Which one should you visit? Coron, El Nido, or both?
A few years ago when I was traveling around the Philippines, I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful island of Palawan and check out both El Nido and Coron, two of the “must-see/jaw-dropping” places in the Philippines.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those days spent in there but I still can’t really decide which place should grab the winner’s spot as “Paradise on earth” destination. So as I promised in one of my previous articles about the Philippines, I decided to make a comparison between the two. A sort of a pros and cons list, but obviously with mainly positive stuff in it because hey, we are talking about two of the most stunning places I have ever seen in my life after all! ☺
Each has its own merits. Both are in Palawan, an island that has been repeatedly chosen as one of the best islands in the world by many prestigious travel magazines.
El Nido has become very popular in recent years. Coron falls just a little behind in popularity and is still considered as mainly a diver’s destination.
But don’t worry, even if you don’t dive Coron has so much to offer. Given that I love them both, I thought it was just fair to compare them using a few different parameters, so let’s get started!
I have some good news in here: When I talk about “expensive” in the Philippines I don’t mean crazy expensive but I’m comparing the average prices for accommodation in Asia and in some places of the Philippines they are above the average but still super cheap if compared to European beach destinations for example (with the exceptions of a few super fancy resorts but even those prices are actually reasonable if you consider the destination!)
Another great thing of both Coron and El Nido is that they both offer solutions for every pocket, from people who want to splurge a bit in a fancy resort to the semi-penniless backpacker, these two paradise places have accommodations with prices that are accessible to everyone (given that you are willing to be flexible in regards to certain amenities), but both Coron and El Nido will let you completely forget about money!
High-End Luxury Resorts:
Let me tell you one thing that I know for certain: El Nido is, on average, much more expensive than Coron (but remember what I said about the word “expensive” before, right?). This won’t scare high-end tourists who are going to stay in all-inclusive resorts, as the average price is about the same in both places, and probably if that’s your case you probably won’t worry too much about every peso you spend anyway (lucky you!).
Palawan Tour PackagesThe selection of fancy resorts is probably better in El Nido, and the quality is usually better too. If you fall under this category of tourists, consider booking a Palawan tour package, which is not necessarily going to be more expensive, but will guaranty the quality of your trip. They offer all inclusive packages from budget options to high-end vacations so check it out, highly recommended!
Mid-Range/Budget Accommodation & Tours In Coron And El Nido:
El Nido’s mid-range and budget hotels might be more pricey than their equivalents in Coron. If you are in this category of travelers (like most people are) than it is something to consider. On top of that, all of the attractions in El Nido are usually more expensive too.
Tip to spend less on Tours in El Nido:
Put your faith in one of the locals that own a boat and you can be delighted by a super affordable price, the liberty of choosing how long you will stay in a specific place and wait till the other boats leave to enjoy the most spectacular beaches by yourself! Don’t forget to pay for the fixed local tax (it’s illegal to get to those places without it, but you can get it easily at a stand on the beach where all the tours depart). The boat won’t probably be super fancy but you are not there to stay on the boat… snorkeling time!
Below is a video I took during one of my tours in El Nido using the boat of a local, saving money and still enjoying it to the fullest!
That being said, both are suitable for any kind of traveler, including backpackers. The price difference shouldn’t scare international tourists, and I don’t believe it should be the main reason why you should or shouldn’t visit either of these paradises. It’s just that if you have to choose one, and you’re really (and I mean REALLY) tight on money, then Coron might be a slightly better option for you.
Where To Stay? Resorts Hotels & Hostels in El Nido
As far as my experience goes, I managed to stay in two different places in El Nido, one was a “more expensive option” (but still very convenient) away from the main village and one was a super basic room in El Nido Town almost in front of the pier.
Option A: Tapik Beach Park Guesthouse
I so enjoyed my stay in there that I didn’t want to leave! The setting is spectacular, quiet and remote. If you are looking for peace, this is it! The only “down side” is that it takes at least 45 min/1 hour to the village. This lovely place is located in the Imorigue bay, on the opposite side of the busiest part of El Nido. The management organizes some awesome tours, below are the ones I took:
- I booked a boat trip with them to the nearby islands (not the usual super famous tours A B C D in El Nido. In this one, you will really feel like Robinson Crusoe! Truly deserted islands, fabulous beaches with just YOU in them, snorkeling with our fantastic guide who showed us the sea lions and many other types of fish and colorful corals. I loved that tour as it was “genuine”. No big boats, just a bunch of people and no other tourists in sight.
