The Palawan island cluster of the Philippines is slowly gaining popularity as a must-see island paradise. ‘Palawan’ loosely translates to ‘Land of beautiful and Safe Harbor,’ a historical reference to old trading ships. But the name has taken on a new meaning over the years. Palawan enjoys a unique natural environment of lush jungles, powdery sand bars, and exotic marine life, and a community of native Palawenos committed to its preservation.
One of the draws of Palawan is how most of the island cluster has remained relatively commercialized. The best way to get around is by foot, by boat, or by tricycle so you can take all the time you need drinking in the view. Here’s a guide with how to get to one of its main islands, El Nido.
Getting There: Straight to El Nido
The fastest (and also the most expensive) way to get to El Nido is by plane. You can catch a flight to and from El Nido with Air Swift airlines if you’re coming from Manila, Cebu, or Caticlan. The are several flights a day, and you can check out the schedules and book them at Air Swift’s official website.
Flight to El Nido
- Average Travel Time: 1.5 hours
- Average Cost: 13,500 to 17,000 Php (roundtrip)
Getting There: Stop over at Puerto Princesa
The most popular route for both locals and foreigners by making a stopover at Palawan’s major city, Puerto Princesa. The major carriers like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia have daily flights from Manila and Cebu which you can monitor on Skyscanner, and often have promotional fares.
Stopping over at Puerto Princesa extends your travel time to around 10 hours before actually arriving at El Nido. But it’s a charming town, and is worth spending at least a night here so you can explore the famed underground river. You can book the tour with KKday over here.
Flight to Puerto Princesa
- Average Travel Time: 1.5 to 2 hours
- Average Cost: 3,000 to 3,500 Php (roundtrip flight). But tickets can go as low as 1,400p Php depending on when you book.
From Puerto Princesa, you have several options on how to get to El Nido. They vary in price, comfort, and duration.
Option 1: Shuttle Van
Take this if you want to spend nearly as little time in transit as possible. You’ll find shuttle vans by the Airport Arrival Area that will take you to the edge of the El Nido town. From there, you can hail a tricycle that will take you to your hotel.
Vans are the most popular way to get to El Nido, so it’s advisable to call in advance and reserve a slot, although you can try your luck as a chance passenger. A van typically seats around 12 people.
Van to El Nido Town
- Average Travel Time: 6 to 7 hours, depending on traffic.
- Average Cost: 550 to 600 Php. For an additional fee, you may be able to arrange hotel pick-up.
- Schedule: Vans depart almost every hour, starting from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Reserve with any of the popular franchises:
Option 2: Bus
A slightly more complicated and longer route is by bus. Unlike the shuttle van, the buses make several stops along the way before finally dropping you off at El Nido. But if you’re set to find the cheapest way to El Nido possible, this is it.
Puerto Princesa Airport to San Jose Bus Terminal
- Option a: Trike to the Bus Terminal
- Average Travel Time: 15 to 20 minutes
- Average Cost: 100 to 150 Php, depending on your haggling skills. This is the price per trike ride, and not per head.
- Option b: Trike to Junction 1. Then hail a multi-cab, and stop to the San Jose Terminal.
- Average Travel Time: 20 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
- Average Cost: 8 php (trike) plus 13 Php (multi-cab)
The bus is a good option is you want more legroom, but not if you’re carrying a lot of baggage. The two major franchises are the Roro Bus and the Cherry Bus, and have both air conditioned and non-airconditioned buses.
San Jose Bus Terminal to El Nido Town
- Average Travel Time: 5 to 6 hours
- Average Cost: 290 to 385 Php (regular, non-airconditioned bus) and 380 to 480 php (airconditioned bus)
- See the bus schedules and reserve a seat ahead:
- RoRo Bus: Departs every two hours, starting from 4:00 am to 10:00 pm
- Cherry Bus: Departs every two hours, starting from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm
The buses will drop you off 10 minutes away from the town proper. From there, you can hail a trike to downtown El Nido, straight to your hotel.
Must See and Must Do
As beautiful as El Nido is, it’s just impossible to see all the best sights in a single day. KKday brings you 4 popular tour routes that will give you a glimpse of the island’s best. Of course if you’ve got the time, nothing’s stopping you from taking all the tours! Here’s a simple run-down of them to help you choose what to book.
Big and Small Lagoon
El Nido’s lagoons often make their way to tourist postcards for good reason. Kayak through the calm, emerald waters snaking through the limestone cliffs, where you’ll find yourself waiting to get lost with no plans of returning.
