El Nido or Coron? 12 Factors to Consider in Choosing One Over the Other

El Nido or Coron? 12 Factors to Consider in Choosing One Over the Other

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The islands of El Nido had received some bright spotlight from various international travel magazines and blogs like Travel and Leisure, National Geographic and CNN. But the world might be overlooking an equally stunning place called Coron (Calamian Islands). Both archipelagos of towering limestone formations are located in northern Palawan. In case you are still undecided where in Palawan should you spend your December cold tropical nights or summer vacation to, here’s a rundown of comparison between El Nido and Coron per criteria based on my visit last April 2013 and November 2014 respectively.

El Nido Limestones
Limestones are prominent features of Coron and El Nido

1. Airport

Touchdown after a direct flight from Manila, downtown Coron can be reached from a relatively nearer airport in Busuanga by a public transport van for an hour. The aircraft, however, is a smaller and of propeller-type which is the same being used in Caticlan flights from Manila.

Booking a flight from a commercial major airline to El Nido takes you to Puerto Princesa which is 6 hours away via a public bus. I prefer to ride the midnight bus to sleep the long drive and to save time as well. If you are brave enough to take a smaller airplane and richer enough to arrange a more expensive chartered flight, there is also an airport near El Nido.

Busuanga Airport
A public van from Busuanga Airport dropping you to your accommodation

2. Accommodation

Backpacker speak, both downtowns offer hostels and guesthouses of the same price. However the accommodations in El Nido town is located in a more concentrated strip than Coron. There are even cheap stays situated in beachfront in Bacuit (downtown of El Nido). If not carefully researched, guests could end up in an accommodation in Coron reachable by a tricycle ride from downtown, which is the jump off or meeting place of island hopping activities.

But if you have a lavish lifestyle, you can choose an island beach resort either in El Nido or Coron that suits your needs. You may refer to the amenities each luxury resort offers.

Seven Commandos Beach
Sunset at Seven Commandos Beach in El Nido

3. Night Life

Bacuit has more active night life comparable to Alona Beach in Bohol. You would agree that drinking beers with your feet on the sand is preferable than concrete right?

And as mentioned earlier, Coron accommodations are scattered. Thus, the vibe of night life could be unreachable from your booked nest. The silence may work with you, though.

Bacuit Bay
Alcohol is also a temporary fix for broken hearts

4. Island Hopping

El Nido has 4 standard whole-day island tours, with 5 destinations each, labeled as A, B, C and D. Meanwhile depending on the travel agency, Coron offers 3 full-day tours with three to four destinations each. Both have lagoons and beaches. To put things in simpler perspective, El Nido is synonymous with the beaches and things above water. Coron goes under.

Coron Underwater
Snorkeling in Coron waters

Big Lagoon
The exit walls from Big Lagoon in El Nido

Coron Lake
Barracuda Lagoon with different water temperatures

Secret Lagoon
Secret Lagoon in El Nido welcomes the visitors through a small opening hole passable at certain tides

Bulog Dos
Bulog Dos Beach in Coron

Seven Commandos Beach
Seven Commandos Beach in El Nido

Malcapuya Island
Malcapuya Beach in Coron

Star Beach
Waters of Star Beach in El Nido

Coron Banol Beach
Banol Beach in Coron

Shimizu Island
Beach in Shimizu Island in El Nido

Kayangan Lake
Kayangan Lake in Coron

Small Lagoon
Small Lagoon in El Nido is best visited with a kayak

5. Hike

Coron has a 700-step cemented stairway to Mt. Tapyas. At its summit, one can see the panoramic view of Calamianes archipelago. You can catch the sunrise or sunset. It is located at the heart of the downtown.

Coron Sunset
Sunset watching at Mt. Tapyas

El Nido has Taraw Cliff which involves rigorous hike and wall climb over sharp limestones. It takes a lot of effort and time to reach the top. But the view is magnificent. The activity is doable and could be tolerated by someone who had hiking experience.

Taraw Cliff
Panoramic view of Bacuit Bay

6. Food

Trip Advisor tells that El Nido has more specialty restaurants than Coron. The variety caters to the tastes of our foreigner visitors. Drawback of course is the price. There are also fine dine in restaurants in Coron. For cheap alternatives, El Nido and Coron have options meant for the locals there such as carinderia, gotohan and bakeries. Island hopping activities are inclusive of buffet lunch in El Nido and in Coron.

Buffet Lunch
On the spot meal preparation of boatmen in El Nido

As pointed out by one of the comments, El Nido soup is a must-try. I know you might have tasted the instant version of it on sachet packs sold in grocery but it’s a good test to your taste bud to spot the difference.

7. Group

Coron is suitable for family outing due to the conveniences. El Nido is a backpacker paradise. Small groups and couples are flexible in both cases because open trips regroup them in a larger circle.

Coron Island Hopping
Island hopping in Coron

8. Side Trip

Coron is known as an underwater paradise and scuba diving is a must-do activity here. Even beginners could go inside a shipwreck without advanced certifications. A tricycle ride from downtown, the feet tired from the Tapyas hike can be relaxed at the infinity pool of Maquinit Hot Spring. Reachable by a boat ride, Coron has Calauit, a safari island famous for its giraffe and zebras.

