El Nido, Palawan Travel Guide (2023): Is It Overrated? 

How to get to El Nido, geography, transportation, accommodations, what to do (info on island hopping tours A-D), cost, 5 things that surprised me, and how to stay safe and healthy when you go, including 8 specific recommendations. So, let’s jump in!

If you’ve seen pictures of crystal clear water surrounded by limestone karsts labeled as Palawan in the Philippines, they’re likely from the islands near El Nido or Coron. The unimaginable scenery is truly a sight to see. Pair that with stunning coral, unique sea life (snake eel or barracuda, anyone?), and powdery white sand beaches and you truly will have found yourself in paradise. But, the town of El Nido itself was completely unexpected and largely left something to be desired, with the exception of a few somewhat hidden areas which we’ll get into below.

Where Is El Nido & How To Get There

Map of the Philippines with arrow to El Nido

El Nido is a small area in the northern part of Palawan, and while it does have an airport, it’s super tiny and only has one airline that services it — AirSwift. 

I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with AirSwift. Our first experience with them was great. They seated us in the exit row (row 1) in rear-facing seats. We felt like flight crew in jump seats – it was pretty cool. They also gave everyone on that flight a canvas tote bag with premium quality, standard-size snacks – no mini packs of pretzels. 

However, that’s where the love ends. AirSwift doesn’t stick to their flight schedule and it seems as though they change the flight times of the majority of their flights! Two other couples we met along the way also had their other AirSwift flights rescheduled.

Most of the schedule changes appear to happen on a whim and not because of delayed crew, weather, or technical issues. One of our flights got pushed 2 hours earlier and we were notified less than 24 hours prior to departure. We actually ended up missing this flight because I was partially unplugged, and well, I’m also notoriously bad at staying on top of my email. So, I missed the notification and we showed up one hour prior to our original flight time for a flight that had already departed. We weren’t the only ones who missed the memo either! 

Unfortunately, if you want to fly to El Nido, AirSwift is a necessary evil. Be sure to check your email the night before any flights with them and of course, frequently on the day of your flight.

If you’re coming from southern Palawan, you can rent a car or take a bus from there to El Nido. Alternatively, you can take a 5-hour ferry from Coron to El Nido. 

Book your transportation around Palawan through my 12Go referral link below!


Transportation Around El Nido

Once you arrive in El Nido, you’ll have one of four transportation options. The famed tricycle or trike (a rickety motorcycle with a sidecar), a motorcycle, a van, or renting your own transport.

The trike, van, and motorcycle drivers appear to keep tabs on the (ever-changing) flight schedule and will be eagerly waiting outside Lio airport to transport you, so you don’t need to arrange transportation ahead of time. If you find yourself in a situation where there aren’t any drivers available, you can ask the airport security guards or check the sign posted at the trike parking lot for the contact numbers for arranging trike transport. The numbers are: 0917 765 4644 OR 0970 809 6109.

Tricycle fare to and from Lio Airport, prices listed in Philippine Pesos
Tricycle fare to and from Lio Airport, prices listed in Philippine Pesos

The transportation prices in El Nido are “standardized” based on location, but apparently, you may be able to bargain the price down, especially if you hire the driver for additional stops over a longer period of time. I’m not sure you’ll have luck if you don’t speak the language, but feel free to try and comment below if you were successful or not!

Check out our YouTube video on El Nido below!

Geography Of El Nido

The most populated parts of El Nido can be broken up into 3 main areas or neighborhoods:

  • El Nido Town, about 10 minutes from the airport
  • Corong-Corong, about 15 minutes from the airport to the northern end of Corong-Corong and about 20 minutes from the airport to the southern end of Corong-Corong
  • Lio Tourism Estate At Lio Beach which is about 2 minutes from the airport

These areas are where the majority of accommodation is in the area. There are also a few accommodation options further north at Nacpan Beach, which I’ll briefly touch on below.

El Nido Town

Centralè - Mediterranean Restaurant in El Nido Town
Centralè – Mediterranean Restaurant in El Nido Town

El Nido Town is the main business district in the area and has the most budget-friendly accommodation options. Many of the island-hopping tour operators depart from El Nido Beach, however, we also learned during our stay that you can leave from Corong-Corong Beach as well!

