How to Travel Cheap in El Nido, Palawan

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to El Nido, Palawan? I know you do, and I certainly know the feeling. El Nido easily became one of my dream destinations the first time I heard about it from my college professor way back then, but the impression as an expensive destination had always scared me off. Anyway, I still placed it on top of my bucket list while wishing and hoping that I could set foot in this place someday.


Fortunately, that dream became a reality last year when I "accidentally" discovered that traveling to this top-notch Philippine destination doesn't necessarily come with a hefty price tag. In fact, I just recently returned from El Nido for the second time, just a year after my first trip, proving that traveling to one of my dream destinations shouldn't be expensive.

So how affordable it is to travel to El Nido? I share some tips below on the cheapest option to get there, food, lodging and basically how much to spend so you can plan your own trip -- on a budget.

Take note though that traveling in a big group is more cheap and getting a group travel package is deemed practical. The tips below will most likely apply to solo travelers or 2-3 persons or those who are going on a DIY trip for the first time.

1. Fly via Puerto Princesa City. Getting to El Nido from Manila can be done in two ways. There are direct flights from Manila to El Nido and vice versa via Island Transvoyager, Inc. (ITI) but each way costs at least P6,000. The cheaper alternative is to fly to Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, and travel by land to El Nido. Travel time by land takes about 5-7 hours depending on your choice of transportation (van or bus). It's a long trip but since we're after the cheapest way possible, this is no doubt the best option.


Why cheap: The local airlines (such as PAL Express, Cebu Pacific Air and Zest Airways) offer Manila to Puerto Princesa and vice versa as one of their regular routes. On the other hand, ITI utilizes a 19-seater aircraft and operates a private airport at El Nido, which explains the costly airfare.

Note: When planning your trip, take into consideration that the first and last day will be allotted to traveling between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. So make sure to book the earliest and latest flights, if possible, for your incoming and return flights, respectively.

2. Book your flight a few months in advance. Just like any other trip, booking a few months in advance can give you a better chance of getting a cheaper air seat -- especially during seat sales (which are usually announced 3 months ahead of the travel period). On our recent trip to El Nido, we only paid about P1,300 for our round trip airfare. We bought our tickets on February for the incoming flight to Puerto Princesa and March for the return flight, both during a promo sale, while our trip was still in June. That means we booked our flights 4 months earlier.

Why cheap: Spend as low as P1,300 for round trip promo airfare or P1,500-P3,000 for regular airfare (still cheaper versus flying via ITI).

3. Commute by public transpo to San Jose terminal. Once you already flew to Puerto Princesa City, you need to travel to San Jose terminal where the vans and buses bound for El Nido are located. There's no direct public ride so the most common option is to hire a tricycle exclusively for P120 (you can haggle up to P100) from the airport to the terminal. This is practical if you're 5 in a group because you only get to pay P20 per head. However, if you're solo or 2 persons only, taking the public transportation can save you a few bucks -- and it's very easy. Once you arrived at the airport, get out to the main road, take a tricycle and asked to be dropped off at Junction 1. Travel time is just a little over 5 minutes and fare is only P8 per person. From there take a multicab bound for San Jose terminal for P12. Travel time is about 20 minutes.


Why cheap: You only spend P20 each from the airport to terminal versus hiring a private tricycle that costs P50 per head if 2 persons (or P100 if you're alone).

4. Take the bus, or better yet the ordinary bus, from San Jose terminal to El Nido. Aircon vans used to be the only convenient public transportation between Puerto Princesa and El Nido until RORO Bus started serving the same route just last March. I find the RORO Bus better since it's more comfortable and they have more trips including night trips (see schedule below). Most importantly, they're cheaper (P483) than the shuttle/vans (P600-P700). But if you want the cheapest option available and don't mind the dusty road, you can take the ordinary (non-aircon) RORO bus which only costs P367 per way. The only downside of taking the bus is that the trip takes a little longer (up to 6-7 hours as compared to 5 hours with vans) because they would pick up and drop off passengers along the way.

