El Nido vs. Puerto Princesa

Deciding between a vacation in El Nido or Puerto Princesa can indeed be a tough call. Both gems of the Philippines offer unique experiences steeped in rich history and vibrant culture. El Nido, with its enchanting coves and craggy limestone cliffs, casts an irresistible spell. On the other hand, Puerto Princesa, with its warm-hearted people and laid-back vibe, has a charm all its own. Who would ever want to choose between two wonders?
El Nido vs. Puerto Princesa

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Could you be the lucky traveler facing such an exciting dilemma? Are you dreaming of turquoise waters and incredible sunsets, but can’t decide between these two unforgettable destinations? Fret not, this guide will help you unravel the allure of both El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Ready to embark on this journey? Let’s delve into the fascinating histories and cultures that make these destinations so captivating.

History & Culture

El Nido and Puerto Princesa, both nestled in the idyllic Palawan province, have rich histories and cultures that echo through the ages.

El Nido, named after the ‘nido’ or nests of swiftlets found in its caves, has a history etched in stone. Its vibrant past is evident in the archaeological artifacts dating back nearly 14,000 years.

The local community, a tapestry of indigenous groups and migrants, adds a unique depth to El Nido’s culture. They preserve age-old traditions, like the ‘Pagdiwata’ ritual, as living testimony to their ancestral roots.

Puerto Princesa, named the ‘City in a Forest’, is equally steeped in history. The city’s past, intertwined with stories of tribal wars, Spanish colonization, and World War II, offers a captivating narrative.

The Puerto Princesans, known for their warm hospitality and strong community spirit, keep the city’s rich cultural heritage alive. From the traditional ‘Baragatan Festival’ to the local folk dance ‘Pandanggo’, they celebrate their vibrant culture in myriad ways.

Comparing El Nido and Puerto Princesa, one could argue that each destination is a world unto itself, with its own unique history and culture.

In El Nido, you’d experience a culture that’s intertwined with nature and deeply rooted in ancient traditions. Puerto Princesa, on the other hand, invites you to a living history book that narrates a tale of resilience and unity, shaping a vibrant cultural landscape.

In summary, whether you’re drawn to the ancient allure of El Nido, or captivated by the resilient spirit of Puerto Princesa, both destinations offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Filipino history and culture. Ultimately, your choice between El Nido and Puerto Princesa depends on what kind of cultural and historical experience you’re looking for in your travels.

Attractions & Activities

El Nido and Puerto Princesa are not just about serene landscapes and charming culture, they also boast a plethora of attractions and activities that make each place special.

In El Nido, you’ll be captivated by the Subterranean River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A boat tour through its cavernous chambers reveals stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. Exploring the Cudugnon Cave, believed to be a Neolithic burial site, gives you a sense of the area’s ancient history.

If you’re the adventurous type, you could try your hand at rock climbing on the jagged cliffs of Taraw Cliff, or explore the winding trails of the Lio Tourism Estate.

Puerto Princesa, on the other hand, offers a different set of alluring attractions. Its showstopper, the Underground River, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can journey through the river’s expansive limestone caverns in a paddle boat. History enthusiasts will find the Puerto Princesa City Baywalk Park intriguing with its collection of World War II relics.

For a brush with wildlife, visit the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, where you can see crocodiles up close. If you’re seeking tranquillity, you might appreciate a peaceful stroll through the Iwahig Firefly Watching Ecotourism and Wildlife Park.

When considering activities in El Nido and Puerto Princesa, it becomes clear that both destinations offer engaging experiences. El Nido tends to tilt more towards nature and adrenaline-pumping adventure, while Puerto Princesa presents a balanced mix of natural, historical, and wildlife-focused attractions.

So, whether it’s the mystical charm of the caves in El Nido or the historical allure of the cityscape in Puerto Princesa, both destinations offer a wealth of activities for you to experience. Your personal preference for adventure, history, or wildlife could well be the deciding factor.


