Island Hopping Around El Nido
If you’ve ever heard anything about El Nido in Palawan before, you will have more than likely heard amazing things about the island hopping around Bacuit Bay. From exploring pristine white sand beaches to snorkelling through limestone lagoons all the way to enjoying an ice cold San Miguel with barbequed fish on an uninhabited island, Bacuit Bay in El Nido surpassed all expectations.
Imagine making a 5 Hour minibus journey, reaching your destination, realising you only just have enough money for your accommodation, but then absolutely zero left for food. Then to be told the nearest ATM was exactly where you had just come from, 5 hours in the other direction! That’s exactly the situation we found ourselves in when we arrived in El Nido. What a nightmare.
Luckily, we were staying in a homestay in El Nido with a very understanding owner. It’s fair to say that Gordo (owner of El Gordo’s) got us out of a bit of a hole. He offered to give us our cash back, which we paid for our stay if we paid him via PayPal. There was also the option to get cash back from one of our credit cards. Cash on a credit card would have been hardly ideal due to the costs, so we were more than grateful to Gordo. **Good news – apparently there is an ATM in El Nido as of October 2015**
The actual town of El Nido is unlikely to be described as a place of beauty. However, in my eyes there was a certain charm to the town that has yet to be ruined through over development. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that tourism has definitely started to get a hold of the town, with the island hopping around the breathtakingly scenic Bacuit Bay becoming increasingly popular. The actual town of El Nido may not be so easy on the eye, but tourists don’t visit El Nido for the town, they visit as it’s the main gateway to Bacuit Bay. The island hopping is incredibly popular, but I wouldn’t say it’s at the level as other places in South East Asia, such as the massively overcrowded Maya Bay in Thailand. Now is a great time to get yourself to El Nido!
Island Hopping Around El Nido
The idea exploring the striking limestone lagoons and relaxing on picture perfect beaches was the main reason we made the 5-hour mini bus journey from Puerto Princesca to El Nido. We were originally planning to catch a private boat to one of the islands in Bacuit Bay and spend the day exploring and relaxing on a deserted beach with a few beers. Our experiences in the rest of South East Asia where organised tours had been absolutely rammed with big groups of tourists, had put us off the idea of booking our island hopping through a tour company in El Nido.
After totting up the prices for just the two of us to take a private boat to give us a ride to one of the islands in Bacuit Bay and back to El Nido, we quickly eliminated that idea and we gave into the fact that we were going to have to join one of the organised tours if we were to see any of Bacuit Bay. I would say though, if you are in a group of 4 or more, it may be worth hiring a private boat.
As you can probably imagine, there are a number of tour agencies which offer specialised organised tours around Bacuit Bay. The tours offered at the different agencies are all very similar in terms of their structure, if not identical. We ended up booking our tour through El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe. The choices available through this tour agent are as follows;
- Tour A – Snorkel around the Small and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, Simisu Island and Seven Commando Beach (can also be done as a kayak tour)
- Tour B – Tour to Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Lagen Island, Inabuyutan Island and Cathedral Cave
- Tour C – Snorkel tour around Mantiloc and Tapiutan Island with a visit to the Secret Beach
The main reason we decided we would book through El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe was down to the fact that they accepted credit card as payment and we were running low on cash, so every little helped.
After a little bit of research and asking around we eventually decided upon booking Tour A. The tour set us back ₱1200 ($26) each (which included lunch) + ₱100 ($2.15) rental for mask and snorkel rental, ₱100 ($2.15) for fin rental and ₱200 ($4.30) for the environmental fee which is required to explore Bacuit Bay (valid for 10 days). In total, the tour including all the extras cost us both ₱1600 ($34.70) each.
Island Hopping – Tour A
Although we had booked the tour and paid for everything, to be honest, we were still a bit apprehensive. We were under the impression that the tour would be incredibly ‘touristy’ and each stopover would involve massive crowds of other travellers.
In order to do our best to avoid the crowds, we booked to go on the first tour of the day.
We made our way to El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe at around 8:30 am to begin the tour, after a bit of sorting out our gear for the tour, we were finally on our way to our first island stop off. In terms of the tour being ruined through overcrowding, I would definitely say that we were wrong. Most of the tour agents take the same route throughout the day, so it was impossible for us to be going anywhere that was totally deserted. Luckily it looked like our tour was one of the first to set off in the morning, so in turn, we were the first ones to reach the majority of the stop overs.
Imagine the most amazing scenery consisting of islands formed with limestone cliffs as far as the eye can see, beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear water which makes for amazing snorkelling. That is exactly what you will experience exploring the breathtaking Bacuit Bay.
The beaches in South East Asia can be amazing, especially the Filipino beaches and more specifically Seven Commando beach looked like something which has been taken directly from a postcard. Sometimes when you see pictures of a place beforehand, the expectations can often be set too high and the reality can be a letdown, this was definitely not the case with Seven Commando Beach!
El Nido & Island Hopping Tour Tips –
- Book the first tour of the day to avoid the crowds.
- Book a tour which includes lunch, it can be a long day and a freshly barbequed fish is usually a lot more appetising than a warm sandwich which has been in your bag all day.
- Make sure you bear in mind that your belongings will get wet during the tour, after all, you are on a boat in the sea all day, so bring a waterproof camera (for example a GoPro) and a waterproof bag for your belongings.
- Bring a pair of aqua shoes if you have a pair. I didn’t have a pair and the trip did involve walking over sharp rocks to reach the shore (not ideal when you are wearing a pair of flip flops and impossible to do in bare feet).