El Nido with Kids
The golden challis of the Philippines is El Nido. Still a relatively wild beauty; the connected white sandy beaches of Coron Coron, Orange Pearl and Dolorog are full of local charm, washed up corals and rustic guest houses. We stayed on Coron Coron beach, a quiet strip of beach where you can explore the archipelago by bangka boat, paddle board, canoe or mini catamaran. Thanks to a small diaspora of French seafaring Bretons who have settled here there is a lovely choice of vessels available.
The wild, secluded and dramatic landscape of El Nido conjures images of another world. It can be likened to the opening scene of Jurassic Park – huge rocks soar above the ocean, hidden coves sparkle with turquoise waters and wildlife is all around.
We ventured to this beautiful little pocket of the globe with my childhood friend, her husband and their six-month old baby. My adventurous father-in-law also joined the party as well as my husband and two children Maya (aged five) and Gillan (aged 1.5 years). Our friends were journeying from the UK to visit us on their way to Australia so we wanted to wow them with the Philippines greatest jewel – its stunning beaches. My father-in-law is a fitness junkie so a mere beach break does not quite suffice. Therefore we chose El Nido for its adventurous streak.
Where to stay in El Nido
El Nido is a remote bay and sprinkling of islands on the North Shores of Palawan and has courted a lot of attention due to the five star resorts that keep themselves beautifully hidden on the islands of Lagen, Miniloc, Pangulasian and Pamalican. For a long time I was slightly confused about what was on offer in El Nido since the “El Nido Group” has trademarked the name. We’ve heard very good things about El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island.
If, however, like us your budget is slightly more modest, then your needs will be met on the main land where the bangka boats offer tours to all the same hidden coves, secret beaches, magical caves and snorkelling sites available. We stayed at El Nido Mahogany Beach Resort, which was very comfortable. I would also recommend Dolarog Beach Resort. There is also a handful of lovely private houses which you can rent through Air BnB.
If your family is ready to leave some of their creature comforts at home there are also operators who offer adventure trips hopping around the islands on a sailboat or bangka armed with tents, torches and a BBQ. For more information on these family friendly excursions visit Belarmino Adventures.
There is also the option of staying in El Nido town which has its charm, but for a family vacation the beach wins hands down.
Sailing in El Nido
Our family enjoyed sailing a mini catamaran in Bacuit Bay, paddling on boards to deserted beaches and chartering a bangka boat to discover the majestic coastal scenery. We were lucky enough to meet French expat and boat enthusiast Osween Foll, who has imported several mini catamarans that are available to hire for a few hours or the whole day. His catamarans are stationed just in front of La Plage restaurant on Coron Coron Beach. You can find him on Facebook here.
Where to Eat in El Nido
It’s easy to scoot in and out of town on a motorised tricycle (tuc tuc). Our kids love the excitement of riding in the side car with the whole family. El Nido town offers a surprisingly good selection of restaurants for a small Pinoy town. This seems to have developed due to the French influence over the last 10 years. Even the Italian Restaurant is French owned!
We took the family into town a few times to eat and it was a real treat on both occasions. El Nido Boutique Art Café has a great range of dishes and relaxed rustic ambiance, as well as the obligatory mango shakes, a luscious range of cocktails and a child-friendly menu.
L’Assiette is the best place to indulge in a good feast. Prices are reasonable and the view is the perfect tropical maritime picture. It definitely soothed everyone into the holiday spirit.
Little Italy is also a great option for a lip-smacking pizza and good glass of vino.
If you get the chance, pick up a fresh crepe or ice cream from one of the roadside vendors for dessert. Our two children loved the surprise of an alfresco sweet whilst whizzing off into the balmy evening air on a local trike.
For more restaurant ideas, take a look at TripAdvisor.
