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Coron vs El Nido: Which One’s Your Perfect Island Getaway?

Decisions are a beach.
IMAGE Christopher Puhm
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Palawan’s been ranked highly in international travel magazines for some time now, so it’s no secret anymore that the archipelago’s beaches, islands and dive spots are among the most beautiful in the world. But beyond the superlatives, most of us know little about what the difference is between its two most desirable destinations: Coron and El Nido.

While it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised on your travels, having a general idea of what to expect goes a long way in deciding on a trip. Here’s our comparison of the two very different patches of paradise in Palawan.


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Flying in and getting around

Coron: PAL, Cebu Pacific and Skyjet each offer several direct flights a day to Busuanga Airport, which is an easy 30-40-minute ride from most hotels in Coron Town.

Getting around is quite easy, too: ask your hotel to arrange rides or hail a tricycle.

El Nido: The only airline with direct flights to brand-new El Nido Airport is AirSWIFT, and it’ll cost you a pretty penny (usually at least P 10,000). You can also opt to fly to Puerto Princessa instead, and then take a time-consuming 5-hour bus or van ride to El Nido.

Getting around: Tricycles are available everywhere (even to take you to faraway Nacpan Beach for the day) but you can also rent a motorcycle if you’re used to bumpy roads.

Go to: Coron for the convenience; El Nido for sweaty bike rides.


 

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Hotels and hostels

Coron: Accommodation options are generally quite upscale. The plushest hotel in town is the Two Seasons Coron Bayside: the rooms are modern and spacious, the service is great, and the bay view from the infinity pool is stunning. The Funny Lion is an Instagramable boutique option in town with charming rooms and a great pool and jacuzzi. And if you don’t mind a slightly longer transfer, you can book a room at the beautiful Busuanga Bay Lodge or Club Paradise.


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Infinity pool at the Two Seasons

El Nido: Great for European backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, El Nido has countless hostel options including more basic-looking hostels in the bayan (the Spin Designer Hostel is an exception) and charming beach front spots like Outpost Beach Hostel.

Go to: Coron for mandatory infinity pools; El Nido for cheap long-term stays.

 

Beaches and islands

Coron: We’ve covered this in detail here, but the beauty of Coron lies in the grand scale of its natural wonders: Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon, Malcapuya Island, former leper colony Culion Island, and some of the world’s best coral reefs and wreck-diving spots. The Two Seasons does its own speedboat tours for guests, while Amika Travel organizes bangka trips.


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View on hike up to Kayangan Lake

El Nido: Less diving and more tanning, El Nido has a host of great beach options. Ideal for your first day, Marimegmeg Beach is a short tricycle ride away from the town and has a couple of nice beach bar options (DJ included). The following day, head out to remote Nacpan Beach and stay until sunset: it’s a beautiful long strip of white sand where you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas.


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Floating bar by Snake Island 

There are four island-hopping itineraries offered by operators. We recommend taking a speedboat instead: call Skipper Charters on Corong-Corong Beach; it’s a little pricier, but you get to cover more ground and the lunch spread is a lovingly prepared feast. There are tons of hidden beach gems but we have especially fond memories of Snake Island and its floating solar powered bar offering what are perhaps the coldest beers in all of Palawan. We can almost hear the faint sound of cold ones being cracked open by the boys.

Go to: Coron for an active vacation; El Nido for beach hopping and boozing with backpackers.

 

Restaurants and nightlife

Coron: This will be a fairly short entry. There are barely any nightlife options in Coron outside of your hotel’s happy hour. You’re more likely to get up early for an island-hopping tour, followed by a nice hotel dinner and a sleep-inducing massage. Which sounds pretty great, when you think of it.

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El Nido: You’d be forgiven to think you’re in an entirely different country. Almost all of the tourists are young Europeans and Australians, and there are a bunch of excellent restaurants that cater to them. We wish there was time to try everything but a few of the standout dishes were the chicken merguez at French restaurant La Plage, the brick oven pizzas at Trattoria Altrov'e (if the line is too long, try Altrove Express), the spaghetti alle vongole at Mezzanine, and the Artcafe for breakfast. For late night snacks, there’s also falafel, Ukrainian dumplings, crepes and gelato in the bayan.

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In town, Mezzanine, which overlooks the waterfront, is a great place for dinner and drinks. Over at Corong-Corong, La Plage is a more chill option for couples and young families. And of course, there are plenty of bars on Corong-Corong and Marimegmeg Beach.  

Important side note: Make sure you bring enough cash to last your whole trip. When we were in El Nido, all ATMs were either out of commission due to power outages or had run out of cash.

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Go to: Coron for an idyllic island getaway; El Nido for an international crowd.

The verdict: While both are island paradises in their own right, the experience each offers couldn’t be more different. If you’re looking to get away from it all, Coron is ideal for you. If you prefer a more international vibe, El Nido is your next beach vacation.

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Christopher Puhm
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