Rooftop Restaurant at Piece Of Sky Hotel
Piece Of Sky Restaurant at H Hotel

El Nido Town has next-to-no curb appeal aside from a select few establishments, like Centralè and Piece of Sky. El Nido Beach is also not overwhelmingly inviting unless you are gazing out at El Nido Bay and leaving the town behind, particularly when you’re removed from the port. Head to the northeastern side of the beach or enjoy the view from a rooftop bar for a more picturesque experience.

Boats consume the waters at El Nido Beach
Boats consume the waters around the port at El Nido Beach

Getting To El Nido Town

El Nido Town is about 10 minutes from the airport. To get there, you can hire a trike for 300 pesos ($5.28 USD) that is barely big enough for two adults with two carry-on suitcases and two personal items to squeeze into. The ride from the airport to El Nido Town is windy and quite hilly. The 10-minute ride felt like an eternity as our knuckles turned white from clenching onto the frame of the trike, wondering whether we’d make it up some of the hills and hoping the brakes didn’t give out on the way down. 

Our driver kept inquiring about our departure plans, hoping to secure us as return customers. I typed in a note on my phone to my husband, “NO”, as I was sure we’d be able to find safer, more robust, and more reliable transport back to the airport. This was my first time seeing trikes and I was shocked at the archaic style of transport. We quickly came to realize that there were no Grab or rideshare apps in El Nido and we also quickly came to realize that all of the trikes were equally questionable in their reliability. But, rather than pay more than double for a van around the island, we soon became accustomed to squeezing into a trike and holding on tight!

Squished into a tricycle in El Nido
All smiles… until we hit the hills

If you want a more comfortable ride, you can hire a van from the airport to El Nido Town for 700 pesos ($12.32 USD). For the cheapest mode of transport if you’re traveling solo and with a backpack, you can hire a motorcycle, however, I was unable to clarify the price of this.

Accommodation In El Nido Town

Good Dimes “Budget”:

Spin Designer Hostel

Spin Designer Hostel has several nice common spaces suitable for working and lounging complete with a TV and lots of games, nice indoor and outdoor dining spaces, a washing machine with a rack for drying clothes, breakfast included, and both shared rooms/bathrooms as well as private rooms/bathrooms.

Frendz Hostel El Nido

This was our first choice, but sadly it was booked for our dates! You can’t argue with that pool and view of the sea!

Silver Dollar Splurge:

H Hotel El Nido

In addition to the gorgeous waterfront views and beautiful rooms, H Hotel is rated 9.5 on Agoda (700+ reviews) and is priced quite reasonably in comparison to other hotels rated 9+, some of which are $400+!

Search for other accommodation options below!


Corong-Corong is located south of El Nido Town and is home to Corong-Corong Beach. It’s west-facing so it’s one of the best places to catch sunset in El Nido, particularly from the southern end. The curb appeal of Corong-Corong from Taytay – El Nido National Highway is arguably worse than that of El Nido Town, but head down one of the narrow lanes towards the beach, and you’ll be greeted by tons of attractive accommodation and beachside restaurants. The beach is much more quaint and less commercial, and gazing out at Bacuit Bay is prettier than El Nido Bay, in my opinion.

The beach itself felt a bit grimy from visible trash and debris when we were there for sunset at low tide. Maybe it’s more picturesque at high tide? However, the incredible sunset and delicious dinner under twinkle lights and swaying palms quickly transformed our experience and had us wishing we were staying in Corong-Corong.

Accommodation in Corong-Corong is generally more upscale than in El Nido Town, however, there are some budget-friendly options. If I were to go back to El Nido, I would definitely prioritize accommodation in Corong-Corong.

Getting To Corong-Corong

Corong-Corong is 15-20 minutes from the airport, depending on where you’re staying in town. Transportation from Lio airport to Corong-Corong by trike is 400 pesos ($7.04 USD).

Accommodation In Corong-Corong

Good Dimes “Budget”:

Outpost Beach Hostel

This appears to be the best affordable beachfront option in the Corong-Corong area of El Nido.

Silver Dollar Splurge:

Last Frontier Beach Resort

We dined at Last Frontier and were mesmerized by the beachfront views and vibes. I honestly felt as if I had been transported to somewhere in the deep South Pacific like Tahiti, or at least that’s how I imagined Tahiti would feel like. The property was dotted with beautiful, individual cottages with cozy balconies amid beautiful gardens and palm trees.

Lio Tourism Estate At Lio Beach

The Lio Tourism Estate at Lio Beach is definitely the poshest area of El Nido. The curb appeal is great, the beach is well maintained, the beachfront restaurants are appealing, and the accommodation is upscale.

