When El Nido first crept onto my radar about three years ago, it’s unearthly beauty had me spellbound and I knew I had to find a way to get there. Images of dramatic limestone kasts, spectacular beaches, amazing snorkeling and crystal clear lagoons danced in the background of my mind as I waited patiently for a flight that wouldn’t cost the earth. My patience was rewarded late last year when an unbeatable deal came up on Cebu Pacific from Sydney to Manila. I snapped it up in a heartbeat. After booking my (rather expensive) internal flight to El Nido on Airswift, my mind turned to finding the best place to stay in El Nido. After dreaming of her charms for almost three years, I was completely underwhelmed when I started researching hotels in El Nido Philippines. After checking every option for accommodation in El Nido and sifting through hundreds of horrendous reviews, I settled on One El Nido Suite to be our home away from home for our three nights in town. Read on for all the details ……
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Cost of Hotels In El Nido Philippines
I’m all about travelling in luxury for less and Asia generally offers exceptional value. 5 star hotels can be booked for a fraction of the cost of their Australian counterparts and I had hopes of securing a deal on one of the few luxury island resorts that El Nido boasts. A quick search revealed I would be up for a minimum of $1000 a night. I don’t know about you, but if I’m dropping a grand a night on a bed it needs to be exceptional and the concerning reviews I read of ordinary food and overpriced everything did little to make me want to part with my hard earned. At the other end of the spectrum was a tent on the beach for $11 per night. Yeah, nah. You can call it ‘glamping’ all you like but if I don’t have my own bathroom it’s a no go for me. Basic rooms in the town centre range from around $30 – $70 a night, but I wanted more. When I searched for the next level, I noticed a cavernous gap between the $70 and $1000 per night price point. Thus my dilemma. If I had dollars to invest I would build a decent 4 star hotel in El Nido that covers this middle ground perfectly. After doing as much travel as I have, I figure I have a pretty good idea what appeals and I would deliver in spades.
The Pitfalls Of Accommodation in El Nido Palawan
Palawan is considered ‘the last frontier’ of the Philippines and is generally less developed than other parts of the country. Awesome. For someone that likes a bit of luxury in their life I was already behind the eight ball. El Nido is not yet completely saturated by mass tourism and still retains an air of rusticity. And I love that! I really do. I just want a comfortable place to sleep each night after exploring the sights. Never in a million years did I expected finding decent accommodation in El Nido to be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. I admit I left my run a little late and only started looking for the best place to stay in El Nido about four weeks before our trip. My budget was set at $150 a night and I can usually secure something spectacular for that in Asia. I mean, did you see my amazing hotel in Hanoi and where I stayed in Hoi An, both of which were under $50 a night? After my first glance at the accommodation in El Nido I was uneasy. My uneasiness turned to dismay when I started reading the reviews. I know you get what you pay for and these rooms are by no means expensive when compared to Australia, but the value in El Nido was way off for Asia. My stomach churned as I trawled though page after page of disgruntled travellers spinning their tales of woe; overcharging, raw sewage, cockroaches, bed bugs, paper thin walls, no electricity, no hot water, salt water showers, dodgy or no aircon, leaking plumbing, holes in walls plugged with paper, no wifi, slimy pools, rude staff, inept housekeeping, inedible food, unclean bedding, rock hard mattresses, threadbare towels and constant construction were common themes. I was truly horrified. So much so that I actually started considering Buhol as a replacement for El Nido. In the end it just didn’t have the lure of El Nido so I called in reinforcements. The Hubs usually trusts me implicitly to plan our trips. Sometimes I show him the itinerary, but more often than not I just go ahead and book it. After 25 years of marriage I know what he likes and I haven’t messed up yet. In despair, I asked him to come up with a short list of accommodation in El Nido and I would do the rest. And then I braced myself for his reaction. As I watched from the other side of the room, his face went from calm, to questioning, to alarm after reading only a handful of reviews. ‘What the f@%k sort of place are you taking me to?’ No hot water? No electricity? Bedbugs? You gotta be sh!tting me? F@%that! I’m not going’. I had to laugh. If the trip was going to be salvaged it was clear it was going to be up to me. I painstaking reviewed every single hotel in my Expedia, Agoda and Google search results to find something, anything, that wasn’t a compromise too far. I’m no princess but one thing was clear, El Nido certainly hadn’t warmed to my concept of travelling in luxury for less. I had all but given up ever finding something to appeal when I stumbled upon One El Nido Suite. Granted it wasn’t in my preferred location in the centre of town. Granted it was brand new so had zero reviews. Granted it was overpriced for Asia. But when faced with the alternatives I figured we didn’t have much to lose and hit ‘book now’ before I got cold feet.
