23 Things You Have to Do In El Nido | El Nido Palawan Travel Guide
There is a lot of amazing experiences to have in El Nido and we want to touch on some of the absolute best things to do at this destination. The best part about it for us is that most of it is family friendly and we brought our 2 year old and five year old to all of these locations. All of the tours we took were private as it is very inexpensive to take private boats out to the islands.
The day trips include an amazing lunch on a beautiful beach and all drinks. Most of the the other locations I am outlining here had restaurants and amenities right there for your convenience. I love to go off the beaten path and explore sketchy areas, but for the purpose of this I am only including the most popular places in El Nido.
The Small Lagoon is located in an area called Bacuit Bay. We Spent around 2 hours at this location as it was very beautiful, and probably the most beautiful place in El Nido. When you arrive there, you will quickly realize that this is what you are here for. Dramatic limestone cliffs pitching shadows over the ocean, clear blue water and tranquility. You can kayak or swim into the lagoon, Kayak rentals are 200 pesos. Ahead of you will be as mall opening in the rocks that you can kayak through. Once you get to the other side, the colour of the water changes to gatorade blue and the water still to a halt. You are totally surrounded by cliffs and when you look up it feels as through heaven is above. This is your instagram spot!
Under the water in the small lagoon you will find coral that can only grow in this rare type of environment and fish that love still water. Very different from what you will see in the open ocean. This area can get busy so I would try to get there as early as possible.
2. Big Lagoon
The Big Lagoon is another top spot in El Nido and it is the most visited place in the island tours. The water here is also very still as it is surrounded by black jagged limestone cliffs. This is another amazing place to get some great pictures as it is extremely dramatic, as if it was created as a landscape work of art.
3. Secret Lagoon
When we visited the secret lagoon it was a pain in the ass to get to. The boat had to stop in the water a ways away from the beach, and we had to hop in the water to walk across a sharp coral reef. All of this while carrying my kids in life jackets first thing in the morning. If you are doing the island tours with kids, please skip this one. El Nido has so many beautiful locations you can skip one if it is hard on your kids or if you are not in great shape. My wife and I are fit people and we were both cut by the sharp coral here while trying to get to the beach.
When you do get to the beach it is absolutely stunning, surrounded by the black limestone cliffs and well hidden. After a short walk along the beach you will notice a small hole in the cliff. It is only big enough for one person to fit through and you have to literally climb through it. The other side is why you are here. It is a tiny lagoon filled with green water totally surrounded by cliffs rich with greenery. When you look up you can see the sky and it feels like this is a secret gateway to heaven. It is really something to see.
My recommendation is only try this if you are fit.
4. Nacpan Beach
Nacpan beach is the best beach on mainland El Nido. It stretches for a couple of miles and is one of the widest beaches in El Nido. Nacpan beach is quickly becoming more and more popular for tourist because of its beauty and ease to get to. From the main tourist area it is around a 40 minute tricycle ride. It should cost you around 400 pesos to get here or you can work out a deal with a driver for around 700 Pesos to wait for you there until you are done. Nacpan beach is a little bit more wavy than the other beaches on El Nido, but it is still pretty calm and safe for kids. There are 4 restaurants beachside that serve food and drinks at a fair price. Bottles of beer were around 70 Pesos, so pretty standard.
There are some sweet amenities here like really comfortable lounge chairs with umbrellas to protect you from the sun. These costed 100 Pesos for a pair of chairs with a table in between, so pretty cheap. You can also get a massage right on the beach! We did this and were able to get a 1 hour oil massage on the beach for $400 pesos.
If you are visiting Nacpan beach, you should plan for this to be an entire day trip as it takes a while to get to. The drive down here is actually really beautiful and you will pass rice paddies and small villages. You will also pass an area where there is a 40 minute waterfall hike. You can package these together for a few dollars.
5. Lio Beach
If you have read any of my other articles, you would know I really enjoyed this beach. It is conveniently located right beside the airport and all of the hotels on Lio Beach are owned by the same hotel group. Here they have created the perfect beach Oasis for tourists, boasting one of the best beaches in the area, the cleanest gym, the best internet and some of the best restaurants around. Lio Beach is a real treat if the only place you have been is into dirty El Nido town.
Lio Beach has 4 hotels on it and more being built, the grounds are so carefully manicured that they rake the sand here multiple times a day and trim the trees so that they look instagram perfect! The sand is soft and white and stretches for miles. There is a peer at Lio beach that stretches out far into the ocean and makes a great spot to take pictures with ocean and lush mountains for your background. Here is a link to an awesome Lio beach description and comparisson to El Nido town.