- I went to see the fireflies by night! Yep, booked a second trip (they are super cheap compared to the famous ones) and this was a real adventure! We went for a night tour and the many fireflies hidden in the trees create the illusion of a sky full of stars in the middle of the mangroves! As that weren’t awesome enough, on our way back we switched off the lights of the small boat, everything was dark and silent, and the Plankton’s started to glow in the water surrounding our boat. I’ll never forget that night!
Option B: Austria’s Guest House
This is where I spent my second week in paradise! If you are looking for a cheap accommodation in the center of El Nido Village (not easy to find because of its location), this is it!Only one recommendation: I visited the place back in 2014 and at the time in El Nido they cut the electricity from 6 am to 2 pm. Some more expensive hotels have a power generator so you won’t even notice when the electricity is off, but this one (at the time) didn’t have it so here is my advice:
- Electricity issues in El Nido? Call or email them asking what the situation is now. Some people claim that is better and the electricity outages are less frequent and that now they don’t have to cut it every day, but you never know. I’m pretty sure they will be very straightforward about what’s happening at the moment.
- If you travel with electronics, bring an external source of power just in case. A mini fan would also be nice if you are not planning on going for a boat trip as it can get real hot, and I mean SERIOUSLY hot if you don’t have it. The few days I didn’t go for a boat trip I took something like 4 cold showers in the morning waiting for my fan to be operative again after 2 pm 🙂
Other than that, the owners are truly lovely, I remember they even invited me to sit with them for lunch one day and offered me their food without wanting anything in return even if I insisted on paying. The place is near everything you need by foot and super convenient, with a nice restaurant and a breakfast area upstairs. The beach/pier is literally a few blocks away.
I chose a basic room with shared bathroom and cold shower (which was actually a relief given how hot it was during my stay) but they also offer rooms with a bathroom. The place is quite basic, nothing fancy but it’s one of the best in terms of value if you don’t want to spend a lot and are a bit flexible in regards to the amenities provided. The free breakfast was actually excellent, with fresh fruits, waffles, pancakes, coffee and more. Yummy!
How to get to El Nido:
The best way to get to El Nido nowadays is by flight. This option wasn’t available a few years back, and it’s a real time-saver, only 1 hour and 15 min. There are 4 daily flights from Manila (operated by Air Swift), 1 from Cebu, and there is a rumor that there is going to be one from Boracay anytime soon.
You can also do it the old-school way, and fly into Puerto Princesa, then take a van to El Nido. You will save money, but be willing to spend a lot of time on the road (5-6 hours).
When I visited El Nido I first arrived at Busuanga Airport in Coron, flying from Manila, so I had to take a boat to reach El Nido. I didn’t book the tickets online, I just went to a local stand and bought them for around 25$. The ride was actually very pleasant even if it took us 8 hours to get there.
However, if you opt to visit El Nido first and want to get on a bus from Puerto Princesa, be ready for a bumpy and quite uncomfortable ride. I made the mistake to get on the back of the bus, thinking that I could rest more but oh boy, was I wrong! I ended up with my kidneys on my elbow and the heart probably on my feet 🙂 Still, for the most adventurous, the price was unbeatable, less than 15$ and if you are on a budget, a little discomfort is still worth it to get to paradise!
Below are the options available to go to Puerto Princesa to El Nido via road:
How to get to Coron:
The way to get to Coron is simple. There are several daily flights from Manila and one or two from Cebu to the local airport (Francisco Reyes formerly called Busuanga). There is also a new fast craft service between Coron and El Nido by Montenegro Fastcraft (3.5 hours). Getting to both destinations, and from one to the other, is much easier than it was when I did it so… consider yourself lucky 🙂
Getting around El Nido and Coron is done in two ways. Either you rent a bike to explore the mainland, or you go Island hopping. Coron and El Nido are small towns, and you can easily explore them by foot to get to all of the bars and restaurants. Other popular means of transportation are tricycles, which cost 10-20P for a ride in the town. Going outside of town will cost you 300P or more, depending on the distance.
If you happen to spend your nights in one of the private islands owned by 5-star hotels, they will arrange a pickup for you. You can coordinate it yourself or let your travel agency do it for you. The resort itself runs a shuttle service that goes to the mainland between 4 and 5 times a day.
Both towns are not great in this aspect. I know it sounds absurd that the two best tropical destinations in the world have no proper beach! That shouldn’t worry you, however, as the beauties that these two places hold are exceptional, just a little more difficult to get to.
