In the Philippines town of El Nido, local limestone outcroppings hide many spots of interest criss-crossed by hiking trails. These trails are rough and dusty (muddy in rainy season) - however, half the fun in El Nido hiking is the wildlife and magnificent views you'll encounter along the way.
Hike guides can be arranged through your hotel or pension house - most El Nido accommodations have arrangements with outside providers, or have guest coordinators who know these trails themselves.
You can also arrange for hiking guides through the El Nido Tour Guide Association, which holds office at the El Nido Boutique & Artcafe in El Nido Town. The Association's guides are trained and licensed by the Philippine Department of Tourism. Their fees depend on the destination desired; consult the site for the definitive rates.
Most of these hikes are inclusive of a packed lunch and tricycle ride to the jump-off point. (Read about transportation in the Philippines.)
Taraw Cliff: Gorgeous 360-Degree Views from On High
The viewpoint at the top of Taraw Cliff (Google Maps), some 750 feet (230 meters) up from the ground, provides unbeatable, 360-degree views of El Nido’s countryside and Bacuit Bay. (See image.)
Climbing to the peak can be done two ways.
The older, more perilous path takes about an hour climbing a weathered trail that leads partly up a karst cliff with sharp edges. You’ll have to climb the steep cliff surface, risking nasty lacerations on the rock, for the better part of 40 minutes.
Many tourists risk added danger by doing the climb in the wee hours, hoping to reach the summit in time for sunrise over El Nido.
The starting point to your Taraw Cliff climb can be reached by tricycle from El Nido town proper. Hiring a local guide is compulsory; he’ll guide you up the trail, charging a guide fee of PHP1,000 (about US$20).
Bring water to ward off dehydration, and wear good, clingy shoes to manage the sharp rocks; your guide can provide you with gloves, but you might be better off bringing your own. Do not try this during the rainy season from June to November.
The second, newer path was built with non-climbing tourists in mind.
The El Nido Canopy Walk to the top of Taraw Cliff takes you through a 250-feet (75-meter) long suspension bridge swinging about a hundred feet off the ground, before turning into a mass of ladders and walkways that end at a different point at Taraw Cliff’s summit – with the same gorgeous view.
The walk includes a photo-op at a metal “dreamcatcher”, a spiderweb-shaped metal construction suspended above some sharp-looking rocks, set immediately after the overlook point.
An independent company owns and operates the El Nido Canopy Walk (telephone: +63 (0) 48 434 2341). The trail opens from 8am to 5pm daily; PHP 700 (about US$13.50) entrance fee gets you a harness, helmet, and a guide to take you to the top and back (and take your pictures, too).
Hiking to El Nido’s Waterfalls
The karst (limestone) landscape naturally generates a fair number of scenic waterfalls. You’ll find the most beautiful ones at varying distances from El Nido town proper.
Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls is located about 14km north of El Nido Town (Google Maps). The falls collect into a natural pool that you can swim in at the end of your trek.
To get there, you'll need to make a 25-minute tricycle ride from El Nido Poblacion, then walk some 45 minutes up the path to the waterfalls. The hike passes through rice fields and jungle, with some river crossings along the way. Wear beach shoes, sandals, or any footwear that can take a soaking.
A guide fee of PHP 200 will be charged before you enter. The waterfalls here are best visited during the rainy season between August and October, to see the torrent of water at its strongest.
Bulalacao Waterfalls requires taking on a two-part trek that first requires you to ride up to 45 minutes on a tricycle to Barangay Pasadeña. Once you arrive, you'll hike for almost two hours down a trail that courses through rice paddies and a thicket of trees before you reach the spot.
The falls are great for a swim – daredevils can climb up to a platform and jump into the water.
The trip to Bulalacao Falls cannot be undertaken without a guide, and must not be attempted during the rainy season between August and October. (Read about monsoon season travel tips.) An entrance fee of PHP75 will be charged when you visit.
Kuyawyaw Waterfalls (Google Maps) is the most distant of the three from El Nido town proper, and is the least touristy of them all. Located in Barangay Cataban on the border between Taytay and El Nido towns, Kuyawyaw Falls can be reached with a 45-minute motorcycle ride from El Nido town proper.
You’ll actually find three different waterfalls, each more beautiful (and difficult to reach) than the previous one. The falls take about ten to fifteen minutes’ hike between each one – a PHP200 entrance fee will be charged to see the first two, and a separate PHP200 fee will be charged again to reach the third, arguably the most scenic of the local falls.
Other El Nido Hiking Trails
Ille Caves (Google Maps) features the remains of a prehistoric settlement, with the ruins of a stone wall and human bones to show for it.
The surrounding Dewil Valley is a treasure-trove of archaeological finds, with artifacts found dating back from 14,000 years ago. A small museum has been constructed a few dozen yards from the cave opening to showcase some of the more significant finds.
Getting there takes about 45 minutes by tricycle to Barangay New Ibajay, then an hour and a half hike from the barangay center. You can also ask to climb the limestone cliffs to get a birds’-eye view of Dewil Valley and El Morgue Island in the distance.
Lagen Jungle Trail. Guests of the El Nido Resorts Lagen (Google Maps, compare rates) can enjoy some of the best wildlife-watching in El Nido, best seen from the trail that cuts through the island’s jungle cover. The talusi, or Palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei), is a particularly valuable find – these giant-beaked birds nest throughout the island, finding rare refuge from the deforestation happening throughout Palawan.
While the trail is steep in some parts, the overall experience is friendly to trekking beginners, thanks to its relatively short length and its scenic conclusion. The trail ends right at the beach, where hikers can ride a boat back to the resort.
Mount Mansilawit (Google Maps) is a low-rise peak with a height of some 760 feet (234 meters); local guiding couple Sylvia and Alex Albag have blazed a trail that takes some 45 minutes to finish. The Albags have added handrails to the more difficult parts of the trail, and will show you the local animals that call Mansilawit’s slopes home.
The tree-shaded summit offers magnificent views of Bacuit Bay; cleared vegetation on the southeast and north sides of the lookout point give you unlimited views of the islands around El Nido.
The Mount Mansilawit trail branches out from the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls trail – you can see both on a single visit if you’re so inclined. Call Sylvia Albag at +63 (0) 9998739718; they charge PHP 300 per head for a guided trip up to the summit.
El Nido Hiking Tips
Bring as much water as you can; convenience stores are few and far between along the trails. Read our tips on preparing for your hiking trip in Southeast Asia.
Use sun block. During the summer season, the sunlight in El Nido is intense at high noon. Don't hike between the hours of 10am-3pm, if you want to avoid the worst of the heat. Bring sunscreen, and follow these other sun protection tips.
Use insect repellent. DEET will keep away the mosquitoes and other biting bugs may swarm you on the trails.
Don't light any fires. The trails around El Nido are still part of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area, a government-mandated zone that restricts environmentally-damaging activity within Bacuit Bay and its related terrestrial ecosystems. Heavy fines await campers who set up unauthorized fires!