El Nido or Coron? A Comparison of Palawan’s top destinations
El Nido or Coron? Or both? If you’re thinking of heading to Palawan for a quick trip and are not sure where to go or what to miss, this post will help you make some decisions. Moreover, this post will also act as an excellent guide if you’re visiting both these destinations in Palawan and are looking for information about how to reach, places to stay, eating options, costs, beaches, attractions, party and more!
Where and what is Palawan all about?
Palawan in the Philippines has been declared as the Most Beautiful Island in the World by Condé Nast Traveler for many years in the row. It’s not a single island but is a group of many islands of different shapes and sizes.
If you follow us on Instagram, you must be knowing that San and I spent a few weeks in the Philippines and a majority of our time in Palawan. We visited both El Nido and Coron but spent only one day in Puerto Princesa.
However, before we visited Palawan, we were trying to figure out if we should only visit one of these two destinations – El Nido or Coron. We didn’t find adequate comparison online on several factors, so here’s something I wrote to help you pick El Nido or Coron, depending on what you want out of your Palawan experience.
- 01 | Ease of Reaching
- 02 | Cost Comparison
- 03 | Viewpoints
- 04 | Beaches
- 05 | Underwater Life, Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
- 06 | Lakes and Waterfalls
- 07 | Lagoons
- 08 | Town Area
- 09 | Which one is more crowded?
- 10 | Places to Drink and Party in Coron and El Nido
- 11 | The atmosphere and vibes
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01 | Ease of Reaching
How to reach Coron
You can reach Coron by a direct flight to Busuanga airport which is only 30-45 minutes away from Coron town. Philippine Airlines runs daily flights from Manila and Cebu to Busuanga. Alternatively, you can also reach Coron from El Nido by a ferry that takes roughly 7 hours. This ferry that runs between Coron and El Nido is a little shaky and reminded me of Thailand’s Lomprayah.
If you want to save money, you can also travel to Coron from Manila by 2Go Travel, a “mega ferry”. This boat is less like a ferry and more like a cruise vessel with sleeping berths in an air conditioned area, lobby, restaurant, bar and deck.
How to reach El Nido
There were no direct flights to El Nido until recently. As of 2016, AirSwift runs direct flights from Manila and Cebu to El Nido. However, these flights are expensive. Alternatively, you can also fly to Puerto Princesa, which is serviced by budget carriers such as Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, El Nido is 5-6 hours away by a van and will cost you around 1000 – 700 pesos per person.
We paid ₱ 700 because we were 7 people that met at the airport and decided to book a van together but we had heard of people that paid ₱ 1000 pesos per person too. You can also take a bus between Puerto Princesa and El Nido but these buses take more than 7 hours because they stop often.
Coron Both (Coron had this edge over El Nido till early 2016)
02 | Cost Comparison
02.1 | Places to stay
Places to stay in Coron
Upon reaching Coron, we found many places with affordable rooms starting from ₱ 500 pesos per night for a double room with fan and internet. We stayed at Coron Guapos which was just a three-month old property in Coron town at the time of our visit and was well managed. This place is right next to the more popular Marley’s guest house. We also booked our tour from our hotel and had the experience to remember. You can also try Coron Backpacker Guesthouse, which is a little older than Coron Guapos.
Places to stay in El Nido
It was difficult finding budget rooms in El Nido, so we decided to book two hostel beds instead. The most affordable place was Our Melting Pot Hostel which cost us ₱ 450 pesos per bed and was full but we were lucky to get two bunk beds. You can click here to read the latest reviews of this hostel on TripAdvisor. We highly recommend this hostel and their tours. Even though this hostel is a typical party hostel, their dormitory area was always quiet and our sleep was never disturbed.
Another hostel option in El Nido is Spin Designer Hostel, which is a boutique hostel(₱ 800 pesos per bed). I did not stay here but I have heard very good things about this hostel. I highly recommend you read the reviews on TripAdvisor for Spin Designer hostel before booking.
02.2 | Eating options
Eating in Coron vs El Nido
After spending a few days in Bohol’s Panglao island, we found the food in El Nido to be expensive, even the street food! We smiled with relief upon reaching Coron town because we found a variety of affordable eating options. The food in Coron was much cheaper as compared to that in El Nido, even the street food. We recommend Levine’s restaurant for their all day breakfast.
