Getting from Puerto Princesa to El Nido
Where to eat, drink and what to do
Palawan was definitely one of the highlights of our trip through the Philippines in January 2017. The Island’s nature is breathtakingly beautiful. While on the road you’ll be overwhelmed by the abundance of palm trees and forrest packed mountains. If you keep traveling up north you’ll reach the much visited El Nido archipelago. After staying here for one week we totally get why this little town and her surroundings are so immensely popular. Read on to learn about my recommendations on where to eat, drink and ride!
But first, you’ll need to get there. And to put it straight, the trip there is not going to be easy. But hey, it’s one of the best places we’ve visited during our journey, and trust me, it’s worth the hassle. You’ll have forgotten about it after being there for five minutes.
It’s most likely you fly to Palawan Island. Palawan’s main airport is located in the city called Puerto Princesa. Having a super romantic name like that you’ll probably imagine it to be a pretty little idyllic harbour city. Well… it’s not, but it’s alright to stay for a night or two if you wish to relax a bit after your flight.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa
When we were there we stayed at the Bamboo Backbackers Lounge. A brand new hostel built by travelers for travelers. You can choose between staying in an open bamboo hut with 8 mattresses on the floor (mosquito nets are provided and already set up) or in private double rooms. We did the latter and payed just 500 pesos in total for a double room. (Fresh waffle and a coffee for breakfast included!) There’s a small bar to have a beer with your fellow travelers and a very relaxed atmosphere. The Scottish girl who manages the place is super kind and always in for a friendly chat! Check Booking.com here for availability.
Where to eat in Puerto Princesa
For diner in Puerto Princesa check out Bona’s Chaoling. A Vietnamese place serving great bowls of noodles in beef stew soup at incredibly low prices. The value for money here is really good. Try the garlic bread with it. Only if you’re not planning on going out afterwards 😉. Pay as you order, take your number to your table and wait food the good stuff to be served.
Going directly from Puerto Princesa to El Nido
You could also choose not to stay in Puerto Princesa and continue traveling up north towards El Nido straight away. Depending on your time of arrival in Puerto Princesa this is a plausible option.
You have two options to get to paradise. Option 1: go by bus. Option 2: go by Minivan.
Going by bus will take you about 7 hours getting to the El Nido. There are two major bus companies, Roro and Cherry. They basically run the same service with buses leaving every two hours. Roro starts at 04:00 AM and then every two hours. Cherry starts at 05:00 AM and then every two hours. The prices are the same for both bus companies, 280 pesos for non-aircon and 370 pesos for aircon.
Tip: some buses have air conditioning and some don’t. Every second bus has aircon, so the one leaving at 04:00 AM doesn’t, the one at 06:00 AM does, and so on. We prefer and recommend traveling in non-air conditioned buses after catching a severe cold during a 5 hour trip in a freezer on wheels once on Cebu Island. The non-aircon coaches have the side windows opened which supplies more than enough fresh air while riding. It only gets a little hot inside during a few longer stops on the way. But trust me, that’s better than being sick while you’re traveling.
These buses depart from the San Jose bus terminal. Getting there from Puerto Princesa Airport is easy and fast by tricycle. It will take about 25 minutes depending on traffic and will cost between 100 and 150 pesos depending on your negotiating skills.
know the average prices for your trip. You can always ask this at service desks on the airport. When negotiating, be the first to mention a price. Avoid making it sound like a question, this will make you look insecure. Just say: 100 pesos to San Jose bus terminal. And see what he comes back with. If you feel he’s asking too much, just walk to the next tricycle driver. This trick always works, he’ll probably come after you lowering his price. Unless you’re trying to get a unrealistically low price.
If you have stayed at Bamboo Backbackers in Puerto Princesa, they can arrange you a tricycle to get to the San Jose bus terminal. The ride will take approximately 15 minutes and cost you between 50 and 100 pesos depending on your hassling skills.
Option 2 go by minivan
If you go by minivan the trip takes about 5 hours. There are loads of minivan drivers racing up and down from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa. The minivans get filled with as many people inside as possible. The drivers even build in extra seats added to the existing interior to carry as much travelers as possible. This results in a uncomfortably cosy 5 hour lasting journey being pushed into your neighbor in every corner, as the minivan drivers race like maniacs. But the upside of it all is that you will get to you’re desired destination fast. Most minivans cost 500 pesos one way per person. They can often be booked from your accommodation or directly at the bus terminal.
Tip: Don’t take the departing times too serious. Most of the times the driver won’t leave before he got the most out of his minivan’s capacity. But in case things are really taking too long, don’t be shy and open your mouth. They will keep on waiting as long as no one says anything.
Tip: when taking a minibus make sure you get the seat right behind the driver, in most cases this is the most comfortable and spacious seat.
Optional overnight stay in Taytay
On our way from Puerto Princesa to El Nido we travelled by Roro bus. Since we had plenty of time, we decided that we didn’t want to be traveling all day long. So, to break up the trip, we decided to stop in Taytay.
