What to see and do in El Nido Palawan
Let’s go to discover the best attractions and the tours in El Nido
The main attractions of El Nido are 45 paradise islands of the protected area of Bacuit Bay, named one of the most beautiful beach destinations in the entire world. The islands and beaches are grouped into tour packages: tour A, B, C and D. All the packages include 5 different spots and will take you straight to the most beautiful lagoons, beaches and coral reefs of the bay. The most popular is tour A since it includes the Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon, two of Bacuit Bay highlights. During the dry season, above all from December to March, a strong wind blows all day, and, sometimes, the boat tours could be cancelled, or some of their spots could be skipped/changed. Every day, the tours are checked by the El Nido Coast Guard before allowing the boats to depart from the pier. In the end, the itinerary is approximate and subject to change based on the tidal and weather condition of the day. The tours depart around 9 am and come back at 5 pm.
Related post: El Nido travel guide 2020.
- Prices of the boat tours
You have 2 options to visit Bacuit Bay: join a shared tour or rent a boat for a private tour. Indeed the best option is the private tour as you can control the time to spend in each spot.
Shared tour: the prices range between 1200 PHP and 1400 PHP and include an English speaking guide, the lunch buffet, hotel pick up and snorkelling gear. Lunch is served during a stop on a beach and is often composed of grilled fish, grilled pork or chicken, rice, vegetables, shrimps and fruits. It’s not included the Ecotourism fee (200 PHP) and the rental fee for the kayak to visit the lagoons (about 200 PHP)
Private tour: the prices range between 9000 PHP and 10000 PHP (up to 3 people) and include an English speaking guide, buffet lunch and snorkelling gear. It’s indeed the best way to enjoy islands and beaches as you can control the time to spend in each spot. Like in the shared tours, the Ecotourism fee and the kayak are not included.
Tips: the Ecotourism fee last 10 days. Remember to keep it if you plan to do many boat tours. Bring with you a dry bag to avoid your value to get wet from the waves’ sprinkles and wear water shoes because you often must walk in the shallow to reach the beaches and your boat. You can buy a dry bag in the several shops in El Nido and rent the water shoes in the tour operator’s office before departing (150 pesos).
- Where to book the tours
Booking a tour is extremely easy. Every corner and street of El Nido are plenty of operators that offer private and shared tour packages. You can also book through your accommodation or, as we did, using klook.com, one of the best web platforms when you travel in Asia.
Tip: when you book a tour, remember to check which spots you are going to visit. For example, we saw some operators offering the tour a with the choice between the Big or the Small lagoon. Make sure your tour A includes the Big Lagoon.
El Nido highlights
Indeed the Bacuit Bay has much to offer, and you’ll never get bored even if you decide to spend here an entire week. Among the many spots we visited, our favourite highlights were:
1. Big Lagoon (tour A)
The big lagoon is enclosed among high limestone rocks formation and boast a rippling denim blue deep water. To access the lagoon, you need to rent a kayak and paddle through a scenic gorge with incredible shallow clear water where, indeed, you can jump off and take stunning pics.
2. Small Lagoon (tour A – D)
The Small Lagoon is a bit hidden and can only be entered through a tiny crack in the limestone rock wall. To access the lagoon, you must rent a kayak. This lagoon has a unique atmosphere, and once inside, there are scenic cliffs and narrow gorges to explore.
Tip: The Small lagoon visit is often offered in tour A with the Big lagoon, but you can only visit one of them. We booked a tour A asking for the Big Lagoon visit, and also a Tour D with the Small Lagoon included. Always ask the operators which spots are included before booking the tour.
3. Secret Lagoon (Tour A)
The Secret Lagoon is a magical place, a secluded pool of crystal water surrounded by high peaks. To access the lagoon, you need to pass through a small hole, and once inside, it’s like living in a fairytale.
4. Cadlao lagoon (tour D)
With its emerald waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs, the Cadlao lagoon is a scenic spot of El Nido. To enjoy the lagoon, you must rent a kayak. The water of the lagoon is quite shallow, and it’s effortless to jump off the kayak for a refreshing dive. On the left side, there is a small sandy beach.
