Want to visit the island paradises of El Nido and Coron? We’re giving you all the info you need, from how to get there and when to go, to what to do and where to stay once you’re there.
The Philippines is on the travel bucket list of many. Known for its powder white sand and crystal clear waters, it’s popular for a reason, but while many opt to head to the famed Boracay, an area that piques the interest of countless travellers is Palawan. Named as number six on Travel + Leisure’s 15 Best Islands in the World for 2018, (after coming in at the top spot in 2017), we’re not alone in rating this beautiful island paradise. Although the area is made up of over 7,000 islands, we’re setting our sites on the stunning natural landscapes of El Nido and Coron, and telling you exactly how to get there, when to go and what to do when you reach this island paradise. Passports at the ready, after reading this guide you may just be booking that next trip.
How To Get There
If you’re flying from Hong Kong, the best way to reach Palawan is to first fly to Manila, and then take a domestic flight from there. Some travellers choose to fly to Puerto Princesa and then book a bus (which takes approx. six to seven hours) to get to El Nido, but we think that flying is worth the slight extra cost for the time it saves. From Hong Kong, the flight to Manila takes just over two hours, and then it’s only a further one hour to fly to either Coron or El Nido from there.
Note: Make sure to check the time you arrive in Manila and what time your domestic flight departs, as you may find that you’ll have a long wait in the airport, or that you have to spend the night in a hotel.
Also be sure to build plenty of time into your travel itinerary for connecting flights, as domestic flights in the Philippines are notorious for delays and cancellations, so bear this in mind when planning.
When To Go
There are two main seasons in Palawan with the Dry Season running from October to mid-June, and typically featuring hot and dry weather, and the Rainy Season running from mid-June to September, with daily short but heavy rains. With this in mind, it’s best to visit between November and May when the weather should be drier, but not yet too hot. The weather will get much hotter between March and May, and then from June to November it’s rainy season (low season), which means lower prices at resorts and hotels.
Although internal flights, buses, vans and boats can all be booked to travel around the different areas of Palawan, if you’re wanting to visit both El Nido and Coron in one trip, we recommend Tao.
Translated to mean “human”, Tao is an eco-adventure initiative in Palawan that offers boat expeditions and island retreats. The boat expeditions are perfect for travellers who want to visit the most beautiful and untouched areas of Northern Palawan, including remote islands, deserted beaches, and hidden coves. The five day/four night trip can either depart from El Nido and finish in Coron, or depart from Coron and finish in El Nido, and group experiences run throughout the year (except September).
Tao isn’t a luxury experience, and on the website it even warns of the trips featuring everything from noisy roosters and mosquito bites, to jellyfish stings, sunburn and basic toilet facilities, but the back to basics experience allows you to explore the raw beauty of Palawan. With no wifi or electricity at many of the camps, Tao also offers a very welcome digital detox for many burned out Hong Kongers. So if you’re okay with no Instagram for five days and a few mosquito bites, Tao offers up an experience like no other, with days spent lounging on white sand beaches and snorkelling in crystal clear waters, before arriving at one of 15 different base camps for a night spent camping out in a beach hut.
Although the five day experience allows you to see the most of Palawan, if you’ve got a little less time to spend, Tao also offers a more condensed version of the trip, with its three day/two night option, which also can depart from and arrive in either El Nido or Coron. And for those who are after a bit more of a relaxed beach holiday, we recommend booking in for one of Tao’s Combo Experiences, which include three nights on the boat exploring remote islands and two nights on Tao’s own beautiful island retreat, Camp Ngey! Ngey! in Busuanga. Whatever trip you opt for, as all excursions begin and and end in either El Nido or Coron, choosing a Tao expedition means that you discover the most remote areas of Palawan, whilst also getting to spend a few nights in each town at the beginning and end of your trip.
If you aren’t booking an expedition like Tao but want to visit both El Nido and Coron, rather than flying, an easy option is to take the ferry. The journey should take about four and a half hours, but can be much longer due to weather. There are several ferry companies to choose from, with journeys from El Nido departing early in the morning, and boats from Coron departing around midday.
Where to stay:
Unless you’re looking for backpacker style hostel accommodation, we recommend staying away from the main El Nido town and booking a night or two on the quieter Corong Corong beach – also known as the “sunset side” of El Nido. It’s only a 15 minute walk, or a 3 minute tricycle ride to the main town, but offers lazy beaches, clear waters and swaying coconut trees. From the airport, Corong Corong is about a 30 minute tricycle journey, which should cost around 300 pesos.
Last Frontier Beach Resort
Situated right on the beach front, Last Frontier is perfect for a pit stop in El Nido. With a handful of beachside cottages and rooms, a small pool and a restaurant serving both Asian and Mediterranean-inspired fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it ticks all the boxes.