Schedule of RORO Bus (Puerto Princesa to El Nido and vice versa):

4AM / 6AM* / 8AM / 10AM* / 12NN / 2PM* / 4PM / 6PM* / 10PM* (marked with asterisk is aircon bus)


Why cheap: Aircon RORO bus only costs P483 per way per person while ordinary bus costs P367 versus P600-P700 with vans. Whether to get the aircon or ordinary bus is a personal choice.

5. Stay in a fan, non-beachfront room. You don't need to stay in an aircon accommodation (and pay more) when most of the time you're out of the room! What's good is that El Nido offers plenty of budget rooms to choose from. On our recent trip, we stayed at Tay Miloy's Inn which we first heard from Lakas ng Trip, who called it as the cheapest lodging in El Nido. We paid P400 per night only for a fan room for 2 persons. It's non-beachfront but is just 5 minutes walk to the beach. You can find most of the budget accommodations within the town center which is, by the way, just small and very much accessible to the beach. Besides, El Nido doesn't have electricity round the clock. Electricity is out from 6AM to 2PM. By using a fan, therefore, you save money and help conserve energy at the same time.

Why cheap: Spend only P400 per night (or P200 per head) for a decent fan room for 2 persons versus P1200-P2000/night for an aircon room. Tay Miloy's Inn contact numbers: 09297955756 / 09464245953. You may also want to check out Hadefe Cottages that offers an aircon room at P700/night for 2 pax (we stayed here last year). They're beachfront but about 10 minutes away from the town center.

6. Eat in a carinderia, instead of restaurants. One of the challenges mostly faced by budget travelers in an internationally-known tourist destination is how to spend less on food. Restaurants in El Nido offer great food -- but mostly expensive. However, it's a good news that local carinderias are scattered around the town of El Nido to cater to those with tight budget. Based on our experience by eating from one carinderia to another, each serving of dish costs P30-P40 and a cup of rice at P7-P10. Unless you eat like a truck driver, you only get to spend about P50 per meal. :)


Why cheap: Spend at least P50 per meal versus spending at least P150 per meal in a restaurant.

7. For island hopping, ask for discount or rent a boat privately if you're at least a group of 6. Island hopping is an essential activity in El Nido. What I like in El Nido is that the rates for island hopping tours are standard (see prices below) regardless of the number of people in your group. Also, don't forget to ask for discount (I actually didn't know it was possible for some tour operators). I learned a day prior to our trip that Servant Tours gave some of our blogger friends P100 discount per tour per person. We used them and also asked for discount which they willingly gave. :-) Another way that I learned to save on island hopping expenses is to rent the whole boat privately (provided you're 6 persons in the group) instead of signing up individually. Lakas ng Trip blog further explains it here.

Below are the standard rates for the island hopping tours (includes lunch):

Tour A - P700 / Tour B - P800 / Tour C - P900 / Tour D - P700



Why cheap: Renting a boat privately for a group of 6 costs less as explained in the post. If solo or 2 persons, book with Servant Tours (contact number: 09178088599, 09154157245) because they're the only tour operator I know that gives discount. Make sure to book directly with them.

8. Explore the town on foot. As I've mentioned, the town of El Nido is small that almost everything (beach, carinderia, restaurants, convenient stores, bakeshop, everything) is accessible by foot. The only times we took a tricycle was when we needed a transfer from the bus terminal upon our arrival to the town (P50) and back. The terminal of RORO Bus in El Nido is around 10 minutes ride away from the town center.


Why cheap: Do I need to explain more? Walking is healthy too.

