Palawan in the Philippines was recently voted the worlds best island, with El Nido and Coron being two of the highlights – but which is better for backpackers?
Having spent the last month travelling around the island of Palawan in the Philippines (recently voted the best island the world!) I’ve hit up two of the most popular destinations in the country at the moment – El Nido and Coron.
Both are equally stunning and a quick google image search will have you quickly scouting out flights to get to both.
So after exploring what they both have to offer which one would I recommend if you could only visit one and is there actually one that I prefer over the other!?
Situated in the north west of the main island El Nido is accessible either via a 6-8 hour mini bus journey from Puerto Princesa (which has an airport) or via an 8-10 hour boat journey south from Coron Island (which also has an easily accessible airport).
It’s a beautiful little beachside town which has become increasingly popular for travellers over the past few years and as a result there’s a large amount of guest houses, a couple of hostels, heaps of dive shops and a variety of restaurants and bars on offer.
Coron on the other hand sits further north of Palawan on Busanga Island which can be accessed either by air into Coron Airport or via boat – either from El Nido or a longer passenger ferry from Manila or Puerto Princesa.
Again situated on the coast (although lacking a beach as part of the main town) it too is geared up for travellers with a large variety of hostels, guesthouses and hotels as well as restaurants and bars.
Lets get into the nitty gritty of it now you know roughly what they’re about…which one fits your travel plans?!
When it comes to location El Nido definately wins out, having a beach as part of the main town means you’re never more than a few minutes stroll from the ocean and beachfront – where you can grab a cheeky beer, swim or simply sit down and watch the sunset. Just a short tricyle ride south lies Las Cabanas or Sunset Beach which offers palm trees, sprawling sands and even a trans island zip line to keep you busy.
Coron on the flip side overlooks the water but lacks the beach – so although you can still dine and drink ocean front you don’t have the convenience of a quick dip or still along the sand. On the plus side though Coron is much easier and comfortable to get to, so if you’re short on time or don’t fancy a hectic boat ride this may well be a huge positive.
Both locations are however slap in the middle of a huge array of islands – meaning both are perfectly situated for island hopping and scuba diving and you’ll capture the beauty of the Philippines whichever you choose.
El Nido Costs and Budget
When it comes to cost I was actually really shocked at how much El Nido ended up smashing my budget! There are plenty of blogs which tout a short trip to El Nido under 7,000PHP (about £100) however I have no freaking clue how they managed it, and they certainly didn’t have a nice place to stay or eat if they really did!
Most travellers I met in El Nido or have been to El Nido also share the same viewpoint too – it’s not the most budget friendly place to be.
90% off the accommodation costs around 600PHP-800PHP (£8.50-£11.50) for a fan room and you can easily end up spending around 2000PHP (£28) for an air con room.
In comparison to similar spots in Asia accommodation in El Nido is more than double what I paid for an A/C room in Bali where I got a much nicer setup including breakfast and a pool! In Thailand that kind of cash would easily have you in a hotel!
I actually lucked out in El Nido though with Biolina Guesthouse, great family run place, clean, tidy room and the couple that own it are amazing! Just book in advance and say hi from me!
There is a good variety of hostels, guest houses, hotels and bungalows in El Nido though – they just aren’t light on the pocket!
Food was also a budget killer in El Nido too and I really struggled for variety as a vegetarian. If you’re eating in a local restaurant expect to pay 150PHP (£1.75) minimum and you can easily smash 300-400PHP (£4.30-£5.70) for a main.
Some of the best value spots I checked out where the Reggae Bar, Squids with Lucky Alofas being my spot of choice for quality and price! You can get a solid feed at Lonesome Carabao, Mezzane, Arts Cafe and V&V Bagel but they aren’t as budget friendly.
Day trips (such as Tour A, B, C & D) will set you back around 1,400PHP (£20), but these do include a hefty lunch (be aware that veggie aren’t massively catered for – but if you like fish you’ll love it!) and the surrounding areas are great for the photographer in you!
The costs in El Nido probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the town actually had a cash machine! In fact I had planned don staying longer, but ran out of cash sooner than expected!
My advice is to take waaaaay more cash than you plan to spend, just in case, or be prepared to bounce out of there prematurely.
Coron Costs and Buget
On the flip side Coron is MUCH more budget friendly and it’s easy to nab a double fan room for around 400PHP, with plenty of hostels and guesthouses to choose from.
In Coron we lucked out again when it came to accommodation and stayed at Marleys Guesthouse (aka the reggae hostel) which was full of good vibes and good times…as well as being a bargain! This place is always heaps busy so once you know your dates reserve your room!
UPDATE (Feb 2017) – my buddy just stayed at Marleys and it had some hectic bed bugs, so I’d stay elsewhere!
Eating out is a much more varied affair and cheap on the wallet too. You can eat as cheap as 60PHP (90p) for a huge plate of fried rice and chicken (check out Seaview Resort for that deal) and most places you can grab a solid main course for around 150PHP (£1.75). For veggies there’s also a much bigger selection too and I can highly recommend you check out Brujita restaurant – epic food if you’re veggie or not!
Budgetting continues to be easier in Coron with island hopping day trip being nearly half the price at 600PHP (£9) and to be honest it’s even more beautiful than El Nido too! The snorkelling is nothing short of epic as well and on our day trip with JY Travel I encountered some of the most pristine coral reefs I’ve seen since being in Western Australia!
So Which Do I Prefer?!
For me this is a pretty easy decision – despite the lack of beach in the actual town I much preferred Coron to El Nido as a travel destination. The variety of food and accommodation coupled with the much more budget friendly costs and ease of visiting make it an ideal base for exploring this part of the world.
Yes El Nido is stunning – however I feel it’s slightly over rated in comparison to the less hyped Coron. In the end, although I stressed out slightly with my dwinlging cash and had to cut down my time in El Nido it proved to be a blessing in disguise as I got to enjoy Coron for longer…which ultimately also kept my monthly budget much more in check!
If you have the cash to splash I still recommend hitting up both locations (you can easily get the ferry between the two) they’re both worth a visit, but if you really have to pick one or the other Coron would be my suggestion!
…however despite all that I personally think that Siargao Island is my favourite island in the Philippines so make sure you chuck that in your plans too!