Lio Tourism Estate is also home to Kalye Artisano, an eco-sustainable tourism development and artisanal retail hub with restaurants, shops, activities, and even a two-bedroom residence that you can book with a private lap pool, pool house, lanai, yoga pavilion, and private chef. Activities offered at Kalye Artisano include yoga, foliage art workshops, island hopping tours, in-land catch and release pond fishing, nature walks with optional kayaking, and bike rentals, among others.

Kalye Artisano
Kalye Artisano

Getting To Lio Tourism Estate At Lio Beach

You can reach the Lio Tourism Estate at Lio Beach by trike for 100 pesos ($1.76 USD). The 2-minute ride from the airport takes you by Kalye Artisano and down the Lio Forest Trail, a wooden plank boardwalk lined by a luscious green canopy. You can also walk from the airport to Lio Beach in about 10 minutes.

Accommodation In Lio Tourism Estate At Lio Beach


Isla Amara

We ended up staying at Isla Amara out of necessity after missing our flight which required us to go from the airport to the AirSwift office at Lio Tourism Estate in order to rebook. After dragging our suitcases quite a distance across dirt and sand on a very hot and humid day, we caved and booked the least expensive accommodation that was closest to us, despite it being out of our budget. The property of Isla Amara is chic and well-maintained with an enjoyable pool just a short walk from the beachfront. The rooms were very comfortable. Unfortunately, I got terribly sick from a nearby restaurant with traveler’s diarrhea, so I can’t vouch for the food at Isla Amara, but I can definitely recommend the property if it’s in your budget. As a note, there is a paved road to the property, so you can get dropped off and picked up from the front door.

Silver Dollar Splurge:

Seda Lio

This beachfront property has stunning grounds complete with a large, inviting pool, fountains, poolside restaurant, and beautiful rooms.

Nacpan Beach

In 2016, Nacpan Beach was named one of the top 10 beaches in the world by TripAdvisor. To be completely honest, I wasn’t impressed, and I’ll get to the point in a bit, but let’s talk about transportation first.

The approach to Nacpan Beach
The approach to Nacpan Beach

Getting To Nacpan Beach

A one-way transport from the airport to Nacpan Beach is 900 pesos ($15.85 USD).

Nacpan beach is a trek from the main area of El Nido and it’s quite isolated. The cheapest way to get there from El Nido Town is by trike for 1500 pesos round trip ($26.41), but, it’s a windy and hilly ride at times, and a small portion of the road is unpaved. The joke the drivers make is that you get a “free butt massage” when you go by trike to Nacpan. The trike driver will wait for you until you’re ready to return. 

There are several accommodation options in the Nacpan Beach area. However, you might find it quite challenging to get a ride from Nacpan to anywhere else on the island. I would recommend you only consider staying in that area if you have unlimited time and if you either plan to rent your own transportation, such as a motorbike, if you’re able to arrange transport through your accommodation, or if you have a reliable transportation contact that’s willing and available to transport you when you need. There were two numbers posted at the airport for trike transport around El Nido, which you could try calling to arrange trike transport throughout the island: 0917 765 4644 OR 0970 809 6109.

Book your motorcycle, scooter, ATV, or bike below through BikesBooking!

If there’s inclement weather, the journey gets even sketchier. The trikes don’t have windshield wipers, they aren’t fully insulated (hello lightning and free shower that you probably didn’t want), and the muddy unpaved portion of the road is somewhere I’d never want to find myself. The lights on the trikes also aren’t great, so pair all of this with dusk or nighttime, and you have a long, horrific ride ahead of you.

Additionally, if it’s even just overcast, Nacpan Beach won’t look like it does in the pictures. Take it from me – we went on a cloudy day. I was hopeful that despite it being cloudy in El Nido town, it might be sunny farther north at Nacpan, but I was wrong. The sand wasn’t pearly white and the water wasn’t glistening. The few shabby establishments that line the beachfront don’t beckon you to stay, and while you can enjoy a nice, long walk along the crescent-shaped coast while you glance across at the neighboring Calitang Beach that abuts, I’d much rather be at Lio Beach where the vibe is 10 fold, the beach is almost just as long, and you have the added bonus of watching those lovely AirSwift flights take off and land on the neighboring runway. Not to mention, Lio Beach is about 10 minutes from El Nido town, and the road to and from is fully paved.

