With over 7600 islands the Philippines are a paradise for island hopping. So yes, it can be quiet a challenge to choose which one of those picturesque places will make the run. For me that meant a lot of research in advance, searching Pinterest for the best recommendations, scrolling through Instagram to find the “must visit” places and most beautiful photo spots. But in the end El Nido in the Palawan region was the winner!
El Nido in Palawan is besides Cebu and Siargao one of the most popular places for tourists and travelers and also one of the fastest growing areas. Among the hundred islands around the little town there are four different tours, Tour A, B, C and D, to choose from and to see the outstanding beauty and scenery of this part of the world.
Each one of those island hopping tours goes out to different islands and snorkel reefs such as the famous Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon but also to not so well known places like Helicopter Island, different fascinating caves and sandbanks like on Snake Island. Going to those places seems like leaving the world behind for a day before returning back to El Nido. However where there are beautiful things to see, crowds of tourists and „Wanna be Instagram celebrities“ are not far so keep on reading if you wanna know more about the different tours as well as how to beat the crowds at the famous sights.
About El Nido and how to get here
El Nido is a little town on the northern shores of Palawan Island, which is around 1,5 hours south of Manila by plane. The town has many cute little shops with typical Philippians souvenirs as well as lot´s of restaurants and bars, some of them with sea view and direct beach access.
Locals are very friendly and helpful and it is so easy to get around the area. Tuk Tuks are everywhere and offer you rides to every place you wanna go for cheap rates.
(For example my friend and I stayed in a hostel ten minutes outside of town. For a ride we would always pay around 50Pesos, which is around 1USD) Some people would say that it is still a lot for Philippine standards, however we did not want to negotiate with the drivers all the time as it was still crazy cheap for us and did not hurt at all.
Another option would be to rent a scooter, which is the best way to get around the area. Rental companies are everywhere in El Nido and rates are500Pesos (9,80USD) for 24 hours.
Getting to El Nido
There are several ways of traveling to El Nido. The most simple one is by plane as flights arrive from Manila and everywhere in the Philippines to El Nido airport.
Many people also fly in to Puerto Princesa in the middle of Palawan Island and take a van up to El Nido which takes around four to five hours. The drive is truly beautiful and will show you many beautiful sigths of the island, coastlines and palm tree fields, and the local way of life. The van is the fastest and most conveniend way to get to El Nido and costs 500Pesos.
It is also worth to stay in Puerto Princesa a day or two and to visit the worlds longest Subterrain Underground River.
Another way of coming to El Nido is by ferry from the neighboor islands and Coron town. The ride from Coron to El Nido takes around four hours in a speed boat and costs between 1000 and 1300Pesos. Don´t forget your travel medications because the ferry ride can be very bumpy and many people are getting sick on the boat.
Coron is also another wonderful place to visit in the Philippines. It is very famous for the many lagoons and big natural lakes between huge limestone cliffs.
The decision of skipping Tour A and the famous Big Lagoon
Sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices and rethink your priorities. Especially when you travel and are short on time it is important to know what you expect from your trip and what is important to you.
For my friend and I it was important to get that remote feeling being on different islands and secluded beaches without crowds of other travelers and being able to enjoy those peaceful places.
Which tour to take?
We found out soon that Tour A, which takes people to the famous Big and Small Lagoon and Secret Lagoon, would not give us what we were looking for. The majority of people is attracted by those famous sights and the fact that it is Tour „A“ that the lagoons are overcrowded every day by tourists and can not provide that remote feeling unless you go very early in the morning to those places with a private tour. If you are a group of people private tours can be organized with every tour company in El Nido, which are of course way more expensive, but can take you to every place you wanna go before the regular tour groups arrive.
Private tours in El Nido are far more expensive than in Coron town.
We would have loved to do a private island hopping tour, however we were short on time and weren´t familiar yet organizing a private tour. So we decide to postpone it until we are in Coron and in the end decided for Tour B, which was the best decision we made.
Popular places are not the only places
Not the famous signs do always promise the best experience. Sometimes the not so well known places provide us with the most greatest highlights and are far more worth going.
Think about it, how many times have you seen the typical tourist traps in pictures and on Instagram and actually you do already know how those „famous“ places look like. Why not discovering somewhere no one has been before instead of following the mass? And i guarantee you will get as beautiful pictures for your IG account as those who follow a „trend“ just to say they have been where everyone else went before.
Island hopping, palm trees, sand banks and Rum and Coconuts
Tour B started for us at 9 in the morning with a walk through high water to our shoulders, until we reached our boat. Thankfully we are tall girls so we could carry our stuff over our head which was already a fun start.
Bring a dry bag for your stuff and a water proofed case for your phone!
If you don´t have those a lot of locals are selling them on the beach and in the shops.
Entalula Beach and Snake Island
First stop after twenty minutes on the boat is Entalula Beach which will give you straight away the perfect remote beach feeling. It is one of those postcard beaches with its pure white sand, rock formations and clear water with its different shades of turquoise and blue. You can relax in the sun and feel the warm sand under your feet and drink a delicious coconut. Maybe bring your own bottle of rum and mix your own personal island cocktail!
That will for sure give you the ultimate island feeling! 🙂
After the beach the tour takes you to a beautiful sandbar of Snake Island that lies in the ocean. Let me tell you that it is as beautiful as you imagine walking on a thin slices of sand surrounded by water. And don´t worry, Snake Island itself has no snakes at all. But a beautiful look out point with great views across the surrounding islands and the sand bank.
To be honest, I was a bid sceptical about the next island hopping stop, the Cudugnon Cave. Thinking about a cave you always imagine a dark place with not much to see and bats flying around. Well you will be surprise that the Cudugnon Cave is far away from that cliché. It can be only accessed by water, the boats will park at the „entrance“ which is a tiny little slit that you have to crawl through to the other site. Once you have made it you are within the cave with high rock formations and daylight coming in from the open top, which makes this place look magical. Although it is a very small cave it is so pretty and worth to see.
The last stop of the tour was my absolute highlight of the day!
Pinagbuyutan Island is a massive tall rock mountain which a small beach area at the bottom and a beautiful field full of palm trees and high grass. You can even snorkel around the shore and watch beautiful corals and fish. With the high rocks in the background and the tall palm trees it looks like a perfect island that you would only imagine in your dreams. Yet it is real and exists in the Philippines.
And I can tell you that it will be hard to leave this place behind and return to reality at the end of the day.
There is more to see if you bring more time
All together Tour B has everything you can ask for when looking for a beautiful island hopping day tour in El Nido.
As mentioned before Tour A includes some of the most famous lagoons in the Philippines but is definitely more worth to visit with a private tour to beat the crowds. And if you don´t have enough yet and wanna see it all check out Tour C and Tour D as well that will take you to more stunning places around El Nido like Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Cadlao Lagoon and Paradise Beach.
A little but important note to add
This has not been mentioned a lot online about the Philippines but just to make sure you have an amazing trip here is a friendly advise to watch out with food you eat, especially with meat and sea food. It might not happen to you, however we have met many travelers who would suffer food poisoning and not feeling well while traveling through the Philippines. Of course I do not wish that to happen to any traveler so always be careful with food and tab water.
I hope I could give you many helpful tips and inspirations for your trip to El Nido and the island hopping tours available. Definitely it is a place that should be on your list when traveling to this part of the world and I can´t wait to come back in the future! Have you started planning your trip or have you already been to the Philippines?
Let me know in the comments below and which places you would recommend to visit! 🙂
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