Avoid the tourist crowds in Boracay and escape to the remote paradise of Palawan and El Nido instead. Kayak through magical lagoons, visit the 2nd longest underground river in the world, snorkel, scuba dive, and hike to waterfalls.
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Beach Day near Puerto Princesa
My brother and I stayed at the sustainable, award-winning Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort during our time in this area. It is located 90 minutes outside of the main Puerto Princesa town, but it is on a private white sand beach with mountain views and is only a 15-minute boat ride from the Underground River. After traveling spend your first day at the resort’s beach and pool, or take advantage of their onsite spa. The resort also offers ziplining excursions, city tours, mangrove boat rides, and hiking tours. We relaxed by the beach and also hiked a short trail on our own to a nearby waterfall.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River
This site is a 5-mile long river running through a cave. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is considered one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It is the 2nd longest underground river in the world and has one of the largest cave rooms in the world. Visitors are allowed to take paddle boat ride tours in the river with an audio guide (so that the wildlife in the cave are not disturbed).
Tickets for river tours must be booked months in advance. If tickets are sold out, your hotel may be able to help secure a ticket for you. Daluyan Resort handled our booking.
After the river tour, you have the option to explore a couple of waterfalls near the cave entrance. We were able to spot a few monkeys and numerous large Monitor Lizards in the area too.
Transfer to El Nido
It is a 5 to 6 hours drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, on largely unpaved roads. We booked an air-conditioned Lexus Shuttle Van with El Nido Boutique and Arts Cafe for the ride. The van will likely be packed so even with AC it can become hot. If you get car sick try to find a seat near the front of the van. There are also options to book private transfers with a vehicle for only your group.
Our shuttle dropped us off at El Nido Boutique and Arts Cafe. If your lodging isn’t walkable from there, tricycles are available for hire to take you and your luggage the rest of the way. Tricycles will usually be waiting when the shuttle arrives.
There is one airline that services the El Nido Airport that will fly you directly to El Nido from Manila, Air Swift. Flights are expensive and have limited availability. Most tourists visiting the area will fly into Puerto Princesa and shuttle from there.
It obviously requires a commitment (and a full day) to reach El Nido, but in my opinion, that is why El Nido has remained so untouched and magical. It is the most authentic-feeling, no-frills, but stunning “beach town” I have been to in my life. We would regularly run into fellow passengers from our shuttle ride over, that’s how few tourists go there! The areas we explored while kayaking and island hopping reminded me of the islands off Thailand’s coast, but without the crowds. It was absolutely worth the day’s travel to go there.
The town is rustic though, so note a couple of items:
The ATMs in El Nido charge crazy fees (charges up to 15%!) so bring plenty of cash to avoid using them.
The town will experience electricity outages and hot water shortages in some areas. Many hotels will have backup generators or their own solar power though. Read hotel reviews carefully if avoiding outages is important to you.
Food and lodging are expensive and there’s not a wide variety of food options. Pizza and pasta were on most menus. Think about how long it took you to drive to the area, most food has to go through the same transit.
There aren’t many paved sidewalks or roads. We walked along dirt roads with chickens running across them. It was all part of the charm!
Miniloc Kayak Tour
El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe is the town’s one-stop shop for activity and tour bookings. Their staff was helpful, friendly, and well-organized. We used them for all of our local tours.
We booked a kayaking day tour (called Kayak Tour A) where we kayaked around Miniloc Island and into a lagoon. We visited a white sand beach, snorkeled for a bit, and ended the day at Seven Commando Beach. The entire day was filled with crystal clear sparkling blue and turquoise waters and barely any other people. They also provided a beach lunch for us as part of the tour.
El Nido is world-famous for its scuba diving, both for its reefs and marine life, as well as for its World War II shipwrecks. There are scuba diving tours offered for beginners and advanced divers. Palawan Divers is one of the well-known diving companies in the area.
Island Hopping Tour
There are numerous island hopping tours available. El Nido Boutique and Arts Cafe can talk you through the various options. Try to pick areas you didn’t see during the kayaking tour. This tour will have a boat drive you around to view picturesque islands and stop at secluded beaches. You will also have opportunities to swim and snorkel. A beachside lunch is included. Experiencing a boat-based tour in addition to a day of kayaking gives a full perspective of the whole area.
Transfer from El Nido to Puerto Princesa and Fly out
Most flights in the area go out of the Puerto Princesa Airport, so you will need to shuttle back there from El Nido.
Advanced Bookings for the Philippines
The most important excursion to book in advance is tickets for the Puerto Princesa Underground River. They book up months in advance. Lodging and local tours in El Nido can all be booked more last minute. The El Nido excursions can even be booked onsite once you arrive.
Building an Itinerary with a Stop in the Philippines
We added a stop in Taiwan for this trip. Australia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia would all be easy additional stops too.
Coron is an island off Palawan, a popular remote Philippines stop. The island can be reached by flying there from Manila or by taking an 8-hour ferry ride from El Nido. It’s supposed to be as beautiful as El Nido.
What to Wear and Pack for the Philippines
What to Wear
Hiking Sandals are useful for kayaking, island hopping, and walking around town. They are waterproof but also provide support for hiking/walking.
Swimsuit-Pack one that will work well for snorkeling and kayaking.
What to Pack
A packable beach towel
A packable beach tote
A waterproof camera
Car sickness remedies like ginger chews (for the ride between Puerto Princesa and El Nido and/or for the boat ride while island hopping).
What to Eat in The Philippines
Unfortunately, it was hard to find authentic Filipino food in the remote areas we visited on this itinerary. We found lots of pizza and pasta! They also often served locally caught fish.
Halo-Halo- A cold Filipino dessert with layers of crushed ice, condensed milk, and then a mix of other ingredients like coconut, fruit, fruit jellies, ube, or sweetened beans.
Lodging in The Philippines
In Puerto Princesa, we stayed at the Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort as discussed on day one of the itinerary. In El Nido hotels range from small boutiques near town to the Ritz Carlton out on an island. We stayed at the Cadlao Resort which was walkable from town. It had picture-perfect views of the water and sunsets, as well as an infinity pool to enjoy the views. The rooms/villas were well-kept, but not high-end.
Getting around The Philippines
We never explored the actual town of Puerto Princesa. The resort we stayed at was 90 minutes outside of town so we spent our evenings relaxing at the resort.
In El Nido we were able to walk into town to the meeting point for our excursions, to go to restaurants, and to meet our shuttle. Tricycles can be hired for getting around as well.
When to Go to The Philippines
November through May are the best months to visit the Philippines to avoid the cyclone and rainy season. March, April, and May will be the driest and hottest months.
Trip Dates: March 2013
Article Updated: May 2023