Maquinit Hot Springs
Infinity pool flowing to Calamianes waters

El Nido, on the other hand, has more inland beaches to offer. One can bike his way to Corong-Corong Beach or take a half-day tour at the less-traveled twin beach of Nacpan-Calitang.

Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach
Twin beach of Nacpan and Calitang in El Nido


9. Electricity

Bacuit (except with the island resorts and certain hostels) has a time window for electricity. Power shuts down from late morning up to afternoon. Coron had continuous supply. For those who will stay out in the downtown for a whole day island hopping, the situation won’t necessarily bother you.

Automated Teller Machines are available in Coron. I haven’t seen one in Bacuit yet.

UPDATE: Thanks to one of the readers of Nathan Allen of I Dreamed of This. It came to my attention that the power supply in El Nido is already in full swing 24 hours. My friend, Simon Gonzaga, also confirmed the situation. So I am crossing out this previous criterion.

9. Availability and Frequency of Seat Sale

Despite El Nido is 6-hours trip far from Puerto Princesa, it is compensated by the big 3, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Air Asia Philippines. All are serving connections from Manila and from Cebu to Palawan’s capital city. These three leading airlines in the country also include Puerto Princesa in most of their seat sales. It’s more likely that you can book an El Nido trip (via Puerto Princesa) cheaper than Coron.

Unlike the two, Air Asia Philippines does not have a flight service to Busuanga. SkyJet Airlines, however, is another airline player in Busuanga. SkyJet markets itself as a boutique airline and it offers seat sale rarely.

Coron Underwater
Fish-feeding in Banana Island in Coron

10. Foreigners

There are more foreigners in El Nido. In fact, when we went out at night, we were the only Filipinos tourists in the crowd. The notion of El Nido as an expensive destination still prevalent for Filipinos. Ironically, the Filipino families on its own country spend more than foreign backpackers because the former most likely check-in to the island resorts.

If I am going to sell the Philippines to foreigners who are unfamiliar of the two, I will recommend El Nido for them because these foreigners are most likely skilled backpackers.

11. Budget

It will depend on the type of activities and services you are going to avail. Island tour in El Nido costs more than Coron per pax but not that much. Scuba diving, of course, is costly. Going to Calauit is expensive for a day tour compared to inland Nacpan-Calitang twin beach. The longer you stay in El Nido, it gets more expensive than Coron. You can survive longer in Coron the cheapest way possible.

Malcapuya Island
Malcapuya Beach from a view deck

12. Revisit

You will revisit Coron for scuba diving sites or you visit it again with a new crowd and repeat the same standard itinerary. With El Nido, you will come back for the other island tours you haven’t taken. But according to most of the people who had been in El Nido, Tour A and C will already cover the identity of El Nido.

Coron Island Hopping
Corals of Coron

Verdict

Here’s how we are going to weigh in the two great places of Palawan. Per each criterion, we assign a weight or impact of the factor to our decision. Because we all have different preferences. I might like an active night life but some would want peace at early evening. Or I will climb limestones than follow the concrete steps. Then for each criterion, we select the winner. After twelve rounds of picking, we tally the scores multiplied by the weight. Then, declare a winner.

Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach
Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach from the highest point in the end of the beach

CRITERION / WEIGHT

1. Airport (3 pts) – Coron
2. Accommodation (3 pts) – El Nido
3. Night Life (2 pts) – El Nido
4. Island Hopping (3 pts) – El Nido
5. Hike (1 pt) – El Nido
6. Food (2 pts) – El Nido
7. Group (2 pts) – Coron
8. Side Trip (2 pts) – Coron
9. Electricity (2 pts) – Coron
9. Seat Sale (2 pts) – El Nido
10. Foreigners (1 pt) – El Nido
11. Budget (3 pts) – Coron
12. Revisit (1 pt) – Coron

EL NIDO – 14 points
CORON – 11 points

Kayangan Lake
Outside the Kayangan Lake

I was surprised that Coron won in my own checklist because I always keep on recommending El Nido to my friends. I went to El Nido through an open trip starting from Puerto Princesa. I already made friends with the group so I had more fun moments in El Nido. Compared it with Coron where I went alone and took time to socialize (and not to) with a new crowd for every destination. Probably this is a good observation on the thesis that it’s the journey that matters than the destinations but that would be another topic in a post.

If money and time are not the problems you deal with, El Nido is a runaway winner putting factors #7, #9 and #11 out. But considering other factors, Coron emerges the winner with a very slim margin.

The deletion of electricity criterion and introduction of another factor changed the game. So, it’s really El Nido after all.

Matinloc Shrine
View from Matinloc Shrine observatory deck

Plot Twist

While I only compared El Nido and Coron, there are other exciting places in Palawan province to choose from. Puerto Princesa has a different itinerary. Research ‘Onuk Island’, ‘Dumaran’, ‘Linapacan’ and ‘Port Barton’, and you’ll have a tough time to choose. It is only a proof that Palawan, Philippines is indeed the number one island in the world.

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