After an entire year of some form of lockdown, it looks like the the Philippines is finally easing its restrictions for domestic travel, just in time for summer! Like most people who have vacationed in El Nido since its reopening, we jumped at the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world without the usual throng of tourists. If you’re wondering how you can visit El Nido during the “new normal” we’ve put together this complete guide to the El Nido travel requirements as of March 2021.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE PHILIPPINES
WHAT DOCUMENTS ARE NEEDED
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. Not gonna lie, leisure travel in 2021 is stressful and requires so much stuff. Here’s what you’ll need to enter El Nido, how you can get it, and the order to get it in! You can also read the full Executive Order here.
- Negative RT-PCR swab test from a DOH accredited laboratory (click for full list) or saliva test from the Philippine Red Cross. The test must be taken within 72 hours of travel to El Nido. We received our results within 24 hours which then gave us plenty of time to book flights, accommodation and process our QR code with El Nido Tourism.
- Return airfares. We flew with AirSwift directly to Lio Airport to cut some time out of travel. It’s more expensive than flying to Puerto Princesa but worth it for the convenience.
- Confirmed accommodation with a DOT accredited establishment (click for full list).
- QR code tourist ID issued by El Nido Tourism Office which you can apply for here. You will need to complete your personal details and attach all of the above documents for verification. Note that this is not an automatic process and will be manually verified by a tourism officer. This can take some time! We had to call the office and politely ask them to check our documents ASAP as our flight was early the next morning.
- Traze App. You need this at all airports within the Philippines. This is apparently moving over to the StaySafe S-Pass but it hasn’t happened yet.
- Additional: tour itinerary with DOT accredited travel agencies (click for full list). This was mentioned on the El Nido Tourism website, however when we spoke to El Nido Tourism office on the phone we asked where to download the itinerary template and the officer said it wasn’t required. We never provided it with our paperwork and were still issued our QR code.
HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO
The easiest way is to fly directly from Manila to El Nido on AirSwift. It’s the only airline that flies straight to El Nido, and cuts that 6 hour drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido out. AirSwift only flies from Manila so if you’re coming from another province, you will first need to travel to Manila. Make sure you check your LGU requirements to travel! We flew Cebu to Manila and didn’t require anything when travelling to Manila.
Other airports open are Puerto Princesa, Busuanga, and San Vicente. It’s up to you to arrange your travel from these ports to El Nido. Unless you’re really strapped for cash, consider whether the additional hassle to save a few bucks is worth it.
WHAT ABOUT ISLAND HOPPING TOURS
Like we mentioned above, you’ll need to book all your tours with a DOT accredited travel agency (click for full list). We did all our island hopping through APE Tours and can’t recommend them enough! The tour company has to do a whole bunch of things in the background to arrange your tour with the new restrictions, and APE Tours did this seamlessly and hassle free!
Speaking of restrictions, the island hopping boodle fights are a thing of the past, and food can only be brought along on tours if it’s been provided by an authorised restaurant. APE Tours will send you the menu to choose from in advance and will arrange this all for you!
At the beginning of each island hopping day, you’ll need to sign in with the coastguard and get your temperature checked. Then a tourism officer will scan your QR code at the pier. This is done at the start of every tour so keep your QR code handy at all times. You’ll also need to pay ₱200 for an environmental fee that’s valid for 2 weeks – this is used island hopping and at Nacpan Beach.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN EL NIDO
We were so excited to experience El Nido without the crowds, and whilst it’s definitely a positive to have the islands to yourself, it’s actually pretty sad to see the town so empty. If you’ve been to El Nido before, don’t expect the bustling tourist town of yesteryears.
Most restaurants from Corong Corong to Lio are closed, same with most stores except a handful of pricey souvenir shops. We spent two weeks in El Nido and ended up visiting the same restaurants on repeat because there’s just not that many open. On the other hand, we were the only boat at most island hopping destinations, so that was pretty incredible.
EL NIDO TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS FAQs
Do you need to print all the paperwork?
No! Whilst it’s recommended and is easy to keep all your papers on you, we couldn’t find a printer! We’ve been able to do everything with our phones, so you can manage without print outs. You can screenshot everything or download a PDF reader like Acrobat to keep it all in one place.
What happens when you arrive?
When we arrived at Lio Airport, we sat in socially distanced chairs in the arrival area and were called one by one to scan our QR codes and check our temperature. Our flight was pretty empty so it only took around 15 minutes. If you stay at a resort that offers a shuttle service, it will be waiting for you. No shuttle, no problem! The guard can call a tricycle to pick you up.
Are all the tourism sites open?
Unfortunately not! Whilst most island hopping is open, the waterfalls are still closed to tourists. But, if you’re just there for the islands, then this shouldn’t matter much.
Can you move around freely?
Yep! We rented a scooter from Lakwatsero Motorcyles and drove everywhere by ourselves. There were no checkpoints anywhere in El Nido and aside from the usual mask, temperature check and QR code scan at most establishments, you’re free to roam.
EL NIDO TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS RESOURCES
El Nido Tourism Official Website
El Nido Tourism Facebook Page
El Nido Tourism QR code application
DOH accredited swab test laboratories
Philippine Red Cross
DOT accredited accommodation establishments in El Nido
DOT accredited tour agencies in El Nido
Looking for another destination? Siargao is open for domestic tourists! Check out the Siargao Requirements here.