9. Travel after summertime or during off peak season. Both of our trips in El Nido fall in June and our tickets were bought on either February or March. Based on my own experience, at the start of summer months airlines are already giving away promo seats for the rainy season (June onwards). You could take advantage of the cheap airfares to plan your own trip. Aside from that, prices of accommodations are cheaper and El Nido is less crowded during this season. Worrying about bad weather? As far as I know, Palawan is rarely hit by typhoon all year round. :-)

These are all the information you need to travel "cheaply" in El Nido. Do you think it's affordable? Do you have additional tips to travel the cheapest way? Share in the comments section below.

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79 comments:

Francis Balgos said...

nice! Servant Tours it is, and book with them directly.
Avoid any middle man at all cost. :)

Ramzkie G. Lumauag said...

Thanks for the Info...

journeyingjames said...

nice travel guide! my fave- EL NIDO. nothing beats

Swexie said...

great tips! =) i hope i can visit el nido soon =)

ian | going places said...

I really thought that doing an El Nido trip is really expensive but this
article show how affordable it is and the same time how enjoying and
worthy a trip to El Nido would. I also dream of seeing this place and
with this useful tips El Nido is not far from reality... Airfare is
really a big contributor to expenditures. Doing a MNL-PPS then bus to El
Nido is really cheaper.

Franc Ramon said...

This is a budget friendly way at going to El Nido. Great tips and does make El Nido a more reachable destination once they follow your tips.

©juanderfulpinoy.com|Chino said...

I love to take trips via roro. I will surely take note of this when I visit Elnido next summer. The first photo by the way looks very stunning

tauyanm said...

very nice and accurate information!! nice photos too! xx

Adobo Tech said...

That is one tipid trip to El Nido....

Rizza Javier said...

Cool! Mas masaya pa nga pag ganito! Mas exciting hahaha!! Pero if you're with kids, khit mas mahal ng konti, I'd prefer private travels.


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Riz said...

I agree! Dream come true q din ang el nido! :) Nakkamiss sarap bumalik! :)

AJ said...

Wow, this is uber helpful and informative! Never been to El Nido cuz I've always thought I should sell my soul to afford it. Di naman pala. Medyo hassle lang yung 5-hour land trip, but then again, beggars can't be maarte, hehe. Thanks for the tips. Will keep a mental note of this.

Sendo Quilao said...

awesome! will save this one--hihi.

ann-d-explorer.blogspot.com said...

nice one dude :)

mark pogi said...

Bookmarking this one. Thanks for sharing.

Would you recommend all of the tours (A-D)? I'm pretty much interested going around. ^_^

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

If you have 4 days to spend for island hopping you can try all tours. I have only tried 3 and based on experience, here's my order of preference: A, C and B. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks! :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks! Hope you get to visit it soon. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks James! Yeah, El Nido is really incomparable. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

You're welcome. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Agreed, sila lang alam ko na nagbibigay ng discount. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

I hope you get there soon. El Nido is a must-visit! :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks! This is for the budget-conscious travelers. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks! :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thank you. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Indeed. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Same here. Won't get tired of going back there. :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hehe! If you're used to long trips and DIY trips, El Nido is just an easy and affordable place to visit. :)

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Peter A Vandever said...

Bro,

Some considerations.... you are still doing it the costly way. haha

#1. There is a ferry straight from Manila to El Nido for 950 pesos stopping in Coron for a day. By far, the best option!
#2. The normal bus is only P300. They will tell you it is p350 but just tell them you are local and name some bgy you live in. They will give you the discount. (I am white and it still works lol)
#3. There is a little cottage place across from Cliffside that is only P250 a night.
#4. The best place to eat are on the hill by Coron-Coron, other options is find someone who will let you cook at the place you stay.
#5. Ask a fisherman to take you out to where you want to go..... I did this once and all he asked me was p200.
#6. Bring a bike to ride around town.

a said...

i have to agree with "You don't need to stay in an aircon accommodation (and pay more) when most of the time you're out of the room!" the only important thing is that the room is really safe. i

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hey Peter, thanks for sharing these tips! Everything I shared here is based on my experience and would normally apply to average working Filipino who have limited time/days to travel but is looking for cheaper options aside from getting package tours. Nevertheless, these are great tips! Will check that P250/night room next time. :)

sir rob said...