The Highs and Lows of El Nido
The absolute highlight of our trip was an afternoon paddle boarding to the quiet beaches a stone’s throw from the shore. With our daughter Maya perched on the top of the board we were able to explore the tremendous scenery and encounter a wonderful array of wildlife both under the water and on the shore. It was very special to be able to share this moment with three generations of family – my daughter, her father and grandfather. It was also pretty funny to watch Grandad fall off his paddleboard!
There are a few places to hire boards on Coron Coron and Orange Pearl Beaches. El Nido Boutique & Art cafe also have information on SUP as well as La Plage restaurant.
I love diving but diving in El Nido was one of my worst experiences ever! My husband and I took it in turns to stay home with the kids while one of us headed off for a dive. Beware! El Nido has a jellyfish season, which I was not told about by the dive shop! It is also one of the coldest places I have dived in the Philippines. Apparently the jellyfish are there one day and not the next. This random behaviour means that you can’t predict whether you will be diving into a swarm of jellyfish that day or not and they were everywhere on all three dives that I did. I was stung on every part of exposed skin including around my neck and on my lips. Not pleasant!
If you are a keen diver I would venture further south to Bohol or Dumaguete instead.
Three Things You Can’t Miss in El Nido
1. Hire a paddleboard or kayak and explore the islands. You can hire one- or two-people kayak or if you have small children they can sit on the front of your paddleboard. Don’t forget life vests for small kids. If you fancy your hand at sailing then it’s well worth getting in touch with Oswenn Foll (see Sailing above). The catamarans are good for two people and one child.
2. Book as many bangka boat island hopping tours as possible. Don’t forget your snorkel and mask. The tours are universally rather unimaginatively named A, B, C and D. But despite the unimaginative names, they will take you to stunning sandbars, huge caves, deserted beaches and hidden lagoons. The best time to go is early in the morning so you have the place to yourselves.
3. Take a tricycle into town and spend the evening mooching around the boutique shops and dinning at one of El Nido’s tasty restaurants. Don’t forget to take cash though as there is no bank in town and the ATM often is out of cash!
When is the best time to visit El Nido?
The best time to visit the Philippines is between December and February in the cooler months. However, if you are prepared to take a bet on the weather and can sneak in a week at the end of November you avoid the peak prices. The wet season is from June onwards. Be aware that the typhoon season is from September to December. Temperatures range from 27 – 40+. Avoid travelling in the busy holy weeks of Easter and Christmas.
Jellyfish season in El Nido is roughly March to May.
How to get to El Nido
There are two ways of getting to El Nido, via air and by road. You can also take a ferry but this is a much longer route. Travel by plane is quick, easy and family-friendly. Travel by car is for the more seasoned travelling family who enjoy a road trip and want to stop off in Puerto Princessa and other places on route.
For flights there are a couple of options. You can book a direct flight from Manila to El Nido through the El Nido Boutique & Art cafe. It doesn’t feel like a very professional operation but it does in fact offer a wonderful service. Flights are expensive at approximately 12,000php ($260) for a return trip. The flight takes off from a private terminal next to the international airport in Manila. There’s a charming lounge for passengers to relax in, which includes a kids play area complete with toys, books and games.
Alternatively fly from Manila to Puerto Princessa, on the island of Palawan and from there book a six-hour transfer by car to El Nido. Domestic airline carriers Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly here.
What to Pack
- Life vests for small kids
- U.V long sleeve kids swimwear
- Sun cream 50+
- Insect repellent
- Snorkle and mask
- Bucket and spade
- Money – there is no bank and the ATM is usually out of cash
- Sarong – great for covering up, drying yourself, using as a pillow etc.
- Medical kit – the nearest hospital is a six-hour drive away!
- Rubber shoes for wearing in the sea – beware Palawan is known for Stone Fish which can be deadly if you step on their spines
- Sun hat and sunglasses
You May Also Enjoy the Following Posts:
Family Hotel Review: Club Paradise, Dimakya Island, Palawan
Family Hotel Review: The Funny Lion Inn, Coron, Palawan
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