Diane is the co-writer of The Luggage List and currently lives in the Philippines. Equally, in love with both tropical and mountain life, her travel plans are fueled by the obsession of finding the best possible views at sea or on mountaintops.
While the rest of the world flocks to Thailand, Oceania, the Caribbean, the Maldives, or other world-famous tropical destinations, only a few are privy to the secret that is El Nido. Located in the Philippines, El Nido can easily rival many of the earth’s most well-known beaches but if you visit once, you’ll know why it holds a special place in my heart.
By global standards, El Nido is still considered fairly remote. In fact, electricity is only available a few hours of the day. This may come as an advantage or a disadvantage, depending what it is you’re looking for from a tropical getaway. El Nido attracts a specific kind of traveler: artists, yogis, adrenaline junkies, soul seekers, and adventurers who don’t mind roughing it up a little in exchange for some of the best tropical views on earth. There are also luxury island resorts (Lagen, Miniloc, Apulit, and Pangalusian) although if you’re a budget or mid-range traveler, you can go straight to El Nido town and choose from dozens of accommodations within your price range.
If you haven’t been, here’s why I love El Nido so much – and why you should pack up your luggage and go for a visit:
The Towering Karst Limestones
At the heart of El Nido is the sleepy town center, built on the foothills of a majestic karst limestone covered in lush greenery. The town is where most accommodations, restaurants, and bars are located, but if you step onto the main beach you’ll also be greeted by an even more spectacular limestone which creates an incredible silhouette during the golden hours. The outer islands of El Nido are also peppered with beautiful limestone formations that make for a breathtaking backdrop to your photos.
Dozens of Islands and Beaches to Choose From
The main activity in El Nido is island hopping. Staying at the town center or in your resort would be a shame, because the islands practically beckon for you to get on a boat and explore them. Tour operators offer various packages and combine islands for day trips, but there’s also the option of choosing your own islands to stay in for the entire day before you head back to town. I personally enjoyed visiting all the main beaches, and since I was particularly enchanted by Entalula, asked our guide to take us there for one entire day before we ended the trip. Tour packages in El Nido typically include lunch on the boat or an island, as well as snorkel rental.
Here’s a list of the popular islands you can visit (mostly by boat) during your trip to El Nido:
Buena Suerte Beach
Seven Commandos Beach
El Nido is still pretty much considered off-the-beaten path. There is just one airport serving two airlines, both of which have limited availability. If you can’t book a flight, another option of getting into town is by flying to Puerto Princesa and taking a 6-hour van to El Nido (worth it, trust me!). Because of this, there aren’t as many travelers as you’d find in other more popular beaches. It’s still completely possible to find a secluded corner in the beach and read in peace. The surrounding islands have little to no inhabitants spare for the local tribes. The main town of El Nido though, is abuzz with activity from foreign tourists. While it’s the main hub, getting to the nearby islands and beaches for quality alone time and tranquility is extremely easy.
The Epitome of Island Life
Forget the conveniences of modern-day living: if you’re willing to sacrifice electricity, mobile phone signal, and even Wi-Fi, you’re ready to have the most transformative island experience of your life in El Nido. Leave your gadgets at home and commune with nature. El Nido invites you to relax in a hammock between coconut trees, breathe in fresh ocean air, eat food from nearby farms, soak in the sun, and of course – swim in the beautiful sea. When all’s been said and done, enjoy some fresh coconut juice. Watch the sunset, and count the stars at night. You won’t find swimming pools here because in El Nido everyone enjoys the beach. El Nido offers what is truly the epitome of what it means to enjoy island living.
There are many foreign residents who have visited El Nido and never left. Because of this, the sheer choice of international cuisine available is overwhelming. Whether you enjoy French, Italian, American, vegan, or local seafood, you’ll definitely find something in El Nido. I personally love seaside dining with a view in town – you just can’t go wrong when it comes to eating good food with a spectacular view of the ocean or sunset when you’re here.
You’re in the Philippines – of course people love to drink! In El Nido there’s no shortage of bars, except here they’re mostly made of wood or bamboo, and are located right on the beach. Head out at night barefoot if you want, but there’s nothing like enjoying a good nightcap, or dancing the night away then stepping out to see the silhouettes of coconut trees or a blanket of bright stars right above you. It certainly beats the nightlife in any city, that’s for sure.