Our Second Home: Behind the Scenes Guide to El Nido

Aerial view of the crystal clear waters and limestone cliffs of El Nido, Palawan

El Nido, our second island home, is a collection of islands where Mother Nature show offs like no other in the Philippines. During the pandemic, we escaped Manila several times to El Nido—finding solace and quiet, adventures and dance parties, and getting to know the area like locals. We wanted to share our favorite tips about what not to miss, so we wrote this guide, just for you. From where to find the best hotel pool, to exploring remote islands, and the secret dive spots too! This island paradise where there are seemingly countless options vying for your attention. 

Think vibrant turquoise turquoise waters, incomparable sunsets, and time running slow to feel like you're in paraiso forever. Read through to learn how you can see baby black tip reef sharks or where to find the best hotel pool in this beautiful Philippine Island. 

Maremegmeg Beach Club — boutique rooms, great vibes, awesome pool 

Shaun sporting a stylish Short Kimono Robe poolside at Maremegmeg Beach Club

Shaun by the Maremegmeg poolside wearing Chichiboomba Moonpath Short Kimono Robe

Easily one of our favorite “treat yo’ self” spots in the Philippines. The villas at this beach club are cantilevered atop a cliff overlooking one of El Nido’s best white sandy beaches. Besides the breathtaking views from each villa, we were pleasantly surprised when we stepped into the bathroom and heard the waves crashing below every so often; it’s a luxury we didn’t know we needed.  

And it’s not just the villas, too. Their downstairs restaurant always plays excellent tunes and serves up delicious food that makes going anywhere else unnecessary. The Beach Club is a magnet for cool and interesting people–locals and foreigners alike. The pool area is exclusive to guests only which gives you privacy in one of the most spectacular pools in the Philippines. It’s a good time all around!

Tahan — creative vegan restaurant with Tinkerbell vibes

Tahan El Nido
Photo: @nunofinez

This fairy house is a vegan restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of El Nido town. Built by Chef Andrew and artist/musician Nuno during the pandemic, the whimsical theme was a fitting construction to brighten up the community. Tahan’s menu changes every day based on what is in season at the local organic farms or what Andrew finds fresh at the market. Check their Instagram for the daily menu. Each meal does not pretend to be a "veganized" meat dish; each flavor in the dishes is unique and delicious. It’s fun because a tasty gastronomic surprise is always guaranteed.

Roots Eco Farm & Dive Sibaltan — organic farm + a secret dive spot for manta rays and reef sharks

Shaun get her Open water scuba diving license with Sibaltan Divers in El Nido, Palawan

Shaun's pre-dive excitement in Sibaltan
The best-kept secret in El Nido is an hour’s drive east away from the hustle and bustle. At Roots, they grow only organic fruits and veggies and visitors are allowed to forage for your meals, too. For those who want to spend the night, there are a handful of A-frame kubos with accompanying outdoor showers and composting toilets you can book. Though, the real luxury of Roots is being so far away from other humans. It’s a grounding experience to both be in a place where everything is completely sustainable and zero-waste and participate in picking the crops to make your food. 
Noelle, the founder of Roots Farm, is also the owner of Dive Sibalan, the only dive operator on the eastern side of El Nido. Unlike the other dive sites near El Nido town, the corals are pristine and teeming with life. A bonus: there are rarely any tourists around. 
If you’ve read this far, then we’ll share our favorite secret – one of the nearby dive sites is a manta ray cleaning station. This means manta rays flock to this location to have specialized smaller fish preen parasites off of them, hence the name “cleaning station”.  It’s never a guarantee that you see them, but we saw multiple mantas on each of our three dives at the cleaning station. 

Tao Philippines — unique remote island stays, dining + sailing experience to taste nature

Paraw Sailboat docked in TAO Farm, Palawan
A TAO Paraw Sailboat
Photo: Terence Angsioco

The Tao Farm was our favorite lockdown getaway and should be at the top of every adventurer’s to-do list. We've visited the Tao Farm several times. The trek there involves a forty-five-minute car or scooter ride and a ten-minute hike along the beach to arrive. A true paradise lost in the jungle shores of El Nido. You can either spend the day there or opt for an overnight experience. The generator cuts off at 10pm, so that means no light or charging electronic devices, but you’ll always get a good night's sleep. 

