EL NIDO, PALAWAN 4-DAY ITINERARY – ISLAND HOPPING, HIKING, BEACHES
El Nido is one of my favorite places in the Philippines. I’ve stayed there in total for almost a month and done many of the activities and tours… twice. That’s why it’s not too difficult for me to suggest what people should do when they tell me they only have one day or one week. I decided to make this 4-day El Nido Itinerary as most people visiting El Nido seem to stay for more than a couple of nights but less than a week. In this El Nido itinerary, I will share with you how to get to El Nido, what tours you should do, which day-trips to make, where to stay and tips on how to maximize your days if you are on a tight schedule.
If you want to view all of the best things to do in El Nido and decide which ones you are interested in. You can click on my El Nido Travel Guide to view: EL NIDO, PALAWAN TRAVEL GUIDE: 20 AWESOME THINGS TO DO
HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
You can either fly in to El Nido airport (more expensive and can be hard to book) or fly into Puerto Princesa (cheaper and much more availability). If you fly into El Nido you just take the shuttle to your hotel and you are done, it is very easy. If you fly into Puerto Princesa you will need to take the van up to El Nido.
It is a 6-hour van ride, crammed in with other tourists to reach El Nido. The van from Puerto Princesa to El Nido costs $15-20 USD. The van will drop you 10 minutes outside of El Nido town and you can take a tricycle for a few dollars into the town to find your accommodation.
So most people fly into Puerto and then head to either El Nido for the island hopping or to Sabang to see the famous underground river. For both of these destinations, you will book a seat in a shared van unless you are fancy with your own private car. This is a Philippines backpacking guide so I will assume you are choosing the van. The links below let you book the van online the night before and are about the same as the price you will find from the guy on the street who likely won’t have an A/C fan or will cram an extra tourist in the car.
Book your ticket to get to Sabang from Puerto Princesa: Click here
Book your ticket to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa: Click here
You can do this all in one day if you organize everything correctly and there are no delays. So essentially, you can make it from Bohol/Cebu/Manila in the morning to El Nido in the evening if everything goes to plan.
Before you book check out this guide about things to know before you visit El Nido, with handy tips on the top wifi spots, cafes and other money-saving opportunities in El Nido.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
I stayed at the Spin Designer Hostel. The vibes at this hostel were about adventuring during the day and partying at night. The staff helped to book tours cheaper than the vendors on the street and gave discounts if you did multiple tours. If you are looking for a fun and cheap time you can’t go past Spin Designer Hostel. Make sure to book in advance as El Nido does get booked out.
I’ll outline a few other good options below and it really depends on what type of location/hotel you are looking for.
Here is a little checklist to start!
- If you are on a budget and looking for a cheap hotel or hostels, the town proper (El Nido Town) is the best choice for you.
- If you want to see the best sunset every night in El Nido, Las Cabanas is a perfect place for you.
- If you are in El Nido looking for for some peace, luxury and relaxing place, you need to stay in Lio Beach.
- If you want a secluded yet an exotic place to stay with the best beach on the mainland, head on to Nacpan Beach.
The town proper of El Nido is the main hub of the region. You can find a great selection of shops and restaurants aside from the beautiful beaches, tour operators and laid-back nightlife. Below are my top picks in El Nido Town Proper for each different type of budget.
Happiness Hostel (Budget): Right in the center of the town, Happiness hostel, offers a cozy stay and chill vibes to all their guests. It is one of the recommended budget-friendly hostels in town. The dorms offer a semi-private accommodation with a closed personal bed with a sliding door that has a light and a fan inside. Let’s be honest we all appreciate that privacy of a screen in a dorm room. If you are a beer and food lover, Happiness beach bar serves sumptuous food and cheap beer.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Happiness Hostel.