Now, if you have beautiful blue skies and you have a full day to enjoy Nacpan and other sites along the way, like Nagkalit-Kalit Falls, then you’ll likely find the trek to Nacpan worthwhile. And particularly consider the trip if you want to get drone footage and/or if you have the budget to hire a van instead of a tricycle for a more comfortable ride. Our friend Ian of Makabiyahe caught Nacpan on a clear day and it truly is stunning, particularly when you can block out the surrounding area that’s not well maintained. 

Good Dimes Tip: If you’re short on time and money, skip the trip to Nacpan and go on one (or two) island hopping tours instead!

Nacpan Beach - photo credit: Makabiyahe
Nacpan Beach – photo credit: Makabiyahe

Book your El Nido accommodation below!

Island Hopping Tours

As far as island hopping tours go, you can choose from 4 options: Tour A, Tour B, Tour C, and Tour D. 

  • Tour A includes the Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Payong-Payong Beach, and 7 Commandos Beach. 
  • Tour B includes Snake Island, Entalula Island, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave, and Pinagbuyutan Island.
  • Tour C includes Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Helicopter Island, and Talisay (Star) Beach. 
  • Tour D includes the Small Lagoon, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, and Paradise Beach.  

My husband and I only did Tour A, but we absolutely loved it. Kayaking the Big Lagoon and finding a hidden tunnel was a thrilling adventure. The coral at the snorkeling stops were incredibly stunning – dare I say equivalent to or better than the Great Barrier Reef?! The secret lagoon was quite the experience, requiring some acrobatics to enter and exit through a small opening. And the beach adjacent to the secret lagoon was so serene (aside from a family compound tucked away at one end). Tour A is the reason I can look back on El Nido with some degree of fondness. It was truly the perfect day sailing through sheer beauty.

Watch our YouTube video below about Island Hopping Tour A!

Our accommodation had a tie-up with Leatherback Travel and Cruise, so we did our Tour A through them. It was 1600 pesos per person ($28.17) which included all fees and transportation from our accommodation to the tour office near the port. We were on a double-decker boat with a covered area as well as a nice, unobstructed rooftop.

Book your El Nido tours below through Get Your Guide!

5 Things That Surprised Me About El Nido

  1. The town has a huge water contamination issue! So much so that our brother-in-law who lives in India knew about it and warned us about it despite never having been there. In 2022, the Department of Health reported 567 cases of traveler’s diarrhea, although other reports online note higher case counts. These are likely only the cases of people who were sick enough to require medical attention from a medical facility and were therefore included in the count. Therefore, people who were in a similar situation to mine who had a bad case of traveler’s diarrhea but not bad enough, were likely excluded from the count. Apparently, the government cracked down and enacted stricter sanitation policies, however, I and another fellow traveler I met are living proof that there is still an issue in El Nido! We both got food/water positioning during our short stay in El Nido. I thought I was being so careful, and I asked whether or not the “service water” was filtered prior to selecting that over bottled water. I would recommend you only drink bottled water and avoid all ice – this includes blended drinks like daiquiris and pina coladas, etc. Even if you ask if the water and/or ice is filtered, there may be a communication breakdown, or the wait staff simply may be embarrassed to admit that they’re not using filtered water/ice for fear of raising other questions about food safety. Don’t eat any fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, or fish unless they are fully cooked in order to be 100% safe. Keep your mouth closed while showering and swimming in both pools and in the ocean. And lastly, brush your teeth with filtered water.
  2. As mentioned above, the curb appeal of the neighborhoods and beaches within mainland El Nido is quite low in many areas. You really won’t get any sort of cute or chic island vibe unless you’re oceanfront (usually after walking down an alleyway) or perched on a rooftop, like Piece of Sky, in El Nido town. With the exception of one oceanfront hostel in Corong-Corong that got good reviews, a quick search showed that you’ll likely have to pay a premium to stay anywhere decent with a view. You’ll also pay more to dine oceanfront, but to us, it was well worth the extra cost to have dinner with a view – it helped redeem El Nido for us. In order to truly find paradise, you’ll need to join one of the four (or all four of the) island hopping tours that will take you to islands off the coast of El Nido. In my mind, before traveling to the Philippines, I assumed El Nido Town might be similar to Railay, Thailand, and that’s completely unfair to El Nido.
  3. You will encounter lots of sickly stray dogs and some stray cats in town and on the beaches on the mainland. It’s quite sad and it definitely impacts that feeling of “paradise”. Yes, stray animals are common throughout most developing countries, however, the problem seemed larger in El Nido than in other beach towns.
  4. The tricycles! As I mentioned, El Nido was the first place I’ve ever seen such a mode of transportation. In El Nido, trikes are a rickety motorcycle with a sidecar that’s barely big enough for two people to squeeze in. They also have a small space on the back to strap on carry-on luggage. We never did see a tricycle transporting full-sized luggage. We assumed there’d need to be a tricycle for the people and a separate tricycle for the luggage, but Filipinos are creative and resourceful, so I wouldn’t put it past them to find a way to fit it all into one. As we continued to travel throughout southeast Asia and South America, we began to see trikes in other countries.
  5. El Nido is quite expensive compared to other places in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Despite booking accommodation in advance, I struggled to find private room options under $50 with decent reviews. We ended up in a basic, private room with bunk beds and a private bathroom at a hostel with no amenities for $47 per night in El Nido versus a room at a waterfront 3-star hotel with pool and gym for $35 in Coron a few days later. We traveled to El Nido during shoulder season and there are loads of accommodation options in El Nido Town and Corong-Corong, so it doesn’t appear to be a supply-and-demand situation. We’re still perplexed, to say the least.

