Why I Keep Coming Back to El Nido, Palawan (and Why Every Filipino Should, Too)

Why I Love El Nido Palawan

Two days before my birthday back in the year 2011, I had one of my fainting episodes at home. I don’t suffer from any serious illness but once in a while I faint whenever I have dysmenorrhea (I’m telling you, it was brutal). While my Mom would usually brush it off like my previous episodes, she brought me to a clinic to have me checked up by a doctor, just in case I need medications. The doctor had a better idea though, he had me confined in a hospital to run some tests on me because he thought that I might be epileptic. I ended up spending my birthday in the hospital with negative results for the tests, proving that I’m not epileptic and that I needed a better doctor.

Now, I’m not the type who celebrates my birthday with a lavish party. I normally spend it with an intimate family lunch or dinner, but that 2011, I had GRAND plans. I was going to what would have been my first ever budget travel in the Philippines – a 5 day trip to El Nido, Palawan that I planned for 5 months with excruciating detail complete with Excel files! Back then, El Nido had a reputation of being an expensive destination but during one of my blog readings, I stumbled upon a blog by We Are Sole Sisters that talked about their 7k Extreme Challenge. I was inspired to try it out myself despite not having any budget travel experience.

Since we already missed our flight to Palawan, we ended up rebooking our flight and instead went to Boracay since my cousin wanted to go there again. I didn’t mind even if I’ve already gone there a couple of times, but I would have rather spent my birthday in a less crowded and more peaceful island.

With my dream to go to El Nido getting postponed, I cried in my hospital bed on the exact time of our flight to Palawan, thinking that 2011 was my worst birthday ever. I promised myself that one day, I will go to El Nido and I will make it up to my sick 2011 self.

Where was Beep during that time? We were mere officemates, working in the opposite areas of our Makati office. I called him Kuya Beep back then.

Travels with a Hobo in El Nido Palawan

Fast forward to the year 2014, three years after my hellish birthday spent at the hospital, I got a chance to finally go to El Nido, Palawan thanks to a seat sale that only cost us PHP911 for roundtrip plane tickets to Puerto Princesa. I was already with Beep and I was a better budget travel planner. It didn’t take me 5 months to plan our El Nido trip but I still planned it with detail like I always do. Beep, our three friends and I ended up spending less than PHP7,000 (all-in) each for a 5-day trip.

In the summer of 2015, I went back to El Nido with Beep, this time we brought along my entire family! The experience of planning a family trip requires an article dedicated to it, but to make the long story short – it was definitely a challenge!

Island hopping in El Nido Palawan

EL Nido is dubbed as one of the best beaches in the world and was the inspiration behind Alex Garland’s novel The Beach (and  adapted into a Hollywood film starring Leonardo Di Caprio). You might be wondering why the film was shot in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand instead of El Nido. According to our guide, the government didn’t want El Nido to be associated with illegal activity.

What is it about El Nido that makes me come back for more and why do I think that every Filipino should, too?

I was born, raised, and have spent my entire life in the Philippines yet I wanted to travel to other countries – just like a lot of Filipinos. That first trip to El Nido made me realize how beautiful my own country is. El Nido made me fall in love with the Philippines and made me want to see more of it. I know a lot of Filipinos would rather travel to other countries, but trust me, when you see El Nido with your own eyes, you will also want to explore more of what our country has to offer.

I make sure that for every El Nido trip, I have a different set of companions, so that more people will be in awe of its beauty and share their experiences to family and friends. They fall in love with it and plan a trip with another group, and I help them as much as I can to do it without spending too much. I feel that the more people I convince to go to El Nido, the more Filipinos fall in love with the Philippines and want to see more of it.

Island hopping in El Nido Palawan

Sadly, a lot of Filipinos are yet to visit the “Philippines’ Last Frontier”. The number one reason is the notion that traveling to El Nido would be expensive, way more expensive than Boracay. When Filipinos think of a beach destination for the summer (or when foreigners Google for a place to visit in the Philippines), majority flock to Boracay. Yes, I know, Boracay is beautiful in its own way too but why isn’t El Nido the first choice for locals, especially?

In our first El Nido trip (it was in January), we noticed that aside from the locals, we were just one of maybe 2 or 3 tourist groups that are Filipino, the rest were all foreigners.

