The best way for any newcomer to familiarize themselves with the layout of a place is to explore it on foot, and El Nido town, sometimes just referred to as the Poblacion by the local people, is no exception.
Always Growing, Always Building
There is constant construction going on in this small area, so all that extra noise and dust are bound to have some negative side effects. During the peak season in El Nido (March – May), the construction noise in the daytime is only surpassed by the thick concrete dust in the air. El Nido tourists should note that this is NOT a great place to hang out in the daylight hours; nor is it a place to hang laundry, or keep your personal belongings outdoors, unless you want them covered in concrete. In fact, visitors should not even have their windows open in this part of town!
As awful as this sounds, do not let it discourage you. For starters, the reason that people come here is to go out on one of the many island hopping tours. These all-day adventures will keep you far from this location during its busiest hours. If island hoping tours do not seems like an activity that youwould enjoy. The nearby nearby beaches Marimegmeg and Nacpan will certainly keep you entertained. If you need a little bit of help figuring out what tours to prioritize, then please check out this unofficial guide on Alternatives to the Island Hopping Tours of El Nido.
Left: A painter puts the finishing touches on new construction exteriors. Right: The busiest intersection in El Nido is along Rizal st.
Despite this steady amount of continued growth, The Poblacion, El Nido Town is still only a few short, and very narrow streets along the water.
All of the government and municipal buildings are grouped together in the center of town, and shops or hotels take up the rest of El Nido. To give you an idea of exactly HOW small this town is, the average person would be able to walk the entire area in less than 20 minutes, maybe call it 45 minutes if they are doing a little bit of shopping during the walk.
The main thoroughfare into town is Rizal street, named after Filipino hero Dr. Jose Rizal. This street is actually very little more than a single lane concrete path free of sidewalks, or painted traffic guides. This narrow corridor runs from the El Nido van terminal and public market, and will take you right down to the beach front shops and restaurants. All of this in about a kilometer, or less.
Even though it is a short distance from the van terminal, the location where all tourists arrive in El Nido, the lack of sidewalks makes it a dangerous walk, especially if traveling with bags. Plus, the sheer abundance of available tricycles at the van terminal is difficult to pass up. Drivers will be very persistent with offers for a ride into town.
The most important tricycle rule to keep in mind in El Nido town, and in most locations throughout the Philippines, goes as follows:
Commissioning a Tricycle From a Designated Stop Means You Are Agreeing to a Private Hire
In other words: you and your party will be the only passengers for the entire tricycle ride, and you will be charged a premium rate for this service. A chat with a local tricycle driver revealed that this is the case because the hard-working drivers in El Nido are waiting for their turn to give tourists a ride while in a long queue of other eager drivers, often for a large portion of their day. This means that even a 1km ride from the El Nido van terminal to your hotel could cost you as much as 100 pesos.
You can try and negotiate, but a private hire from a land transportation terminal will be costly, no matter how sharp your negotiating skills. Even a native Tagalog speaking negotiator is not likely to pay less than 50 pesos for a private hire, no matter how short the trip.
Above: Drivers wait for fares at the designated tricycle stop on the corner of Rizal St
The Cheaper Alternative to a Private Hire is a Hop-On Fare
Rather than picking up a private hire from a queue of drivers, take your bags a few steps down the road and flag one down.
This means that you will need to make yourself seen and let a passing tricycle driver know that you want to “hop on”, even if there are already passengers on board. Just wave your hand in the same manner of hailing a taxi. This is the method that all of the locals get around, so be friendly when boarding, and maybe someone will give you some good advice!
The average cost for a hop on trip is 10 to 15 pesos per kilometer. This should hold true in just about any city or province throughout the Philippines, not just El Nido Town and Palawan. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, so be sure to ask the driver up front if you are not sure. It is also important to make sure to always have change in the form of small bills or coins. Drivers often will claim that they don’t have change for your large bills. Pick up a helpful souvenir coin pouch in town!
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 municipal government buildings, and the largest two and three star, standard hotels. The majority of restaurants are concentrated here more than any other location in El Nido as well.
Nearly all of El Nido’s famed luxury hotels are built on private islands in Bacuit Bay and serviced by chartered flights out of the nearby (Private) Lio Airport. These world-class four and five star resorts can sometimes be seen while on certain island hopping tours, but don’t count on it! These resorts and their wealthy (and sometimes celebrity) guests value privacy.
Above: El Nido's beachfront is guaranteed to be full of tour boats in the late afternoon
From this busy corner, you can head in every direction and can even walk to the outer limits of El Nido Town in less than a kilometer. It’s a tiny town!
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.
There are people here all hours of the day
• The early mornings see lines of tour groups gathering and preparing for the day’s adventures.
• The mid-day crowd consists of locals; stocking stores, kitchens, and hotels with the necessary supplies of a booming tourism industry.
• The afternoon crowd of tourists returning from island hopping tours fill the shops and restaurants.
• The evening crowd of diners condense on the shore. Many of them with wet toes from the evening’s high tide.
Erosion is a major concern here on the busiest part of the beach. Exposed storm drains and local runoff are covered up with sandbags full of earth, several times over the course of the busy tourist season.
Above: Tourists return to the beach from a long day of island hopping in Bacuit Bay
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. Many first-time visitors to El Nido that choose to stay in the less expensive Corong-Corong will quickly learn that their accommodations are not as cheap as they appear, simply due to the cost of having to take tricycles everywhere instead of being able to walk. Corong-Corong is further away from El Nido Town than the Van terminal, so a ride back and fourth from the jump off point for food, drink and island hopping could cost visitors as much as 300 pesos. That may not seem like much, but it is very pricy for such short trips. Three back and fourths could already buy a full day of island hopping tours.
The Poblacion, El Nido town is the place to stay when visiting this destination.
Above: A bar in El Nido Town 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.
Now of course, tourists should show up as prepared as possible for their island hopping adventures, and rely on the town to pick up things they forgot. Here is a guide on what to bring along when island hopping in El Nido. While you can buy or rent a GoPro, your El Nido source will have one that is a few years old, and way overpriced.
The nightlife here in El Nido is quite lacking, but that is to be expected. While traveling around to the popular tourist destinations in the Philippines, this will ALWAYS be the case because the tourism industry relies on people waking up early, not drinking all night. A few beer sales doesn’t employ very many people.
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! Live music and last call will arrive around 10pm on most nights.
Enjoy your stay in El Nido Town!
Trying to decide between El Nido and Coron? You should not have to pick between them, but if you must: read about the similarities and differences in this article.