4 Days in El Nido Itinerary: Fun Philippines Travel Guide

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My first visit to the Philippines came about because a dear longtime friend of mine (hey girl hey!!!) was getting married. While the wedding technically took place in Tagaytay City, a bit out side of Manila, the optional afterparty reception involved hanging out on the island of Palawan. I was literally already in the Philippines, how could I say no to visiting another beautiful spot?! The main group activities revolved around spending 4 days in El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan, and it was such a beautiful bow on top of an already incredible wedding ceremony.

I’m no expert at where to go in the Philippines, this was literally my first trip, but I would describe El Nido as a very relaxing and lowkey destination. El Nido is a small town where most of the activities involve going to the beach – so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to get it. If that’s not what you’re looking for…well, I can’t help you haha, you might want to pick another destinations in the Philippines I guess.

BUT in my case, we spent 4 days in El Nido and since I am not particularly a water person, it felt like enough time for me. If you’re wondering what your own 4 days in El Nido might look like, I’ve got all the details of my trip coming right up!

Getting to El Nido

Before you start your 4 days in El Nido, you’ve first gotta get there. If you’re coming from outside the country, you’ll most likely at least have a transfer through Manila. Personally, I thought Manila was a super dope city with lots to do, and is the complete contrast to El Nido, so I’d recommend spending at least a few days. But either way, you’ll eventually move onto El Nido.

The Philippines is an island country, and it just so happens that El Nido is on the island of Palawan – a different island than Manila. So there are a few ways to get to El Nido. I will list them in order of most affordable to most expensive.

  1. Boat to from Manila to El Nido: technically, you can travel to El Nido by boat and I believe it is the most economical option, but it takes 24+ hours and will included a night in Coron (another destination), so in reality it will take two days to even arrive…so it’s not usually recommended to travelers with limited time.
  2. Plane to Puerto Princesa + bus/shuttle to El Nido: the best compromise for time and budget. Puerto Princessa is a larger town on Palawan island, with three airlines servicing the airport there. Flights from Manila are around 2,500-4,000php ($50-$75usd) one way and takes 1.5hrs. From there you can take a shuttle (650php/$15usd) or a slightly slower bus (515php/$12usd) to El Nido and takes 5-7hrs.
  3. Direct plane to El Nido: El Nido’s airport is small and only serviced by one airline, AirSwift. Flights from Manila are around 6,000-8,000php ($100-$150usd) one way and takes 1.5hrs.

About that Airline tho…

Now…let me tell you about the ONLY airline that flies into El Nido. AirSwift Airlines.

They are public enemy number one.

I’ve taken some annoying airlines before, but as inconvenienced as they made me (like FlyBondi switching the AIRPORT of my connecting flight or Swift trying to charge me for drinking my own water)…those were budget airlines. Inconvenience and annoyance is to be expected to a certain degree. You get what you pay for.

AirSwift is not a budget airline. It was also the biggest airline headache I’ve ever had the displeasure of navigating. Three days before my flight from Manila to El Nido, I received an email notice that my flight was changed. By that time, I was already in transit to the Philippines so I waited until I arrived in the country and joined up with the bride and crew to address it. We were all on the same flight, but no one else had received the email. Thankfully my friend (the bride) had her mom call the airline and it turns out that ALL of our flights had been changed from a respectable 2pm to 7 hours EARLIER at 8am.

The morning after the wedding.

And there was no way to switch our flights.

Unfortunately, the newlyweds were forced to cancel their after-wedding bunch the next morning so we could all groggily make it to our forced 8am flight. For my flight back to Manila, after our 4 days in El Nido, they also switched my flight with no warning to a redeye that would basically cut an entire day from my next destination’s itinerary.

For a few other people in our party, their flights were also delayed leaving El Nido. One friend even had their flight rerouted to Puerto Princesa, waited a few hours, THEN flew into El Nido, wasting their whole day.

So…yes, flying directly into El Nido is the fastest, but honestly prepare yourself to deal with AirSwift’s shenanigans. Since we were only staying 4 days in El Nido, we had to just grin and bear it for the faster option.

Where to Stay

Once you’ve finally made it to El Nido, Palawan, things get a little easier from there. So to make the most of your 4 days in El Nido, you’re gonna wanna pick a nice place to stay. Since I had never been to the town, I mostly searched for hotels based on proximity to the “town center” and rating. Since I was visiting for a wedding, my budget was adjusted for a more “plush” stay than usual, though technically for El Nido we were picking our own hotels.

view of crisp infinity pool at the funny lion el nido philippines.

