By Alex Hatton

Last Updated:

October 12, 2023

EL NIDO by Diving Squad - Traveller's Guide

El Nido is one of the most visually stunning destinations in all of the Philippines with towering limestone cliffs, tropical forests and beautiful white beaches.

It is one of the country’s most popular backpacker destinations; who rock up in their countless scores to beach-hop and party.

These two facts overshadow a little known fact, which is that El Nido also has some world-class scuba diving!

Because El Nido is in Palawan; it’s often outshone by Coron to the north, which is regarded as the best wreck dive destination in Southeast Asia – but El Nido offers something very different.
For starters, El Nido has some of the best coral in all of the Philippines with dozens of dive sites over extensive hard and soft reefs that are home to all manner of fish and critters.

There’s many awesome underwater rock formations, including swim-throughs, caverns and even an underwater tunnel!

Lucky divers can also see nurse sharks and manta rays – provided they visit the right dive sites.

However, in order to get the most out of a trip to El Nido; it’s important to be armed with the right knowledge; including the best dive sites, season, logistics and different areas to stay.

Theres also many other great sights to see on land; but a few are not very well known of, even among the locals.

That’s why I’ve created this ultra guide of awesomeness, based on my own experience of diving El Nido during May 2023 – with it you’ll be able to dive El Nido like an absolute boss!

(Heads up! I wrote a separate article reviewing the Best Places to Stay in El Nido for Divers. The Page you’re on now briefly covers accommodation but is more of an info / travel guide).

Kayakers in a lagoon of El Nido
Female scuba diver sharing connecting with reef fish over hard coral reef of El Nido diving site.
Beautiful coral reef of El Nido.

Awesomeness you can see Diving El Nido

#1 Awesome Coral Reef

One of the first things you’ll notice when scuba diving El Nido is the many extremely healthy and extensive coral reefs with intricate hard coral structures.

In 2021 a series of typhoons destroyed large swathes of coral reef around much of the Philippines. However, of all the areas in the archipelago, El Nido was perhaps the most sheltered. As a result; the reefs around El Nido are still in fantastic condition; I found them to be more healthy than anywhere else in the country.

These corals are home to a myriad of reef fish as well as all manner of critters such as octopus, nudibranch, sea snakes, turtles, crustaceans and even garden ribbon eels.

Most El Nido dive sites are at depths of 48 – 82 feet (15 – 25 meters) and devoid of currents although there are a few which sometimes experience currents making for fun drift dives.

Epic Coral reef of El Nido scuba diving site.

#2 Underwater Tunnel

Perhaps the coolest and most unique dive site of El Nido is Dilumacad Tunnel; which consists of an underwater tunnel on the north side of Helicopter Island.

Starting at around 39 ft (12 meters deep) and stretching for about 131 ft (40 m) long; half way through it widens out into a spacious cavern with a few ceiling holes that let in shimmering trickles of light. The walls and ceiling are covered in colourful sponge of all colours and there are also many small fish as well as small shrimp, mollusks and crabs along the sandy bottom.

Also, it was at the entrance to Dilumacad tunnel that one group of divers saw a massive nurse shark!

Divemaster at entry point of Dilumacad tunnel, a favourite El Nido dive site.

#3 Sharks!

This is by no means a guarantee; but you have a reasonable chance of seeing sharks at El Nido; which is more well known for large pelagics than other parts of the Philippines.

During my week in El Nido, on the one day (!) that I didn’t dive, a group of divers spotted an enormous 3.5 meter long Nurse Shark directly outside Dilumacad tunnel! (As see in the image below). Whitetip Reef Sharks are also sometimes spotted along with other pelagics such as Eagle Rays.

Nurse Shark at entrance of Dilumacad tunnel; a favourite El Nido dive site.

#4 Great Barracuda

Great Barracuda are large, predatory fish that typically measure 24 – 39 inches long (60 – 100cm). Whilst adults are typically solitary individuals; they form large schools when younger which you can see around a number of El Nido dive sites, occasionally forming spectacular tornado-like formations.  

Although they look quite fearsome, they’re harmless to divers; that said they are also pretty bold meaning its easy to get close to them which can make for some fantastic underwater photo opportunities. Whilst diving El Nido, I saw schools of great barracuda at a number of dive sites. 

Female scuba diver with great barracuda at El Nido diving site.

#5 Turtles

Like most dive destinations of the Philippines, El Nido is a great place to see turtles; mainly green sea turtles which are the second largest sea turtles (after leatherback turtles); measuring up to four feet in length and also the only species of sea turtle to be vegetarian, feeding primarily on sea grass and algae. 