Here’s where you’ll typically dock for lunch. Work up an appetite by snorkelling out to see the exotic marine life, and then enjoy the powdery sand beach as you feast on fresh fish, crab, and fruit.
The local urban legend goes that 7 Japanese soldiers got stranded on the island during the War. The locals you meet will quickly quash that story. Nonetheless, it’s easy to picture yourself staying on the 7 Commandos is an island forever. Enjoy a drink at the bar, and while it’s not an eternity, you can rent a room at the small resort here.
You can book the El Nido Island Hopping Tour A right now with KKday!
Cathedral and Cudugnon Caves
This is the highlight of Tour B, and your best chance to see some of El Nido’s underrated gems—and we mean that quite literally. Cudugnon Cave became an important archeological site when early researchers found ceramics and jewelry dating back to China’s Sung dynasty.
Your kayak or pump boat will take you to the outside of the caves. From there, you’ll have to crawl through the water yourself. The extra effort is well worth it, and you’ll see huge stone chambers with cathedral-high ceilings. Just don’t get too distracted looking up that you step on a jellyfish!
Thankfully, the name is a reference to the shape of the sand bar and not the island residents. You can take it easy and laze around the sandy beach, or challenge yourself to trek to the top for a stunning view of the Bacuit Bay.
You can book the El Nido Island Hopping Tour B right now with KKday!
If you can only choose one tour package, choose this one. El Nido is full of diverse and magnificent sights, and this tour route gives you a glimpse of some of the best of them.
You’ll spot the island almost immediately from the El Nido town, as its unique shape beckons you to hop on a boat and explore it yourself. Up close, the island is calm, cool, and cinematic—in fact, The Bourne Legacy was filmed here.Traditionally, the name is ‘Dilumacad Island,’ but ‘Helicopter Island’ has become the more popular moniker, thanks to its unique rock formations and lush forests. Whether or not it’s an accurate one, that’s for you to decide.
An abandoned shrine to the Virgin Mary seems out of place in the middle of this tropical haunt. But the Matinloc Shrine is its own spiritual oasis. You’ll have to climb a set of dingy stairs before reaching the shrine, but the leg work is well worth it. From here, you’ll be treated with incredible views of the entire El Nido cluster and crystal blue waters dissolving into the sky.
Without the local knowledge of the boatmen, you’d miss out on El Nido’s best kept secret. Well hidden beneath the limestone cliffs, you’ll have to swim underwater through a narrow rock tunnel. Be careful; the waves can get quite strong. But once you finally break the surface, you’ll find yourself in a secluded haven with Palawan’s most exotic marine life.
You can book the El Nido Island Hopping Tour C right now with KKday!
This tour route is perfect if you want to avoid the crowds, and really want to take your time drinking in the beauty of El Nido. Enjoy the slow boat ride to Cadlao Island, El Nido’s largest island and see the towering limestone cliffs that keep the Cadlao Lagoon hidden. Paddle your way to lagoon, where the waters are so clear you can see the coral reefs and fish swimming beneath you.
The name is no exaggeration: with infinitely-long stretches of sand lined by coconut trees, you’ll spend the moments in between your delicious barbeque lunch taking photos.
Pasandigan Beach, Ipil Beach, and Bucal Beach
Spend the rest of the tour hopping among these smaller islands. Be sure to rent some snorkeling gear to see the unspoiled coral reefs and exotic marine life, and end the day enjoying the romantic sunset.
You can book the El Nido Island Hopping Tour D right now with KKday!
Accommodations in El Nido are plenty, with something to fit each kind of traveller or budget range. For the backpacking budget traveller, check out OMP Hostel, El Taraw Inn, or the Outpost Beach Hostel. If you want the full blown luxury island getaway experience, then look into El Nido Overlooking and the Cauayan Island Resort. Or, check out Airbnb to filter exactly what you’re looking for.
Each of the Boat Tours mentioned above includes a fresh seafood lunch. There are a number of eateries restaurants in El Nido serving some of the freshest seafood in the country—which is saying a lot. Budget around 150php for each meal and be sure to try the Crocodile Sisig, the local delicacy.
Things to Take Note of:
- Nearly every commercial outfit only accepts cash, so be sure to withdraw all the money you need before the trip. There are very few ATMs and during peak season, they tend to run out of cash.
- You’ll pay a 200 Php Eco Tourism Development Fee (ETDF) when you take any of the boat tours. This goes to the local El Nido communities and conserving the area.
- Bring water shoes. You’ll definitely be swimming in the lovely waters, but you’ll want to avoid any wounds and injuries.