Frendz Hostel El Nido (Good atmosphere): Nestled in the heart of El Nido, this newly-opened hostel offers free Wifi, rooftop swimming pool (at a hostel!), and bar which has an incredible sunset view, specialty coffee, and first-rate rooms. The restaurant is excellent and provides a wide variety of options. Frendz Hostel is a great place to meet new friends and create memories with them. All of the staff will really become your “frendz”.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Frendz Hostel
Vellago Resort (Luxury): Vellago Resort is a luxurious boutique hotel located just outside El Nido town proper specifically on Seven Commando Beach. Boasting white sand, turquoise water, and countless coconut trees. You can enjoy the best sunset on the beach bar or on your balcony. Guests can experience island hopping with a speed boat, snorkeling, kayaking, play beach volleyball, or sit back with a cold drink and take in your beautiful surroundings. One of the highlights of your stay here is that they set up a romantic dinner on the beach every day.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Vellago Resort.
Or you could stay at Lio Beach, which is much more secluded and low-key with chill beach vibes for sunset each night.
Located north of El Nido, Lio Beach has a wide sandbar reaching far back to its restaurants and bars shaded by coconut trees. If you want to grab a drink or some nibbles, I recommend Shaka Café and El Nido Grill. Lio Beach is about 20 minutes by motorbike from the town proper and there is also a free shuttle that runs every hour so you are disconnected from the town but also quite easily connected and with the free shuttle it is never out of reach to drop into the town, which I did many times.
Balai Adlao Resort: If you want a laid-back escape from the buzzing El Nido Town, Balai Adlao, a 3-star boutique resort, is perfect for providing that privacy and convenience you are looking for. The place is very modern and equipped with a number of restaurants nearby. The rooms are quite spacious and the staff is very friendly and hospitable.
Click here to check the best current rates and availability of Balai Adlao Resort.
The View: Situated 6 kilometers away from El Nido town, The View does bed and breakfast which serves Continental and American breakfast daily. The place is a little bit remote but it is highly recommended and worth it. I love the big hammock hanging on the terrace as it gives a spectacular panoramic view of El Nido.
TRANSPORT IN EL NIDO
To get around El Nido you can walk to all of the restaurants nearby El Nido Town, which is within a 1km distance. The best thing to do is to rent a moped or motorbike for at least one day. For $5, we rented a motorbike for the day while we were in El Nido and drove to nearby beaches. You could also rent a car or join a tour group if you prefer not to ride a motorbike.
EL NIDO FOUR DAY ITINERARY
Okay so this is a strategic itinerary so that you aren’t too tired but also don’t waste any of your valuable vacation time. In four days I suggest a minimum of two days island-hopping and one beach day. I’ll detail it all below and you can change it up to suit your needs as you go.
EL NIDO ITINERARY: DAY 1
Okay, we all know El Nido is famous for it’s island hopping so today you will head out on Tour A, which is one of the most popular tours in El Nido.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING A TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Three Lagoons at Miniloc Island, Shimizu Island, Snorkel with turtles at Seven Commando Beach, BBQ Lunch
SEVEN COMMANDO BEACH
Coconut trees lined Seven Commando beach and we, of course, sipped on a few after a quick snorkel. Our boat docked here for a 45-minute chill/exploration session. Many people snorkeled but we just hung out on the beach and had a swim. The rocks in El Nido are incredibly sharp, Seven Commando Beach was no exception. Wear shoes if you are planning on exploring in caves and on rocks like us.
On my second visit to Seven Commando Beach, I also did a beach clean-up. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent.
BIG LAGOON EL NIDO
Cruising up the lagoon was our first real look at how dramatic the cliffs and landscape was in El Nido. The lagoon has a narrow and the boats manage to navigate alongside each other as everyone on board arches their necks checking out the intense cliffs. The boat glides across the glassy water, almost crystal as the narrow entrance finally opens up into a giant lagoon. The boat did a slow circle in the lagoon letting us take in the sights before heading back out the narrow stretch.