02.3 | Cost of Tours
The tours in Coron started from as low as ₱ 650 pesos per person but the tours in El Nido were for ₱ 1200 pesos per person. While in El Nido, we did tour A and tour C where the cost to use a kayak during our tours was ₱ 100 pesos per person for 30 minutes. Coron also has a tour called “the ultimate Coron tour” with an unlimited use of Kayak. This is the most expensive tour in Coron and costs ₱ 1400 pesos per person. But we were able to negotiate a price of ₱ 1000 per person by making our own custom tour which was like “the ultimate Coron tour” but minus one attraction.
The cost of moving around on a tricycle was lower in Coron. Even scooter rental prices were lower in Coron than El Nido. This could be because the demand was higher in El Nido due to more visitors.
03 | Viewpoints
Viewpoints in Coron
If you’re a sucker for viewpoints and don’t shy away from making an effort to climb for hours just for a bird’s eye view, you’re going to love Coron. Coron has three main viewpoints. The first is Mt. Tapyas in the main Coron town which you will see from a distance. The second is the spot as shown in the above picture on the way to Kayangan Lake as you climb on top of the rocks that surround the lake. The second one is the one that’s usually featured in every travel article and webpage about Coron. The third as shown in the below picture one can be seen on the road to Busuanga town from Coron town and there’s no need to climb anything to view it. I don’t have a picture of the first because we climbed Mt. Tapyas in the middle of the night after getting a kick of energy from Tanduay rum.
Viewpoints in El Nido
The only viewpoint we found in El Nido was on Matinloc Shrine island. The climb is of little effort but is on pointed rocks. The view is spectacular.
04 | Beaches
Beaches in Coron
When in Coron, the beaches can’t be accessed by just walking. The nearest beach is there is Cabo beach which is 30 minutes away from Coron town. Unlike other beaches of Coron, there’s no need to take a boat to reach Cabo beach. Other noteworthy beaches are Banol beach and the beaches on Banana island. We visited Banol beach just by chance while we were snorkeling around the skeleton wreck which is right next to it.
Beaches in El Nido
El Nido has more beaches than Coron. Just like Coron, the best beaches only be accessed by a boat or a long scooter ride. But El Nido wins points over Coron here because the main beach is just walking distance away from the main town area.
This beach kind of reminded me of Railay’s beaches with limestone formations but was five times more crowded! Our recommendation – seven commandos beach, Talisay island beach, hidden beach and Matinloc Shrine beach. Oh and El Nido fans will hate me for saying this but I found Bohol‘s beaches to be much better than El Nido’s.
Winner: El Nido
05 | Underwater Life, Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and Diving in Coron
Snorkeling in Coron was perhaps the best snorkeling experience of my life. I saw the most colorful corals in Coral Garden – it was like an underwater rainbow! I had tears of happiness in my eyes while snorkeling in Siete Pecados marine park because I had never seen such beauty.
We saw some of the most colorful fishes or many sizes here and also a Clownfish (Nemo) family. Our friend who was snorkeling with us saw a sea turtle here. Moreover, Coron has eleven Japanese shipwrecks that you can explore if you love diving. We weren’t able to dive because we ran out of money, but we snorkeled around the skeleton ship wreck. The water around was clear and the visibility was unbelievable.
Snorkeling and Diving in El Nido
The underwater life in El Nido pales in comparison as compared to Coron. No doubt we saw a lot of marine life but it was definitely not as colorful as Coron, especially the corals. Plus, El Nido doesn’t have any shipwrecks around unlike Coron.
06 | Lakes and Waterfalls
Waterfalls and Lakes of Coron
Coron boasts of 11 lakes out of which Barracuda Lake and Kayangan Lake are the most famous ones. They say Kayangan Lake is the cleanest lake in Asia but I don’t know if that’s true. However, I do know that I have never seen water as clear as this where I could see the bottom of the lake. The water in this lake is 70% fresh and 30% salty. Swimming in this lake is an experience I will not forget in my lifetime.
On one of the days in Coron, we rented a scooter and drove to Busuanga town and visited Concepcion Falls. We spent a relaxed day swimming and chilling in a natural pool around this waterfall.