(The Funny Lion: Booking Link)

For us, we ended up staying at The Funny Lion El Nido, which happened to be the top rated hotel on TripAdvisor and one of the top rated on Booking (my usually booking site). We chose this hotel because it had stellar reviews, it was a short walk to the town center (about 8minutes), and the biggest draw was the fact that it had a gym. There were not a lot of hotels in El Nido with a gym.

Overall, I’d give The Funny Lion El Nido an 8.5/10. Everything was fantastic except…the wifi was essentially non-existent in the rooms, which was a huge con for me. It worked great in the lobby but…I don’t want to sit around in the lobby to watch Love Island haha. Just a heads up, the wifi is spotty EVERYWHERE in El Nido, so it isn’t entirely the fault of this hotel, but it is something to note if you need to work or attend classes remotely during your 4 days in El Nido.

For more detail, stay tuned for my Funny Lion El Nido review!

rooftop bar at the h hotel el nido philippines

(The H Hotel: Booking Link)

My second option was the H Hotel, but luckily a lot of the other folks in the wedding crew opted to stay there. The H Hotel is a vegan hotel (by which I’m assuming their toiletries are vegan? Not sure…) and is right in the heart of the town center. It doesn’t have a gym (the reason we didn’t pick it), but it doesn’t have a fantastic rooftop lounge that overlooks the bay and a DELICIOUS vegan restaurant downstairs. My friends said they loved their stay and didn’t have any complaints.

For a more budget friendly option, our group did have a few folks bunking in hostels. Their recommendations were Spin Designer Hostel (Booking) and Happiness Hostel (Booking) if you want to stay walking distance to the town center.

How to Get Around

Because El Nido is a fairly small town, getting around is super chill. For the most part during your 4 days in El Nido, your main method of transportation will be walking, especially if your lodging is within a 10 minute walk to the town center.

That said, you can’t always rely on sidewalks in El Nido – and the Philippines in general. Don’t be surprised if the only path involves walking on the side of the street. It’s totally normal, so go with the flow. I will also add that not all the streets in El Nido are paved, so when cars drive by on dirt roads, they may kick up dust. At night, a couple of roads in the town center will close to vehicles so pedestrians can walk freely between restaurants, shops, and bars. It’s super chill.

a crowd walking through the town of El Nido Palawan Philippines

If walking isn’t your thing, or you need to go somewhere a bit farther/faster, there are tons of trikes that can pick you up and drop you off for a good deal. If you’re familiar with other countries in SE Asia, trikes are the Filipino tuk-tuks. If you’re not, then think of trikes as motorbike driven three-wheeled vehicles, or if someone attached a carriage to a dirt bike. They’re small, relatively quick, and will get you where you need to go.

That said, they also don’t have seatbelts, don’t have doors, and don’t have airbags. Thankfully, you’re in El Nido, not a giant city with lots of cars and traffic, so you’ll be alright. Trikes are super convenient and easy to flag down from main streets. You’ll probably take a trike at LEAST once during your 4 days in El Nido, if not once a day haha. In general, a trike ride will range from 100php to 300php depending on distance, so make sure you have change on you.

kay throwing up a peace sign in the mirror of a trike

If you want to visit somewhere farther out (like an hour+ distance) or would just prefer a vehicle with doors, you can usually arrange for a shuttle from your hotel.

What to Eat

For being a small town, El Nido had some excellent restaurants! My 4 days in El Nido were TASTY! There were a fewwww misses imo, but for the most part everything I ate was an 8/10 and above!

Ver De El Nido: smoothie and power bowls

Unlike most of my travels, I ate all of my breakfast meals at my hotel (the Funny Lion El Nido). One, because it was complimentary. Second, and most importantly, it was delicious!!! If you’ve never had Filipino breakfast, I feel bad for you son!!! Our breakfast spread at the hotel was incredible and always so fresh.

If you aren’t staying at The Funny Lion El Nido and your lodging doesn’t offer complimentary breakfast (or if it’s nasty lol), I was recommended two brunch spots in El Nido: Brunch El Nido and Dayo. Brunch El Nido has both Filipino breakfast dishes as well as more continental options. Dayo is more of a cafe, with an emphasis on caffeinated drinks and fresh fruit bowls, but you’ll also find omelets, biscuits, and toasts.

Lunch & Dinner

Now the rest of your meals during your 4 days in El Nido will be equally as delicious. Lunch and dinner are….honestly arbitrary, so I’m going to group them together. I experienced a mix of Filipino restaurants and cuisines from other places, but I didn’t have enough time to try Chinese food in El Nido. As one of my favorite cuisines, I love trying Chinese food in different countries to taste the differences, but alas – I can only eat so much. If you end up eating at a Chinese restaurant in El Nido, let me know your experience in the comments!