Coron town doesn’t have a good beach – It is a sleepy fishing town with a rocky shoreline. Many of the town’s residents live in houses built on stilts, directly above the ocean and blocking the so-called beach. Visiting one of the nearby and spectacular beaches will require taking a boat. Your boatman will either stay with you or pick you up at a time you agreed upon, depending on how far it is. For further reading check out the island-hopping section of the page. The only beach in Coron that doesn’t require riding a boat to reach it is Cabo Beach (30-minute drive), but by my standards is not a jaw dropping beach.
El Nido Beaches:
El Nido is much friendlier, as it has a beach of its own. It’s not very nice though, as it isn’t pure white sand, and the water isn’t so clean, but you can go for a quick swim if you feel like it. Renting a bike or hiring a tricycle will take you much further, to mainland beaches such as twin beaches Nacpan and Calitang (one of my favorites!), and to Duli, Mariposa, and Dagmay.
El Nido wins the best beaches section for accessibility reasons only, with many mainland beaches and a beach fronting the town itself. When getting to the more secluded beaches by boat, both are equally perfect.
So you want to party… When I was in El Nido it was in a transition phase, from a sleepy fishing town much like Coron, to becoming one of the most touristy towns in the Philippines. Nowadays you can find many bars open until very late, playing music and throwing some small beach parties.
Coron, on the other hand, maintained its nature, and beside of the local restaurants and eateries, you can’t find much to do at night there. My suggestion to you if you’re looking to go out in Coron Town, try No Name Bar.
Diving is great in both destinations and is among the best you’ll find anywhere in the world, but there is one major difference in the nature of the dives.
El Nido Diving:
El Nido offers great riffs, coral gardens, and rich marine life. It is much better for beginners because most of the dive-sites are located in Bacuit Bay, sheltered from winds and making the water very calm.I enjoyed my experience in there as I love how colorful the marine life can be in El Nido!
Coron is famous for its wreck diving, as it was the stage of a naval battle between the US and Imperial Japan during WWII. There are 12 Japanese vessels with ships as long as 168m long. Some of the dives are suitable for beginners and aren’t that deep. Even though many of the dive-sites are deeper and require advanced training, that you should either already have when arriving in Coron, or obtain while there.
Another cool thing about Coron’s Marine life is that it’s one of the remaining places in the world where you’re able to spot Dugongs (sea cows) in the wild. There is the Dugong Dive Center that specializes in such dives.
Coron also has all of what El Nido’s offering in terms of marine life, and actually it’s a little better. Therefore Coron is superior to El Nido in terms of diving. I actually was also able to just free dive to see a shipwreck that was only a few meters away from the surface, so even if you are not for scuba diving, in this regards, Coron definitely wins.
Island hopping is without a doubt the highlights of your stay in Palawan, both El Nido and Coron offer some of the best boat trips I have ever seen around the world for a very reasonable price. If you visit one (or both) locations, it is a must to take at least one tour but I recommend at least 2 in each place!
El Nido Island Hopping
Island Hopping in El Nido is the thing that made this town famous. Because of its popularity, the tours became very organized, and there isn’t much flexibility involved unless you’re planning to hire a private boat to take you around. Or like I did, I found a local fisherman with a boat and made a deal with him, best decision ever as I was able to see most of these amazing places when the other boats were gone (and at half price!).
The highlights of the island hopping tours are the big, small and hidden lagoons of Miniloc Island, and Hidden and secret beach in Matinloc Island. There are 4 tours to choose from, A, B, C and D, and tours A and B are considered the most popular among tourists, but I truly enjoyed the tour C as well because I was with the fisherman’s boat and we managed to see the hidden beach and secret beach without any tourist. When it gets crowded is a bit less spectacular of course but still worth it in my opinion. The only one I didn’t take was the tour D because I didn’t have time.
If you want to experience Palawan and El Nido on a boat for a 9 days adventure, check out this tour: Philippines Palawan Adventure or for more tours in the Philippines (I drooled over that page for days!) you can check out the offer in here: Tours in the Philippines.
Coron Island Hopping:
The highlights of Coron Island hopping are: Banol and Atuayan on Coron Island (not the island of Coron Town), Banana Island, Calauit and Malajon (also known as Black Island) islands. I especially like Black Island that unlike what its name indicates has pure white sand. It is nicknamed Black Island for the black towering cliffs that make this island. On the beach, there are many caves that their walls sparkle when in touch with light.