This pool also had a school of doctor fish, which is the same fish they use in a foot spa. But don’t be afraid, they don’t bite you anywhere except a little peck on the toes. Moreover, Coron also has Maquinit Hot Spring with a natural hot water pool but we didn’t go there because it was too hot.
Waterfalls and Lakes of El Nido
El Nido doesn’t have lakes but we got to hear of Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall, the only one waterfall here. It is on the way to Nacpan beach. Again, with 11 lakes in Coron, El Nido can’t win on this point.
07 | Lagoons
Lagoons of Coron
The twin lagoons in Coron are perhaps the most famous ones. The water here is 70% salty and 30% fresh and these two lagoons are separated by a rock. The best part? Swimming through a hole in the rock to reach the inner lagoon here. The water clarity in the outer lagoon was much better than any of the lagoons in El Nido. There are more lagoons such as the green lagoon, sunset lagoon, and hidden lagoon.
Lagoons of El Nido
El Nido boasts of many different lagoons out of which a few are open for public. We visited the small lagoon, the big lagoon, the hidden lagoon, the secret lagoon – all were beautiful. Some of the lagoons also had a little beach attached. Seriously, El Nido wins hands down if you compare the lagoons.
Winner: El Nido
08 | Town Area
Coron Town is technically on Busuanga island, not Coron island. Confusing, no? The town area is bigger and more spread out as compared to El Nido with more budget friendly eating and staying options in comparison. El Nido town is a smaller and cramped if you compare it to Coron town. There is now a new ATM as well here but it was not working while I was there.
09 | Which one is more crowded?
With an easier access due to a cheaper direct flight, you’d think that Coron would be more crowded? Wrong! El Nido was definitely more crowded as compared to Coron. It was sad to see El Nido’s main beach which must have been beautiful a few years back but was completely destroyed due to an unbelievable amount of people and boats. We met many people in El Nido who were not even considering heading to Coron but everyone we met in Coron had been to El Nido or was heading there next. Even all the main attractions were crowded due to too many tours.
Loser: El Nido
10 | Places to Drink and Party in Coron and El Nido
Although our main motive to visit Palawan was not to party but we couldn’t help ourselves from enjoying a few nice evenings. After all, we had made a few friends on the road! For a low-key party evening, I recommend Coron’s offbeat Rasta bar – Obra Natural Art & Coffee. This place is next to Coron School of Fisheries.
It’s not your “typical” party place with loud music but is a small café with a seating space for barely 15 people. We loved it so much that we ended up visiting it every evening. We couldn’t get enough of listening to live didgeridoo (didjeridu) and djembe music. If you end up going there, say our hello to the owner – Rodney. Alternatively, you can also check out the No Name Bar which is in the main Coron town for a louder party.
While in El Nido, you can visit many beach bars on the main beach for a fun evening. Our Melting Pot hostel in El Nido was a party hostel where we ended up playing beer pong for a few hours.
Winner: Tie between Coron and El Nido
11 | The atmosphere and vibes
Call us hippies but vibes are important for us. We found the atmosphere in Coron to be more relaxed and laid back as compared to El Nido. Maybe it was because El Nido was a little too crowded for our liking.
Arriving in Coron from El Nido was a refreshing change because it felt that everyone was there to scam us in El Nido and charge extra for every small thing. Moreover, I had read warnings on the internet to be careful about food in El Nido because a lot of people reported suffering from food poisoning.
Keeping this in mind, we were careful about what we ate but shockingly San suffered from an upset stomach. Strangely, every friend that we made in El Nido had a bad case of diarrhea and food poisoning and one of them even spent an entire night in the hospital. Upon reaching Coron, everyone in our hotel told us that they suffered from an upset stomach while they were in El Nido. Luckily I was the only one who did not. Maybe it’s because of my Indian stomach or the fact I wore a hat in the sun but I’ll never know the truth.
El Nido or Coron – Our choice?
We spent more time in El Nido than Coron, but we rate Coron much higher than El Nido.
Where should you go in Palawan? El Nido or Coron?
If you have enough time then we highly recommend you visit both. However if you’re heading to Palawan for a quick trip and can visit only one destination, I will try to make things easy for you. If you like having an easy access to the beaches and don’t mind crowds, then El Nido is where you should go. However, if you want to scuba dive or just snorkel around to see underwater beauty, then Coron is your place.
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