6. Vanilla Beach AKA Carong Carong AKA Las Cabanas Beach
I don’t exactly know why there are three names for the same place, but the Tuk Tuk drivers call it Las Cabanas, the internet calls it Carong carong and so do many of the locals and There is a giant brand new sign in front of it that says Vanilla beach.
For the purpose of this, I will call it vanilla beach as I think that is the direction El Nido is pushing this place. Vanilla beach is beautiful and very close to El Nido town, we caught a tricycle here from town for $250 pesos. So around $4.50 USD. The drive is beautiful and will take you through some local areas with farms and people working hard. Then into a busier area with some shops and restaurants. The area does not have a lot to do, but they are working on making this area a top place to go in El Nido.
What is there to do at Las Cabanas beach?
When you arrive at the drop off location you will be treated by a beautiful brand new outdoor shopping centre that is not yet fully complete. Instantly you will realize that this place is so much cleaner than El Nido town. The shopping centre will boast the only Mcdonalds in El Nido when it is complete. When you walk through the vanilla beach shopping centre, you are greeted by a large beach with mountains and cliffs in the background. And generally a small amount of people chilling on the beach. As the day progresses there will be more people coming to enjoy the chill vibes of the area. There are 3 large restaurants and bars that have taken up most of the top part of the beach ad have created relaxed lounge areas for guests to spend their day.
There is a massive zip-line at vanilla beach that goes from a mountaintop in the mainland all the way over the beach to a private island! I didn’t do the zip-line, but it looked like a once in a lifetime experience. The sand is perfect at this beach and if you walk to the end of the beach away from the restaurants and people, you will find the best spot on El Nido to watch the sunset! I will include more details on my Vanilla beach experience here.
7. Simizu Island
During our tour we took on a private boat we stopped at an island called simizu island. This place has 4 small beaches separated by limestone cliffs making you feel like you have an island to yourself. The beach our guides took us to was totally empty and when we looked at the beach there was a giant monitor lizard just hanging out there. My Kids were excited and scared at the same time, but the lizard took off as soon as it saw us. In my opinion Simizu island is great for a quick lunch stop but nothing more. The cliffs here are beautiful, but so are most of the cliffs of of mainland El Nido. It was in an area of open water so the water was more rough than I would have liked for a beach stop with my kids and the ground was rocky.
The thing I loved the most about this stop was the absolute feast we were treated to here. The boat captain and crew pulled out a table and made us a feast on the beach including crab, fish, chicken, pork, salad, fruit, muscles, squid and more! All fresh and barbecued on the boat. It was unreal. There were not a lot of people here, so it was very private.
8. Get a cheap oil massage
The massages in the Philippines are amazing, and even better they are cheap. I visited multiple places for massages during this trip and I found that the best massages I got were at the smallest shops. On the street they will quote you prices like $600 pesos to $700 Pesos. If you tell them $400 pesos they will accept in a heartbeat. Thats like $8 USD for an hour long massage, you can’t beat that!
There is an air conditioned shop along El Nidos main stretch downtown El Nido. It is clean, presentable and they give an amazing massage!
9. Have Coffee and People watch
El Nido is a mini tourist Mecca that brings in loads of interesting people from all parts of the world. It is an amazing place to meet fellow travellers and to people watch. The coffee shops in El Nido are conveniently positioned in high traffic areas and are some of the busiest places you will find. I think the reason for this is because coffee shops make everyone from all over the world feel at home and the food in these places are basic. When you travel around a lot, you will find simple food a rare treat.
10. Scuba diving
If you are not going to Coron on your trip then you definitely have to try Scuba diving in El Nido. I did a 3 tank dive while I was there with a dive shop that was right off of the beach in El Nido. The owner was actually from the same city I was from, and the rest of the staff were from Canada and the US. The equipment was all good quality Cressi gear and they provided lunch on the boat.
This dive was different than other dives I have done, in that they asked you to put your wetsuit on in the shop and swim out to the boat. It was interesting and woke me up instantly. Overall the waters in the area are very rich and it was plankton season while I was diving, that killed the visibility a bit. I will include a full El Nido Diving review here.
Underwater I fed a baby sea turtle, seagrass! It is very safe as they have been doing this with this same turtle for years. I saw tons of fish, there is a lot of beautiful hard and soft coral here. Overall it is a very dramatic dive and you have to try it to get the full experience.
11. Eat Pork Skewers on the street
The pork skewers that you will smell in the evening barbecuing on the street is amazing. They also have liver and other types of skewers, but my fav is the pork skewers. They are only $10 Pesos each. Check out our other articles on the top places to eat in El Nido and the best things to eat in the Philippines.
