3 Days in El Nido, Palawan for Island Hoppers

• Updated

The Philippines is blessed with many beautiful beaches, which tourists keep coming back to every year in order to experience authentic island living. When it comes to sun and sand, El Nido in Palawan beats many Philippine beaches by a mile thanks to its pristine waters, and if one looks hard enough, patches of non-crowded beaches to enjoy a peaceful afternoon in.

At one point, El Nido was listed on Condé Nast Traveller's '20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World' List, which further positioned it as a must-visit destination. So do not miss your chance to visit beautiful stretches of white sand and many snorkelling spots all around the island. While you are there, make sure to check out Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island and Shimizu Island for great open-sea views. El Nido also has many lagoons and 'secret' paradise areas, such as the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon and a Secret Lagoon. For local Filipino island cuisine, chow at the Artcafe and spend your night with a San Miguel Beer in hand at SAVA Beach Bar.

After a couple of days of island hopping in El Nido, head over to Puerto Princesa City to go for a short ride on a river in a pitch black cave (the Underground River Tour), have a meal at Ka Lui and experience fireflies along the Lwahig River on another dark boat ride to finish off your stay in the magical Palawan!

  • 3 day itinerary
  • Average of 3 stops per day

Island Sights

Boat Ride in El Nido
Boats from Above
Helicopter Dilumacad Island - Helicopter Island

A quick look at a map of Palawan shows you a collection of small islands. Each island has a story to tell and numerous sights to visit. Start off your island hopping tour by booking a trip to Matinloc Island’s Hidden Beach to enjoy stretches of gorgeous sand and quiet sea time. Then, jump off to the Dilumacad Island, also known as Helicopter Island, to see breathtaking cliffs that make a helicopter shape. After visiting the islands, head back to the mainland to dine at the Artcafe for some fresh Filipino food (seafood in particular), and continue happy hour at the SAVA Beach bar.

Hidden Beach in Mantiloc Island

Within Matinloc Island, you will find Hidden Beach. Guest can choose to arrive via kayak to experience the water and bask in the serene atmosphere. Tours can be arranged to go through coves and smaller strips of water around the island. Those who have visited the Hidden Beach enjoy its small crowds, too.

Dilumacad Island - Helicopter Island

Dilumacad Island, also known as Helicopter Island, features limestone cliffs and formations that combine to make the island appear to be shaped like a helicopter. Divers and snorkelers often visit this island as it offers crystal-clear waters.

El Nido Boutique Artcafe

After a long day of sightseeing and enjoying El Nido's waters, grab a bite at the Boutique Artcafe. Get a taste of Filipino cuisine and seafood at this Cafe. From brunch to cocktails, this place serves great food at a reasonable price. This place does accept credit card (lucky you)!

SAVA Beach Bar

After dinner, you can head over to the coolest beachfront bar in El Nido - SAVA Beach Bar. It offers drinks and cocktails, bar chow and a relaxing ambience. This is a good place to experience El Nido's nightlife, or just chill for the rest of the evening. This bar was also awarded TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence in 2018, so you can count on it having great service.

Lagoons of All Sizes

Lagoon in Palawan
Big Lagoon in El Nido

For those on the hunt for another way to enjoy the sea, try kayaking around El Nido’s best kept 'secrets'. Whether you wish to see the Small Lagoon, the Big Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon, or all three, all you have to do is a schedule a trip to Miniloc Island and all magic will start from there.

From these lagoons, visitors can also visit Shimizu Island. Although this Island is named after a diver who died there, Shimizu offers a great view of limestone on the surface and marine life underneath. Boatmen and visitors love setting out a picnic on its shore and under the shade of the limestone rocks and trees on this island.

The Small Lagoon

The Small Lagoon is typically the first stop when doing an island hopping boat tour from El Nido. As they say, start small and proceed to the larger lagoons. Entrance to this Lagoon can be found between two limestone rocks. The kayak rental fee starts as low as 15USD for the day. Aside from swimming and snorkelling, visitors can also find caves to explore in this area.

The Big Lagoon

More clear wonders await at the Big Lagoon, which is often considered the highlight of El Nido. This Lagoon can only be reached by kayak, and luckily for you, there are many affordable options available. Many tourists flock here, but there are remote areas where visitors can kayak to to admire the rock formations and swim in the waters.

The Not-so-secret, Secret Lagoon

This not-so-secret lagoon in El Nido is a tourist favourite. By now, you might think you'll be tired of going from one lagoon to another, but this Secret Lagoon has a charm of its own. Getting here is quite a challenge, so visitors need to be careful of sharp rocks when walking around.

Shimizu Island

A little trivia about this Island: it is named after a Japanese diver who died here. But despite that, Shimizu does not fall short on beautiful rock and water views that are reminiscent of the previous Palawan islands you have already explored. The rock backdrop of Shimizu, in particular, makes for great photo ops, with some tourists even commenting that their photos had Jurassic Park vibes.

Puerto Princesa Getaway

Seafood in Palawan
Mangrove Forest

After two days of enjoying the islands off of the Palawan mainland, head to Puerto Princesa (Port of the Princess) City. It is a 4-hour drive from El Nido and is where the airport is located. Get to know Puerto Princesa’s wonders bt starting off with the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which is where you will take a guided boat trip on an underground river. Next, get your last taste of Filipino food and hospitality at KaLui restaurant. In the evening, book a trip to the Iwahig River to see beautiful fireflies before you leave the island for good!

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Visitors who stop by Puerto Princesa typically add the Subterranean River National Park Tour to their itinerary. This tour is composed of a short boat ride to a pitch black cave. It starts off with a pre-recorded audio clip, which is offered in various languages, that talks about the history of the park and facts about it. Talking loudly is prohibited while in the cave so you do not disturb the nocturnal animals that live inside it, such as bats. This is an educational and unique way to learn more about the province.

Kalui Restaurant

Get one last taste of great Filipino cuisine at the popular Kalui restaurant. Lines are usually long, so make sure to queue early or book a reservation in advance. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes at this place before entering, which is also a traditional way of entering a home in the Philippines. Aside from the great food, Kalui is home to local artworks. Overall, a great place to hang out or have a quiet date, so don't forget to pay it a visit!

Firefly Watching on the Iwahig River

When your tour does not coincide with a full moon, add the Iwahig firefly watching activity to your itinerary. On this tour, you will ride a 3-person boat with an assigned guide that will take you through the mangrove-lined river which the fireflies lie on. This is a calm and relaxing experience in the dark where you will be able to catch a glimpse of the light given off by the fireflies. If the sky is clear enough to see the stars, and if you are lucky, you might be able to also see the bioluminescent algae in the water. The queue might be long and the number of boats allowed on the river is limited, but the sights you will see will be worth the long wait.


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