How to get to El Nido, Palawan
Contrary to popular perception, traveling to El Nido is not necessarily expensive. There are several travel options to suit all budgets and traveling styles. Whether you’re on an organized El Nido tour package or Do-It-Yourself itinerary, here are all the different ways to get to El Nido.
About El Nido
El Nido is a laid-back tropical beach town in the province of Palawan in the Philippines. It is about 400 kilometers southwest of Manila and about 240 kilometres north of Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital city. It is within the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area, which is the largest marine sanctuary conservation in the Philippines, noted for its natural splendor and diverse ecosystem,
Sheltered in Bacuit Bay and protected on its western side by a massive rock face, El Nido is surrounded by 45 islands and islets of the Bacuit Archipelago, with towering geological limestone karst formations, secluded white sand beach coves, crystal clear blue waters and marbled cliffs. On the mainland there are waterfalls, jungles, caves and more beaches to explore. The lively streets of the town center and its beach (aplaya) are dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants.
El Nido is named after the edible birds nests made by swiftlets, locally called balinsasayaw, found in the cracks and crevices of its imposing limestone formations. Nido, which translates to nest Spanish, is used in making the delicacy Nido soup, which is sold at a very hefty price, as much as US$ 4000.00 a kilo.
In 2012, El Nido was featured by CNN as the Best Beach and Island destination in the Philippines. A sequence in the film The Bourne Legacy was shot in El Nido and adventure reality TV shows like The Amazing Race and Survivor were also shot there.
El Nido Travel Tips
The best time to visit El Nido, in terms of the fewest rainy days per month, is from November to April.
El Nido businesses and resorts rely on cellular networks for voice and internet communications. Wi-fi is commonly offered in restaurants and resorts. However, do not be surprised if the internet is painstakingly slow.
There are no ATMs in El Nido. There are pawnshops in El Nido that offer money remittance services in partnership with Western Union.
Electricity is cut from 6:00 AM to 2:00PM. Though most resorts have their own generators kicking in during this period. Charge all your gadgets when you can.
How to Get to El Nido – All the Travel Options
Option 1: Fly from Manila to El Nido via Air SWIFT (formerly Island Transvoyager Inc.)
This is the best, easiest, fastest, quickest but most expensive way to get to El Nido from Manila.
Book a Manila – El Nido flight with Island Transvoyager (ITI), a small airline primarily servicing the Manila – El Nido route. Island Transvoyager has 3 direct flights daily from Manila to El Nido’s Lio Airport and back. Below are the flight schedules:
Manila – El Nido: 7:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM
El Nido – Manila: 9:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 5:00 PM
Island Transvoyager’s general sales agent is El Nido Boutique & Artcafe, so you will have to book your flights through them. Book and pay way in advance if you plan to visit during the peak season. Visit their website for booking instructions.
UPDATE: Island Transvoyager has been reborn as Air SWIFT, and unlike the inefficient booking process when they were still Island Transvoyager Inc., Air SWIFT now has a convenient booking engine on their website which accepts credit card payments online. Also, aside from having more flights daily from Manila to El Nido, they also now offer Cebu to El Nido flights.
One way Fare is about PHP 6750.00 (USD 150.00) per person. Flight time is 55 minutes. Upon landing, it’s about a 15-minute tricycle or jeepney ride to El Nido town.
Pros: Fastest way to get to El Nido
Option 2: Fly from Manila (or Cebu City) to Puerto Princesa City > Take a shuttle van or Bus to El Nido
Travel time is longer, but this is the inexpensive (if you book in advance or are able to get promotional discounted fares), popular and most reliable way to get to El Nido as the routes are serviced by major budget airlines.
From Manila, fly to Puerto Princesa via Cebu Pacific (affiliated with Tiger Airways), Zest Air (affiliated with Air Asia) or Philippine Airlines.
Flight time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. Try to book the earliest flight available to maximize your time in El Nido.
How to get from Puerto Princesa to El Nido – Van/Bus Land Transfer Options:
A. Take a Bus. Upon exiting the airport, take a tricycle to the San Jose Bus Terminal and get on an airconditioned RoRo bus or Cherry bus to El Nido. The buses run between Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back daily starting at 5:00 AM up to 6:00 PM, with 1-2 hour intervals between trips. Travel time is 7 hours. Fare is around PHP 500.00 (USD 11.00).
Pros: Comfy spacious seats.