It is also possible to see the more predatory hawksbill turtles which are extremely distinctive with their razor sharped bills which they used to feed on soft coral and jellyfish .

I generally saw at least one turtle on every dive site (except for at Dilumacad Tunnel). Also, if you’re diving Palawan,

You have a good chance of at seeing at least one on most dives. If you’re on a Palawan diving trip, El Nido is a much better place to see turtles than Coron which is more well-known for shipwrecks.

Green sea turtle at south milinoc dive site.

#6 Manta Rays

You can get away from the hustle and bustle of El Nido town by catching a 50 minute car ride to Sibaltan, an extremely quiet seaside town that not many people know about and even fewer make it to. 

Sibaltan is too far from El Nido Town to dive the main dive sites I’ve so far described….however there is one dive centre: “Dive Sibaltan” who offer dive trips to manta ray cleaning stations, where you have a decent chance of seeing mantas rays.

This is one of the very few places in the Philippines where you can see these majestic animals!

And More! Check out the Movie I made of Diving El Nido in 2023:

Best Dive Sites of El Nido

Dive boat with diving instructor surveying the dive sites of El Nido from above the water.

The vast majority of El Nido dive sites take place within El Nido Bay; this is also where most beach-hopping tours take place. It is also within close proximity of El Nido town and the various private islands on which dive resorts are located. 

There’s around two dozen dive sites within El Nido Bay; what defines much of them is the abundance of healthy reef and interesting underwater rock formations. The all-time favourites are:

  • Dilumacad Tunnel: An all-time favourite! It’s an underwater tunnel opening out into a spacious cavern going directly through Helicopter Island. This is a really unique and awesome dive site; you’ll see colourful sponges all along the walls and ceiling of the tunnel as well as many quirky critters within including tiny crustaceans, mollusks and pipefish.

  • South Miniloc: Another highly-popular dive site within El Nido Bay, South Miniloc is home to an extensive reef composed heavily of cabbage-corals that is home to all manner of fish from ginormous puffer fish to schools of adolescent great barracuda and just about every kind of reef fish you can imagine. I also saw a garden ribbon eel here! Many nudibranch, turtles and octopus can also be seen.

  • Paglugaban: Located around the Miniloc area, Paglugaban is home to awesome underwater rock formations with extensive healthy coral creating many fun swim-throughs. Look closely and you’ll see that many of the boulders and corals are covered with all manner of nudibranch species which change seasonally! There’s also many turtles here.

  • Twin Rocks: This is an awesome dive site for yet more epic underwater topography; consisting of two connected rocky pinnacles as well as many impressive rock and boulder formations as well as a cavern that you can swim through. There’s some truly excellent coral reef here, loads of reef fish and a helluva lot of pipefish!

  •  Nat Nat: This is the closest dive site to El Nido town. It’s located off a limestone cliff and offers a great variety of sandy patches, rubbles and reef where you can see all manner of coral, fish, nudibranch and turtles. This is a great place for beginners to dive and also the go-to dive site for night dives.

  •  Manta Feeding Station of Sibaltan: Located far away from the main dive sites of El Nido Bay is Sibaltan; it’s very quiet and cut off from everything else. However it is here one must go in order to have a chance of diving with manta rays at their well known feeding station. 

Where to Stay in El Nido

If you’re travelling to El Nido to dive, there’s 3 Main Areas to Stay:

  1. El Nido town in a hostel or homestay. This is the cheapest option. You will be close to many dive centres, bars and restaurants as well as the pounding nightlife.

  2. A Dive Resort – along the fairly quiet Corong Corong town (15 minute drive to El Nido town) or on a private island close to El Nido Bay. This is the most luxurious and peaceful option.

  3. Stay in the underdeveloped Sibaltan village; a 50 minute drive from El Nido town and too distant to access the main dive sites of El Nido Bay – but close to the manta ray feeding station.

For more information on each area, check out my main article reviewing the 10 Best Places to Stay in El Nido for Divers.

Or check out my Top 3 Suggestions for Diver’s Accommodation in El Nido below:

  1. Most Luxurious Dive Resort in El Nido: Cauayan Island Resort & Spa
  2. Cheapest Dorms in El Nido Town: Happiness Hostel
  3. Where to Stay in Sibaltan for Manta Ray Diving: Carmelita Homestay

El Nido Diving Season

Female scuba diver floating in the water over of the hard coral reef of nat nat El Nido dive site.