Now, let’s turn our focus to a feature both El Nido and Puerto Princesa are famed for – their pristine beaches.

In El Nido, the beaches are renowned for their striking landscapes. The Secret Lagoon Beach, tucked away behind towering limestone cliffs, offers a secluded spot for relaxation. Approximately 5 miles (about 8 kilometers) from El Nido town, it’s an unforgettable sight.

On the other hand, Seven Commando Beach is a popular choice among travelers seeking a lively atmosphere. Located just about 1.9 miles (around 3 kilometers) from El Nido town, it’s an easily accessible spot.

Puerto Princesa’s beaches, while equally appealing, present a different character. Pristine Sabang Beach, located roughly 51 miles (about 82 kilometers) from the city center, offers tranquil waters ideal for a leisurely swim.

Alternatively, Nagtabon Beach, about 21 miles (approximately 34 kilometers) from the city center, draws you in with its serene ambiance, perfect for a quiet day by the sea.

Upon comparing, it becomes evident that while El Nido’s beaches are characterized by dramatic landscapes and crystal-clear waters, Puerto Princesa’s beaches are noted for their tranquillity and expansive sandy stretches.

In conclusion, whether you’re a fan of picture-perfect landscapes or prefer the calmness of a quiet beach, both El Nido and Puerto Princesa have something to offer. Your ideal beach experience might just be the final piece in the puzzle of choosing between these two enchanting destinations.

Eating, Drinking & Nightlife

The culinary journey and nightlife experience in El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer another lens to appreciate these wonderful destinations.

In terms of eating, El Nido’s local food scene is heavily influenced by its coastal location. You’ll enjoy the freshest catch of the day in restaurants like Trattoria Altrove, where the wood-fired pizzas and seafood pasta have won the hearts of many. For a taste of local flavors, try the kinilaw, a Filipino-style ceviche, at Squidos.

Puerto Princesa presents a vibrant mix of local and international flavors. KaLui Restaurant is a popular choice among locals and tourists alike, known for its delicious seafood dishes served in a traditional Filipino setting. If you’re in the mood for something different, Viet Ville Restaurant offers a unique fusion of Vietnamese and Filipino cuisine.

When it comes to drinks, El Nido offers a laid-back scene. The Beach Shack, with its sandy floors and open-air setting, serves refreshing cocktails and offers beautiful views of the sunset. Meanwhile, in Puerto Princesa, Kinabuchs Grill and Bar is known for its lively atmosphere and offers a variety of local beers, wines, and cocktails.

Nightlife in El Nido is quite relaxed, with the focus being on beachside bonfires, live music, and quiet conversations under the stars. Places like SAVA Beach Bar often host live music and fire-dancing performances. On the other hand, Puerto Princesa’s nightlife is a bit more bustling, with local bars and clubs such as Tiki RestoBar playing upbeat music late into the night.

In a nutshell, the choice between El Nido and Puerto Princesa might come down to your preference for a tranquil, beachside vibe or a lively, city atmosphere when it comes to eating, drinking, and nightlife.


Shopping experiences in El Nido and Puerto Princesa add a different flavor to your journey, offering a peek into the local lifestyle.

El Nido, with its quaint shops and local markets, offers a unique shopping experience. El Nido Boutique Artcafe is a favorite among visitors for its collection of handmade jewelry, local art, and organic products. If you’re on the hunt for a unique souvenir, check out the handmade crafts at the Sari-Sari stores spread across the town.

In contrast, Puerto Princesa provides a more diverse shopping landscape. The Palawan Special Battalion WW2 Memorial Museum offers WWII memorabilia for history enthusiasts. Robinsons Place Palawan, a large shopping mall, has a variety of local and international brands for clothing, electronics, and more.

Despite their differences, both El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer shopping experiences that reflect the local culture and lifestyle. Whether it’s the local art of El Nido or the mixed offerings of Puerto Princesa, shopping could be a delightful part of your journey, depending on what you’re looking for.