Should You Go To El Nido?

If you want to go island hopping to some incredibly picturesque locations, then yes, you should definitely consider going if I haven’t scared you off yet! Here are my following 8 recommendations to maximize your trip and experience in El Nido:

  • Be extremely careful with what you eat and drink, keep your mouth closed when in the shower and when swimming in both pools and in the sea, and don’t forget to only brush your teeth with filtered water. 
  • Decide ahead of time whether you’re up for the adventure to Nacpan Beach and to other places around the El Nido area or whether you only want to budget enough time for the island hopping tour(s). 
  • If the weather is at all inclement, skip Nacpan and spend a partial day in the Lio Beach area, watching the planes take off and land, and check out Kalye Artisano. 
  • Learn more about each of the four island hopping tours offered and decide which one(s) you want to do ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. 
  • Consider having a drink or meal at Piece of Sky in El Nido Town.
  • Catch the sunset from Corong-Corong beach, and level up your experience by cozying up on a beanbag at a beachfront bar or restaurant. Note: you can do this on the same day as you go island hopping, so you don’t need to budget extra time in the area.
  • If you’re flying in and/or out of Lio airport, check your AirSwift flight status multiple times leading up to departure and be prepared to show up to the airport several hours earlier than anticipated if your flight gets changed on a whim.
  • If you’re going to other areas in the Philippines or even other areas of Southeast Asia, you’ll find many other beach towns that are much more inviting. You can make a brief stop in El Nido, but you may want to consider putting your extra time elsewhere. We much preferred the island vibes of Siargao, Philippines despite the views, island hopping, and snorkeling being subpar in comparison to El Nido. Additionally, for similar karst views and a much better town and beach vibe with great island hopping opportunities, I would recommend Railay Beach, Thailand.

Summary Of Our Overall Experience in El Nido

Tour A was the highlight of our time in El Nido. Despite the day starting off cloudy, the sun finally came out and surprised us with some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen. The crystal clear azure water, powdery-soft white sand beaches, bright coral, colorful fish, and limestone karsts were all so magical.

Island Hopping Tour A, El Nido, Philippines
Boating on Bacuit Bay

Despite missing our flight to Coron, we enjoyed our time relaxing at beautiful Lio Beach as we watched the planes land and take off from the adjacent runway. That is until I got food/water poisoning, which sadly foiled the rest of our plans.

Will I go back to El Nido?

Most likely not. But in all fairness, my experience was heavily tainted by my food/water poisoning and also our frustration with AirSwift. Which, had I checked my email timely or checked the flight status prior to going to bed the night before, we likely would have averted both issues.

I would like to go back to Coron at some point since my food/water poisoning completely zapped my energy for several days and robbed us of the Coron of our dreams. However, I would prioritize other island vacations for the foreseeable future over returning to the Philippines.

Note: from the little bit that we saw, the town of Coron is only partially more inviting than El Nido Town. But again, we weren’t able to do the island justice. For an incredible island vibe in the Philippines, check out Siargao – our favorite place we visited in the Philippines.

If you found this post helpful, consider sharing it with family, friends, and social media to help spread the reality of a trip to El Nido, Philippines. Comment below if you have any updated information about El Nido for the Good Dimes community.

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