LUNCH AT SHIMIZU ISLAND EL NIDO
Our guides had been cooking on the grill all morning as we cruised around from island to island. It was time to see what they had produced. It was an absolute feast. I’ll be honest I’ve been on some tours where you get a cruddy sandwich and a bag of chips. This blew it out of the water. Grilled pork and chicken, fresh grilled fish and fruits and of course an abundance of rice. There was plenty for everyone as we sat around on the logs watching monitor lizards amongst the trees. A bit of exploration post-lunch never hurts and we found a very shallow spot for a couple of jumps.
SECRET LAGOON EL NIDO
This spot was amazing but probably my least favorite as there were more than fifty tourists crammed into a tiny lagoon at once. We had to swim to a small hole and clamber through. One through sun shone down into a tennis court-sized lagoon, totally enclosed by sharp cliffs. It was a great spot but a little bit of an anti-climax. However, the beach around the corner once back out of the lagoon was really cool. The landscape here was by far my favorite spot of the day and I camped on my favorite spot at the front of the tour boat as we left snapping a few shots to capture the entire scene. I have never seen anything like it before in my life.
The second time I visited Secret Lagoon in El Nido on Tour A, I was armed with a drone. It gave me a whole new perspective on the lagoon and the scale of the beach. I’ve added those photos below.
SMALL LAGOON EL NIDO
Our last stop of the day would be the small lagoon. By now I had become a bit desensitized to the majestic beauty all around me. But the small lagoon hit another chord. We were offered kayaks as we arrived but also given the option to swim. Being the cheap guys Jorden and I were of course we swam. It wasn’t too far just a few hundred yards both ways. Swimming through this lagoon was beautiful, calming and a great way to end the day. We went as far in as we could and just spend a while floating on our backs taking in everything around us.
The second time I visited Small Lagoon was actually with the Red Bull Cliff Diving team, which was a whole new experience. They had set up ladders to a platform and were jumping from 21m and 27m for their competition. I’ve put the video below about this epic experience.
EL NIDO ITINERARY: DAY 2
The island hopping in El Nido is incredible, but I suggest taking a day off in between your island hopping trips so you don’t’ wear yourself out. That doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you don’t explore on day two. In fact, day two is going to be a big adventure.
Firstly, you have an optional activity and it depends on whether you are capable of waking up for sunrise or not. If you are a true adventurer you will be up for it without question. The first activity of the day is hiking Taraw Peak for Sunrise.
HIKING TARAW PEAK FOR SUNRISE
Expect extreme humidity. That’s what to expect! Holy hell this was the most humid climb of my life. But seriously, expect a short, steep intense climb and then to enjoy an epic, epic view for sunrise on jagged rocks. If you like adventure and miss this one in El Nido, you messed up!
The trail winds through the small neighborhood before throwing you into the jungle. From the first minute, you are clambering more than following a trail or ‘climbing’. The jagged rocks mean that you are constantly concentrating so you don’t misplace a step as they are unforgiving.
There are sections that are relatively vertical but nothing too extreme. There were lots of amateur hikers and climbers both male, female, young and old on the trail so don’t be scared of this hike because of the sharp rocks.
There were a few sections that were a bit sketchy but there is always something to hold on to. I’d say the level of difficulty for this hike is moderate to above average because of the rock clambering. I don’t want to discourage you from climbing Taraw Peak but some people may struggle or get frightened so I made sure to take these two photos in probably the two most sketchy spots.
Once we cleared the final little ascent the view opened up and what a view it is. You have a birds-eye view over El Nido town and the entire bay, where the island-hopping boats are all lined up for another day of touring. We could see all the way out to Cadlao Island and beyond.
After heading up Taraw Peak for sunrise, head back to your hotel and grab breakfast. Next, you will either rent a motorbike or a van and head out on a day of beach hang-outs and exploration.
A moped costs 350 Pesos or $7 USD. We split that between two people and you have your transport sorted for the day for a few dollars. Gasoline is usually only a couple of dollars. You will need to leave your passport with the rental person but that is fair, remember you have their bike!
