El Nido, Palawan - The Philippines' Biggest Tourist Trap

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

El Nido has been a place on my bucket list for YEARS. I have seen so many pictures, blogs, and articles describing the vast beauty this part of Palawan, Philippines has to offer. So of course when I finally made the trip over to the Philippines, it was a top priority for me. However, I was soooo disappointed. Out of all the places I've been to in the beautiful world, this was by FAR the biggest tourist trap. Let me tell you why:


The Image of El Nido

Every picture you see of El Nido is of gorgeous lagoons, beaches, and islands with turquoise water and white sand. So, you'd think when you arrive in El Nido you'd be able to just walk around or rent a moped and go see these beautiful sights, right? WRONG. The government controls entry to every single possible place you'd want to go, so the only way to access these places is through a tour. Literally the only way. I tried to find another way, but it doesn't exist.


Tours

There are 4 main tours offered by every company in El Nido: A, B, C, & D. Again, they all do the exact same thing, for the exact same price because it's all government-controlled. Which is nice that you can't really go wrong with a tour company, but also means that every tour you go on is filled with people following the same itinerary. Let's take a deeper look at these tours:

Snake Island TOUR B - Image by bemytravelmuse.com ©

TOUR A - 1200 pesos

- Big Lagoon OR Small Lagoon

- Secret Lagoon

- 7 Commando beach

- Shimizu Island

- Payong-Payong beach


TOUR B - 1300 pesos

- Pinagbuyutan

- Cudugnon Cave

- Cathedral Cave

- Entalula Beach

- Snake Island

Matinloc Shrine TOUR C - Image by travelphotolab.com ©

TOUR C - 1400 pesos

- Secret Beach

- Helicopter Island

- Matinloc Shrine

- Hidden Beach

- Talisay Beach


TOUR D - 1200 pesos

- Cadlao Lagoon

- Bukal Beach

- Paradise Beach

- Pasandigan Beach

- Nat-Nat Beach


*All tours include drinking water & a BBQ Buffet lunch


My Experience

We chose TOUR A because the lagoons were top on our list! Although the big lagoon was gorgeous, we really were let down by the tour. Here's a quick overview:

- Big Lagoon OR Small Lagoon: You only get to pick one, so if you want to visit both you have to re-do the entire tour and pick the other one. My friend was here 2 years ago and was able to do both in Tour A, so they've changed it to make you spend more money. We opted for the Big Lagoon & the water really was gorgeous!


- Secret Lagoon: Our tour didn't even go here because of "bad weather" on a bright, sunny day. This was really disappointing because we didn't get any money back, and it was a top thing we wanted to see.

- 7 Commando beach: No white sand, and the water was pretty dirty


- Shimizu Island: Great snorkeling! We really enjoyed this stop with lots of fish & coral.

- Payong-Payong beach: This one was a little better than 7 Commando, but the water was still a little dirty.


Extra Fees

Now here's something they don't tell you when you book the tour- there are SO many extra fees when you show up on the day of the tour. Here's a breakdown:

- Water shoes (100 pesos): They said we couldn't do the tour unless we rented them


- Environmental Fee (250 pesos): This we actually were told about beforehand which was nice, but still pretty expensive in my opinion


- Lagoon Entrance Fee (200 pesos): I need to pay extra to enter a body of water included on the tour I already paid for? I'm confused.


- Kayak (350 pesos): You're not allowed to enter the lagoon without a kayak, which honestly makes no sense. Once you're in the lagoon, everyone jumps out of their kayak and starts swimming anyways. So again, just another way to make an extra dollar.


I was super upset by all the hidden fees, I felt like what did my 1200 pesos fee for the tour even cover?!


Itinerary

(From my experience without the secret lagoon)

8:00am Pick-up (and by pick-up I mean someone walks you to the beach, which you could do yourself)

9:00am Leave

9:20am 7 Commandos Beach

10:15am Shimizu Island

11:15am Big Lagoon

12:30pm BBQ lunch (this was delicious- lots of food!)

1:00pm Free snorkel time

1:30pm Payong-Payong Beach

3:00pm Back in El Nido town


Anything else to do besides tours?

There's not much, but here are a couple things:

- Ferry to Coron (1760 pesos 1-way)- This was also a top priority of mine, but the ferry ticket was INSANE so we didn't do it. I couldn't believe it was $33 USD each way- that's ridiculous!

image by gettingstamped.com ©

- Nacpan Beach- This is about a 45 minute ride up North from El Nido town. However, the road that leads there isn't paved, so if it's rained in the past couple days it's impossible to get to on your own. We rent motorbikes all the time and feel pretty comfortable driving, and we couldn't even do it. It's just a sinking mud pit. So again, you'd have to pay for a van tour or pay a tricycle driver to take you (something with more than 2 wheels).

Image by homeiswhereyourbagis.com ©

-Eat! Since we didn't do a whole lot of anything else after that scam tour, we were mostly just eating. We found an amazing healthy cafe called GLOW which I highly recommend. Everything is vegetarian & locally sourced. They have power bowls, avocado toasts, pressed juices, veggie burgers, and more.


Also, Pukka Bar has a great burger for only 190 pesos and it comes with fries, a soda, and beach views.


Wrap Up

Overall, this post is based on my experience and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I just felt like El Nido was a major tourist trap. You can't really do anything without spending a gross amount of money on a tour and extra fees. If you're aware of all the fees beforehand and don't mind spending every day on a different tour, then head over to El Nido. But if you prefer to do things on your own and are on a backpacker budget, I would definitely avoid coming here.


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