When considering a stay in either El Nido or Puerto Princesa, the range and style of accommodations add another layer to your travel decision.

In El Nido, your lodging options range from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels. The luxurious El Nido Resorts Lagen Island is a popular choice, providing overwater bungalows with stunning views of the surrounding sea and cliffs. For those on a budget, Spin Designer Hostel offers clean, comfortable accommodation in a vibrant and sociable setting.

Puerto Princesa, on the other hand, offers accommodations that cater to a variety of travel styles and budgets. The Canvas Boutique Hotel, for example, combines style, comfort, and affordability in its well-appointed rooms. For a more upscale experience, Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa offers an array of luxurious villas and a variety of amenities.

In summary, both El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer a range of accommodations to suit different tastes and budgets. Your choice could depend on whether you’re seeking the intimacy of a boutique hostel, the luxury of a private villa, or something in between.

Family-Friendliness & Children’s Activities

When traveling with family, particularly with children, the availability of kid-friendly activities and the overall family-friendly vibe can make a difference.

El Nido, with its natural beauty and outdoor adventures, offers plenty of opportunities for children to engage with nature. For instance, island-hopping tours are quite popular and allow children to snorkel in clear waters, play on sandy beaches, and explore hidden caves.

On the other hand, Puerto Princesa offers a blend of nature, wildlife, and city-based attractions. The Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, for instance, is a hit among children, offering them a chance to learn about different species of crocodiles. The city’s Butterfly Eco Garden and Tribal Village is another family-friendly spot, offering a glimpse of local tribal culture.

In essence, both El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer a variety of activities that can keep children engaged and entertained. The choice might come down to whether your family prefers a nature-centric vacation or a mix of wildlife, cultural, and urban attractions.

Getting There & Getting Around

The journey to your destination and the ease of getting around once you arrive can greatly influence your overall travel experience.

To get to El Nido, the most direct route is via a 1-hour flight from Manila to El Nido’s small airport. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa (a 1.5-hour flight from Manila) and then take a 5 to 6-hour bus or van ride covering roughly 143 miles (approximately 230 kilometers) to El Nido.

Getting around El Nido is relatively straightforward. The town is small enough to explore on foot, and motorized tricycles are readily available for longer distances.

In contrast, Puerto Princesa is serviced by Puerto Princesa International Airport, which offers direct flights from Manila (about 1.5 hours) and other major Philippine cities.

Navigating Puerto Princesa is also quite easy. While it is larger than El Nido, tricycles, taxis, and ride-sharing services are widely available, making it convenient to move around the city.

In a nutshell, while reaching El Nido might require additional transit, it offers the charm of a small town that’s easy to navigate on foot. Puerto Princesa, with its direct flight access and easy city navigation, might appeal to those seeking convenience and city comforts.


Weather often plays a key role in deciding your vacation destination. Here’s how the weather compares in El Nido and Puerto Princesa.

El Nido has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. Its dry season typically runs from November to May. January through March are often considered the best months to visit, with average temperatures ranging from 79°F to 89°F (26°C to 32°C). The rainy season, from June to October, can bring heavy rainfall and potential typhoons.

Puerto Princesa shares a similar tropical climate, but being a bigger city, it sometimes feels hotter due to the urban heat effect. Its dry season also spans November to May, but its rainy season tends to start a bit earlier in the year, around May or June. Average temperatures typically hover between 77°F and 91°F (25°C to 33°C).

To sum it up, both El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer warm tropical climates with distinct dry and wet seasons. Your choice might come down to your tolerance for heat and preference for travel timing.


Safety is another crucial factor when choosing a travel destination. Let’s look at the safety landscape in El Nido and Puerto Princesa.

El Nido is generally considered safe for tourists. As a small town, it has a close-knit community and cases of serious crimes are rare. However, it’s always wise to take standard precautions such as not leaving belongings unattended.

