If you’re planning a trip to the Philippines and are visiting Palawan, El Nido is a must see. Your trip isn’t complete without a visit to “the nest.” The landscapes of El Nido are just out of this world.
Puerto Princesa is the city everyone will fly into on the island of Palawan. An ideal itinerary is to stay a few days in PP to see the Underground River or do the Honda Bay beach hopping tour. Then go by either bus or plane to El Nido and spend more time there.
For those on a budget, taking the bus is ideal as it is much cheaper than taking a flight. On the other hand, it takes much longer. So depending on your budget and itinerary, you can take a one hour flight or take a 5-7 hour bus/shuttle ride.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to go by bus or shuttle, then read on. We took both, the bus to El Nido from Puerto Princesa and a shuttle on the way back to PP.
Here are the best tips and advice on which one to take for your trip.
Taking the Bus to El Nido from Puerto Princesa
Even though Palawan itself doesn’t seem very big, the distance between the two towns is actually quite a lot at 229 km.
I found a website online called PinoyTravel that lets you book bus tickets beforehand with Cherry Bus. This does cost more as there are added fees than if you were just to show up. The reason why I booked beforehand is because we were going around Christmas time and I had planned our itinerary down so that if we missed the bus, we would be screwed on catching our flight to Manila.
However, I don’t recommend using it. From all the other stories I’ve heard and from our personal experience, you can just show up about 30 minutes early and you’ll be fine. Our bus was actually only half full when we left.
Booking online cost me 544 PHP ($12.36) whereas if you showed up, the price is around 400 PHP ($9.09) per person.
Place of Departure in Puerto Princesa
San Jose market
We took the Cherry Bus with AC and I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite spacious with plenty of leg room to put our backpacks. The bus was very clean and all around comfortable.
We left about 15 minutes later than the departure time.
The bus took 7 hours to get to El Nido since it makes a few stops and it doesn’t go very fast. Like I mentioned earlier, the road is quite windy and curvy for the first part of the time so bring anti-nausea medicine if you get even the tiniest bit carsick. Also mentally prepare yourself for the Filipino way of driving – our bus driver hit a dog in front of its owners and little kids. I still can’t their looks of shock and horror out of my mind.
I tried to nap but another fun thing about Filipino driving is that they honk for literally everything. Chickens in the middle of the road? BEEP BEEP BEEP! Kids walking on the side of the road 5 feet away? BEEEEEEP! Empty car on the side of the road? BEEP! It makes it pretty hard to nap!
Then the bus makes a good amount of stops picking up passengers and makes two long stops so you can use the bathroom or get something to eat. I recommend bringing food and water.
Reaching El Nido
As you approach El Nido, the bus attendant asked everyone where they wanted to get off so that was nice. They dropped us off right at Novie’s, our hotel.
If you take the bus, come prepared. Eat a good breakfast, bring snacks and water and some entertainment.
We took a shuttle on the way back from El Nido which cost 500 PHP ($11.36) per person. More expensive because there’s less people and it’s faster. Supposedly it’s more comfortable than the bus but…
We were not comfortable for our ride. Our van was full and we got squished to the very back which meant whenever we went over a bump, our heads hit the roof. If we sat in the front we would be more comfortable so if you take a shuttle, get up front. Don’t get stuck in the back like us!
As for the shuttle, it took only 5 and a half hours but it was because our driver was driving like the road runner. He never slowed down for speed bumps and zipped around curves like a NASCAR driver. It was probably the bumpiest and most frantic ride I’ve ever taken.
The shuttle actually picks up people along the way but not as many as the bus so it doesn’t take long. We stopped a couple times to use the bathroom and the driver dropped us off right in front of our hotel, Blue Lagoon Inn & Suites in Puerto Princesa.
Also be aware that the shuttle may leave late – we were told we would get picked up at 5 AM at our hotel. By 5:30, we decided to go to the station to check for ourselves and it turned out the shuttle hadn’t even left yet.
Taking the shuttle vs taking the bus to El Nido
So depending on what your standards and budget are, you can probably hire a private shuttle if you want to be more comfortable or if you don’t mind a couple extra hours, take the bus. I’m glad I experienced both so now I know what it’s like but next time I will probably take a flight to save time if I have the money.
However for traveling on a budget in the Philippines, the bus is the best option and sparing a few extra dollars for a private shuttle is not a bad idea either!