Taytay once used to be the capital city of Palawan. You wouldn’t say that when you’re walking around in this little town. We stayed here for two nights and dined at all restaraunts in town, all two of them! We stayed in Pem’s Pension, good value private cottages and a very hospitable host. Breakfast is included in the room rate. While the breakfast isn’t that special, the food served during diner is amazing. Try their sizzling dishes, they’re delicious!
As I already mentioned, there’s one other restaurant in town, it’s at Casa Rosa. High up on the hill overlooking the little town you can enjoy an extensive menu ranging from typical Filipino dishes to pizza and pasta. I tried the Filipino fish in creamy coconut and it was delicious.
Discover Taytay by motorbike
When you stay in Taytay it’s best to hire a motorbike and discover the area. There’s not many things to see but the ride through the area alone is a treat. We went to Lake Danao, the biggest lake on Palawan island. Prepare yourself for a bit of off-road riding to get there. When at the lake there are canoes for hire. It’s free when the manager is not there, the paddles are hidden on the roof of the boat house, but you didn’t get that from me.
Fort Santa Isabel
Back in town there’s the Fort Santa Isabel to visit. A 300 year old fort once built to back off the Spanish. Today it’s open to the public during the day. At night it’s closed down, as too many locals were drinking and making love in the fort, we were told by the owner of Pem’s Pension. He gave us a private tour at night after we found the fort closed at 17:00. He happened to have the key to the fort, how cool is that.
Getting from Taytay to El Nido
From Taytay it’s just a short trip going to El Nido. Again you can choose between the minivans or the Roro and Cherry bus companies. We took a minivan as it suited our timing best at that time. From Taytay to El Nido we payed 200 per person.
And then, after 1,5 hours, you have finally arrived in paradise. When you’re getting closer you’ll start to get what all the fuss is about. The magnificent views on the mountain like islands escalating out of the ocean are surreal.
Where to stay in El Nido
During our stay in El Nido we slept in the Our Melting Pot hostel. Locally better known as OMP. A bed in a 9 persons mixed dorm will set you back 600 pesos per person. This is including breakfast. We would definitely recommend this place if you’re traveling on a budget. Check for availability here!
Where to eat and drink in El Nido
In the town of El Nido and Corong Corong, the little town before El Nido, you will find many different restaurants. In one week obviously we weren’t able to visit them all, but these are the venues we visited. Read on to find out what’s goood.
Republica Sunset Bar
Definitely our favorite spot in Corong Corong and beyond! It starts with the location of the place. There’s not many bars in the world that offer a view like this. The menu exists out of tapas. And as the owners are from Spain, they know what they are doing. Authentic tortilla, paella, bravas, gambas al ajillo, it’s all there! And man, it’s all so damn tasty. We couldn’t get enough of this place. The staff is so friendly and super quick. Make sure you get there around 16:00 pm for a nice seat with a stunning view.
Two of the hombres who own Republica also happen to be the proud owners of Lakwatsero Motorcycles, check out the article on this start up custom scrambler workshop in El Nido right here!
Sea Jane Resto Bar
The place looks kind of shabby, however the fresh seafood here is amazing. While seated right on the beach with your feet in the sand you’ll get rich servings (7 pieces) of gamba’s for only 250 peso’s. Just have your pick from the broad selection of seafood at the entrance, order a beer at the bar, take a seat and wait for the goodness to be served.
If you fancy a more stylish restaurant, visit Mezzanine. This two story restaurant boasting nice views over the El Nido harbour serves great Italian food. From antipasti to homemade pasta and of course pizza. They also serve a broad selection of cocktails and theres a happy hour from 16:00 to 19:00, buy one get one free!
If pizza is your thing, but you care less about the ambiance and views, try Altrové! Located in a little alley off the main street parallel to the beach, serving authentic Napolitan pizza. Using imported tomatoes from Italy for the sauce. Their mozzarella and prosciuto crudo are also genuine Italian. If you really dislike the restaurants ambiance, you can always order take away and take your pizza to the beach or any other place you prefer.
V & V bagels
A rare find in the Philippines, but El Nido has it all; a New York bagel shop. Serving ridiculously good fresh baked bagels. You can either have your bagel in or take it away to the beach. I suggest the latter as the restaurant’s ambiance isn’t their strength.
Our mistake while in El Nido. We went here because of the high rating on tripadvisor. However we didn’t have a good experience at all. We don’t know what the fuzz is about. Lousy service, careless staff, and the food from the endless conceptless menu was below average.
Big club house style bar at the beach playing classic soul, blues and rock. Plus they have a pooltable! Extremely friendly staff who already recognize you on the second day you visit, I love that! Great place for a relaxed beer (or six). We didn’t eat here but the food passing by looked okay, mainly burgers and pizza. The place is owned by a very friendly German living the dream, owning a bar at the beach in paradise. Check out their special hangover menu, it’s hilarious.