Similarly, Puerto Princesa is also known for its safe environment. The city has efficient local police, and security is usually tight in tourist-heavy areas.

In terms of non-crime-related safety, both destinations require care when engaging in outdoor activities. Whether it’s proper sun protection or careful trekking on rugged island terrain, being prepared and mindful can make your trip much more enjoyable.

In conclusion, El Nido and Puerto Princesa are both considered safe destinations with their own unique aspects. Keeping common safety precautions in mind, you can enjoy what both places have to offer.


The cost of a vacation can greatly affect your decision. Here’s a breakdown of costs in El Nido and Puerto Princesa.

In El Nido, you might find that things are a bit more expensive due to its remote location. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant could cost around 300 PHP (about 6 USD), and a night at a mid-range hotel might set you back around 3,000 PHP (roughly 60 USD). Local transportation, like tricycles, is usually quite affordable.

On the other hand, Puerto Princesa, being a larger city, often offers more budget-friendly options. A similar meal might cost about 200 PHP (approximately 4 USD), and a mid-range hotel could cost around 2,000 PHP (about 40 USD).

In essence, while El Nido may be slightly more expensive due to its remote nature, both destinations offer a range of options to suit various budgets. It really depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for – a remote island getaway or a city-based adventure.

Which Is Better – El Nido or Puerto Princesa?

Choosing between El Nido and Puerto Princesa is like picking between two shining gems. Both have their unique allure and charm that can make your vacation unforgettable.

In terms of history and culture, both destinations offer rich and fascinating insights. However, Puerto Princesa, with its larger size and longer history, offers more diversity in historical sites and cultural experiences. El Nido, on the other hand, exudes a charming simplicity, with an emphasis on local community life and nature conservation.

For attractions and activities, El Nido’s majestic limestone cliffs, clear waters, and diverse marine life are unparalleled, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. But Puerto Princesa’s mix of city and natural attractions, including its famous subterranean river, offers a broader variety of experiences.

When it comes to beaches, El Nido’s secluded, pristine beaches are perfect for those seeking tranquility and privacy. But if you prefer beaches that are easily accessible and equipped with more facilities, then Puerto Princesa may be a better choice.

In the realm of food and nightlife, Puerto Princesa has a more vibrant scene, with a greater variety of restaurants and nightlife options. Meanwhile, El Nido offers a laid-back atmosphere where you can enjoy local cuisine under the stars.

Shopping-wise, Puerto Princesa holds the upper hand with its bigger markets and greater selection. Yet, the boutique shops in El Nido offer unique, locally made items you won’t find elsewhere.

Accommodation options in El Nido are generally more expensive due to its remote location, but they often come with stunning views and immediate beach access. In contrast, Puerto Princesa offers more budget-friendly options and a wider variety of choices from city hotels to beachfront resorts.

Family-friendliness and children’s activities are abundant in both destinations, but Puerto Princesa’s city amenities might provide more convenience for families, while El Nido’s intimate, nature-based activities could offer unique bonding experiences.

In terms of getting there and around, Puerto Princesa, with its international airport and city infrastructure, provides easier access and mobility. El Nido, while more challenging to reach, offers the thrilling experience of journeying to a remote paradise.

For weather considerations, both destinations have similar tropical climates. Yet, due to its urban heat effect, Puerto Princesa can sometimes feel hotter.

Safety-wise, both places are generally safe with their own unique non-crime-related safety aspects. Cost of living and vacation expenses in El Nido may be a bit higher, but both places offer a range of options to suit different budgets.

In summary, if you’re an adventurer seeking a remote, nature-rich getaway, El Nido is your ideal pick. If you prefer a mix of city comforts and natural attractions with a wider array of amenities, then Puerto Princesa is the place for you. In the end, both offer remarkable experiences that will create lasting memories of your trip to Palawan.