El Nido: Day trip to Nacpan Beach

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  • Nacpan Beach, often regarded as being one of the best beaches in all of Asia, is an easy day trip away from El Nido. 

    Once just a desolate stretch of untouched golden sand it is now quite popular, with several bars and restaurants around. There is a Mad Monkey Hostel here also, providing budget accommodation and nightly beach parties.

Getting to Nacpan Beach

A boat ashore at Nacpan Beach
  • What was once a bumpy, uncomfortable motorbike ride from El Nido town has become much more convenient in recent years. There are now several more options to get to Nacpan Beach:
  • By shuttle bus: This is what we did. Comfortable and stress-free ride in an air-conditioned shuttle bus. The only negative is that you have to leave and arrive according to their schedule. Bookings can be made here.
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  • By tricycle: Every tricycle driver in El Nido will offer you a roundtrip tour to Nacpan Beach. Cheaper than the shuttle with the options to stop at some places on the way and dictate the times you leave and arrive. 
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  • By motorbike/scooter: This will take you 45 minutes to an hour. The road deteriorates quite badly towards the end of the ride so extra care is required. The cheapest option.

Exploring Nacpan Beach

I 'Heart' Nacpan Sign

We were dropped off at Sunmai Bar, a beach club-style bar & restaurant that serves as a symbol of the changing times that are happening at Nacpan Beach. Just outside it lies an Instagram-worthy ‘I Heart Nacpan’ sign placed in the sand.

This area is the main hub and where you will find a few restaurants and basic shops. Further down along the beach is Mad Monkey Hostel where you can sip on cocktails, eat ice cream and play beach volleyball with other travellers.

Locals at Nacpan Beach

Past here you will be free to explore the beach paradise that is Nacpan Beach. There is a viewpoint that gives you a view of Nacpan’s distinct twin beaches. Nacpan Beach refers to the wider stretch of sand whilst Calitang Beach is the other side.

Nacpan Beach has 4km of perfect sand so you’ll surely be able to find a slice of paradise for yourself to relax and unwind for the day.

Last Thoughts

An idle boat on Nacpan Beach

If you have over 4 days to spend in El Nido (or you are obsessed with long stretches of sand) the trip out to Nacpan Beach is worthwhile. 

We personally weren’t blown away and wouldn’t prioritise it over a couple of Island-Hopping Tours.

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El Nido: Tour D — Why you should try the least popular tour

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Tour D is often left off travellers itineraries for El Nido. There are a few reasons for that:

  • Cadlao Island, where the tour is based, is located very close to the main area of El Nido. This causes travellers to wonder whether or not it’s good value to pay for a boat to take them to an island that looks so close by
  • The main draw, Cadlao Lagoon, isn’t as famous as the Big and Small Lagoons. How many lagoons are travellers expected to visit?
  • After Cadlao Lagoon, the rest of the stops are just various beaches around the island
  • Lastly, it’s not always economical. It’s quite hard to find a group tour for Tour D. Even in high season, we struggled to find anything going and ended up paying for a private tour.
  • All these points are valid, but allow us to inspire you and let you know why you should consider this tour.

     

Why you should try it

Our sailors for the day, experiencing pure bliss in perfect water and Natnat Beach

We’d heard from a few sources that Cadlao Lagoon is arguably the most beautiful in El Nido. So, we decided to see it when we’d heard that Tour A’s at that time would be skipping either the Big or Small Lagoon due to congestion.

No matter how beautiful something is, it’s hard to appreciate it when you’re surrounded by people in fluoro-orange life jackets. It ruins the mood a bit, you know?

We ended up having our favourite boat tour of the Phillippines with Tour D as we were treated to a stunning lagoon and deserted beaches all day. The atmosphere in each stop was calm and chilled out, which was exactly what we needed at that time during our trip.

The beaches themselves were the best we’d ever visited (partly due to having them all to ourselves).

Cadlao Lagoon

Perfect emerald water

The absolute highlight of this tour for us. We arrived early in the morning and shared the entire area with just 4 or 5 other people. The limestone karts surround and tower over you as you enter the lagoon. The emerald water dazzles and invites you to jump in for a swim.

Limestone karsts from Cadlao Lagoons beach

There is a beach that you’ll find through some rocks as well. You’ll be free to hang out here to swim, jump off rocks and explore as long as you’d like.

The rest of the stops on the tour are beaches, all with their own distinct character. The following were our favourites:

Natnat Beach

Approaching Natnat Beach

Natnat Beach was easily our favourite beach on our tour. The limestone karsts, palm trees and soft sand all come together in a way that captures everything distinct about El Nido, creating an iconic environment thats perfect for photography and relaxing.

