as its setting.

What to do

Go island hopping!

Island hopping tours are grouped into 4 they call tours A, B, C, and D and rates normally change every year so might as well budget 1000 – 1500 pesos per head on each tour. Lunch, snorkeling gears, life vests and guides are all included in the package. If you are traveling on tight schedule I suggest you go with tours A and C because I only had the chance to do both but these are the most recommended by agencies. We booked ours with The Alternative because their staff was so kind (the same guy who helped me get a room when I arrived late night) and we love their nest!

Island Hopping El Nido | Photo Credit: Willoughby Owen

If you are going with a big group you can hire a private boat so you can choose the islands to visit and control the length of your stay on each.

Do not forget to include Nacpan – Calitang in your itinerary.

People fondly call Nacpan and Calitang as “twin beaches.”

The waters on both beaches are very clear, calm and warm which makes it very ideal for swimming. On one side is powdery white sands and fine brownish on the other. The shore is dotted with countless coconut trees where the shores of the two beaches meet. Lucky for us there were no crowds when we arrived there; not a single individual was seen on the shore.

You have to allow nature to take your breath away every once in a while over its beauty. And you will have a lot of those moments in El Nido.

Nacpan and Calitang | Photo Credit: Justonewayticket.com

Don’t ever miss this when you visit El Nido. I encourage everyone to see it before developers notice this piece of unspoiled beauty and turn it into a commercial chaos like they did on other beaches in the Philippines.

How to get to Nacpan – Calitang

Most tour agencies in El Nido offer another type of tour they call Tour E, which is an inland tour of Nacpan – Calitang twin beach with side trips to Bulalacao or Nagkalit-kalit Falls. Rate is around Php 1000 – Php 1500 per person.

Nacpan-Calitang

We hired a tricycle to get there and it took over an hour. The roads were not very well paved but believe me, never mind the hassle you will go through because it will all be worth it. Tricycle rates range from 600 – 1000 pesos, be ready to haggle and negotiate.

A cheaper alternative to get there is via public jeepneys at Php 50 one way but, it will take longer because of frequent stops.

How to get to El Nido

First you need to get to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. There are regular flights from Metro Manila and Cebu via Cebu Pacific, Air Asia and Philippine Airlines. If you have more time you can try a ferry via 2Go from Metro Manila Port or Batangas Port. Once in Puerto Princesa you have three options to get to El Nido. But on second thought, let’s just focus on two.

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El Nido, Palawan

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El Nido, Palawan 11.179939, 119.391131

1. Take the bus from San Jose terminal, Puerto Princesa
There are air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses to choose from. One-way fare ranges from 250 – 500 pesos and the ride will take six to seven hours with stopovers for meals, picking up and dropping off of passengers. These buses depart regularly to El Nido from early morning until late at night.

2. Hire a private van from Puerto Princesa
If you prefer a private trip or if traveling with a big group then hiring a van is recommended. This also works well if you are willing to spend more on transportation so you can spend more time exploring because this cuts the travel time down to 4 – 5 hours. One-way fare costs around 500 – 700 pesos per head and you can book this from the airport when you arrive in Puerto Princesa or via your hotel if you intend to stay a few days in town.

The third option is not for the ordinary “masang Pinoy” that I am but if you are loaded there are charter flights available that will take you directly to El Nido. Unfortunately, I could not be of any help on this since I never tried one.

Where to Stay in El Nido

Arriving in El Nido in the middle of the night without a hotel booking arranged beforehand can be such a pain, I should know because I did exactly that. I was lucky I met a local who was kind enough to help but believe me you will not feel so good after knocking on doors waking up people at midnight just to ask if there is an available room. So don’t be like me, plan your schedules and book a hotel ahead of time.

town of El Nido

You can choose to stay in El Nido town proper, in Caalan or in Corong-Corong. There are hotels and transient houses in town and rooms cost as low as 300 to as much as 3000 pesos a night.

Beach front/Caalan

I would have stayed in Antonio Pension if I was able to research more before I left for El Nido. The place has a very homey feel to it. But if you need to be online while traveling, then this is not the place, they don’t have wireless internet connection. Rate starts at Php 500.

Antonio Village Pension & Cafe
Sitio Caalan, Barangay Masagana
Caalan, El Nido, Philippines


Head to La Banane Hostel if you are looking for a beach front accommodation with a dorm room. Rate is 300 for a bed per night. This is very suitable for backpackers who want to interact with their fellow travelers. Don’t expect too much though, the room can be too cramped for the taste of some.


Photo Credit: Makulay Lodge

Makulay Lodge gives you an unobstructed view of Bacuit Bay because it is located almost at the end of the beach. Bars, restaurants and the town can be reached within 2 – 5 minutes from the lodging. Best to get the hilltop cottage if you are looking for a complete relaxation on your visit. Rates start at Php 1000.

Makulay Lodging House
Caalan Beach, Barangay Masagana
Caalan, El Nido, Philippines




Town Proper

Another budget friendly dorm type room in town is Melting Pot hostel in Calle Real. They offer two to 10-bed dorm rooms starting at 400 pesos per bed per night.

El Nido town


Nido Skyline Inn gives you a good value for your money at 700 pesos per night because of its very good location, they are near the port where all island hopping tours start, near the bus terminal and you can find a lot of shops and restaurants on the same street.

Nido Skyline Inn
Rizal Street Barangay Buena Suerte
El Nido, Philippines


Photo Credit: lolooyong.com

Lolo Oyong’s Pension House is managed by the same owners of Lola Itang’s in Puerto Princesa. If you have stayed in either one then you’ll know why I’m recommending them here. The house in El Nido has 18 rooms to offer all with air-conditioners and private bath. Rates start at Php 1500.

Lolo Oyong’s Pension House
Rizal Street, Barangay Maligaya Zone 1,
El Nido Town Proper, El Nido, Philippines


Corong-Corong

After a night in town I transferred to Orange Pearl Resort in Corong-Corong mainly because it is fronting Marimegmeg beach, which according to reviews from people who have been there, offers a spectacular view of the rising and setting sun in El Nido. I was not disappointed.

The room is basic, roomy enough for two with a mosquito net in the bed but I insist you still bring an insect repellent. Rates start at Php 1500.

Orange Pearl Resort, Corong-Corong, El Nido


There are a lot of other options for  you depending on your budget or preference. Aside from blogger reviews I read feedback from travelers who have experienced staying at these hotels and my go-to sites  for this purpose are Tripadvisor and Agoda.

How about you? Have you been to El Nido recently? Please tell me that developments are actually helping and not harming the place.

I will have to settle on daydreaming until I get to visit again.

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4 Comments

  • Reply cez July 13, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Hi 🙂
    I want to try being a solo traveler.. may I ask how much you spent on your travel to El Nido, and if it’s okay too, please include your itinerary. Thank you 🙂

  • Reply dwlblog July 15, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Cez, thanks for dropping by! I spent roughly 11k for this trip but that’s because I also spent a lot on souvenirs and food to bring home. I also chose to stay in Corong-corong where accommodation rates are higher compared to the town. I went with a friend so I had someone to share the expenses with. Plus, the cost I mentioned already included a side trip to Puerto Princesa where we joined the Underground River and city tours. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of my itinerary. I wish you the best!

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