Nacpan Beach is about 30 minutes away from El Nido town and one of the most pristine beaches in the area. The water clarity is perfect and coconut trees and chill cafes and bars line the beach. Down to the right is empty shoreline to hang out on and down to the left is a small hill to explore.
I remember hearing that there was great shrimp at Nacpan Beach and I can testify that it is true. My lunch was beautiful and I topped it off with a mango smoothie for good measure. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo, but let’s be honest you can’t taste a photo. Just trust me to get the shrimp.
CHECK OUT VERDE SAFARI BEACH
After Nacpan Beach our next stop was Duli Beach.. or so we thought. It was a 30-minute drive and after 40 minutes we thought we had finally arrived. The beach looked amazing but our map told us we had actually arrived at Verde Safari Beach. It was a blessing in disguise as this was an amazing stretch of shoreline that was entirely empty. A few fishing boats were resting on the shore in front of rows of coconut palms.
SURF OR HANGOUT AT DULI BEACH
With less than an hour before the sun would set we finally arrived at Duli Beach. A few small huts were scattered along the beach and only two local kids were trying to surf the whitewash. Jorden and I grabbed the GoPro and headed out deep into the thick of the action. The locals thought we were drowning and were preparing a rescue before I came back and told them we were fine. Jorden headed in and I spent the entire sunset floating around in the impact zone. The waves were big but not barreling clean. This was one of my favorite nights from our one month trip in the Philippines.
EL NIDO ITINERARY: DAY 3
Okay, day three and it’s time to get back on board the island-hopping circuit. This time I suggest going on tour C. It is the other, very impressive tour with hidden lagoons and snorkeling with turtles. However, if you were about overwhelmed by the crowds on your Tour A, I suggest picking Tour B this time. I’ve detailed all of the tours with photos and guides in this blog post so you can review, which one looks best to you.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING C TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Beach, BBQ Lunch
The first island on the itinerary of Tour C in El Nido is the famous Helicopter Island. It isn’t hard to figure out how this island earned it’s name with a distinctive helicopter shape, visible from a side profile. It is incredibly busy… always but you can still have a great time here. You can hang out here on the beach or go for a bit of a walk but the best way to explore Helicopter Island is with your snorkel and mask.
When your boat docks walk down towards the left (while facing the island) and then snorkel around the corner. Here you will get away from the crowds and be able to explore some beautiful coral. There are also some unique shelves and rock formations under the cliffs if you go far enough. I embedded a video from my underwater exploration at Helicopter Island below.
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MATINLOC SHRINE (OR NEARBY BEACHES)
Matinloc Shrine is a bit of a weird stop on an island hopping tour and it is probably the least impressive thing to do on Tour C. It is essentially an abandoned shrine. Your captain will likely ask if you do indeed want to visit or just go snorkeling/visit another beach. I believe it costs extra to visit as well. All you do is get off and go look inside the abandoned building. Bit of a waste of time when there are beautiful beaches, reefs, and turtles nearby!
We chose to visit a nearby beach instead (no extra fee) and went snorkeling and exploring. The beauty of the area near Matinloc Shrine is that there are lots of different beaches, coves, and snorkel spots so your captain should be able to pick a spot that isn’t crazy crowded!
Our captain took us to an amazing snorkel spot and beach but we just hung out on the boat and ate there. We snorkeled after but there was no need to get out and unpack the food we just ate it straight on the boat. I can’t remember the name of this spot for the life of me but most of the tours will choose lunch at one of a few spots.
Hidden Beach is a cool little cove hiding behind the karst limestone cliffs. Your boat will drop you at the entrance and you swim/wade through the water until you make your way into the cove after about 200m. It is usually very crowded in here although it is incredibly beautiful. If this cove was empty it would be one of my favorite places in El Nido but both times it has been full of life jackets and hundreds of people so it is often a bit more manic than magic. Nonetheless, I’ve always enjoyed sitting on the sand here and admiring the jagged cliffs and the beautiful scenery.
