Flying to El Nido is relatively effortless, but can be expensive. Going overland from the Palawan island capital of Puerto Princesa is the cheapest way, but requires a tolerance for hours of travel over rough roads. Riding a boat depends entirely on the whims of the Philippines’ unpredictable weather.
Direct Transportation from Manila
If you’re traveling from the Philippines’ capital Manila, traveling by plane to El Nido is your fastest and least troublesome travel choice.
Visitors with a roomy budget and a horror of dusty roads can spring for a direct flight from Manila to the privately-owned El Nido Airport (IATA: ENI; also known as Lio Airport, location on Google Maps) about two miles north of El Nido town.
Air Swift operates regular flights from Manila (3-6 departures daily) with a small fleet of ATR 42-500 turboprop planes. For the Manila route, the flight departs from Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4, and arrives at Lio Airport an hour and a half later.
The tiny turboprops can be a tight squeeze for plus-size passengers, and baggage will be subjected to a 22 pounds (10kg) weight restriction.
Fares vary depending on the season and availability of promo seats; you can book directly on Air Swift's official site. Air passengers to El Nido are also charged PHP 200 (about US$3.50) environment fee; proceeds go to the El Nido Foundation, an NGO overseeing environmental issues within El Nido and the islands in Bacuit Bay.
Other flight options take you one step away from El Nido, leaving you to make the final connection yourself. Read about the Manila-Puerto Princesa air route in the next section, and the Manila-Coron air route in the section after that. Puerto Princesa and Coron offer land and sea connections (respectively) to El Nido.
Traveling from Puerto Princesa City
El Nido is located on the northern end of the elongated Palawan Island (which, by itself, is an awesome travel destination).
The capital Puerto Princesa – located at Palawan’s midpoint – serves as Palawan’s gateway for El Nido visitors. Travelers fly into Puerto Princesa International Airport (IATA: PPS) via direct flight from Manila, Cebu, Davao, Seoul and Taipei – after which they can take a bus, van, or another plane to El Nido from the city.
Travelers willing to endure the 140-mile bus ride from Puerto Princesa should set aside about five to eight hours travel time to complete the journey. The highways are mostly paved, but obstructions are not uncommon – and minivan space can be uncomfortably tight (with little by way of leg room).
Overland trips to El Nido depart from two main locations:
- Puerto Princesa International Airport – minivans heading to El Nido wait for passengers right at the arrivals area; and
- San Jose Terminal (location on Google Maps), a public transport terminal next to a public market. Take a local motorized tricycle (fares from PHP50-PHP80, or about $0.90-1.50 per person) to get here. Upon arriving, just ask where the bus or van to El Nido is parked.
El Nido by bus: Cherry Bus leaves Puerto Princesa for El Nido about nine times a day; return trips to Puerto Princesa from El Nido also available. Trips take up to eight hours each way.
Travelers can choose between air-conditioned and ordinary buses, with the latter costing about PHP 100 (about $1.80) less. Wear warm clothing aboard the air-conditioned buses – their ACs are extremely efficient.
Tourists with tight schedules may choose the night bus that leaves Puerto Princesa by 9pm, but arrives in El Nido at the ungodly hour of 4am.
- Fares: PHP385 (about $7.20) for ordinary; PHP 480 (about $9) for air-conditioned; book online at official site Bicol Isarog Transport. Buses overall are cheaper than vans, but preferable if you value leg room over travel time.
El Nido by van: Shuttle van companies use executive vans that offer more comfort than open-air buses but less leg room. Passengers also arrive earlier, taking six hours instead of eight to get to El Nido.
Popular service providers Lexus Shuttle (Lexxusshuttle.com) and Day Tripper Palawan (daytripperpalawan.com) offer pickup services from most points in Puerto Princesa, including hotels and the airport. They then proceed to El Nido directly.
- Fares: between PHP 350 (about $6.55) to PHP 950 (about $18) per way. You can also rent the whole van, for larger groups; prices available upon request. Book online at Biyaheroes (biyaheroes.com).
El Nido by plane: Air Swift now offers a direct flight from Puerto Princesa Airport to El Nido, departing once daily. The flight lasts up to 50 minutes and costs about PHP 3,000 per way. Book online on Air Swift's official site.
Other El Nido Connections
You can visit El Nido from other locations in the Philippines – and vice versa. Two of the most popular detours are right in Palawan.
Coron. Many travelers prefer visiting the northern Palawan island of Coron first – drawn by Coron’s lagoons, forests and diving spots. Coron and El Nido are connected by three daily ferry trips.
Slow ferries leave the El Nido port of Buena Suerte at 8am, take seven hours to make the El Nido-Coron run, and cost PHP 1,200 (about $22.50). Fast ferries leave at 8am and 12 noon, take 4.5 hours for the same route, but cost PHP 1,760 (about $33).
You get what you pay for – dorm-like open-air accommodations on the slow ferries, and cushy air-conditioned airline-like seating on the fast ones. Book online at Biyaheroes (biyaheroes.com), at least two days in advance.
Port Barton. The unspoiled, secluded beach and forest town of Port Barton lies halfway between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. Minivans travel from El Nido straight to Port Barton, a four-hour journey costing PHP 350 (about $6.50).