Philippine tourism

Your 2023 Palawan vacation guide: El Nido and Puerto Princesa

Joshua Berida

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Your 2023 Palawan vacation guide: El Nido and Puerto Princesa
It’s possible to do both Puerto Princesa and El Nido in one long trip! Here's your suggested itinerary.

Palawan is often hailed as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Palawan’s pristine, white-sand beaches, colorful underwater ecosystems, clear blue waters, and stunning landscapes truly grab travelers’ attention.

Puerto Princesa is the gateway to Palawan. It’s the most developed city and has its biggest airport. It’s also home to one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Underground River. El Nido has transformed from a backpacker’s secret paradise into a world-renowned tourist destination.

Getting into Puerto Princesa

It’s easy to get to Puerto Princesa. There are regular flights to Puerto Princesa from Manila. AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines all have flights to this city. Buy your tickets weeks or months before your trip to get the lowest fares. 

Getting into El Nido

El Nido used to be a difficult destination to reach. Fast forward to today, it is now more developed compared to the first time I visited years ago. 

By air

AirSWIFT has flights to El Nido from Manila. You’ll have to book in advance to get the lowest possible airfare.

By air and land

You have the option to book a flight to Puerto Princesa first then head straight to El Nido from the airport. The most convenient way to travel to El Nido is by van. You can arrange a van ride before you arrive or after through travel agencies or third-party sites such as Klook. There are numerous drivers and operators looking for passengers outside the airport. The fare is around P700 per person.

Getting around Puerto Princesa and El Nido

Puerto Princesa is a city, so it has the usual modes of transportation such as taxis and tricycles. In El Nido, you can also take a tricycle to get around town and to some beaches. Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike for a day while in El Nido. It’s a popular way to get around.

For both places, you can book tours to visit other islands. You can do this the day before your planned trip or in advance through a travel agency or a third-party website like Klook. I would recommend Palawan Travel Solutions if you’re looking for an agency. The bulk of your budget will most likely go to boat tours. Tours are categorized as A, B, C, or D in El Nido.

Lagoon in Tour A. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

It’s possible to do both Puerto Princesa and El Nido in one long trip. It depends on how many vacation leaves you’re allowed to take for this trip.

*This itinerary assumes you start with one full day.

Day 1

Take the van out from Puerto Princesa airport to El Nido. The trip can take up to six hours. You’ll make a stop at a restaurant along the way for a meal break. You can bring your own snack or food. As soon as you arrive in El Nido, check-in at your accommodation.

*I would suggest taking a morning or early afternoon flight bound for Puerto Princesa.

Day 2

Big Lagoon. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

Start your first full day in El Nido with an island-hopping tour. One of the most popular excursions is Tour A. This package takes you to beautiful lagoons and beaches in El Nido. The itinerary often includes Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commandos Beach. The lagoons showcase the spectacular karst formations and crystal-clear waters El Nido is famous for. You can swim in them or use a kayak to get around. The powdery sand and alluring waters of Shimizu Island and 7 Commandos Beach are an ideal combination for a relaxing stop. Your tour guide will choose where you’ll have lunch. They might change the itinerary and/or add a stop depending on the number of tourists in each destination. 

Small Lagoon. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

*Tours often end early enough to provide you with time to catch the sunset in Las Cabanas.

Day 3

Cadlao Lagoon. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

Go on another island-hopping trip for your second day in El Nido; this time take Tour C. You won’t get tired of seeing and swimming at El Nido’s beaches. The itinerary for this package often includes Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, and possibly Cadlao Lagoon. Helicopter Island got its name because it looks like a huge helicopter from a distance. Secret and Hidden Beach have powdery, white shorelines and glistening waters that will entice you to take a dip. The beachscapes of both are fetching with karst formations surrounding them.

Idyllic beach included in Tour C. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

It’s possible that your guide might take you to Cadlao Lagoon if there’s enough time and if they skipped one of the destinations in the itinerary. The latter is one of the prettiest lagoons in Palawan, in my opinion. The calm, emerald-tinged waters will draw you in. 

El Nido’s spectacular beachscape. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

*You can return to Las Cabanas for the sunset or simply for a place to chill.

Day 4

Spend half a day at Nacpan Beach before departing for Puerto Princesa in the afternoon. The beach has the powdery, white sand you’ve probably grown accustomed to during your stay in El Nido. The views are scenic, perfect for sunbathing or just relaxing by the beach.

Day 5

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Park. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler

On your first full day back in Puerto Princesa, visit one of the Philippines UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The area is home to a diverse ecosystem and various forest formations carefully preserved by the government. The guides will brief you on safety measures and provide you with tidbits about the park. Inside you’ll find rock formations, stalagmites, and stalactites that take on different shapes of animals and things. You’ll have to use your imagination to see them. Tour packages include lunch.

Day 6

If you still want to go island hopping again (after doing two in El Nido), book a trip to Honda Bay. The stops you’ll make on your trip are Cowrie Island, Luli Island, Starfish Island, and a snorkeling destination. Cowrie Island is your lunch spot and one of the nicest islands included in the tour. The destinations in Honda Bay aren’t as impressive as the ones in El Nido but are still worth visiting from Puerto Princesa, if you have the budget, time, and interest. 

Day 7

Check out and prepare for departure to airport. If you have time and haven’t done so yet, you can go last minute souvenir shopping.

How much will you spend?

Puerto Princesa and El Nido are budget-friendly destinations with plenty of accommodation options, places to eat, and tours. However, you’ll spend a lot depending on what you plan to do during your stay. A budget room or a bed in a dorm cost between P500 to P2,000 a night. Some budget options already include breakfast, but not all of them. There are some budget-friendly restaurants and local eateries (carinderia) in both destinations. A budget of P20,000/person for seven days covers a bed in a budget room or dorm, meals, van to El Nido and back to Puerto Princesa, and tours throughout your trip. This doesn’t include flights. However, you can spend substantially less by doing fewer activities/tours because this is where the bulk of your expenses will come from. 

Las Cabanas. Photo by Joshua Berida/Rappler


  • Tours in El Nido cost around P1,200 per person for a joiner trip. The package includes lunch and guide fees.
  • You can rent a motorcycle in El Nido for around P500 a day.
  • A tricycle ride to Las Cabanas costs P200 per way.
  • You can hire a tricycle to take you to Nacpan Beach and back to town for around P1,500-P2,000.
  • P200 El Nido environmental fee
  • P200 Big Lagoon fee in El Nido
  • P200 Small Lagoon fee in El Nido
  • Puerto Princesa Underground River tour package costs up to P2,500+++ depending on where you book.
  • Honda Bay Island Hopping costs up to P2,000 depending on where you book.
  • Tour packages include lunch and guide fees.
Coron or El Nido?

In my opinion, Coron and El Nido are two of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines. You might be choosing between the two for an upcoming trip. Both are excellent diving destinations and have stunning white sand beaches you should visit. However, Coron has a more laid-back vibe compared to El Nido. The latter has a come a long way since the first time I visited around a decade ago. Gone are the days when electricity wasn’t 24 hours or you had to pay cash for everything (there was no ATM the first time I visited). The town has expanded and there are now more restaurants, bars, accommodations, tour operators, and shops to choose from.

Development brings some good and bad to a place, and El Nido is no exception. There are now more people visiting which has diminished its island getaway vibe. One of the things I like about El Nido is that there are things to do and beaches to visit without going on a tour. On the other hand, you’ll need to rent a boat or go on a tour to see the best of Coron. If you’re looking for a destination to travel at a relaxed pace, El Nido is your choice. –

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