I can relate in this one. Just came from El Nido last March of this year. It was stunning over there and very beautiful.

GilCamporazo said...

It is proven and being practiced that traveling in group or in a field trip is cost-saving. It's practical way of going places in an affordable way.

EihdraG said...

This is the first time I read that we can travel cheap to El Nido coz the last time my sister was there, she spent more than the usual in a package.. But, will keep this in mind. Thanks!

Mach said...

This is extremely helpful. Will be needing this in my future trip to El Nido. Thanks!

Don de Borja said...

Very nice website and very helpful to those people with tight budget like me lol.... I wll now start visiting ur blog before going somewhere. Tnx

Jerome said...

wow parang gusto ko na agad mag book ng flight to puerto princesa and print this post as my guide. galing!!!! thaNks for sharing.

Angku said...

Yes, I eat like a truck driver and eating at carenderias cost me an average of Php150 but its better than eating at restaurants where my bill is usually P400-Php600 all on my own. ;-)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks for dropping by! :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Go! :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Haha! You need a lot of money when traveling in that case :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this...
Would you know how much is the cost of ferry from el nido to coron? Is 6days enough to visit PPS-el nido-coron?
thanks

bubolliit said...

El Nido Plaza Inn is Php 400.00/ Room up to 3 pax. Fan Room. Comfort Rooms are shared. The cheapest so far i know.

Shaggie de Leon said...

Thanks for this.

Shaggie de Leon said...

Hi. I Tried contacting servant tours but the Numbers Arent Working.. Do you have any contacts i could reach them? Thank you.

Sab said...

Thx for this awesome post... will be there in 2 weeks, so excited!!

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Great! Enjoy your trip! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pinoy Travel Freak!

This will be my guide when I go to El Nido (in my dreams!haha). Thanks for your tips.

anton said...

09154157245 servant tours

Nenette P Quinn said...

Hi Peter, how many hours is the ferry ride to El Nido and what ferry do you take from Manila?

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Thanks!

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Ferry ride would probably take a day or more. You may want to check with the shipping lines listed here: http://www.lakwatsero.com/destinations/travel-guide-el-nido/

I think 2GO (formerly Superferry, Negros Navigation, etc.) is now serving Manila to Puerto Princesa City and Coron routes. From Puerto Princesa City, you can just travel by land to El Nido or by boat from Coron.

anton said...

hi PTF.. i like your blog so much.. super informative..nakagawa ako ng iterinary dahil syo.. idol n kita..hahaha.. punta kmi sa Aug in El Nido.. - ingat

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hehe. Thank you! Enjoy your El Nido trip! :)

Hippie Yuppie said...

thanks a lot for these tips. a flyer traveler here and really wanted to go to el nido without having to spend much. :)

http://thedivingpilot.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/10-tips-on-how-to-get-the-best-airline-promo-fares/

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Glad these El Nido DIY tips help! :)

david b said...

Thanks a lot for posting the tips, Roro bus schedule and photos - it will prove to be useful for our upcoming trip to El Nido.


Your short page and photos gave me a very clear impression of what to expect in El Nido.


By the way, we also wish to stay overnight in our tent in one of the islands ff El Nido - can you suggest how to do this? And what will be the cost? We will be bringing our own tent and have done this earlier in Hundred islands.


My Philippines Travel Blog - http://expattraveller.blogspot.com/

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hi, glad you dropped by this page. I suggest getting in touch with any island hopping tour operators (you can contact Servant Tours above). You need to arrange a boat to take and pick you up in the island where you will be camping.

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Le Mai Lan said...

