Planning a Philippines itinerary: Boracay or El Nido (Palawan)
Choosing between Boracay and El Nido might seem impossible. How can you decide between two tropical paradise destinations?
But we’ll let you in on a secret: travelling to Boracay and travelling to El Nido are two very different experiences. When you learn how these Philippines destinations fit in with your travel style and interests, the decision might be easier than you expected.
To help you choose, we compared how Boracay fares vs El Nido in different travel categories, from beaches to family-friendliness.
But first, let’s start with some quick facts about each destination.
Boracay: beach paradise found
Boracay is a small resort island with a big reputation. In 2012, it was named the world’s best island, drawing unprecedented crowds.
At one point, tourism in Boracay got so out of hand that the Filippino government closed Boracay for environmental rehabilitation in 2018.
But don’t worry: Boracay is back in business! With a stronger focus on sustainable travel, Boracay is welcoming tourists to its crystal-clear shores again. Just keep in mind that there are stronger environmental regulations in place now. For example, the famous beach fire shows are banned to protect the beach.
El Nido: the adventure archipelago
El Nido is a town and a municipality under the same name on the island of Palawan.
The town became famous as a gateway to something much more special: the Bacuit Archipelago. Its 45 jagged limestone islands look like something out of a dream. With hidden white-sand beaches, lagoons and coves, the archipelago is a strong contender for the most beautiful spot in the Philipines.
Once you’ve explored the archipelago, there’s more to see on the island of Palawan itself. Scenic hikes, breathtaking lookout points, waterfalls and white-sand beaches can be reached within a short drive from the town of El Nido.
Boracay vs El Nido
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect beach. If you pictured white sand, palm trees, turquoise water and sailboats bobbing on the horizon — you’re thinking of Boracay.
Boracay consistently ranks as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sand is soft and white and the water is calm and crystal-clear, making Boracay one of the top Philippines beach destinations.
What about beaches in El Nido, then? Well, there are some stunning beaches here too. Think sandy coves hidden away among limestone cliffs. Pure magic.
But here’s the catch: El Nido’s most beautiful beaches require a boat or a bit of a drive to get to.
The Bacuit Archipelago is famous for dreamy stretches of sand but can only be accessed on an island-hopping day trip.
There are also nice beaches on Palawan island. Nacpan Beach is generally considered the most beautiful with its four-kilometre-long stretch of powdery sand. It takes around 40 minutes to get here from El Nido. Or, you can stay at the Mad Monkey hostel right on the beach.
Options closer to El Nido town include Las Cabañas Beach and Corong Corong Beach, both of which have accommodation options. There’s also a beach in El Nido town but this is where all the boat tours depart from — it’s not swimming-friendly.
Both Boracay and El Nido have wonderful beaches but those on Boracay are easier to access, without compromising on beauty.
There’s no doubt that El Nido takes the cake when it comes to adventuring.
It takes four days to fully explore the Bacuit Archipelago that El Nido is the gateway to. There are different boat trip routes (A, B, C and D), each exploring a different part of the archipelago with beach and snorkelling stops.
And that’s not all. World-class diving, several hiking trails, and beautiful waterfalls — staying in El Nido opens up a whole world of exploration. If you love to stay active, you’ll be spoilt for choice here.
Meanwhile, Boracay is more about taking it easy and relaxing on the beach. It does, however, offer some excellent watersports. If you’re a windsurfing and kitesurfing fan, Bulabog Beach on Boracay island has good wind conditions from November to April.
Winner: El Nido
Beach paradise by day… and party central by night! Despite its remote location, Boracay has incredible nightlife.
The party usually starts at the beach bars and moves to the nightclubs around midnight. Boracay resorts also put on themed nights and performances throughout the week so keep an eye out on their social media.
After Boracay’s restoration, there are some new rules in place to protect the environment. Beach fire shows have been banned and drinking and smoking on the beach are also not allowed (you can still enjoy drinks at the beachfront bars, just don’t leave the designated bar area).
The nightlife in El Nido is more mellow. There are bars in El Nido town as well as beach bars around Corong Corong. But most places close by midnight so don’t expect a wild night out.
Boracay is well set up for families with children. Many resorts here have kids’ clubs, babysitting services and family-friendly activities on offer.
The beaches are clean, the water is calm and safe to swim, and the slow pace is perfect for relaxing. Look out for where you book your hotel: you don’t want to be staying too close to all the clubbing action.
El Nido also has family-friendly resorts, but not as many. With its countless adventures, it’s a great destination for families with older kids, who can join in on the fun — snorkelling, kayaking and exploring.
Winner: Boracay for small kids; both for older kids.
Beaches, activities and nightlife aside… How easy is it to actually get to Boracay and El Nido?
The closest airport to Boracay is Caticlan airport. From there, you’ll need to get a tricycle or a van transfer to Caticlan Jetty Port, where you’ll catch a local boat to Boracay. Once in Boracay, you can get a tricycle to your hotel. The whole journey takes around 45 minutes.
Note that there are more flight options on the Manila to Boracay route if you fly to the other airport, Kalibo International Airport. It’s further away than Caticlan, it takes 2 hours to get to Boracay from there.
El Nido, on the other hand, does have an airport. El Nido Airport (also known as Lio Airport) receives daily flights from Manila and domestic flights from other destinations a few times a week. The airport is 5km away from downtown, making it a quick tricycle ride to get to your hotel.
However, flights to El Nido are only operated by one airline (AirSwift) and are expensive for a domestic flight in the Philippines. Most travellers opt for a significantly cheaper flight to Puerto Princesa and continue by minivan to El Nido which takes 5-6 hours.
So to get to El Nido, you either need to shell out for an expensive direct flight or experience a long and quite uncomfortable transfer.
Final verdict: El Nido or Boracay?
You know that annoying thing when you ask someone which option is better and they say “It depends”?
Yeah. We’re going to have to do it to you.
Because the truth is: when it comes down to Boracay vs El Nido, it really, truly, depends on what you like.
If you’re a nature lover who lives for an adventure and doesn’t mind that the beaches are not all within walking distance, El Nido is going to be your jam.
If your idea of a perfect holiday is rolling out of bed straight onto a sandy beach and living it up in the evenings, you shouldn’t skip Boracay.
Both destinations are incredible. Whichever one you choose, have fun and enjoy!
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.
Based in Bali, Maarten’s passion for travel is undeniable. In 2016, he decided to quit his job as a stock analyst and started doing what he always dreamed of: travelling through South East Asia and helping other people plan their trips. When he is not working on Gecko Routes, you’ll find him surfing in the ocean or exploring the best gems of Indonesia.