On my second visit to Hidden Beach, we did a cleanup and carried out 1.5 bags of trash and even swam out with it. It’s great to leave places better than when you found them and added a challenge to our Hidden Beach experience.
SNORKEL SPOT (TURTLES!)
Our final stop of the day was right next to Matinloc Shrine again where our captain told us there was a great reef. He wasn’t wrong and our guides even spotted a couple of turtles for us to swim with. There was a huge drop-off and it was an epic spot for free-diving and getting a closer look at the coral below. There were some really cool table corals and lots of fish in this area. We were the only tourists enjoying this spot, which is what I liked about Tour C in El Nido. It seemed a bit more flexible than Tour A, which was all about the lagoons. Tour C was a bit easier to change depending on what you were interested in.
EL NIDO ITINERARY: DAY 4
Today you have two options you either take it easy at your hotel, or the beach and then rent a kayak and paddle out to the nearby Cadlao Island OR you buckle u for one more day of island-hopping but this time on one of the less crowded routes by joining Tour B. I personally loved Tour B. We hardly saw anyone at the beaches and caves when we visited and it was very relaxed compared to Tour A and Tour C. I’ll share below the Tour B experience but also my experience kayaking out to Cadlao Island so you can decide.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING B TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, BBQ Lunch
Pinagbuyutan Island is probably my favorite island in El Nido. It has huge towering cliffs that shoot straight down dramatically over the small stretches of the beach below. There’s nothing more than a shack and coconut trees on this desolate island. When we rolled in there was just one local selling coconuts and no other tourists. It stayed that way for most of our visit.
We walked around the edges of the island in between the tall grass and scattered palms. This is how island hopping is supposed to be. Quiet, relaxing and away from the crowds. Luckily for us, we were in no rush and actually spent several hours at Pinagbuyutan Island.
There are also some great snorkeling spots just off the shore with beautiful reefs waiting to be discovered below the surface.
ENTALULUA BEACH OR PAPAYA BEACH
One of the stops on Tour B in El Nido will be Entalula or Papaya Beach. Both are awesome and we hung out at Papaya Beach. It is quite similar to Seven Commando Beach, which you will find on Tour A. Beautiful clear water, a nice sandy beach with a backdrop of coconut trees.
This is a great stop to relax and chill on the beach with your friends. There aren’t too many activities here other than just hanging out and maybe sipping on a coconut from the local stand.
We did a beach clean-up at this stop and collected several large bags of trash. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent. I have posted the video of the cleanup below.
Snake Island is an epic spot, one I didn’t even know about until we arrived. So often in El Nido, all of the focus is on lagoons and secret beaches that anything else is almost pushed to the side. Anywhere else in the world and Snake Island would be the number one attraction.
This beautiful island arcs out into a sandbar that connects to the mainland at low tide. This area reminded me of a mini French Polynesia with the steep, green hills as a backdrop to the cerulean blue water.
I really enjoyed this spot and flying the drone here was so much fun with something to look at in all directions. Snake Island was a great surprise and not a spot I had seen before so it was great to be exploring something a little different in El Nido on Tour B.
On Tour B there are two caving opportunities. The first cave is Cudugnon Cave, which was actually super cool. The boat parks on the beach and then you crawl through a little hole into a hidden area inside the cliffs. Here there are amazing rock formations and you can actually keep climbing up pretty high. It was remarkable that this cave exists hidden inside the cliff walls, out of view from passing boats.
The second cave was pretty wild. Cathedral Cave was incredible and one of my favorite caves I’ve visited in the Philippines. You jump off the boat and either swim or kayak in. We swam inside despite our guide saying there were snakes. I’m still not sure if he was serious or not!