12. Eat ocean front
Normally anywhere you go, if you go to eat in front of the ocean it is crazy expensive. Here in El Nido it is cheap and some of the best restaurants can be found here. If you want a really cool place to eat and chill try the beach shack at Las Cabanas beach.
13. Hike through local villages
Whenever I travel to a destination, I take it upon myself to try to understand the culture and the people. Very morning when I wake up, I take a jog or hike through local areas so that I can experience how the people live. In El Nido town head down to the beach, if you are facing the water walk to the left and you will see a small road ocean front. Start there and keep going straight until you pass through some of the local villages. As you are doing this keep looking for the beach. It is a beautiful walk and you will get the opportunity to see why these people work as hard as they do.
If you are at Lio beach head to the beach and go right. There are small fishing villages here and you might get the opportunity to see them net fishing in the morning. Or kids hunting for crab in the evening. The view is breathtaking, with mountain and forest backgrounds.
14. Secret beach El Nido
Secret beach in El Nido is another part of the popular tours you can take here. It will cost you around $30 USD to take one of the tours here and that will include entry fee’s into the various parks and beaches. Secret beach is surrounded by limestone cliffs and is barely viewable from the ocean, hence the name. It is spectacular, with grainy sand making it amazing for exfoliating your hands and feet with the coral sand! When you are on the tours you will spend around 40 minutes at this beach. That is enough time to take some pics and chill for a while. There is nothing else here but beach, cliffs and ocean.
15. Fly a drone
If you like flying drones, then you will really love this place. It is a drone lovers dream. Beautiful white sand and blue waters, dramatic black cliffs, cool looking long tail boats and bright beautiful lighting makes this the perfect setting for flying around your drone! But be careful, don’t push it like I did or your drone will get smashed or fall into the ocean. I was flying mine around the small lagoon and it crashed against one of the cliffs.
16. Take a day trip to Coron
Coron is an amazing place, so amazing that there are cruise ships that stop here. Coron has the best diving and snorkelling in the Philippines and the waters here are richer than those in El Nido. Getting to Coron is just a cheap ferry ride over and is 3 hours away by boat. The ferry will cost you around $30USD. When you are there do one of the tours or go diving. You will be amazed, it is spectacular. If you are diving you will see WW2 wrecks and beautiful reefs, you should pre book this before you get here. If you are doing an island tour then rent a private boat, it is practically the same price as the regular group tours here.
Here is a link to a recommended Coron itinerary and details of what you should do here.
17. Helicopter Island
This is another cool spot right off of El Nido, the island is in the shape of a helicopter if you must know why it is called that. Helicopter island has 3 great small beaches on it and can be visited in your day tours. The diving and snorkelling off of helicopter island is awesome, this is where I fed the turtle and swam through their amazing healthy coral reef!
When you are in El Nido, you will find that their internet reception is really bad and it is a great place to disconnect from the online world. If you really want to stay connected there is a store in El Nido town that will sell you a new sim card. They have 2 options Globe or Smart, we heard from some of the locals that Globe was the better one for the area. On this trip we ended up getting both Globe and smart and they were both not great in El Nido as there is only one cell phone tower here for the entire island and it is on a mountain.
19. Drink a red horse beer and buy the red horse tank top
Red Horse is a Philippine beer and it is strong. 7% to be exact, it will have you dancing quick time! In every red horse crate there is one bottle with a horse smiling and that bottle is 10%, a little gift for you if you are lucky! The beer is really cheap $50 pesos at a store or $80 pesos at a restaurant. They sell red horse tank tops in almost every shop and they are pretty nice for only $250 pesos.
20. 7 Commandos island
This beach is really beautiful and can be reached by taking one of the tours here. I asked the tour guide why it is called 7 commandos and he had no idea, so I did some research and apparently 7 Japanese commandos were stuck on the island during WWII. I don’t know if this is true or not, but when you visit this beach you will love it. The sand is soft and white and the beach stretches back 30 yards all the way to a limestone cliff. There are some beach huts set up that you can hang out in for free and there is a store selling coconuts, beer and snacks.
21. Rooftop bars and restaurants
There are tons of rooftop bars and patios in El Nido and the view is unreal. The perfect setting to be inspired and to take some beautiful photo’s!
22. Swing at Happiness bar and Lounge
This was a cool little vegan restaurant right in El Nido town with Swings inside. There are always a lot of people here and they play good music all day. This is one of the best vibes on the island.
23. Party in one of the El Nido Nightclubs
There are 2 nightclubs right in El Nido town and they are both ocean front. During the day they play music and serve drinks and at night they turn into an awesome dance party! There is the Sava bar and the Pukka bar. My brothers were at these places every day and they told me that the party goes on until 5 AM.