Last Frontier Beach Resort, www.lastfrontierbeachresort.com
El Nido Coco Resort
Found right by Last Frontier, El Nido Coco Resort also boasts close proximity to the quiet Corong Corong beach. The hotel has its own pool, and all eight villa cottages offer a small private terrace area.
El Nido Coco Resort, www.coco-resort.com
El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island
Accessible via ferry from El Nido (taking roughly 30 minutes) El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island not only looks reminiscent of luxury Maldives-style floating villas, but also offers up a “green” alternative to staying in El Nido. The eco-resort is dedicated to sustainable practices, enforcing this in everything from the food it serves, to the low-impact and educational outdoor activities that it offers guests.
El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island, www.elnidoresorts.com/miniloc-island
What to do:
You can’t go to El Nido and not make the most of the stunning beaches, and astonishingly clear waters. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular places in the world for scuba diving and snorkelling. From refreshing waterfalls, hidden beaches and more, here’s our pick of what to do in El Nido.
Make the most of El Nido’s stunning waters and hire a kayak for some time out at sea. Most beachfront hotels offer their guests kayak rental and many restaurants along the beach also rent them out by the hour. It’s a great way to explore remote islands yourself without being part of a tour, but do be careful as currents can be strong and some islands may be further away than they first appear!
Big Lagoon & Small Lagoon
You’ve probably seen many pictures of El Nido’s famed Big & Small Lagoons as they are firm features on the popular island day trips. Most tours include snorkelling, cliff jumping and a barbecue lunch, and although they can be quite crowded, are still worth a visit.
Along with the lagoons, El Nido is famed for its stunning beaches, with the Twin Beaches of Nacpan Beach and Calitang Beach being amongst the most beautiful. Think wide open stretches of soft sand, with little development. A little further along the coast, you can also find Duli Beach, which is more popular with surfers but also great for just relaxing on the sand. Some island tours take you to visit the Twin beaches, but we recommend hiring a scooter for the day (approx. 600 pesos) and exploring yourself. The journey should be about 45 minutes to one hour, just be careful as you near the beach as the sandy track can be dangerous! Tricycles can also be hired from El Nido town to take you to the beach if you don’t fancy getting a bike, but the journey will take longer and it may be a bumpy ride.
Scuba Diving & Snorkelling
With its crystal-clear waters and diverse array of underwater wildlife, Palawan is a popular dive spot. Many tourists wait until they are in Coron to dive, but El Nido can be better for beginners or less experienced divers as most dive sites here are located near Bacuit Bay, which is known to have calmer water. PADI dive courses are available, or fun day dives for total beginners can also be booked. If you don’t fancy going diving, you can also always just grab a mask and snorkel to see plenty a little closer to the surface!
Editor’s Note: El Nido is a Managed Resource Protected Area, so there is a mandatory Eco-Tourism Development Fee (200 pesos) for all tourist activities. This applies to all excursions around El Nido, such as island hopping tours, dive sessions and Tao excursions, and lasts for 10 days, so one eco-tax should cover you for the duration of you trip. Most tours and guides can help you to purchase this.
Another must-see attraction in El Nido is the waterfalls, and Nagkalit-kalit Falls is one of the most popular. This is another staple that is included in many of the island tours, but can also be reached yourself as it is not far from Nacpan Beach, with just a short hike to reach the waterfall.
Panorama Boutique Hotel & Beach Club
There are many places to eat in El Nido Town, but found on the picturesque Corong Corong beach, Panorama is arguably the best spot for sunset on the island. True to its name, it offers up a panoramic view of the beach with an unobstructed view out to sea. Complete with a menu of cocktails, beers, wines and snacks, it’s hard to pass up. Just make to sure to arrive a little early to get the comfy sun beds on the front row for the best view!
Panorama Boutique Hotel & Beach Club, www.facebook.com/panoramaelnido
El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe
A spot that’s been around for years and is ever popular is El Nido Boutique & Art cafe. Found in the heart of the town, the cafe serves up hearty and healthy breakfasts (even baking its own bread!), along with all day dining and drinks, complete with a stunning sea view.
El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe, www.elnidoboutiqueandartcafe.com
Where to stay:
Coron Town is situated on the island of Busuanga in Palawan, though there is actually a second Coron, that is a smaller island, located 30 minutes offshore from Coron Town. Though most of the stunning scenery and dive spots are found near to the island, it’s probably easier to base yourself in Coron Town, as many tours and other day trips can be booked from here.
Corto del Mar Hotel
Although Coron is an area of stunning natural beauty, if you’re one who also wants some down time to chill by a hotel pool, opt for Corto del Mar Hotel. Not only does it have its own large outdoor pool, but guests can choose either sea view or pool view rooms.
