El Nido in Palawan in the Philippines is one of my favourite places on Earth.
I had seen plenty of photos online of the aquamarine water and dramatic rock formations, but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings and the crystal clear water that washes up onto the white sandy beaches.
El Nido had been on my bucket list for many many years, but I wasn’t sure there was enough things to do in El Nido with kids to keep them occupied.
Once my kids reached the ages of 4 and 6 however, we decided they were old enough to snorkel, kayak and even stand up paddle board, so we took the plunge – and I am so pleased we did. This has to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Asia – if not the world!
If there is a heaven, I want it to be exactly like El Nido!
What to Do in El Nido
With its crystal clear water and white sandy beaches, it’s all about watersports and island hopping tours in El Nido. You can either do these as part of an El Nido tour package, organise a private boat through your hotel – or hop in a kayak and head off to explore on your own. Here are some of the best things to include on your El Nido itinerary:
El Nido Island Hopping
There are many El Nido tour companies offering island hopping trips – but here’s the thing: all the tours offered are roughly the same, and are named (wait for it…) Tours A, B, C and D.
El Nido Tour A is the most popular island hopping tour as it takes in the three famous El Nido lagoons – Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon and Secret Lagoon.
The tour will usually include snorkeling and lunch on Shimizu Island and some beach time on 7 Commandos Beach. If you only have time to do one tour and it is your first time here, then Tour A El Nido is probably the best option.
El Nido Tour B is a more off the beaten track El Nido package. With Tour B El Nido you visit the sandbar of Snake Island, the beaches of Pinagbuyutan Island and Entalula Beach, do some cave exploring at Cudugnon Cave and finish off with some stunning snorkeling.
El Nido Tour C is another popular tour thanks to the beautiful beaches it brings you to, including Secret Beach, Star Beach and Hidden Beach as well as a visit to Helicopter Island and the supposedly haunted Matinloc Shrine. If you are all about the beach, then Tour C El Nido is for you.
El Nido Tour D is another good one for beach lovers, and especially if you prefer to escape the crowds as it takes in some of the lesser-known El Nido beaches, despite them being closest to El Nido town.
Beaches include Ipil Beach, Paradise Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach and Bukal Beach.
If you are short of time, some companies offer combo tours to fit in more El Nido tourist spots into your day.
Swimming in Big Lagoon El Nido
If you want to see unbelievably clear turquoise water, then you cannot miss a visit to Big Lagoon. If you have seen any photos of El Nido, chances are they will include one of Big Lagoon – it is so stunning, you won’t be able to stop taking photos.
And the water is so inviting, you won’t be able to resist jumping in. Enjoy!
You can visit Big Lagoon as part of El Nido island hopping Tour A, or arrange a private boat to take you there.
Kayaking in Small Lagoon El Nido
Squeeze your kayak through a narrow gap between the rocks and you will discover the gorgeous Small Lagoon on Miniloc Island. It was busy when we visited and it was a bit of a scrum to get through the entrance gap, but once inside there was plenty of room for everyone to glide around and enjoy the scenery.
This is one of the most fun El Nido activities we did. We spent around 45-minutes exploring the limestone rocks and taking in the natural beauty of our surroundings.
Some people chose to swim or float around in their life jackets. Whichever you choose, don’t miss Small Lagoon.
If your tour doesn’t include kayaks, you can hire these near the entrance to Small Lagoon.
Swimming in Secret Lagoon El Nido
My kids loved the adventure of ‘discovering’ the Secret Lagoon.
Secret Lagoon is not really secret anymore as it is visited by hundreds of people a day on island hopping Tour A, but it was fun to feel like an explorer, squeezing ourselves through a tiny hole in the rocks and being rewarded with a hidden swimming hole on the other side.
El Nido Beach time
El Nino has some of the best beaches in Asia and so many incredible ones to choose from! As mentioned above, many of the best beaches are visited as part of the El Nido boat tours.
However, there is plenty of opportunity to visit other beaches too and if you have the chance to explore on your own with a kayak, you will likely find a hidden little beach where you will have the whole place to yourselves.
