Now that El Nido is on your bucket list, you might ask, well how do I get there?
How do you get there? There’s 2 main way: Flying directly into El Nido or flying to Puerto Princessa and then transferring to El Nido via bus, van, car, etc..
Option #1: Flying into El Nido – This is the pricier option of the 2 but definitely the least time consuming. As far as I know, Air Swift is the only airline that will fly into El Nido unless you have another chartered plane. You can find direct flight from Cebu city or Manila with Air Swift on their website. It’ll cost roughly about $250 for roundtrip from Manila. Plan according if you are on a tight schedule since flights to and from Manila can often be delayed especially around monsoon season.
Options#2: Flying into Puerto Princessa (PPS) – This is what I chose to do. The more adventurous and possibly less predictable option. You can fly into PPS from many routes with Philippine Airline, AirAsia or Cebu Pacific. Instead of booking the 2nd leg separately, this option is more flexible if your 1st leg happens to be delayed. After arriving in PPS airport, you’ll be greeted outside with many men in taxis and cleverly motorized tricycles (which are pretty cool)! Now you’ll have the option of taking a taxi to the central bus terminal to catch the next bus to El Nido or hopping in a van from the airport that takes to directly to El Nido.
- The bus option: A tricycle ride to the airport is negotiable but we thought 50php ($1USD) was pretty reasonable. The trip time is about 20-30mins. We had 2 small carry-ons which was thrown in the back and tied down. Once you get to San Jose bus terminal, look for the buses going north. There will be signs that indicate their final destination. I’d recommend taking the Cherry Bus. Our flight was delayed, we arrived later than expected so we could not take the comfortable AC Cherry buses. Familiarize yourself with their schedule in case you arrive later than scheduled.
The Cherry Bus operates every 2 hours from 5am to 9pm(less during low season), but not all the buses on this schedule are air conditioned. You can buy your ticket before or at the terminal. The one way fare is 480php($10USD) for AC and 380($9USD) for an ordinary bus. That’s pretty much a no brainer. Cherry buses are not the only buses operating from PPS to El Nido, but by appearances(modern, some offer WIFI, AC) they are probably the most tourist friendly. There are other companies in the terminal(RoRo, Sweet Liner, etc..). We arrived around 5:15pm and had no choice but to take the ordinary bus at 7pm or wait until 9pm. Mind you the trip to El Nido ranges from 5-7hrs. It was AWFUL and very very hot! The bus terminal have vendors that sell food and drinks. You may want to buy some although the bus does stop once for a short restroom break. Our bus had bagfuls of rice lining the walk way and more thrown in the back. Locals often take these buses home so there will be MANY frequent stops which makes the trip longer than the usual AC buses. We arrived at the bus terminal in El Nido around 1am. We then took a taxi (a helpful guy at the terminal flagged down a random stranger with a tricycle to take us to town). Our hotel happily made the late midnight run to pick us up from this 2nd meeting point.
- The van option: Book your van in advance. There are many companies that operate either privately(ride by yourself) or publicly(share with others). Eulen Joy, Lexxus & Fort Wally(they never emailed me back) to just name a few. I also found a company called DayTripper with awesome reviews but were completely booked out at the time I tried to reserve. A one way ticket on one of these shuttles will cost you about $15-20USD (not bad!).
TIP: What if you have an early morning flight leaving PPS? Depending on where you’re heading, for us it was Singapore, but the latest flight departs around 2pm. This may post a problem when the travel time on bus is around 5-7 hrs + terminal to airport + airport checkin. We booked a 5am shuttle from El Nido directly to PPS airport through our hotel. It was just a local bus, but we were happy we wouldn’t have to stress ourselves out trying to make our flight. But we had both the bus and van experience! The total shuttle time is about 5 hrs with minor stops. There is a main stop for food(not extravagant but quite delicious) and another for a quick restroom break. They’ll pack you like sardines in the shuttles. There won’t be much wiggle room as a bus ride but the plus was that we got AC! Whoo hoo!
Where to stay? We stayed at Caalan Beach Resort for about 2,200PHP/night ($45USD) in a room with beach and garden views. I know there is plenty of other options ranging from very expensive (Miniloc Island Resort ~$500USD/night) to less expensive hostels and guest houses. I actually looked at several comparing the conveniences and price per night of each and was very happy to choose this resort. It was conveniently situated on the beach, not very far from town and they offered tours of El Nido on site which helped out a lot since I had my mother traveling with me.
Other options for staying:
- $$$ – El Nido island Resorts – Requires sea transfer to resorts from El Nido
More photos of El Nido? Check out my photos, videos and experience here!