Picture perfect Natnat Beach

The beach stretches quite far and you’ll find rope swings and local’s boats docked as you walk across it. We ended up having this beach all to ourselves for an hour or so and enjoyed wandering aimlessly and floating in the warm water with all the natural beauty surrounding us.

Paradise Beach

Exploring the rocks at the end of Paradise Beach

Next was Paradise Beach. This is also where we stopped for lunch. The beach is great to explore and there are some rocks to explore and walk through that lead to another smaller beach.

Bukal Beach

Boats docked at Bukal beach

Our last stop was Bukal Beach, a relatively simple beach with some rocks to climb nearby. There isn’t anything particularly special about this beach but its a great place to relax (from all your relaxing you’ve done all day) before heading back to the El Nido town.

Last Thoughts

Tour D ended up being our most enjoyable island hopping tour we did in Palawan, and we went on several from Port Barton, El Nido and Coron. The lesser crowds definitely added to this, but there was a certain charm to each place we visited as well.

Cadlao Lagoon was absolutely stunning and we shared it with just a few other people. Natnat Beach was simply beautiful.

Overall, Tour D makes a perfect pairing with Tour A or C. You will see the vast majority of what makes El Nido special with a combination of these.

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El Nido: Island Hopping & Endless Adventure

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El Nido translates to ‘The Nest’. It gets its name the edible nests of the Swiftlet which are plentiful amongst the limestone cliffs of Bacuit Bay. Harvesting these nests was originally one of the primary sources of revenue for the area, alongside fishing.

Things are obviously different now, as El Nido has become world-renowned for its incredible natural beauty. Tourism is now the major driving force behind the region's economy, and the area boasts a huge amount of activities that will please any type of traveller.

From adventure to relaxation, El Nido ticks all the boxes. We spent 5 days here, but another week would have been very easy to do.

Jump to a section below:

Glamping on Marimegmeg Beach

The view from our tent at The Birdhouse

To get to El Nido, we had caught a shared van from Port Barton. A trip that has improved exponentially in the last few years thanks to a new road. The trip was a little under 3 hours long.

The towering limestone cliffs that surround the town are spectacular, and catching glimpses of the bay as we drove in built up our excitement to extreme levels!

From the bus station, we caught a tricycle to Marimegmeg Beach where our accommodation was.

We were staying in The Birdhouse, a boutique glamping resort that offered stunning views over the bay. The property also offers yoga classes each evening and has an incredible restaurant which served some of the best food we had whilst in El Nido.

Marimegmeg Beach

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

The beach has a few bars and restaurants along it, but not much else. The perfect place to relax and unwind. We got a Bali vibe from the bars that were pumping chill out house music and offering happy hour cocktail deals.

This beach is also known as Las Cabanas beach. This is due to one of the first high-end resorts to be opened in El Nido being named this, so the name stuck around.

What to know about Island Hopping in El Nido

Viewpoint on Matinloc Island

This is the reason you come to El Nido. Everything you see in the pictures is out in Bacuit Bay and you need a boat to reach them. The 4 most famous tours are named Tour A, B, C & D. They’re all offered as group tours and government regulation sets the prices that agencies offer.

There are also other tours available with unique offerings such as better boats or “secret” destinations but the original 4 are the classics that made the destination famous.

El Nido Paradise has excellent write-ups on each of the tours and offers services of their own. They also allow you to combine certain tours and can help organise private tours. We had no problem organising these through our guesthouses, however.

Private Tours

To put this in simple terms: If you can afford to pay for a private tour, go for it. Especially if you are travelling in a group. Aside from the obvious benefits of having the boat to yourself, you will also be able to:

  1. Start the tour at whatever time you wish.
  2. Be able to tailor the stops to your liking
  3. Ask your crew to avoid stops when they are most busy

We paid between 6000 and 7000 php for the two of us. If you shop around you can surely pay a bit less.

Tour C (and some stops from Tour A)

The shrine on Matinloc Island

A lot of guides we’d read online said Tour A and C are the best ones. Our idea was to combine the 2 and see if we came out winning.

We didn’t learn until a few days later that recent government restrictions had put a ban on combining tours. Tour agencies could face large fines if they were caught doing it. It wasn’t until we checked around town and online when we realised they weren’t allowed. There didn’t seem to be any issue when organising it through The Birdhouse.

What we managed to organise involved all the stops of Tour A and C, minus the Big and Small lagoons.

Our full write-up is coming soon.

A coconut stand on Papaya Island

The tours had a nice mix of relaxing beaches and more adventurous stops. The Secret Beach, Hidden Beach and Hidden Lagoon (I assure you that none of these are hidden or secret in the slightest) all involved careful manoeuvring through rocky waters and cave-like entrances to see.

Another interesting stop was Matinloc Island which has an eery shrine and a packed viewpoint. Be careful walking up to the viewpoint, it gets overcrowded and one misstep would lead to a very painful fall.