Getting to One El Nido Suite
When our AirSWIFT Airlines flight landed at El Nido airport it was pouring rain. Howling winds, typhoons and drenching downpours was the norm for our trip to the Philippines so we shouldn’t have been surprised. We hadn’t arranged transport so were at the mercy of the three tricycle drivers waiting for arrivals. Luckily the plane was almost empty and we were third in the line of the eight couples who also hadn’t organised transfers. Clearly it was not the time to bargain so we agreed to the requested fare of 350php clear in the knowledge that we were being ripped off before someone behind us could offer more and take the last ride. It’s $9, whatever. The only way to keep somewhat dry on the 20 minute ride to One El Nido Suite was to hold an umbrella out the side which the driver helpfully supplied. The tiny cabin was rather cramped with three people, two large backpacks and two small backpacks but somehow we managed to squeeze in. Our driver didn’t know where One El Nido suite was. We later learned this was the norm because it was so new and compensated by having a map or directing them to the nearby Abot Kaya Commercial store which they all knew. I doubted we would get there at one point but luckily my data kicked in as we approached the town so I could show him on Google Maps. I suspect if the internet gods hadn’t decided to bless me with connectivity his plan was to simply drive around randomly until we spotted it.
One El Nido Suite Overview
One El Nido Suite doesn’t look grand from the outside. The low key entrance has a wicker lounge and a small desk which we thought was where we would check in. Nope. We were told by the security guard to proceed to the third floor to reception. When we stepped in the lift, I had a giggle at the cute ‘day’ mat. I often lose track of the days when travelling so this was a very prominent reminder. I will point out though, the mats are not changed at the stroke of midnight. I know this because we checked out at 5am on departure and it was still showing the day before. When the lift doors opened we entered a massive space which belied the modest entrance. One El Nido Suite is brand new. So new in fact that was in ‘soft opening when we visited in October 2017. Despite being only October the first thing I noticed as I moved away from the lift was the plethora of Christmas paraphernalia which served to remind me just how under prepared I was for the big day. The smiling staff at the reception desk greeted us warmly with a welcome drink and dispensed of the paper work in a flash. The lobby is huge for a boutique hotel. The whole middle section under the expansive glass ceiling is currently filled with tables and chairs which serves as the common area and makeshift breakfast room while the restaurant is under construction.
One El Nido Suite does not have any outdoor space but there is a very small landing at the rear which offers pleasant views across the water. While researching accommodation in El Nido many reviews mentioned constant brown outs (as opposed to black outs) where hotels would purposefully turn off electricity during the middle of the day to conserve power but we never had a problem at One El Nido Suite. There was two things I found particularly odd during our stay. The first was that I had to haggle to get a second room key. The receptionist was insistent that only one could be provided. I explained that despite being married, The Hubs and I were not chained at the hip and absolutely required a key each. She was unmoved. It was only when I asked to see a manager that a key was produced. It seriously did not need to be that hard. The second was that beach towels are not offered. Given almost every guest will take one of El Nido’s famous tours and most won’t have their own towels this was a rather large oversight. The very helpful reception staff offered to provide two extra bath towels if we left a 200php deposit in case we lost them. We did, but the logic in this is lost on me. We could have simply taken the bath towels from our room without paying a deposit and turned them in for fresh ones on our return without paying the deposit. With these quirks were strange they pale in comparison to some of the issues in the reviews I read so I thanked my lucky stars that was the worst we had to deal with.
One El Nido Suite Rooms
The first thing I noticed when entering room 8106 was how light and bright it was despite it being dusk on a dreary day. The floor to ceiling glass panels covering one whole wall had a big part to play in that. There is one tiny window amid the fixed glass panels which can be opened to get a bit of fresh air. Our outlook was over the rear of the neighbouring buildings and hardly awe inspiring but if you press your head hard up against the glass and look far right you get a little glimpse of the bay. As night fell and we turned to artificial light the place was lit up like Crystal Palace. I have no idea what Crystal Palace is, but my Mum always used to complain when I had left all the lights on that it was like being in Crystal Palace so I’m guessing it is very well lit wherever it is. My pet peeve is hotels that skimp on lighting so this was a big tick in my book. As we explored the room we found that the fridge was not turned on. No biggie. With a bit of maneuvering we (i.e. The Hubs while I watched) dragged it out and attempted to plug it in. No go. The fridge was clearly not a local model and a quick trip to reception to get an adapter sorted the issue. While the fridge is empty, El Nido One Suite does have a larger fridge in reception where you can purchase drinks at reasonable prices (50 pesos for a coke, 75 pesos for a beer).