Hi there,
Thank you for your useful post :D I just have some questions: How much time does each of the tour in your picture take? Also do you know how much time does the Underground River take? (I mean I know Underground River is a whole-day tour but what time will we be back at the end of the day?).


We plan to fly to Puerto Princesa on 31 July, then spend a day for Underground River and then take a bus/van to El Nino (spending that night on the bus). Assume that we arrive on El Nino at the very beginning of 2 August, then can we go for 2 tours (A and C) in one day :)) (coz we should be back to Puerto Princesa and take the flight back to Manila at 9:35 am of 03 August).


We booked the flight back to Manila on 3 August as we didnt intend to go to El Nino at first - until we read your post :))


Hope to hear from you soon!! Thank you :D

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hello, the same thing happened to us when I was planning our first trip to Palawan. The original plan was to explore only Puero Princesa until I learned while researching that it's not that expensive to go to El Nido. :D

The Underground River tour takes only half day (in our case it took around 4 hours). The actual cruise is only about 45 minutes, boat transfer from and to Sabang Port around 30 minutes per way, buffet lunch at Sabang (normally included in the package) and waiting time for your cruise (can last up to an hour or more depending on the number of visitors and weather condition).

What is your activity on August 1? If you do the Underground River tour on July 31 upon your arrival and travel to El Nido afterwards then you can have the whole day of August 1 to spend for island hopping.

Le Mai Lan said...

Hi,

Thanks for that rocket-speed reply :D

I'll tell you our exact time of travelling: We will reach Puerto Princesa at 1:15 PM. I assume it may take us about about at least 1 hour to get to the inn and settle down there. So we can start the UR at 2:15-2:30 the earliest. May that even possible? T_T (If yes then we will go for it immediately and take the bus to El Nino right after that. Then we may have 2 entire days (1Aug and 2Aug) for the tours in El Nino).


Thanks :D

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

If you want to maximize your time you can travel directly to Underground River upon arrival. No need to check in at Puerto Princesa City since you will traveling directly to El Nido after the tour. Take note that travel time from Puerto Princesa City to Sabang is around 1 hour and 40 minutes. I'm not sure though until what time they do the Underground River tour. Also take note that you need to secure your permit and make advance reservation weeks or months before. They limit the number of visitors per day so some days may be fully booked. Are you doing it DIY? If you're in a group I suggest having your tour arranged by a travel agency including the van transfer from PP to Sabang to El Nido.

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Another option: Travel directly to El Nido upon your arrival in Puerto Princesa, combi tour on second day and leave El Nido and head to UR on third day (you may have extra time to do Puerto Princesa City tour if you can finish early).

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petervandever said...

Yea..... the ferry is no longer but still can go to Coron with it.

I use to live in Palawan and am in PPC right now.

Palawan is changing and going totally touristy and this is NOT good. Port Barton is still safe though :)

petervandever said...

It is best to go on SuperFerry to PPC now. It is a great trip. You are overnight to Coron, there for a few hours and then to PPC. A day trip to Coron is included :)

The boat from Coron to El Nido is out of the question for most. Too pricy.

Raiza Hanna Baguio said...

Hello po. Can I ask if rates are still the same as of now?? hehehehehe :)

Pinoy Travel Freak said...

Hi, which rates? Please contact the numbers provided for the updated rates. Thanks! :)

meow said...

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Regard

YCH

Jewel Clicks said...

Whoa! great tips! I am planning to go to Palawan alone in the next few months... crossing my fingers if I can do this alone! :)

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제이벨 said...

If you dont mind may i know how much po nagastos nyo po lahat?

제이벨 said...

May i know po mga magkanu po ang nagastos nyo sa elnido??

Gavin Yip said...

Hi tks for sharing! But can i ask do u have any suggestions for scuba diving lessons at El-NIDO? tks!

Gavin Yip said...

Hi! Eh i was planning to go EL NIDO on dec. Any suggestions on places to learn scuba diving there? Like palawan divers or? :) tks

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