Great news – you can dive here all year round! That said, the best time to dive El Nido is from June – July when water visibility is at its greatest and there is less rainfall. That said, you have the highest chance of seeing manta rays between the months December – April. 

Wet season typically occurs from August – November and during these months visibility is not quite so good. However, it is still totally possible to dive during this time.

How to Get to El Nido

  • You can fly into El Nido airport aka Lio Airport pretty easily with direct flights from Manilla and Cebu.
  • The only easy ferry journey to El Nido is from Coron, which takes around 5 hours and costs around $45 either way. This is pretty convenient as if you’re diving El Nido, you should definitely try and visit Coron as well which is known for awesome wreck diving. Check out Ferry Schedules from Coron to El Nido Here. 

Other Things to Do in El Nido

A visually-stunning area, El Nido has many awesome things to do on land; mainly epic sightseeing. Let’s take a look at some of the famous and not-so-famous activities to do in El Nido besides dive:

#1 Taraw Peak

This is probably the most badass and adventurous thing you can do in El Nido (besides scuba dive of course huhuhu!).

Taraw peak is the highest cliff overlooking El Nido town. You can climb to the top of it which is a truly exhilarating experience that rewards you with unbeatable views of El Nido Bay.

It requires a 4:30 am start and going with a guide who will provide you with gloves. Take heed – this is not for the faint of heart, there are several heart-wrenching moments when you are scaling an almost vertical cliff with knife sharp rocks on either side of you! However, do what the guide says and you’ll probably be ok! The views at the top are well worth-it.
To find a guide ask around at El Nido Via Ferrata Walk (which is where you can also arrange canopying and other stuff).

#2 Canopying

If you decide not to do Taraw Peak, a more tame compromise is to go canopying where you are harnessed in and have a helmet and make your way to a lower and far less precarious viewpoint that still gives decent views out across El Nido town and bay. This takes just twenty minutes and can be done at any time of day. 

Like the taraw peak, you arrange this at El Nido Via Ferrata Walk, a small office located near the town centre. 

The downside of the canopying that there’s loads of travellers here and when you get to the viewpoint everyone is queing up to take lame-o selfies…

#3 Eagle's Nest

Unbeknown to many people (even locals!), there is another incredible viewpoint that lies about a 25 minute scooter ride out of El Nido Town, heading towards Las Cabanas Beach and stopping around Nagkalit waterfalls

Close to the point you’d stop for the waterfalls, you’ll see a sign on the right reading “Eagle’s Nest”. Across the road from here lies  a small office where you hire a guide to take you up to the Eagle’s Nest.

The Eagle’s Nest is an extremely interesting, sharply sloping hill, that you’ll see rising up out of the ground off yonder about 7 minutes before you reach the office. It’s actually an extinct volcano that has sunk down into the ground. It takes about 20 minutes to climb and is quite steep and gruelling towards the end but the panoramic views at the top are truly epic.

You can even camp here overnight if you arrange it in advance.

But Alex, why don’t you show off any photos of Eagle’s Nest or other places you are talking about!? Well it was actually whilst climbing up to Eagle’s Nest that I destroyed my iPhone by leaving it charging to an external powerbank in a bag that a litre of water leaked into frying it’s CPU beyond repair.

I lost five years worth of travel friend’s details, people’s numbers and photos and videos including much of the land-photo content I’d been collecting from the past ten weeks in the Philippines!

It was quite sobering to swallow my rage and frustration (I could already tell the phone was fucked), realise it was just a stupid smartphone and simply concentrate on the beautiful view.

#4 Beaches

There’s a whole buncha’ beaches you can explore around El Nido. Here are some of the best ones:

  • El Nido Beach: Situated along the main tourist strip, it is close to the restaurants and dive centres as well as much of the nightlife including several beach bars. Subsequently it’s the most busy, but around evening time is a very cool place to catch the sunset – especially from reggae bar. As night descends night, the closest street running along it descends into drunken clubbing-chaos.

  • Las Cabanas Beach: One of my favourite beaches, it is more spacious than El Nido and offers equally impressive if not better views. If you walk all the way around the corner and keep going for five minutes you’ll probably have the whole beach to yourself. There’s a series of restaurants and bars as well as accommodation options, all of which are considerably more expensive than those along El Nido beach. There’s also a nice gym in the outside mall section. Oh and there’s a zipline you can catch which will carry you 750 meters across to Snake Island!

  • Lio Beach: Further, this is kind of close to where you go for eagles nest. It’s a more quiet and chill beach; right next to where the airport is, although I didn’t see or hear any planes when I went there.