Corto del Mar Hotel, www.cortodelmar.com
Two Seasons Coron Bayside Hotel
For a more luxurious stay in Coron, opt for the Two Seasons Bayside Hotel. Offering up 48 rooms, sea views, a Skydeck Jacuzzi Lounge and even an infinity pool with a panoramic view of Coron Bay, it’s the perfect choice for a relaxing stay. If you prefer to stay away from the town, Two Seasons also has a five-star eco resort situated on Coron Island.
Two Seasons Coron Bayside Hotel, www.twoseasonsresorts.com
Although situated a little further away from Coron Town, Casa Fidelis wins bonus points for offering tailor-made packages for guests, which not only include rooms, airport transfers and meals, but can go as far as featuring your own private island hopping tours. As the resort only hosts two groups at a time, you’re guaranteed a dedicated boat and/or vehicle to take you to every scenic destination, meaning you’ll get a 100% hassle-free and customisable trip, all set in a peaceful location.
Casa Fidelis, www.casafidelis.com
What to do:
Much like El Nido, Coron is a popular spot for divers, beach lovers and explorers, offering up unique and historical dive sites, clear waters and stunning scenery. From hiking and hot springs, to scuba diving and swimming, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
A must-visit attraction in Coron, the Twin Lagoons can be reached by booking onto a tour, or by arranging your own private boat. A popular swimming spot, the lagoons are separated by a narrow cliff, and can be reached by climbing the wooden steps, or by swimming under the cliff.
Kayangan Lake & Barracuda Lake
Close by to the Twin Lagoons, Kayangan and Barracuda Lake are popular destinations that are also included in many a Coron tour. Although undoubtedly stunning (and featured in countless photographs of Coron), Kayangan Lake is definitely a hotspot for tourists, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try and visit earlier in the day, or head to the close by Barracuda Lake. You can snorkel, swim and free dive here, but it is also a popular scuba diving spot. Both lakes are known for not only their beautiful surrounding scenery and clear, clean water, but also the unique mix of salt and fresh water, along with distinct layers of cold, warm and hot water.
If you’re a beach lover, you’ll want to save some time for a visit to Malcapuya Beach. Much like the lagoons and lakes, the beach is easily accessible as part of a group tour, or you can book your own boat for the day. Whatever you choose, expect picture perfect beach scenes.
Much like in El Nido, Coron is a hotspot for avid diving fans, and Coron caters to both beginners and experienced divers. Many view the area as superior for diving due to the number of WWII Japanese wrecks that lie beneath the water.
Although only the second tallest mountain in the vicinity (at 210-metres above sea level), Coron Town’s Mount Tapyas boasts its own Hollywood sign (yep, just like the one in LA), along with sweeping views of the town. Perfect for some sunset vistas, the 721 steps to reach the summit will surely be worth it.
Maquinit Hot Springs
Found about 30-minutes outside of Coron Town via tricycle, Maquinit Hot Springs is one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world. Temperatures are said to range between 37° and 40° Celsius, so may seem hot at first, but it’s sure to soothe any tired muscles after travelling and trekking!
Pizza and pasta may be amongst the last things you expect to be eating in Coron, but after an island hopping tour or a day out diving, you’ll be happy that Altrove is there to provide some much needed carbs. With a wood fired pizza oven, house made sauces and pasta that is imported from Italy, Altrove ticks all the boxes. Just make sure to arrive early to beat the queues! For those travelling on to El Nido, it’s worth knowing that Altrove also has a branch there.
Trattoria Altrove, www.facebook.com/TrattoriaAltrove
- Get plenty of Pesos before you leave Hong Kong, or make sure to hit the ATM in Manila. In many of the islands cash supply is limited and if there is an ATM it’s likely that it runs out of cash before the end of the day – with big queues to get it while it lasts.
- Buy reef shoes. Whether you’re booking onto a trip like Tao, or just exploring the islands and beaches yourself, reef shoes are a must if you’re wanting to explore in the water or do any hikes. These can be purchased easily and cheaply from most shops in both El Nido and Coron.
- Much like reef shoes, dry bags are a Palawan must-have. You can buy these online before your trip, but they can also be found cheaply all over Palawan. The bags available on the island may not be quite as good quality, but will keep valuables and clothing from getting soaked on island tours.
- In an effort to keep this stunning area pristine, plastic bottles have been banned in El Nido, and single use plastic (except for sunscreen bottles) is not allowed on any Tao expedition, so be sure take your reusable water bottle and other eco essentials with you.
- Try and purchase reef-safe suncream before your trip. As you’ll no doubt be plunging in and out of the gorgeous waters that surround Palawan, what you put on your body is hugely important.