One, flying to Puerto Princesa from Manila then taking a bus/van ride for 5 hours. The bus ride takes 9 hours but the van is way faster, only about 5.5 hours. The van ride costs Php 700 each. The van seats about 12 people and there's not much leg room especially if you are at least 6' tall. Some of the tourist complains about their seats because some doesn't have head rest. But this is the most comfortable land transportation heading to El Nido. The last two hours of the trip is basically dirt and pebbles and pot holes. Some vans load all luggages on top covered with tarp. So make sure you want to use a luggage meant for this situation. Ours got really dusty. But we don't mind. You can arrange a van to pick you up from your hotel.
Second, flying to El Nido on a 19 seater propeller plane from Manila. I'm not sure how long the flight is but it is run by very small organization or maybe by a certified pilot who owns a plane. It's quite hard to get the information about the flight schedules online so going through a travel agent might help. We haven't heard any accidents from the locals so it must be safe.
Third, fly to Coron from Manila. Then a 5 hour boat ride to El Nido. Coron is well known for scuba diving. So you can stay at Coron for a couple of days to explore the area and go scuba diving. This is where 8 Japanese battleships sank during WWII and a lot of the divers come navigate these ships. Coron also have great coral reefs. If we had a lot more time, we could have chose this option instead.
At El Nido, there are a lot of hotels in its Barangay Masagana. You would be surprised about the price difference between hotels since they all are located on the beach. El Nido Beach Hotel is where we stayed at and it cost Php 3,580 per night. Entellula is just 30 meters away from El Nido Beach Hotel on the same shore line it it costs Php 1,800. If you are not too worried about the room, as long as there's bed and bathroom, you can find other places to stay within the same area cheaper. The only downside to El Nido Beach hotel is you won't be able to see the sunset since it's being block by several big limestone mountains. If you really interested in staying at a place at the beach front where you can see the sunset every day, then go Four Seasons hotel. I don't know what their rate is but they are much more expensive. If you've got the money, you can stay at Miniloc Island Resort but you have to take a 30-45 min boat ride since it's on an island.
Once you get to El Nido, there are 4 package tours available - Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D. Since we only had a day left to explore the islands, we learned the best tours were A and C. This is where it's best to snorkle along the shores and do fish feeding. The unfortunate part of these tours were that 99.9% of the corals on the shore are dead but there's still some good amount of fishes to see. The biggest fish we saw was the size of my palm. People go scuba diving instead at 20 meters since the corals are still alive and there's lots of big fishes to see and "Pawikan" which is a really big turtle.
There's no problem finding places to eat at El Nido. We loved Squiddos. Their best menu is stuffed squid but every time we go there they always run out of it. I ordered Mixed Seafood Curry and it was great! Their crab was also good. I would ask next time if they have one bigger crab since if they run out of it, they would serve you two really small crabs and its really hard to work with it. Another place to eat good food is at El Nido Corner. We had 2 lb Steamed Jack Fish in sesame oil and ginger and it was awesome! It only cost Php 250 or $ 6.50. My wife had never been a fan of eating fish but she'd had eaten a lot of fish here no matter how it was cooked. Their fish here are awesome! It's always fresh and so cheap!
El Nido is also well known for its Bird's Nest Soup. The swallow birds builds their nest onto these limestone mountains and the locals come to harvest the nest from December to March. At this time, the chicks had become a bird and there's no use for the nest. The locals actually have a hut on the island where they stay fulltime until their harvest is over. People extract the juice out of the nest, which is basically the saliva of the bird which doesn't have a taste at all and mix this with a regular egg drop soup. The main reason why people eat it is because of its rich protein and mineral content. I did not bother to try this one.
Now which is the best time to go to El Nido? The best time to go is between March to May since the waters are a lot calmer which means it's the perfect time to snorkle on deeper areas where the corals are still alive and tons of big fishes are around! But you have to be sure that you made hotel reservations 6 months before since all hotels are packed and some guests actually sleep outside the hotel on folding beds. Some also go to the islands and sleep on the shore. Depending on your level of adventure and excitement, this could be fun.
Next time I come to Palawan, I will stay in Coron for few days and dive at the ship ruins then head off to El Nido for a week to visit the rest of the islands I missed on the tour. Of course, it will be between March to May :). Here are some of the pictures I've taken using my iPhone 4.