With charming hidden coves, colourful aquatic life and an electric nightlife scene, it’s easy to see why El Nido is an escape like no other. Taking the 5 hour, sweaty bus journey from Puerto Princesa airport directly up to Palawan’s Northern tip is all the more worth it, when you finally arrive and feel the captivating aura that radiates from this municipality. Here’s my backpackers guide to El Nido in The Philippines.
Places to stay
Our Melting Pot (OMP) – This family run hostel is perfect for backpackers looking to stay in budget, dorm style accommodation which is central to the main town and beachfront. The staff are extremely welcoming, going as far as organising a buffet meal and party games during my stay back in 2015. You can also book the island hopping tours (more information below) and daily excursions from the main reception desk. Rooms are basic but reasonably priced.
Spin – This slightly more upmarket option contains modern interiors, air-con rooms and a large chill out zone for guests to mingle or take time to themselves. Also located very central to town and the local beach, Spin hostel is ideal for backpackers looking to have their own private accommodation but still allows the opportunity for regular socialising. They even have an outdoor amphitheatre, perfect for those wanting to sink a few Red Horse beers and get their sing song on.
Outpost – Wake up and relax on the main terrace, overlooking the breathtaking Bacuit Bay. Outpost Hostel is situated smack bang on the beach and access to and from can be taken by a short stroll in the sand – bear this in mind when high tide hits! With regular themed social events and a lively atmosphere by the evening, this hostel is great for those looking to meet some fellow backpackers.
Places to eat:
El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe – This open-air cafe doubles up as an all day eatery and gift shop. Enjoy a coffee whilst you’re overlooking the beach in the morning or wash down your meal with a cocktail or two, during sunset. You can then purchase a souvenir from the shop as a cute reminder to your time spent in El Nido.
Bulala Plaza – This hidden gem is a classic case of a non-inviting restaurant setting but with knock out cuisine. Serving Bulalo; a clear, beef broth made using the bone marrow of the meat, this restaurant also serves fresh seafood and huge portion sizes. For a local restaurant, they definitely make the most of bumping up the prices to tourists but it’s still worth a visit.
Big Bad Thai – Experience the taste of Thai during your stay in the Philippines! It may not be a typical, Filipino food joint but this restaurant has some mouth-watering or even mouth-burning Thai curries to choose from. As always, this restaurant is overlooking the beautiful bay – what a way to chow down your meal!
Tip! Lechon is a common delicacy in this country and worth trying out. Also popular in countries such as Spain, this dish is in fact a whole roasted pig on a spit! We were surprised to see this being marched into our hostel, by a couple of the OMP staff back on Christmas Day in 2015, for our evening feast. Also, do your best to avoid eating McSpaghetti from the local McDonalds. This strange addition to the fast food menu isn’t the best idea to eat at 2am, after a night out.
Places to drink
Sava Beach Bar – Start your night here, plonked down on the sand, with Sava’s happy hour providing endless refreshment. You can enjoy the waves lapping against the shore as you watch the sun go down, or return later for a more livelier, booze filled experience. The main deck is opened up into a dance floor at night, so you can party until the early hours.
Pukka Bar – Many backpacker’s dignities have fell victim to this local watering hole. With neon painted walls surrounding the crowd and extra strong Red Horse beers being sold on the cheap, this is the perfect place for backpackers to visit after a long day of snorkelling and hitting up the islands.
Sabasco Music Bar – Doubling up as a restaurant and bar, Subasco offers a cosy atmosphere where you can sip on your beverage, to the sound of live music playing in the background. This little bar is hard to miss, with its brightly coloured walls, welcoming bar staff and a regular stream of backpackers.
Things to do:
Island Hopping – Easily the main attraction which draws in travellers each year, El Nido’s island hopping tours are unlike anywhere else. With 4 main tours to choose from, backpackers can sail away to the craggy, limestone rock faces of the Bacuit Archipelago, snorkel in lagoons which are so crystal clear, you can see directly to the bottom of the sea floor, or even visit the abandoned ‘Matinloc Shrine’ which is nestled amongst one of the many, towering islands. Most tours can be booked on arrival in El Nido but if you prefer to be ahead of the game, these can be booked here for as little as £18 a tour. (Another great reason to visit El Nido!)
Las Cabañas Beach – Jump into El Nido’s answer to a tuk-tuk (trike) and take the 45 minute journey to Las Cabañas beach. You can stroll along the sandy shores, sip on a fresh coconut or spend some time with your head in a book, for the ultimate day of relaxation.
Kayaking – Paddle your way through Bacuit Bay, with views that need to be seen to be believed. This is also an alternative way to view some of the spots which are regularly seen on the island hopping tours. Choose to head out on your own, or pay a guide to take you around for the day.
Snorkelling – As mentioned previously, the clear waters that surround this coastal gem are perfect for lovers of the sea. Snorkelling gear is provided on the island hopping tours or backpackers can decide to go for their own adventure, around the bay. You can also choose to scuba with one of the local dive shops and see all the interesting marine life, as they slip in-between vibrant species of coral or even down a 35m long, underwater tunnel.
Thanks for taking the time to read my backpacker’s guide to El Nido! It’s a no brainer, you MUST add this place to your bucket list!