  • Nacpan Beach: About a 50 minute ride on the scooter it’s one of the biggest and emptiest beaches in El Nido although still a few fancy (expensive) restaurants and bars to choose from. 

There are many more beaches to explore in El Nido. Happy beach hunting!

Las cabanas beach of El Nido.
Las Cabanas Beach after walking around the far-corner

#5 Party!

There’s a big nightlife at El Nido. Personally it wasn’t my jam – the clubs are really generic with some of the most annoying and cliche music going and much of the rest of the space appears to be taken up by bars but on closer inspection these are in fact booze selling restaurants so not an ideal place to meet new people! 

However, from the scores of drunken backpackers everywhere the El Nido night-scene certainly seems to appeal to some (from what I could tell, those some were mostly 18 year olds). 

However, if I were to go partying in El Nido, I’d make sure to do it around full moon time as rumour has it, El Nido does host a pretty decent full-moon party!! 

If you go diving, you’ll probably get invited out for drinks by your dive centre. This is probably the best way to have a legit night out with genuinely interesting people who know if and where there’s something worth going to. My favourite dive centre for this was Submariner Dive Centre – they even have a jellyfish themed bar!

#6 Beach Hopping & Lagoons

A great way to meet other traveller’s is to sign up for one of the beach hopping tours where you’ll be taken around various beaches of the scenic and epic limestone cliffs of El Nido Bay. Depending on which tour you sign up to; you can also go kayaking around some of the lagoons. Some of these tours get pretty boozy! Check out El Nido Tour Packages here. 

Kayakers in a lagoon of El Nido

El Nido FAQ

In El Nido, 3 dives will cost you around 4100 Pesos / $73 which is actually a very reasonable price. That said, most other stuff in El Nido (food, accommodation etc) is a little expensive compared to others parts of the Philippines. 

Yes! Most dive sites are relatively shallow. Only a few dives are “drift dives” and when I went on one of these there was absolutely no current, making it just a regular dive. So yes, El Nido is totally beginner friendly and many people actually get scuba certified here. 

Kickass coral reefs, awesome underwater rock formations including an epic underwater tunnel (Dilumacad), beautiful limestone cliffs and countless reef fish and critters. Also the opportunity to see sharks and manta rays.

A lot! With epic viewpoints to climb (Taraw peak and Eagles nest), endless beaches to explore, island hopping tours, a zipline, waterfalls and a thriving nightlife aimed for a younger audience, you will find it hard to run out of things to do in El Nido for at least a week or two!

In El Nido town, it gets very busy and crowded at night; this is one of the least chilled out destinations in the Philippines. But the dive sites do have the best coral reef in the country! Also, El Nido is close to Coron which is the best wreck diving destination in all of Southeast Asia and absolutely worth combining with your trip to El Nido if you have time. 

El Nido Diving Squad DEBRIEFING:

Diving El Nido is a truly epic experience; with the best coral reef in the Philippines, awesome underwater topography, sharks, rays and endless critters, it is a seriously under-rated dive destination; albeit a noisy one at night if you stay in the main town!

In this article, we covered a lot. First we talked about What you can See Diving El Nido; followed by a breakdown of the Best Dive Sites. This was followed by an eye-opening look at Where to Stay in El Nido with a useful link to a more detailed article on this. 

After that, we went over El Nido Diving Season, then How to Get There and Other Things To Do in El Nido before finally rounding it all off with a handy FAQ section– classic!

Now the articles finished and I strongly recommend you go and check out my separate article on the 10 best places to stay in El Nido for Divers which offers insider tips, secret info and more. Go – check it out now! The fate of the universe rests on your shoulders!!

Oh by the way – when you book accommodation through one of the affiliate links on this page; we’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself! Thankyou very much!! It’s support like this which helps keep Diving Squad running and allows us to continue flinging our members out into far-flung corners of the world to gather fresh new content for you.

Plus it’s actually cheaper to book your accommodation in advance than it is to pay when you get there so we all win – huzzah!

Read Related Content: 

Written by:

Alex

Alex

Scuba fanatic, travel ecstatic and loveable rogue. A rootless divemaster and perpetual adrenaline-junky, Alex holds the esteemed rank of Grand Admiral of the Diving Squad; a title he most nobly awarded to himself. A scuba-junky since 2014, he's dived much of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Red Sea, Ireland, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. It's hard to say where he'll pop up next for he never settles; forever a leaf on the wind... or perhaps a lone bubble blasted along on the current.