If you choose to stay at one of the El Nido Resorts hotels (more details below), they also own two private beach clubs – one on Entalula Beach and one on Dibuluan Beach. We visited both during our stay and practically had the whole beach (including beach bar!) to ourselves.
Not only is the water in El Nido crystal clear, but we found it to be mostly calm, making it ideal for the kids to swim in – and my 6-year old also discovered a new love in her life: stand up paddle boarding!
Snorkeling in El Nido
El Nido has some of the clearest water and most incredible marine life of anywhere in the world. It is hands down some of the best snorkeling I have done anywhere.
On Miniloc island I swam with huge Jack fish as well as following a puffer fish around and spotting giant clams and a million other colourful fish. I didn’t want to ever leave this magical under water world.
The water is calm and shallow and ideal for kids to learn to snorkel. You can go snorkeling as part of one of the El Nido island tours, or hire a kayak and go and find a reef nearby. There are so many to choose from.
Where to Stay in El Nido
The best, most luxurious and most picturesque resorts are on the islands. For us, we decided that the best place to stay in El Nido was Lagen Island, part of El Nido resorts. El Nido Resorts runs the three top luxury resorts in El Nido: Pangalusian Island, Lagen Island and Miniloc Island.
Each resort offers luxurious accommodation and a huge range of facilities and activities to keep the whole family entertained. We chose Lagen Island due to its incredible scenery (I felt like I was walking onto a James Bond movie set when I got off the boat), gorgeous swimming pool and range of facilities.
Pangalusian is the most luxurious of the El Nido resorts and boasts a stunning white sand beach and marine sanctuary. Miniloc Island is slightly more rustic but has a lovely beach and amazing house reef for snorkeling. El Nido resorts also have a fourth resort – Apulit Island – but it is a bit further away.
Another island resort option is nearby Cauayan Island, which also benefits from a stunning location, beautiful beach and swimming pool.
El Nido town itself is not particularly picturesque, but if you can’t (or won’t) fork out the high-end price tag of the luxury island resort getaways, then more mid-range and budget options are available close to El Nido town. Both El Nido Mahogany Beach and Cadlao Resort get good reviews.
How to Get to El Nido
The easiest way to get to El Nido is to fly directly into El Nido airport (Lio airport). Air Swift is the only airline with direct flights, but offer several flights a day to El Nido airport from several domestic airports around the Philippines, including Manila and Cebu. The Manila to El Nido flight takes around 1 hour.
El Nido airport is located right on the beach. If you are staying on one of the island beach resorts, they will collect you from the airport by boat and transfer you to your hotel.
If you are staying in El Nido town, you can pick up a motorized ‘tricycle’ at the airport to take you – it will cost around 200 pesos (negotiate the price before you set off) and take approximately 25 minutes.
You can also travel from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. The most popular way to do this is to take a Puerto Princesa to El Nido van, which takes around 5-6 hours.
These are small private minibus transfers, which you will share with around 12 other people. You can also book these privately. The bus from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a cheaper option but can take between 6 and 9 hours, depending on the day.
The Best Time to Visit El Nido:
The best time to go to El Nido depends on whether you want to visit when the weather is at its best – or whether you prefer to avoid the crowds and high price tags.
The high season in El Nido runs from November to May, when you can expect more sunshine and less rainfall. Prices will be higher and hotels busier during this time, especially during peak periods of Christmas & New Year, Chinese New Year and Easter.
The low season from June to November is a quieter and cheaper time to visit El Nido. Do beware of typhoons during this time however, particularly in July and August, which may lead to flights and island hopping activities being cancelled.
What to Bring to El Nido
Be sure to bring all the usual beach gear for your trip to El Nido, including sun cream and insect repellent.
We found a good dry bag useful for island hopping trips, and were so pleased we brought our water shoes with us – particularly for scrambling through the rocks at the Secret Lagoon. If your kids are new to snorkeling, you could also try out one of the full-face easy-breathe masks – my kids love theirs!
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