Taking a dip at ‘Hidden’ Beach

If you do decide on Tour C we recommend renting a pair of aqua shoes. We didn’t, and it made every stop much more difficult.

Despite being ahead of the main crowd, we found most sites to be crowded. Especially the Hidden Lagoon towards the end, where we waited over 15 minutes waiting for other tour groups to exit. The entrance and exit are the same. Just a small hole that you need to climb through

However, everything was still manageable and we had a great day. Hidden Beach was the highlight for us.

Tour D: The Unpopular One

Tour D’s Cadlao Lagoon

Tour D, the next tour we went on, seems to be well and truly flying under the radar. It has sites that are just as impressive as A and C with a fraction of the crowds. It focuses on Cadlao Island which is the closest island to the main town of El Nido. It’s possible to kayak here from the town, but it’s quite far.

Our full write-up is coming soon.

The main draw of Tour D is Cadlao Lagoon. We’d read a few sources that suggested it was the most stunning of all the famous lagoons around El Nido. Big Lagoon and Small lagoon, both stops on Tour A, are the most famous. We wanted to see them, but on the day before our tour we had heard that all Tour A’s were only going to stop at one of the lagoons due to congestion.

Generally, no matter how beautiful a piece of natural scenery may be, being surrounded by loud groups and selfie sticks will severely reduce the experience.

So from that, the choice to do Tour D was sealed. The only caveat was that we had to go private. We shopped around but no agencies were offering Tour D as a group tour.

Early morning at Cadlao Lagoon

Cadlao Lagoon, our first stop, was truly beautiful. We spent an hour here swimming and exploring and enjoying the early morning peace and quiet.

Natnat Beach

The rest of the tour consisted off hidden away beaches with perfect sand. This tour is perfect for chilling out and soaking in the sun. The beaches we stopped at here were our favourite of the Philippines.

Exploring the Mainland

The port at El Nido Town

There is still plenty to do in El Nido apart from Island Hopping tours such as cooking classes, day trips to other beaches on the mainland and relaxing activities.

El Nido Town

School children on their break with limestone karsts towering above them

The main town of El Nido boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and travel agencies. In terms of convenience and cost, it’s the best place to stay. We spent our last couple of nights in El Nido here and enjoyed having all these options, but did miss the calming sunsets and evenings at Marimegmeg Beach.

As far as food goes, Altrove serves up some of the finest pizza’s we’ve ever had. We shamefully came here more than once thanks to its central location and delicious food. Unfortunately, we found the quality of food in El Nido to be lacking, not to mention overpriced, so we tended to stick with what we knew.

Tamboks is another excellent restaurant offering Filipino dishes. Its a few kilometres outside of town so you need to rent a scooter or get a tricycle, but it’s worth it. By far the best Filipino food you will find near El Nido town.

The beach near town itself is fun for a quick stroll. We wouldn’t recommend swimming in it though. In the evenings it’s full of boats, so we don’t think the water is the cleanest.

Nacpan Beach

An idle boat at Nacpan Beach

An extremely popular day trip is to head out to Nacpan Beach. It’s about a 1-hour ride from town or you can get a shuttle bus. We’ve heard that it’s a bumpy and uncomfortable ride on a bike, so best to take the shuttle if you can. If you take the shuttle, you will be dropped off at Sunmai Bar which is just near the “I Love Nacpan” sign on the beach.

The beach itself has become much more touristy these days as opposed to when we first heard about it. But being voted in top-beach-in-the-world lists will do that.

Despite that, walk away from Sunmai Bar, past the Mad Monkey Hostel and you’ll easily be able to find a stretch of sand you can have all to yourself.

A boat ashore at Nacpan Beach

For the more adventurous (or for those with more time), Duli Beach is meant to be excellent and possibly what Nacpan Beach was like a few years ago.

Red Horse and sunsets on Nacpan Beach

Last Thoughts

Assuming the weather holds up and you aren’t expecting world-class cuisine, El Nido will give you an unforgettable, magical experience as you look upon some of the most spectacular natural scenery the world has to offer.

On each of our island-hopping days, we were constantly in amazement of the pure beauty on display.

5 days was a good amount of time to spend here. A few more certainly wouldn’t be wasted. There is so much to discover here, and once you move away from the popular sights you will start to truly feel lost amongst an island paradise.

What we would have done differently

  • Planned our island tours more efficiently and tried to take better advantage of early starts and beating the crowds
  • Sought out more Filipino cuisine, even if it meant going out of the main towns more often. The options in town were generally disappointing
  • Worn aqua shoes for Tour C. The stress of walking along the rocky shores in bare feet or thongs would have been relieved with a pair of these

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