El Nido: Equal Parts Shabby and Chic?


Shabby chic is a term typically used to describe furniture, home decor, or clothing, but it kept popping into my head when I was in El Nido.

Urban Dictionary’s definition of shabby chic: Slightly ratty but damn gorgeous.

This is EXACTLY how I would describe El Nido. The views are beyond picturesque, but the town itself is still very rough around the edges.

Streets of El Nido

In town, there’s so much distraction and chaos. Tricycles with multiple families dangling off the sides honk relentlessly while maneuvering past each other on tiny roads, and gangs of kids speed around on bicycles. Dusty and dark shacks (that might collapse if the wind blows too hard) sell a variety of food and souvenirs. Beggars with small children are ever present.

El Nido streets

El Nido main street

And yet, the entire town is nestled into these gorgeous, towering limestone formations. El Nido means ‘the nest’ in Spanish, and it’s a fitting name. The town in snuggled up against these powerful, artistic works of Mother Nature.

El Nido streets

El Nido streets

El Nido streets

You can’t get more shabby chic than new clothes hanging outside a shack underneath this limestone cliff backdrop.

clothes hanging up in El Nido

Although there are tons of dusty shacks selling junk, there’s a fair share of chic boutique stores with overpriced clothing, trendy coffee shops, enjoyable international restaurants, shops selling handmade jewelry and soaps, and little churches with motorcycles parked out front.

El Nido

Church in El Nido

And then there’s the beach.

View of El Nido Beach

The whole stretch of the beach smells like fried chicken heavily masked by gasoline- from all the boats, and the restaurants arcing around the water are well worn.

El Nido main beach

But the San Miguel is refreshing and cheap.

San Miguel in El Nido

And the Philipino food, like Chicken adobo, is delicious.

Chicken Adobo Philippines

And the scenery? That’s the best part.

boat in El Nido

El Nido Beach

kids at El Nido beach

El Nido in the evening

I can do shabby chic because I like the perfectly imperfect. El Nido is chaotic, the internet sucks, and infrastructure is subpar, but it’s also warm and magnetic. It has a tattered third world charm about it that many find irresistible. Or, as my boyfriend describes it, “it’s a dangerously picturesque toxic dump.”

El Nido Beach

Is El Nido my favorite beach town? Definitely not. I still prefer many of Thailand’s beach towns to El Nido (because they are not as shabby, but they offer comparable views). However, in El Nido, the people are friendly, the food is fabulous, the water is clear, fresh fruit shakes are cheap (I recommend the calamansi + pineapple + ginger combo), the scenery is stunning, and excellent beaches and islands are close by.

That makes this El Nido alright in my book.

Have you been to El Nido? Did you find it more shabby? Or chic?


  1. mjohnsonvec2015 | 4th Feb 16

    Thanks for sharing Casey! I find the churches interesting in the places I have visited. The one in your pic does not seem very inviting with the fence in front, but maybe it is warm and friendly inside. Blessings to you on your journeys!

    • Words of a Wanderer | 5th Feb 16

      Thanks Mike! Yes churches are always interesting! They were actually pretty inviting in the Philippines, and the people were very friendly and warm too! Blessings to you as well!

  2. The London Secret | 5th Feb 16

    I normally find ‘perfect’ quite boring and it can be interesting to see the less polished parts of the world. It might not be the best beach town in the World (I haven’t been there, but you don’t seem too overly impressed), but it’s a part of the World and I guess that it’s interesting to see something different.

    It’s hard to not start comparing between previous travels (I’m really struggling with that at the moment), since it will most likely be a nicer/better/more interesting place somewhere else. In either way, you seem to have had a good time in El Nido.

    • Words of a Wanderer | 5th Feb 16

      You’re right- perfect can be boring! It was definitely interesting to this part of the Philippines (especially a part that is often raved about), but it just wasn’t my place. It’s typically very easy for me to make connections to every place I travel to, but that was hard for me in El Nido! I’m just starting to realize that I may not absolutely fall in LOVE with every place I visit… and that’s ok!

      And you do bring up a good point… it’s so easy to always compare a place to somewhere else you’ve been. I do think it’s interesting to compare places to get others’ perspective, but I too need to remind myself to just enjoy places for what they are!

  3. Leticia Perez | 6th Feb 16

    Interesting view of El Nido. I’ve been reading a lot about Philippines lately and people tend to portray it as a bit too touristy but amazing beach. I guess the shabby chic label fits perfectly 🙂

  4. Aileen | 6th Feb 16

    I’m from the Philippines and I know exactly what you mean in this article! 😀 The way I would put it is that: “there’s beauty in chaos”. Anyhow, I’m happy to hear that you loved El Nido! Did you manage to go to Coron too?

    • Words of a Wanderer | 7th Feb 16

      Aileen, I agree- there’s definitely beauty in chaos and that’s a great way to describe the Philippines. I DID make it to Coron, and LOVED IT. The hot springs was amazing, and Mt. Tapyas and all the things around Coron are just beautiful. So glad I went!

  5. Elaine J. Masters | 6th Feb 16

    I’ve known about shabby chic interiors and furnishings but never thought of it for a destination. Some places are full of contrasts of high and low, evolving and diminishing. It’s all wonderful.

  6. Laura | 10th Feb 16

    I’m planning a trip to the Philippines so this is really interesting. Not looking forward to the fried chicken smell but the beach does look really pretty!

    • Words of a Wanderer | 14th Feb 16

      Awesome!! I bet you’ll have a great time. If you do go to El Nido, check out Marimegmeg Beach.. it’s absolutely gorgeous!

  7. 7 Wonders of Coron, Philippines | Words of a Wanderer | 8th Mar 16

    […] in Coron after a nauseating 5-hour boat ride from El Nido. Although El Nido is a hot destination, Coron felt cozier, cleaner, and less cramped, and I was glad we had opted to […]

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