El Nido Series

Traveling Cheap in El Nido, Palawan

Saturday, January 26, 2013Ryan Mach

Helicopter Island

It is not just the distance that makes El Nido somewhat inaccessible. The seemingly expensive and luxurious hotels that line the panoramic Bacuit Bay keep most people, particularly Filipinos, from spending holidays on this remote yet beautiful town. But a number of travelers who have gone there has brought home some incredibly surprising and exciting news: El Nido can be experienced without spending an arm and a leg.

Well, it's not exactly dirt cheap but one can still enjoy various activities like island hopping and snorkeling without burning a hole in their pocket. I have even doubted it myself - the place looks like it caters to foreign tourists only. What with sky-high prices and ridiculous rates, an average-earning Juan like me who isn't willing to splurge on travel will have probably skipped El Nido.

That El Nido is budget friendly seemed too good to be true but my recent weekend getaway/birthday celebration there proved that it can indeed be enjoyed even if you're on a tight budget.

For starters, my 2-day stay in El Nido cost me only Php4,125 (US$101.55). Not bad eh? Mind you, I didn't exactly starve nor deprive myself of some little treats that the place has to offer. Yes, I was budget-conscious the whole time, keeping tabs of my expenses and making sure I didn't go beyond my financial capability. In fact, spending four thousand pesos for a two-day stay in El Nido is a bit expensive. That being said, a backpacking adventure in El Nido is definitely possible.

So how do you go about experiencing El Nido on a budget?

1. Fly to Puerto Princesa
There are three ways to get to El Nido from Manila. Direct flight with ITI ( Island Transvoyager Inc.) is the fastest but also the most expensive. You basically board on a 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft which takes no more than 90 minutes to land directly at El Nido Airport. One way fare is around Php6,700 per person.
Puerto Princesa Airport
The second option, which is more affordable, is to fly first to Puerto Princesa and then travel by bus to El Nido. Major local airline companies (PAL, CebuPacific, ZestAir and AirPhil) have daily flights to Puerto Princesa so it's just a matter of which airline offers the most reasonable airfare. Travel time from Manila to Puerto Princesa is about 50 minutes.
RoRo bus
From Puerto Princesa, go to San Jose Terminal where buses and vans bound for El Nido are located. It's suggested to make bus or van reservation ahead of time as they normally get fully-booked all year-round.

If you have lots of time to spare and sea travel excites you, then the third option might be best for you - travel by sea. There are ferries and cargo boats that ply to El Nido on a weekly basis. One way fare is around Php900 with a travel time of at most 30 hours.

Total amount spent on transportation: Php1360.00 (Airfare not included)

2. Hostel Over Hotels
Two Dutch tourists I was with on the island hopping tour were staying at a handsome hotel in a beachfront. Out of curiosity, I asked them how much was the daily rate. Around four thousand pesos. Wow. I definitely couldn't afford it. They asked me how much I spent for my accommodation. I told them Php350 per night, and it was their turn to say "Wow."
La Banane Hostel

There aren't many hostels in El Nido. La Banane is the only one I know that has dorm-type accommodation. But there are budget-friendly inns around town, with daily rate that ranges from 500-2,000. Most affordable ones are fan rooms. Some inns and lodging houses offer discounts too, so always try to ask for a little markdown.

Total amount spent on accommodation: Php700.00 for two nights.

3. Mind Where You Eat
There are various restaurants that line Rizal Street and the beach front in Bacuit Bay. While it is nice to eat at these restaurants, having dinner there on a daily basis may not be so smart, budget-wise. For my first night in El Nido, I had dinner at Squido's where they serve meat and seafood. I spent around 140 (grilled shrimp, rice and soda). The next morning, I had breakfast at The Alternative - Php267 for a meal that consisted of ham, bread, egg and shake.
Bird's Nest at The Alternative
  There's a cheap fast-food joint along Rizal St. called IBR that serves good food at affordable prices. They're also open 24 hours. Budget-friendly eateries abound the area as well so you can be sure that you won't starve in case you've run out of finances. I ordered a bowl of hot porridge for only Php30.00
IBR Inn and Fastfood
On my last day in El Nido, I was invited by my newly-found friends to eat at Sea Slugs, one of the famous bars/restaurants in front of Bacuit Bay. I didn't spend a dime because I was treated by them but judging on the prices on the menu, I can say that they're not very cheap. An order of grilled squid for instance cost around Php200.00.
Sea Slugs
Another option to save on food is to find someone who will cook for you at the place you stay.

Total amount spent on food: Php570.00

4. Ask a Discount on Tours
Island hopping tour is arguably the highlight of your El Nido adventure/getaway. Rates for every tour, which consists of Tours A, B, C, D and E, are standardized but there are tour companies that do give discounts. I heard Servant Tours is one of them. The tour group I availed of also gave me a hundred-peso discount which wasn't bad.
Tour options
The amount you pay for the tour doesn't include water, snorkel mask or gears and flippers so it's a good idea to bring your own. I brought my own goggles and my footwear was suitable for snorkeling anyway so I didn't have to rent them.
Snorkeling masks can be rented at Php100
Total amount spent on Island Hopping Tour: Php1000.00

5. Act Like a Local
Or don't appear too flashy or touristy. This comes very handy when you take a tricycle from and to the terminal. When tricycle drivers sense that you're not from El Nido, they might charge you the tourist rate. Regular trike fare is only 20 pesos, though I read from some blogs that they were charged Php50.00. Them drivers in El Nido aren't aggressive folks - that's for sure. They won't go ballistic when you give them the standard fare.

When taking a public bus, the non-airconditioned one, you can actually save a few pesos if you tell the driver that you're a local by naming the barangay you live in Palawan. Not advisable if you're bad at lying. Haha.
Rizal Street
Do what locals do - walk on foot. El Nido is just a small town anyway so you can pretty much explore it by walking. And you don't really need reminding that walking is a good exercise. :-)

Total amount spent on trike: Php40.00

These are just some tips on how to travel and spend vacation in El Nido the cheap way. I'm pretty sure you'll discover your own ways to experience El Nido on a budget. Share them here, will you?

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