The Food Truck: pad thai

Okay back to food suggestions:

  • Ver De El Nido (v): Our first meal during our 4 days in El Nido! The restaurant is downstairs at the H Hotel and is vegan (with SOME vegetarian options) – but most importantly it’s delicious. We actually ate here twice because it was that good and both times the dishes were 10/10!
  • OPPA Korean Kitchen: Korean restaurant – as the name suggests haha. There’s not too much seating but the food comes really fast and fresh so no worries if you have to wait a bit for a chair. Food (and kimchi!!) is super tasty!
  • The Food Truck: It is quite literally a food truck, and it serves really good Thai dishes like the classic pad thai, but also dumplings. Not too many tables, but again the food comes out fast so the line moves quickly.
  • Fuego: This is a restaurant over by The Hungry Lion. Seems like a great spot for drinks, tho we went for an afternoon snack. Delicious wings and burgers – highly recommend if you’re missing western comfort foods!
  • Maremegmeg Beach Club: Located over by Las Cabañas Beach (15min away from town) Maremegmeg is a food spot right on the beach with an incredibly delicious and refreshing menu. Lots of great Filipino dishes as well so you have to make sure to try some before your 4 days in El Nido are over!!!
  • Holy Smoke: This is a Meditterean walk-up restaurant, so please note there is no seating. I got a wrap to eat right before our redeye flight and it was SO FLAVORFUL. They’re open late-ish, so if you’re out and about at night, definitely hit them up to grab a meal.
Maremegmeg Beach Club: sisig

Treats

And of course, you can’t spend 4 days in El Nido without grabbing yourself a fun little treat! I’m a juice gal, so ducking inside a cafe to cool off with a fresh smoothie was the highlight of my time. I really enjoyed the selection at Taste El Nido, a vegan spot that offered drinks and light bites (sandwiches, bowls, etc). They are cash-only though, so be sure to have some Philippine piso on you!

For a dessert-specific spot, I really enjoyed Gusto, a sweets shop right along a main road in town. Super easy to pop over after dinner! They have an assortment of ice cream and gelato flavors (like ube!!! must try!!!) as well as Filipino desserts. If you’ve never had halo halo, now is your chance to get it!

Things to Do

Now that we’ve talked about all the delicious things to eat, let’s get into the meat of your 4 days in El Nido (pun intended): THINGS TO DO IN EL NIDO! Again, I do want to emphasize that El Nido is a very chill destination, so that’s going to reflect on the types of activities you’re going to find in this small town of the island.

There are some bars that are open late, but not really much of a “nightlife” that you would find in larger cities. There also weren’t museums or cultural walking tours or an abundance of local boutique shopping (aside from the souvenir shops). But there IS an abundance of beach, so the majority of your 4 days in El Nido will be spent there. Just a heads up as someone who is not much of a beach traveler – but don’t cancel your trip!

El Nido knows how to make even the most beach-adverse come around.

Island Hopping Tour

The best thing to do during your 4 days in El Nido, or however long you stay, is to do an island hopping tour. And yes, this is coming from someone who hates water and sand. But an island hopping tour is the only way to see the true BEAUTY of El Nido. And the beauty of the Philippines in general.

After all, it is a nation made up of over 7 THOUSAND islands.

The premise of these island hopping tours in El Nido is that you hop on a mini boat and it takes you around to a few different scenic and idyllic beach and water locations nearby the town. They are generally full day affairs (8am-5pm ish) and include lunch on one of the islands. These island hopping tours are also regulated, so the tours have a (mostly) set itinerary to ensure ecological sustainability and personal safety.

The coast guard watches the boats that depart too, so there’s no getting around it!! But also on that note, you can be sure that in whatever island hopping tour you choose, you are getting licensed professional boat captains, crew, and guides.

Tour Breakdown

Onto the actual island hopping tours! Since they do have set itineraries, there are four to choose from, simply named: A, B, C, and D. They all have their pros (and cons), so I’ll briefly describe them so you can get a feel for which would be best suited for your 4 days in El Nido!

  • Tour A: has a good variety of relaxing and adventure, but is also the most busy/crowded during peak season
  • Tour B: is the most relaxed with lots of lowkey but still beautiful visits.
  • Tour C: is the most adventurous of all the tours and is a bit farther out so it has a touch more dramatic scenery, but can also have choppier weather (because it’s farther out)
  • Tour D: avoids most of the crowds by visiting “hidden gems” and more unique beaches at a relaxed pace.

Tour A is the most popular, and for good reason because visitors get a variety of experiences in one tour. Since we were only staying 4 days in El Nido, we only did tour A, though many people do multiple tours and experience something new with each one. Although it was technically high season, we were able to use a few nifty El Nido island hopping tour tips (coming soon) to avoid crowds.