Cons: Longer travel time because of more stops to let passengers on and off along the route.
B. Take a Van. Upon exiting the airport, there are several private shuttle vans that will take you direct to El Nido. Travel time is about 4-5 hours. The operators of these shuttle vans are mindful of the flight arrivals, so once you exit the airport, you’ll have a lot of vans to choose from. The major shuttle van operators are Lexus and Eulen Joy. Fare is around PHP 600.00 (USD 13.00). After getting on the van, it may swing by several hotels to pick up guests bound for El Nido who overnighted in Puerto Princesa. In case you aren’t able to catch a van from the airport, head over to the San Jose Bus terminal where there are also shuttle vans bound for El Nido.
Pros: Faster travel time.
Cons: Cramped seating and legroom as most vans, usually Toyota Hi-Ace Grandias, are originally configured for 11 passengers but have been re-configured to seat 15 passengers.
C. Take a Daytripper Van. This is the best overland option from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. The company uses larger vans with roomy and comfortable seating configurations and they offer other amenities as well. Visit their website to view their trip schedules and to make reservations. Fare is around PHP 950.00 (USD 21.00). Book and pay way in advance if you plan to visit during the peak season.
Pros: Fast and comfortable travel.
Cons: Book early, seats run out fast!
Road conditions as of January 2016 are paved almost all of the way. Most El Nido resorts can also arrange your transfers. Just let them know your preferences. Total travel time using Option 2 could range from 6-9 hours. Also note that all arriving bus and van in El Nido disgorge their passengers at the El Nido Integrated Terminal at the outskirts of town, right before entering. So unless your resort is along the route prior to arriving at the El Nido terminal, you’ll have to take a tricycle to your resort from the terminal.
Option 3: Board a ship (2GO) in Manila bound for Puerto Princesa or Coron
This is slower and a roundabout way of getting to El Nido.
Book a fare at 2GO from Manila to Puerto Princesa aboard the passenger ship St. Augustine of Hippo. The ship departs Manila on Fridays at 5:00 PM, with a port call at Coron town at 7:00 AM the next day and arrives in Puerto Princesa later in the evening at 10:00 PM, Saturday. Fare varies from PHP 1200.00 (USD 26.00) to PHP 2500.00 (USD 55.00) depending on your chosen ship accommodations. When you disembark at Puerto Princesa, take any of the overland shuttle van or bus options described above to El Nido.
You could also choose to disembark at Coron. If you do so, see Option 5 below.
Option 4: Board a ship (Atienza Shipping Lines) in Manila bound for El Nido
Again, for the adventurous, get on the steel-hulled MV May Lillies, a passenger/cargo vessel operated by the Atienza Shipping Lines plying the Manila – Coron – El Nido – Liminangcong (Taytay) route. Fare is PHP 1850.00 (USD 41.00). This is the ship’s itinerary and schedule:
Leaves Manila every Saturday at 4:00 PM
Arrives in Coron on Sunday at 1:00 PM
Leaves Coron at on Monday at 7:00 AM
Arrives in El Nido on Monday at 3:00 PM
Option 5: Fly from Manila (or Cebu City) to Coron > Board an outrigger boat (banca) to El Nido
After landing in Coron (you could spend a few days there to enjoy the islands and beaches too!), take an outrigger boat (motorized banca) to El Nido, such as the M/B Overcomer-III, which leaves Coron for El Nido at 8:00 AM on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and M/B Bunso, which leaves Coron for El Nido at 7:00 AM on Sundays. There are no steel-hulled ferries from Coron to El Nido.
Travel time is 8-11 hours depending on sea conditions. Not for the easily seasick – the trip could get rough when crossing the Linapacan Strait between the main island of Palawan and the Calamian group of islands. Fare is around PHP 1800.00 (USD 40.00).
Alternatively, and more enjoyably, you could get to El Nido from Coron by boat very, very slowly by taking a Coron – El Nido expedition run by TAO expeditions or Buhay Isla which will take 5 enjoyable days. The expedition cost per person is around PHP 25000.00 (USD 555.00).
The gallery below shows a few photos of the boat & vessel route schedules we saw posted in El Nido:
Manila to Coron to El Nido
Coron to El Nido
Coron to Linapacan to El Nido
San Jose (Mindoro) to Coron
Here are markers to visually see El Nido’s location in relation to Manila, Cebu, Coron Town and Puerto Princesa City.