When people ask me for a place that I recommend for their next travel, I always say El Nido, Palawan. 100% of the time, I get the same response: “It’s too expensive!”. Then I tell them that we only spent less than PHP7,000 for a 5-day trip, all-in. I go through the details of how we did it and they’re sold.

A trip to El Nido, Palawan does NOT have to be expensive. Trust me. I’ve been there twice already and I didn’t need to shell out more than PHP10,000 for each trip (all-in)!

If you’re on a budget, book during a seat sale to Puerto Princesa. El Nido will be just a 5-6 hours ride from there. You don’t need to stay at expensive island resorts. There are plenty of budget accommodations to choose from.

We, Filipinos, are so blessed to have this amazing place right at our own backyard. So please, give El Nido a chance and make it your next travel destination. It doesn’t have the party scene like in Boracay but it has it’s unique charm that you’ll want to come back to again and again.

Gem is the co-founder and author of Travels with a Hobo. When she’s not hopping on a bus or a plane, climbing mountains, or soaking up the sun in one of the 7,641 islands of the Philippines, she lays in bed all day watching crime documentaries and TV shows and rewatching Game of Thrones. Winter is here.
  • Marjorie Gavan

    Only PHP911 for a roundtrip ticket? Holy moly that’s cheap! You got real lucky there girl. Sometimes it’s really the airfare or the getting there part that puts a dent in the pocket when we’re traveling. So those promos are really helpful even when it’s so freaking hard to catch them sometimes.

    I read that We Are Sole Sisters post too! I hardly learned from it though, obviously because I spent so much in my El-Nido and Puerto Princesa trip, despite the fact I went solo haha…

    I want to go back because I need (note the word, “need”) to try Tours B, C, and D! El Nido is quite special to me too, not only because it’s beautiful but because it’s the first place I dared to travel on my own. Next time, I’ll do what you did, keep my budget within PHP10,000 or less.

    • Limuel Banaag

      We got our ticket to Palawan for only Php 708. Thanks to the piso fare of Cebu Pacific. Our flight was cancelled and was rebooked the next day – we got free accommodation in a hotel in Makati (with breakfast and dinner) and a one way free flight voucher. Amazingly cheap for 708 pesos. You just have to plan ahead of time so you can get their piso fare! haha

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  • http://pointandshootwanderlust.weebly.com Darlene M

    So true Gem! planning a getaway with the whole family is definitely a challenge. But seriously, I have never been to Coron or El Nido and this post just made me more excited. I’ve been saving those two places for when I finally have my own hobo but I guess I need to make a move on before it becomes another Boracay.

  • JONtotheworld

    I remember booking a flight to Palawan. I planned to have a solo travel to El Nido, but it didn’t push through. YOU know I realized it would be better to experience El Nido with someone special you know. LOL!
    Thanks for this post. really helpful. Sunod sunod ang posts ah. Go Gem! ;)

  • https://www.facebook.com/vbuddie cathy

    El Nido is indeed one of the most beautiful islands in the world, i’ve never been here tho. haha! Will go in December! I love how you write your article Gem, I can feel the emotion , hehe! and yes! I like it! Good read! Xx

  • Chris Capili

    I love El Nido too! Two of my officemates and I were there last week but due to typhoon Lando, we didn’t really see how majestic the place bc of the rains and clouds. But the mere fact that we feel in love with the place shows how captivating this island is. We booked two tours, A and CC, but only got to do the the first one :( booked a flight for only 1k and got through the 5-day trip, all-in, for 7k each too! Would definitely come back and keep promoting the place to friends and acquaintances.

  • http://www.ice2big.co Erwin Manalad

    El Nido will always be special to me, I saw the most beautiful Islands and met awesome people!And Hell yeah! It doesn’t need to be luxurious!Will def going back!

  • aeivryn

    I love Palawan in general! A friend told me that if you’re in Palawan, Underground and El Nido is a must. Been to Boracay in 2011 but I recommend El Nido over Boracay ever since I saw the beauty of El Nido last year. Been to El Nido twice in a span of a year and I never came back to Boracay. Coron is our next target

  • http://travelosyo.wordpress.com Cai

    One of my top favorite places here in the Philippines. Before, I also have the same thinking that traveling to El Nido is really expensive. That was changed when I visited EL Nido Last year. The key is to score a seat SALE. The rest is manageable. There are options for budget inns and you can haggle for the island tours and land transfers. Which I did :) I spent roughly 7-8k during my 3 days trip. This is an awesome article. Looking forward to go back here soon :)

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