Tour C is the second most popular of the tours, followed by B, and then D is the least popular (which also makes it the least crowded!). You can book the tours in advance or onsite. Since we were a larger group, we were able to book Tour A as a private island hopping tour so our party was the only one aboard. But you can certainly join a shared island hopping tour for a much lower price!

Las Cabañas Beach

Another fun thing to do during your 4 days in El Nido is to visit Las Cabañas Beach. It’s about 15-20 minutes from the town center and about a 150-200php trike fare. But it’s a good time!

The most popular reason to make the journey out to Las Cabañas Beach is to watch the beautiful sunset. And…I’d agree, it’s a phenomenal sunset location. I’d recommend arriving at least an hour earlier though to grab a good spot for sunset. You could even eat dinner there (*cough* like at the delicious Maremegmeg Beach Club *cough*) and stay until the sun goes down.

las cabanas beach el nido sunset

However, Las Cabañas Beach, or rather the area surrounding it, has a bit more to offer than just a pretty sunset! We spent a full half day in the area during our 4 days in El Nido because Las Cabañas Beach also has a zipline! The El Nido Zipline Experience expands over 750 meters from shore to a nearby island, and the cost for a one way ticket is between 700-900php (depending on if you choose the cheaper seated position or the more expensive Superman position) and 900-1100php for a return trip.

Honestly though, I liked just doing the one way ticket and then walking back along the sandbar to get back to Las Cabañas Beach. It was really peaceful! There is also a bit of shopping and soft serve snacks at the shops at Vanilla Beach!

Taraw Peak

Speaking of adventures, if you want to see some greenery on this turquoise blue island, you can go to Taraw Peak for some hiking! It has, in my humble opinion, the best views overlooking the bay of El Nido and the best part is that it’s only a short 30min hike! Although the activity itself was humid, hiking was a really refreshing change in our 4 days in El Nido!

I think it is mandatory to do the hike with a guide (for safety reasons), so we went with Canopy Walk, located in El Nido’s town center. You can make a reservation in advance or just walk in, but I’d recommend making a reservation for as early as possible (to avoid the afternoon heat). We started our hike at 9am (I think?) and by the time we got down around 10am, the building was packed AND it was hot.

The cost of the guided hike is about 400php and includes the guide, a harness, and a safety helmet. The hike itself is pretty easy if you’re used to hiking, and very manageable for beginners as well, though there are tall steps needed to be taken, so it is not the best for small children or folks who may have mobility concerns.

view of taraw peak overlooking el nido

At the top, you’ll be rewarded with this stunning view! And then you can head down to grab a fresh juice to cool off haha.

Hotel Excursion

And last but not least, something you should do before your 4 days in El Nido are up…check with your hotel (or hostel) for any excursions they might provide! Our hotel, The Funny Lion, actually owned Papaya Beach and had exclusive access for guests! Transportation to and from the beach were complimentary, though we did have to pay a small conservation fee (required for most island/water activities I believe) but it was only a few hundred pisos for 2 people.

Papaya Beach was BEAUTIFUL! If you go with The Funny Lion, I recommend taking the early morning excursion because, while the hotel does own the beach, they allow private tours to take their guests (for a fee) and there starts to be more people in the afternoon. There were exclusive covered raised platforms for hotel guests to sit and relax, as well as a small cantina that served snacks and drinks. If you want, you can order lunch from the hotel.

kay at papaya beach el nido palawan philippines

I’m not much of a swimmer (ie that time I almost drowned snorkeling in The Bahamas lol) I was able to finish one of my beach read audiobooks! Highly recommend the library app Libby by the way, it’s one of my favorite apps for travelers!

Your hotel stay may have different options available, but if not you could always book an excursion through Get Your Guide or Viator! That way you can just sit back and enjoy your 4 days in El Nido!

A few of the tours I have bookmarked for my next visit are:

Papaya Beach, El Nido

Conclusion

And that’ll about do it for a recap of my 4 days in El Nido! Hopefully you’ve found some of my experiences useful as you plan your own trip to the Philippines, whether you stay 4 days in El Nido, or longer, or shorter, or whatever.

Or yanno, even if you don’t visit, hopefully it was still a nice read for ya! If you don’t want to plan anything and would prefer a day by day breakdown, I also have a detailed 4 days in El Nido itinerary that you can follow and take ALL of the planning out of the equation!

If you’ve been to El Nido, is there any other tidbits you would add? Do you think 4 days in El Nido is a good amount of time? Let me know in the comments below!

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text: 4 days in El Nido Palawan Philippines. image: a girl wearing a crop top and shorts balacing on a tilted palm tree

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