The bed was rock hard. So hard that I actually lifted the sheet to make sure there was a mattress. I’m guessing this is in part because it brand new and has yet to be softened by the weight of a thousand bodies resting their weary bones. Despite fearing the worst, I actually slept pretty well thanks largely to the fantastic pillows and didn’t wake up sore and numb like I always do in Thailand. The very loud tick tick ticking of the bedside alarm clock did more to hamper my slumber so I took the battery out on night two. Problem solved!
For a brand new hotel the decor was just a little bit off. The large room felt rather sparse and slightly unfinished but everything was immaculately clean. The bedside tables, bed frame, wardrobe, TV console and fridge housing are all the same functional blonde MDF but the furniture handles, chairs, tables and 70’s net curtains are a complete mismatch. The TV console is huge and could have easily incorporated a work desk but they missed this opportunity. I did fashion myself a makeshift one by dragging a chair over but the shelf underneath, lack of a power point and the too low chair didn’t make for ideal conditions. Overall I think they just missed the mark and the room felt just a bit too budget for the image they were aiming for.
The Hubs had a little trouble using the in room safe and set off the piercing alarm a number of times alerting every one in a 50klm radius. We finally worked out the code actually needs to be three digits not the 4 – 6 stated in the instructions. I’m not entirely sure why he bothered given the safe wasn’t bolted down and anyone could just pick it up and walk away with our valuables had they been so inclined. The weather was atrocious for our three days in El Nido and we spent more time in our hotel than expected. Luckily the aircon was exceptional to fight the oppressive humidity and the TV came equipped with a variety of free movie channels but the reception was sketchy so the picture quality was not great.
The bathroom was compact and the vanity had me nostalgically reliving the 80’s. There was zero room beside the sink to lay out toiletries but I used the shower shelf while The Hubs hung his on the back of the door. Water pressure is an issue on many islands and El Nido is no exception but at One El Nido Suite the showers are powered to compensate. There are three faucets to pick from (overhead, handheld and spout) and I initially thought the knee high spout was a strange addition given there was no bath; until I realised how manky your feet get trudging around El Nido in the wet and how nice it is to rinse off the dirt before flopping down on the pristine white bed. The toilet paper rolls are tiny. Like super tiny. And only one is provided. I had to ask reception for more on multiple occasions during our three night stay.
High humidity and constant rain can leave a room smelling dank and unpleasant, but not at One El Nido Suite. Our room smelt fabulous at all times thanks to the high tech room fragrancer (probably not a word but I’m going with it!). This little green topped miracle was a god send and while a little noisy I wouldn’t have been without it for the world. The complimentary thongs were a nice touch and the thoughtful staff packed our breakfast to go given we checked out very early plus provided us a complimentary transfer to the pier which was lovely.
One El Nido Suite Breakfast
Breakfast must be pre-ordered the night before and is served in the large open area near reception. You can choose between Filipino or Western and there are a handful of choices within each. The Hubs didn’t care for his ‘ham’. The butter was ice cold and unspreadable, he would have preferred his eggs scrambled and the ham was just weird. He did like the banana though. My pancakes were delicious. The promised juice never arrived though. The breakfast tables have a large centre stand which makes it very difficult to get your legs underneath and get close enough to your plate. If breakfast didn’t fill you up, head to Trattoria Altrove El Nido for the best pizza I have ever eaten.
Is One El Nido Suite The Best Place To Stay in El Nido?
As you can see One El Nido Suite has a few kinks to work out during their ‘soft opening’ period but these pale in comparison to the horror reviews I had read elsewhere. All in all El Nido One Suite delivered on all my expectations. The room was immaculate, we got a decent nights sleep, the free wifi worked well, the staff were helpful, the water was hot and we had zero power outages. It’s not the ritz, but it doesn’t claim to be and for the price we paid it was great value. Would I stay again? Absolutely! Unless of course I got a banging deal on one of those fancy island resorts 😀
If you think you have found the best place to stay in El Nido, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. I’d also love to hear you stories of nightmare stays in hotels in El Nido Philippines if you have any …
Until Next Time …
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Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. I paid for my stay at One El Nido Suite in full. As always, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links which will earn me a few cents to contribute to the running of this site if you make a qualifying purchase at no extra cost to you.