The best way for any newcomer to familiarize themselves with the layout of a town is to explore it on foot, and El Nido town, sometimes just referred to as the Poblacion, is no exception.
Always Growing, Always Building
The constant construction in such a small area is bound to have some negative side effects. In the peak season of 2018, the construction noise in the daytime is only surpassed by the thick concrete dust in the air. This is NOT a great place to hang out in the daylight hours. Luckily, the tours will keep you far from this location. If you skip a tour, go to the nearby beaches.
Left: A painter puts finisheing touches on new construction exteriors. Right: The busiest intersection along Rizal st.
Despite a steady amount of continued growth, El Nido Town is still only a few short streets along the water. To give you an idea of exactly HOW small El Nido Town is, the average person would be able to walk the entire area in less than 20 minutes.
The main thoroughfare into (and through the) town is Rizal street, a single lane concrete path free of sidewalks, or painted traffic guides. This corridor runs from the van terminal and public market, right down to the beach; all in about a kilometer or less with the last 200 meters being one way (out of town) for vehicles. This is easily walk-able for most tourists, but the sheer abundance of available tricycles is difficult to pass up, especially with the driver’s persistent offers for a ride into town.
The most important tricycle rule to keep in mind in El Nido town goes as follows:
Commisioning a Tricycle from a Designated Stop Means You are Agreeing to a Private Hire
This means that you will be the only passenger for the entire trip, and you will be charged a premium for this service. A chat with a local revealed that this is the case because the tricycle drivers are waiting in a queue, often for a large portion of their day. Therefore a 1km ride from the El Nido Van Terminal to your hotel, even just a kilometer or less away, could cost you as much as 100 pesos.
Above: Drivers wait for fares at the designated ticycle stop on the corner of Rizal St
Of course, everything is negotiable, and the better your bargaining skills, the less you will pay. Just know that even an expert Tagalog speaking negotiator is not likely to pay less than 50 pesos for a private hire, no matter how short the trip.
The Cheaper Alternative is to “Hop-On” a Tricycle
This means that you hail down a passing driver and “hop on”, even if there are already passengers on board. The average cost for this type of trip is 10 to 15 pesos per kilometer in just about any city or province in the Philippines, not just El Nido Town and Palawan. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, so be sure to ask the driver if you are not sure.
Above: Tricycles and motorbikes in the narrow streets of El Nido Town
The short ride down Rizal street leads you right into the heart of town where you will find the small government buildings, the largest (2-3 star, non luxury) hotels and restaurants in all of el Nido. Its important to say Non-Luxury hotels because the Bacuit bay region does in fact have some world-class 4 star resorts, built on private islands.
Above: El Nido's beach area full of tourboats in the late afternoon
From this busy corner, you can head in every direction and be outside of El Nido Town in less than a kilometer. The quickest trip would be straight ahead to the beach. With native Filipino boats parked in the shallows, the calm waters with almost complete lack of waves, gently kiss the soft sand.
Above: Tourists return to the beach from a day of island hopping
While the beach here is calm and inviting, few people choose to swim here with so much boat traffic happening most of the day. The nearby Las Cabanas or Marimegmeg Beach is a much better option for that… and a great spot to catch sunsets.
Anywhere within a few blocks of the end of Rizal street is a great place to stay because you will save a huge amount of unnecessary transportation costs. Upon my first visit to El Nido I regret staying in Corong-Corong simply because of the increased costs of having to take tricycles everywhere instead of walking.
The Poblacion, El Nido town is the place to stay when visiting this destination.
above: A bar prepares for the evening crowds
Everything a Tourist Will Need, Except Nightlife
Aside from hotels and restaurants, this is also the location that you can buy tour packages, dry bags, sunglasses, van trips back to Puerto Princesa, a boat ride to Coron, or just about anything else that you can think of. The small, locally run shops have the best deals on snacks, drinks, sundries and even beachwear. There is zero need to venture far when shopping for island hopping and beach supplies.
The nightlife here, however, is quite lacking. Most places will stop live music by 10pm because the tourism industry relies on people waking up early, not drinking all night. Thats not to say that El Nido Town is devoid of a good time, it just ends a bit earlier than you would expect. If you want to drink and carry on, make sure to get dinner as soon as your tour returns and start your evening, even if the sun is still out!
Enjoy your stay in El Nido!
Trying to decide between El Nido and Coron? Read about the similarities and differences in this article.