It’s an experience like no other: each meal is locally sourced and the unique dishes are reminiscent of a top-notch tasting menu in a cosmopolitan city. The difference being most people are barefoot (apt for the island lifestyle) and sit together at a bar height counter where the chefs prepare and plate the food right in front of you. 

There is also a foraging forest in the back where most of the veggies are sourced, a sprawling white sand beach in the front, and sandwiched between the two are the accommodations, architectural bamboo huts called “tukas”, meaning a bird’s beak, which they resemble. 

If sailing is your thing, Tao Philippines also has several expeditions available to explore the remote island on expedition boats as well as a hand-carved sailboat called a Paraw similar to those the Polynesians used to spread across the pacific. The sailboat was crafted after the native sailing traditions of many years past. In these expeditions, Tao’s lost boys (the tour guides who grew up on the island) sail you around El Nido.

Happiness Villas — cozy accommodation near the action of El Nido town

The rooms in Happiness Villas — Corong Corong, El Nido
A peek of the rooms in Happiness Villas — Corong Corong, El Nido
Photo: Happiness Villas

The Happiness Villas rooms with high ceilings are situated on a quiet backroad in the less crowded area of Corong Corong, just a five-minute drive from the bustling El Nido town. The four rooms share a large landscaped entryway as well as an outdoor kitchen for any guests who might want to cook for themselves. The decor is playful, yet thoughtful at the same time. It feels more like you’re staying at a friend’s house than a hotel. The Israeli owners (Saar, Eli, and Eran) also own Blue Mango Resort and its sister property, Happiness hostel (with locations in both El Nido and Siargao).

Panorama Villas — villas with private pools for those wanting design and= discreet luxury

Panorama Villas — El Nido Palawan
Panorama Villas — El Nido, Palawan
Photo: Panorama Villas

Panorama Villas is the brainchild of the boys that brought you Panorama Boutique Hotel and Beach Club. Featuring four upscale two-bedroom villas, each with its own pool, you’d never want to check out from these accommodations. They also have small cabanas and a beach club across the street. To complete your stay, check out their rack of Rafikimono merch available in their boutique. Vacations are a style event after all!

Nacpan Beach — easily accessible remote beach and postcard-worthy sunsets

Sunset at Nacpan Beach — El Nido, Palawan
Nacpan Beach Sunset — El Nido, Palawan 
Photo: @oli.langevin

A short drive up the beach and down a dusty path, and you’ll find this hidden gem. There are many places here to enjoy and explore, but we often found ourselves at Angkla Resort. At this resort, each sunset is accompanied by DJs spinning by the poolside. We can’t think of a better scene + sound pairing! And to match the scene and vibe, why not stop by their boutique to find the Rafikimono for you? 

P.S.: Depending on the season, you can watch the sea turtles hatch on Nacpan beach and return them to the sea next door at Nacpan Beach Glamping.  

Islas Makinas — the cafe for bites, vibes, and co-working

Islas Makina — Kalye Artesano, El Nido
Meals at Islas Makina — Kalye Artisano, El Nido 
Photo: Kalye Artisano

Located in Kalye Artisano, a community of local business owners, artists, and travelers in Lio Beach, Isla Makina is the best place for local coffee and to meet cool people. The wifi is also pretty fast, so it’s a great spot for co-working. And when you want an upgrade from the classic latte, try their dirty horchata! Instead of just milk with the coffee, it’s made with horchata (of course), a rice-based milky drink flavored with cinnamon. It’s the perfect drink to refresh you in the heat. 

Owner Sly, a national coffee guru and founder of El Union Coffee, is usually around to chat about local coffee beans and roasting processes. 

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Does your El Nido must-do list look similar to ours, or do you have other recommendations we might have missed? Drop us a message about it, you know we love exploring! 

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