If you have time I highly recommend you to try the 2-3 days expeditions! I did one and it was by far my best experience during my 4 months in the Philippines! You will have to be an adventurous person and highly flexible too as this is the real deal! You will be camping on deserted islands, patiently wait for the boat crew to go fishing by night and bring back the food for you, but the rewards of waking up in a tent when the sun rises over a marvelous deserted beach are difficult to describe!
There are also other really interesting tours in that depart from Manila and reach Coron by boat, check out this one for 5 days all included: Coron Island Explorer
I feel that saying that one is better than the other in this case is impossible. Due to the perfection of the two places, it’s beyond my ability to tell any difference. But there is one thing you should have in mind. Because of El Nido’s popularity, you’re going to meet people all of the time while island hopping. In Coron, you can still feel like it’s just you out there (well, almost!).
Both places have a variety of activities, at times very different from one another. Therefore this section will give a short overview of the activities and not necessarily a comparison.
Palawan: Hot Springs & Waterfalls in El Nido and Coron
Both places have hot springs, Makinint in El Nido, and Maquinit in Coron. Makinint requires trekking to get to, and you can’t actually dip in the water. It is too hot and too shallow. Maquinit is actually very accessible and on the way to Cabo beach.
It is one of the only few salt water spring in the world and is surrounded by mangroves. You can dip in it, and it is a very pleasant spot. Nagkalit-kalit waterfalls in El Nido: on the way to Nacpan Beach and very close to Makinit Hot springs. It requires trekking as well, but it’s sometimes dry. Try to find out ahead, and don’t bother going if there is no water.
Coron also has a small waterfall in Calauit Island. It’s a 3m tall waterfall, and though it is not as impressive as the one in El Nido, it always has water in it. Check it out if you’re in the area.
Lagoons in Coron and El Nido
I wrote about the lagoons of El Nido in the island hopping section. The lagoons in Coron are not part of an island hopping tour but more of a tour in Coron Island itself. The Twin Lagoons are connected to each other just by a small hole in the cliffs that you swim through. It’s a mesmerizing spot definitely worth a visit. There are more lagoons on the island like green and secret lagoon, but all in all, I must admit that El Nido’s lagoons are the winners here.
Lakes in Coron And El Nido
Coron is absolutely leading over El Nido with its lakes, 11 in number compared to none in El Nido. Not all are open to the public, but the ones that are open, are just fantastic. Kayangan lake is said to be the cleanest in Asia, and the water there (70% fresh, 30% salt) are so clear. I will never forget swimming in it, and you shouldn’t miss it when in Coron. Not to mention that the famous place where I took the picture with that breathtaking view of the sea and cliffs is on the way to reach Kayangan lake (Tour A), so make sure you won’t miss it for anything in the world!
Tip: Don’t take a picture only on the usual cliff, be creative and ask someone to take a picture of you sitting on the cliff but from the small cave behind it as I did in here:
Barracuda Lake is also a must, again with a mix of salt and freshwater, where you can dive into it, and see lots of fish, a Japanese wreck, and a 30m deep cave where the Barracuda supposedly live. It is considered to be one of the craziest muck dives in the world, but it is perfect for swimming and snorkeling and can be reached by foot from Coron Island.
Other Attractions in Palawan El Nido
Other attractions in El Nido you can try kayaking in Bacuit Bay for the quiet water allow you to paddle at ease, and find secret private beaches. You can do some mountain hiking and climb Taraw cliff for an epic view of the town and bay (be sure to take a guide, it can be pretty dangerous to try on your own).
You can also surf in Duli Beach, though it’s going to take you 2 hours to get there. It seems that El Nido’s popularity developed a wider range of activities for its tourists.
The way I look at it, when it comes to deciding which place is better in the attractions category, there is no objective answer and it really depends on your personal preferences.
If you like variety but prefer a comfortable vacation, then El Nido might be a better option for you, but if you prefer to explore unfamiliar territories and you have an adventurous spirit, then Coron will give you all you need to enjoy a perfect holiday in Palawan.
As you can probably tell from what I wrote so far, I am so attached to both destinations, therefore you can already guess that I’d say you should visit both. Now that there is the fast craft service that connects them, It’s even more difficult to just choose one. In my opinion, these two paradises are both unique and have so many amazing things to offer. This is why it took me around one month to decide where to go and in the end, I am so glad I choose to see both places 🙂
Now it’s up to you and the time you have available, but as a rule of thumb, if you have at least 10/12 days, I’d say… visit both!
If you only have a few days or one week, I hope I have given you an unbiased comparison so that you can decide for yourself which one suits you the most. In any case, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy Palawan Paradise!