5. Helicopter Island (Tour C)
It’s one of our favourite spots, a long white sand beach fringed by palm and trees and bathed by a bright, colourful sea perfect for snorkelling. It owes its name to the unique rock formations that give the island the appearance of a helicopter from a distance.
6. Snake Island (Tour B)
Snake Island is a unique spot in Bacuit bay with its beautiful sandbar that connects the tiny Vigan island (the real name of it) to the mainland. It’s called “snake island” since the sandbar look like the tail of a snake.
7. Hidden beach (Tour C)
This picturesque and secluded beach is another amazing spot not to be missed. It boasts fine white sand and crystal clear water with different emerald-blue shades. It’s called “hidden beach” because the towering limestone cliffs surround the beach and hide the view from the sea.
8. Seven Commandos beach (Tour A)
Seven Commandos Beach is impressive, a long stretch of white sand with imposing coconut trees that stood in front of the crystal clear sea. It‘s said the beach owes its name from a story that 7 soldiers got stranded here during WW II. The beach is well equipped with kiosks selling fresh coconut and drinks, huts with benches and tables where to eat, and a beach volley pitch.
9. Cathedral cave (Tour B)
It’s a big and scenic cave on cathedral island and boasts huge stalactites like pillars that go back more than 40-meters. It’s named “cathedral cave” because the towering walls inside the cave resemble that of a cathedral.
10. Nacpan beach
Nacpan beach is not included in any boat tour as it’s located on the mainland, about 45 minutes north from El Nido town, but it was the most fantastic beach we visited. Nacpan is impressive, almost 3 kilometres of fine white sand fringed by palm trees and bathed by a clear blue sea. At the southernmost tip of Nacpan, there is a facing beach called Calitag beach. The two beaches are known as the “Twin beaches”. Actually, there is a tour named “E” that visit the beaches on the mainland (usually Duli beach, Nacpan beach and Marimegmeg beach), but it’s not that worth joining it since you can easily reach Nacpan (and the other beaches) by shuttle van or renting motorcycle/tuk-tuk.
11. The sunset on Bacuit bay
El Nido sunset is spectacular and a thing not to be missed. The boat tours usually come back around 5 pm without waiting for the sunset since it’s not allowed to cruise at night. Therefore, the only place where to enjoy the warm and red sun that sets behind the islands of Bacuit Bay is the beachfront of Corong-Corong. You can lay down on Corong-Corong beach or Marimegmeg-Las Cabanas beach, but the best option is to sip a beer on the terrace of Republica Sunset Beach Bar, located along the road Corong Corong – Buena Suerte.
EL NIDO BOAT TOURS
- Tour A
If you decide to spend only a couple of days in El Nido, choose tour A. It takes you around Minolic island and its lagoons and a couple of beaches where you can sunbathe and relax. The lunch is usually served on Shimizu island, but it could be served at Payong Payong beach due to the weather condition. As we mentioned above, remember to check if the tour includes the Big Lagoon or the Small Lagoon.
Stops: Seven Commandos Beach, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Papaya Beach (or Payong Payong beach).
- Tour B
Tour B takes you to some scenic beaches like Snake island with its narrow sandbar, Pinagbuyutan Island and a couple of hidden wonder caves. Some operators offer Pangulasian Island instead of Entalula island.
Stops: Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Entalula Island (Pangulasian island), Cathedral Cave, Pinagbuyutan island.
- Tour C
This tour’s main attractions are white beaches that hug the jagged coastline of Matinloc Island and Helicopter Island. The highlight of the tour is indeed the Secret beach, a small beautiful sand beach enclosed by towering karst cliffs. Matinloc Island is a bit far away and exposed to the open sea. Therefore, this tour could be cancelled, or some of its spots could be changed because of the strong wind and rough sea. A good idea could be to do this tour with a speedboat as we did.
Stops: Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Tapiutan Island, Helicopter Island
- Tour D
Tour D takes you to Cadlao Island’s beaches, including the stunning Cadlao lagoon and a few beaches on the mainland. It usually includes the Small lagoon too, a highlight not to be missed in Bacuit Bay. Before booking the tour, make sure it includes the Small lagoon.
Stops: Small Lagoon (Miniloc Island), Paradise Beach, Nat Nat Beach, Bukal Island, Cadlao Lagoon.