Stylish lounge bar right at the beach. Chill in the beanbags while enjoying a cocktail and great old school disco tunes. Every Tuesday and Saturday things get a little bit more uptempo from 23:00 till late thanks to techno dj Electronido.
I you really want to drink your head off, go here. This backpackers packed place goes crazy from 00:00 till late with DJ’s and live music.
Maremegmeg Beach Bars
When you feel like you have been misbehaving at the El Nido beach bars you can always lay low for a night at the bars on Maremegmeg beach. A tricycle ride here will take about 15 minutes and costs between 120 and 150 pesos. When there, walk down the long stairs and try out these great sunset bars.
This is the first bar you’ll find down the stairs. If you really need to quench your thirsty hangover, take a seat here. The tunes are good, and while you’re there try the garlic and chili gambas to bring your tastebuds back to life.
Maremegmeg beach club
Nicely designed bar with comfy canvas beach chairs, good for a drink or two. Food is nothing special, the thick cut fries with aioli are good though.
The beach shack
Great bar with happy hour from 4 till 7: ice buckets full of 6 San Miguel beers for only 300 pesos. Great tunes, bean bags, feet in the sand and an amazing sunset going on right in front of you. Definitely our favorite pick at Maremegmeg beach.
Beautiful beaches nearby El Nido
While walking around in El Nido town, you’ll constantly hear tricycle riders offering you rides to nearby places of interest. My advice, don’t go by tricycle but hire a motorbike yourself. It’s an amazing way to discover the area. For only 500 pesos per day you’ll have your own great fun Honda XRM, a semi-automatic off the road style 125cc motor scooter. The bigger manual shift off-road bikes set you back 1250 pesos per day, in my opinion it’s not worth the difference. As an experienced motorcycle rider I still had good fun on the XMR.
Close to El Nido, a nice beach boasting amazing views and various great bars! See above for our favorite picks here!
Nacpan beach and Twin beach
About half an our away you’ll find Nacpan Beach. A wide stretched beach with endless rows of palm trees and nice views on the adjacent Twin Beach. Beware of some pretty big waves. I almost lost my GoPro camera and Daphne lost her sunglasses, and almost her bikini top, which delivered more great views!
At the time of writing Twin Beach was closed to the public, if we understood the vague notice sign correctly, there seems to be a conflict going on between the locals and an investment company about who owns the land.
A bit further up north is Duli Beach. Popular amongst surfers. Not very suitable for beach bums. There’s a strong wind and many sand flies!
Tip: You could tour the entire north road of El Nido. While on the map this looks like a main road, bear in mind that most of the eastern section consists of unpaved roads. But still it’s a beautiful route with great views!
El Nido Island Tours
Probably the most popular tourist activity in El Nido, the island tours. There’s four different tour options to choose from, A, B, C and D. According to other travellers tour A and C are the most interesting tours. We did tour C, which takes you to Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine and some very cool snorkling spots inbetween. Our guide said we were ‘lucky’ to get on this tour as the coast guard had cancelled this tour for over a week due to rough sea conditions. Still it was pretty intense during our trip. We weren’t able to get to Secret Beach as we would probably have been smashed against the cliffs due to the massive waves. One of the others on our boat lost his wedding ring after his hand got stuck between some underwater rocks . The poor guy got married a week ago and was on his honeymoon. On the next snorkeling spot we got slammed to a coral reef, cutting our feet and legs which is not a pleasant experience 😬. I think the coast guard was feeling very optimistic that morning.
The tours will cost you 1200 to 1400 pesos, plus you have to pay an environment tax at 200 pesos, this is also necessarily for going to beaches and other tourist activities. Note that you only have to pay this fee once! Always keep the ticket you receive with you and never give it to a tour operator. In our opinion the tour was nice to see the beautiful islands of El Nido and the lunch included in the tour price was great.
However, if you have time and money on your side, book a tour with TAO experience or Buhay Isla for an multiple day expedition to uninhabited islands where you will camp. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for this but we heard great stories about these trips from fellow travelers.
Hire a kayak in El Nido
This was definitely a highlight of our visit in El Nido. We rented a duo Kayak at the Maremegmeg beach club for just 100 pesos an hour. From here you can paddle out to some beautiful abandonded beaches. The big advantage compared to the organized boat tours is that you are actually the only one at the locations you go to. While with the boat tours there’s at least 150 other tourists there… It’s a great workout as well. Here’s some free advice, follow the coastline, as the currents are less strong. Check out the photos and video below for an impression.
The El Nido Zipline
Another popular and fun thing to do while in El Nido is the island zipline. You can get to the platform from Maremegmeg beach or from the main road. I suggest the latter as it is a shorter climb up. Still it is a pretty intense climb, especially after a heavy night of drinking. Bring a bottle of water as there are no shops up there. The ride will cost you 500 pesos. Make sure you get there before 4pm as you have to walk back which is not possible during high tide. In first instance were planning to go down during sunset but unfortunately this is not possible.