Inside huge stalagmites and stalactites hang from the roof and grow from the floor. It is mindblowing to look around at the rock formations inside this sea cave. Under the surface, the water has a luminescent glow so definitely bring your snorkel to enjoy this cave. We explored it all the way to the back where things get quite creepy and gross but it is here that you can see the luminescent glow of the blue water on the walls. Make sure you go all the way to the back of the cave to look back towards the entrance to check that out.
KAYAKING IN EL NIDO
We took some water and a GoPro and headed off towards Paradise Beach. Paddling out of El Nido Proper is really cool. We weaved in and out of all of the tour boats and continually looked back towards the small town behind us.
The paddle to Paradise Beach took us less than 40 minutes at a leisurely pace. Only one other kayaker was resting on the shore and he left soon after we arrived. For the first time in El Nido, we had an entire beach to ourselves. We both took off exploring, climbing trees and discovering small caves and coves. There were huge amounts of rubbish on the beach that had been swept in from elsewhere. Aside from the rubbish, it was a beautiful little spot to castaway for an hour or so.
We jumped back into our kayak and continued to head towards Dilumacad/Helicopter Island without actually trying to reach it. All we planned on doing was exploring several of the beaches that Tour A didn’t visit.
We pulled into a little bay close to Pasandingan Cove that had a great rock for jumping from. Unfortunately, all the rocks in El Nido are incredibly sharp, which makes cliff jumping almost impossible in some locations. The cliffs always look amazing but they are not climber friendly whatsoever.
As the sun began to lower we quickly paddled back to prime position just outside of the harbor. From the town you cannot see the sunset unless you walk for 30 minutes. We positioned ourselves looking straight into the sun as it slowly lit up the sky. We ended up being late returning our kayak but enjoying the sunset from the kayak with our feet dangling in the warm water is one of the moments I won’t forget from our one month trip in the Philippines.
I hope this activity guide helps you plan out your four days to the fullest and you have the time of your life following this El Nido itinerary.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
(Value) Spin Designer Hostel: Let’s go for Spin! This rad hostel is located at the bustling town of El Nido. This property is highly recommended by many travelers as the service is superb. Spin Designer Hostel also provides a shared kitchen with a barbecue facility. It is value for money and very close to shops and beach. If you stay here you will make friends with like-minded strangers and be in the prime location for the nightlife, island hopping and hiking Taraw Peak. The beach literally steps away.
(Most Insta-worthy) Panorama Resort: Panorama Resort is an exotic boutique resort tucked between Corong-Corong Beach and Maremigmeg Beach, is a 3-star property that features a panoramic view of the mountains in El Nido. The resort is very insta-worthy and has a lot of amenities including a private beach, outdoor and indoor swimming pool, and free WiFi. It offers an amazing sunset view and chill vibe to guests.
(Luxury Resort) Las Cabanas Beach Resort: This incredible beach resort is situated perfectly on the shore of Las Cabanas beach in El Nido. It offers a peaceful sanctuary from the harsh realities of the outside world. The resort is picturesque and provides easy access to island hopping and other activities. It has rooms with sea and garden views, and the beachfront cottages are single standalone units.
ARE YOU KEEPING UP WITH MY EL NIDO SERIES?
You want to go island-hopping in El Nido but aren’t sure whether TOUR A,B,C or D will be better? Take a look at my El Nido Island Hopping Guide that compares all of the four tours to help you pick the best one for you.
Wondering what there is to do in El Nido? I’ve been twice and spent almost 30 days in El Nido so I’ve got some great recommendations for you in my Travel Guide to El Nido: 20 Awesome Things To Do
Which region will you choose for your accommodation in El Nido? I’ve broken each region down and given you suggestions for budget, value and luxury in El Nido Town, Lio Beach and Las Cabanas Beach in this guide: Where to stay in El Nido
My Review and photos of: Tour A
My Review and photos of: Tour B
My Review and photos of: Tour C
The most epic activity you can do in El Nido on the land is to hike up Taraw Peak and I share the photos and tell you how you can use the same local guide as me in this blog post: Hiking up Taraw Peak – What You Need to Know