El Nido is seriously the best. Due to its recent Instagram hype I was a little hesitant on if it was as good as the photos or if they were heavily edited, but it blew me away. The water color, coral reefs, and limestone mountains are stunning. Add to the mix super friendly people and a trendy downtown and you’ve got one of our new favorite destinations.
We sadly only had 4 days in El Nido before continuing on to Coron, but I could have stayed for weeks. Here’s how to make the most out of 4 days in fabulous El Nido.
El Nido Itinerary Day 1
Arrive and head to Las Cabanas Beach
Try to get an early flight so you can have almost a full first day on El Nido. While you can fly to Puerto Princesa and take a van, we decided to spend a little more for the direct flight to El Nido. We flew Airswift and it was such a great airline experience. They even greeted us with umbrellas on the tarmac so we would have shade while walking to baggage claim! Once we checked into our hotel, Entalula Cottages (simple/rustic rooms but AMAZING views, location, and staff), we decided to hit the beach. Luckily Las Cabanas Beach is a short trike (El Nido’s version of a tuk tuk) ride away.
We were expecting a normal beach experience but Las Cabanas is awesome! The water is so warm and crystal clear and there are adorable little beach clubs lining the sand. Lay on a lounger for free at most spots. All you have to do is buy food or drink. We recommend margaritas and ceviche!
Get a Massage
After relaxing on the beach all day, get a massage! Massages are one of the best parts of Southeast Asia. They are so cheap compared to the US and the quality is awesome! We randomly chose Athalias and loved it so much we came back again two days later. My sister, Becca, joined us for this trip and all three of us swear it is the best massage we’ve had in our entire lives. Plus the ladies that run the shop are so sweet and their little kids are precious! A one-hour massage will cost you around $10 USD.
Eat at the Local Seafood Stalls
Relax at your hotel for a bit and then head to dinner. While El Nido has so many cute restaurants in town we decided to go local on night one and dine at the seafood stalls near the basketball court. This reminded me so much of Los Kioskos in Galapagos. The seafood is definitely fresh and crazy cheap. We spent $7 for 3 people. If you’re squirmy on street food you may want to pass but we enjoyed it!
Sip and Shop
Afterwards, grab a cocktail or local beer, San Miguel, at one of El Nido’s rooftop bars. Be sure to stop by a few boutiqes too for an inexpensive tank top or straw purse souvenir!
El Nido Itinerary Day 2
Ride a Motorbike to Nac Pan Beach
Beach day again! This time rent a motorbike and head to Nac Pan Beach. The journey is a little far at 45 minutes and I don’t recommend it if you are a first time scooter rider. We saw a few crashes and tourists with injuries. (Including one of our own!) The roads at Nac Pan are dirt and difficult to steer on. But don’t let that stop you from going. You can always take a trike or we recommend hiring a guide to drive you on the motorbike so you get the full experience.
Okay, so we thought Las Cabanas beach was gorgeous. Wait until Nac Pan. It is jaw dropping. The huge white sand beach leads to beautiful water and unlike the other beaches there are legit waves! We body surfed and it was so much fun! The beach is lined with beach clubs here too. The chairs have a rental price but we got drinks at a bar and sat on the swing seats. We also stopped by the Mad Monkey since it is the same hostel chain our friend works at in Cambodia. Be sure to eat a seafood lunch with your toes in the sand at one of the little local restaurants.
Good to know: You typically have to pay an entrance fee to Nac Pan but it was free the day we visited plus they were handing out drink coupons!
Dinner and Drinks at Sava
After a full beach day, scoot back to town and freshen up for dinner and drinks at Sava. This restaurant is so trendy and the food was great. It appears to turn up a bit at night with a DJ, but we called it early since we had a full tour day the following morning.
El Nido Itinerary Day 3
Island Hopping Tour C
If you’ve done any research on El Nido you know that island hopping is the thing to do and that everyone recommends tour A and C. Well we do too! Although after talking with a local travel agent I’m sure the other tours are equally awesome and even better in the fact that they are less crowded! We booked our tours through our hotel but they all appear to be more or less the same.
You are on a shared boat with some other people and you visit different islands for snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. It also includes an awesome primarily seafood lunch with fresh fruit. (The best mango I’ve ever had!) They go to the same stops but in different order to avoid crowds, but it definitely still gets crowded sometimes.
Insider Tip: Bring some extra cash for beer and coconuts from the boat man and to rent a kayak on some tours. Secret beach and Helicopter Island were our favorite stops on Tour C!
Tour C Stops:
- Secret beach
- Hidden beach
- Lunch beach
- Helicopter Island
Sunset Happy Hour at Republica
After your tour head to Republica for a great sunset happy hour. This was one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. The entire sky turned orange and we could see for miles. Get there early to get a good spot for photos! They have good sangria but skip the tapas. You can take a cheap tricycle to Republica so you don’t have to worry about driving.
Dinner and Drinks in Town
After sunset, grab a trike back to town for delicious falafel. Holy Smoke is a street stand but don’t let the simplicity fool you. They have delicious falafel. And in the Philippines, who knew?! Wash it down with a cocktail at The Pangolin and people watch from the second floor.
El Nido Itinerary Day 3
Island Hopping Tour A
Time for more island hopping! We saved the best for last because Tour A is definitely the all-star of the tours. It used to include both big lagoon and small lagoon, the highlights of El Nido. But they recently changed it so you have to choose one or the other. I wanted big lagoon but it was sold out so we did small lagoon instead. I thought I was going to be disappointed but no way! Small lagoon is awesome and was one of my favorite stops! I’ve heard big lagoon is even better. Try it and let us know. We also loved snorkeling the reef. It is so alive and you can see all kinds of creatures working in symbiosis.
Tour A Stops:
- Small lagoon
- Hidden lagoon
- Lunch beach
- Papaya beach
Get Another Massage
Yep, time for another massage! This time opt for the aloe vera treatment since you may be sunburnt. It’s $4 extra but so worth it!
Dinner and Drinks in Town
After your massage head to Athena Café or Happy Hostel for drinks and appetizers. Both spots are super cute and trendy. End the night with dinner at Art Café or Trattoria Alcove. The latter always has a line but their pizza is great. We ate at their Coron location.
What to Bring to El Nido
You’ll read everywhere that you need a drybag and watershoes in El Nido. We skipped on the watershoes but we did bring our dry bag from home. It was the first time we packed it on our long-term travels and it was a game-changer. It definitely came in handy but you could probably get by without one too. Don’t stress about buying watershoes and drybags beforehand. They literally sell them on every corner in El Nido. But if you want to purchase before you pack, check out these stylish water shoes and backpack style dry bag.
Is El Nido too Touristy?
We had some concerns, but honestly to be so crowded the underwater world looks untouched. Some spots on Tour A were pretty packed and while the orange life vests and non-swimmers being dragged by guides in a chain are unappealing, the natural beauty is unparalleled and absolutely worth the tour. For a less crowded experience, consider taking a private boat. We didn’t know this was an option at the time we booked our tours, but we did do this in Coron and loved it. The price difference isn’t much, especially if you have a group.
This 4 day El Nido itinerary is packed full of fun but as always we recommend taking it slow and enjoying this paradise a little longer. Island hoppng in El Nido is an incredible experience and a must-do on your Southeast Asia travels.
All the Feels for El Nido,
Note: We visited El Nido in March 2019.