El Nido, Palawan: Tips for the budget traveler

Mark-Anthony Villaflor

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El Nido, Palawan: Tips for the budget traveler
Traveler Mark Villaflor and his wife Camille have packed up and moved to El Nido, Palawan. Here are his top tips for your budget trip to the beautiful island paradise

Of course, many of us have grown up with a negative misconception that vacationing in certain corners of our beautiful country isn’t doable. However, with the growing scene of backpackers and DIY travelers we are discovering that it is not only possible to travel to places, but possible to do so on a tight budget.

Slices of paradise we’re hearing about on travel blogs, magazines, and social media channels are within our reach.

Our focus today: El Nido, Palawan, a haven for 5-star island resorts and a town proper mixed with budget digs and moderately priced hotels.

For those with a smaller budget the sections below breakdown your options:

Getting there

You’re likely going to roll into Palawan via Puerto Princesa. From there walk two minutes out of the airport to the street and flag down a P50 tricycle to the bus terminal.

There are two bus companies, Cherry and Roro, that leave the bus terminal each hour for the 6-hour ride to El Nido. You can take a regular bus (P280) or an air-conditioned bus (P380).

Alternatively, you can get a van shuttle for P400 and save yourself an hour on the journey.

Tip: If you go to the bus terminal, you can negotiate your fare lower as van shuttles and buses are competing to fill up seats and leave.

Falling deeper in love in El Nido


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.

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 start of a tour in our banca

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

Tour C, Hidden Beach

Land Tours

If you’re looking at discovering some of the mainland beaches you can hire a tricycle for as cheap as P1000-P1500 for the entire day, good for 4 people. Our recommendation would be to go to Nacpan Beach in the morning, do a hike up on the hill at the end of the beach for spectacular views of the twin beaches.

Come back to town for a cheap lunch and then have your driver take you to Marimegmeg Beach (Las Cabanas) for the rest of the day and walk down the beach for sunset.

Tip: For swimming, opt for Marimegmeg Beach rather than Nacpan as there’s a strong rip tide/current.

Marimegmeg Beach, 2.5 km south of town

Kayak Tours

Late afternoon stop at 7 Commandos

Kayak rentals start at P300 for half day or P500 for the entire day. From the town proper you can make your way to Cadlao Island (Bukal Beach or Pasandigan Beach) or Ipil Beach in about an hour.

From the Corong Corong area you can visit 7 Commandos Beach and Papaya Beach. If you go early in the day you’ll likely have some of these beaches to yourself as tours usually park themselves closer to town near the end of the day.

Tip: Ask for snorkel gear to be included or at least discounted.

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

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.

Will you be visiting soon? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com

Mark is a one-eyed Filipino-American that is the happy owner of Pepper a French bulldog. He is married to his lovely wife Camille. They are currently on an epic year long honeymoon around the world.

His heart beats to the pulse of the Philippines but he has lived in South Korea, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and China. He is a former international school educator and an entrepreneurial backpacker. He is 1/2 of 365traveldates.com.

After chasing the sun around the world for over 500 travel dates he and his wife have settled down in El Nido, Palawan and are currently building a glamping hotel called The Birdhouse.

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