ASIA ISLAND GUIDES PHILIPPINES

EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES: ULTIMATE ISLAND HOPPING DAY TOUR GUIDE

May 7, 2018
EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES: ULTIMATE ISLAND HOPPING DAY TOUR GUIDE

El Nido has quickly become one of the top tropical destinations in 2018, mostly thanks to the absolutely stunning landscapes and images that have gone viral all over Instagram. After having the Philippines on my “must visit” list for far too long, I was able to finally go and spend two blissful weeks island hopping. One of my favorite stops was El Nido, and in this article I’m excited to share what makes this remote island worthy of all the hype!

DAY TRIPPING IN EL NIDO

The best way to see the sites of El Nido is by sea, so I made sure to book two full day tours with plenty of island hopping stops. After my great experience with Corazon Tours in Puerto Princesa, I was thrilled to see that they offered tours with a partner operator in El Nido as well. Just like their tours in Puerto Princesa, Corazon’s El Nido partners were right on time, provided transportation, and were significantly less crowded than many of the other tour boats I saw!

Tour Options: Easy as ABCD

All the tour agencies offer one of four set El Nido island hopping itineraries, simply labeled as “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”. We also heard rumors of a party focused Tour Z, so be sure to ask around if a party boat is more your speed. The general consensus is the best are Tours A and C, so we did one of these each day with Corazon.

We were originally planning to do Tour A our first day, but the weather was nice and calm so the tour operator suggested to do Tour C instead. Tour C is more active and snorkel focused, and can often get cancelled if the weather turns bad or the seas are rough, so we followed their suggestion and went off on Tour C on our beautiful day!

Day 1: El Nido Tour C

The tour arranged a 9 am pick up from our hotel and drove us to their office, which is conveniently located just outside the main El Nido town. You meet your guides and fellow guests for the day and walk directly to the beach. While the captain sorts the paperwork and loads the boat with supplies, you can wander around the beautiful beach, take some nice morning pictures, and make friends with the local dogs who call the beach home!

There are several impressive stops along Tour C, so I have outlined them below so you know what to expect. Tour C consists of stops in Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Talisay Island, Matinloc Shrine, and Hidden Beach:

Helicopter Island

  • Time To The Location: 20 minutes from port
  • Time At The Location: 30-60 minutes

Your first stop with be Dilumacad Island, also known as Helicopter Island because it looks like a helicopter without a propeller. Large mountains rise out from the sea and provide a beautiful beach to relax on. It also has great snorkeling, so be sure to bring your mask and fins! There is a roped off area for snorkelers and the visibility is great.

Secret Beach

  • Time To The Location: 20-30 minutes from Helicopter Island
  • Time At The Location: 30-40 minutes

Next stop was the appropriately named “Secret Beach” stop, which cannot be seen from the water. Instead, the boat moors and you jump off with your guide, who will lead you to a small opening in the rocks. After going through this small gap, the space opens and you are treated to a beautiful beach (though, given the number of tourists when we were there, I think it is no longer much of a “secret”). You can walk around the rock pools and relax on the beach. This was also one of the most photogenic stops on the tour, so be sure to bring a dry bag or a waterproof camera!

Talisay Island

  • Time To The Location: 5 minutes from Secret Beach
  • Time At The Location: 1 hour

Talisay Island is a quick ride across the water from Secret Beach. When you pictured the remote deserted islands of El Nido in your head, Talisay Island is probably what you imagined. There are little inlets for boats to dock so you can have some privacy and beach space all to yourself.

Talisay Island is also where we enjoyed our lunch, which was freshly made by our captain off the back of the boat and consisted of grilled fish, chicken, vegetables, and fruit. If you ever got stuck on a deserted island, this is the place you would want to be! It was nice to take it slow, enjoy some great local food and explore the pristine beach and blue water.

Matinloc Shrine

  • Time To The Location: 5 minutes from Talisay Island
  • Time At The Location: 30 minutes

Matinloc Shrine is an abandoned building located near Talisay Island and makes for an easy stop to explore. However, on our tour I misheard our captain when he asked if we wanted to go to the “shrine” and instead thought he said on the “ride”. Not wanting to go on a ride, or stopping to think about what a ride would be doing in the middle of the island tour, I politely declined only to find out later he meant the shrine… Oops!

Hidden Beach

  • Time To The Location: 15 minutes from Maninloc Shrine
  • Time At The Location: 30 minutes

Our last stop was Hidden Beach, which was another breathtaking white sand beauty. After a short swim over some sharp rocks (water shoes are a good idea!), you arrive on the beach that looks straight from a movie set.

It is worth noting that some people do Tour C in reverse, starting with Hidden Beach and ending with Helicopter Island. It’s worth asking your boat captain which route he recommends to minimize the number of tourists, as some of the boats have 20-30 people, so avoiding them is best to have a less crowded tour!

Tour C is a wonderful and busy day mostly based around swimming and snorkeling. It’s more physically active than Tour A, so give some thought to what order you want to do the more relaxed Tour A before or active Tour C.

Day 2: El Nido Tour A

After a very successful first day tour, I was very excited to wake up and get going for the other highly recommended route in El Nido for Tour A. It followed the same morning schedule as Tour C, with a 9 am pickup to meet at the office and head out for the boat. We got especially lucky on this tour as we were the only people on our boat! While it’s no guarantee, the tours arranged by Corazon did have far fewer people than many of the other overcrowded boats we saw along the way, so this was a very welcome bonus.

Tour A is a more relaxed than Tour C, with less snorkeling and more time exploring the various lagoons and beaches. Tour A makes stops at the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commandos Island.

Small Lagoon

  • Time To The Location: 20 minutes from port
  • Time At The Location: 30-60 minutes

Your first stop with be the Small Lagoon, with its stunning bright blue and hidden crevices to explore. As soon as you arrive in the Small Lagoon, you will be offered a kayak for rental to explore the area for 400 PHP. I highly recommend doing this, as the lagoon is actually pretty large despite its name. The kayak enables you to explore the entire small lagoon which is simply breathtaking!

If you do get a kayak, I recommend seeing if one of the captains from your boat can join to show you around. Initially I was hoping to be on the kayak with just my boyfriend, but after exploring with the guide I was so happy he came along! The local guides know all the best hidden spots, and he was able to guide us into some incredibly narrow caves and secret areas we never would have found on our own.

Big Lagoon

  • Time To The Location: 5 minutes
  • Time At The Location: 30-40 minutes

Next on the boat tour is the Big Lagoon, which is equally as impressive as the Small Lagoon. This is one of the quintessential spots in El Nido, with the massive limestone cliffs arising from the middle of the shallow green-blue water. You can also rent kayaks here and paddle around, but we opted to explore from the comfort of the boat. Jump off the boat, have a swim or a quick snorkel, and relax in one of the most beautiful locations in the world!

Secret Lagoon

  • Time To The Location: 10 minutes
  • Time At The Location: 30 minutes

A quick ride around the bay will bring you to your third lagoon of the day, the Secret Lagoon. You will dock on the beach and be led through a small cave, which opens up into the beautiful lagoon. If possible, try to arrive a little before or after the rest of the large tour groups, because there can be a good sized line trying to get through the narrow cave! We patiently waited for a large group to exit the gap and were rewarded by having the lagoon all to ourselves!

Shimizu Island

  • Time To The Location: 10 minutes
  • Time At The Location: 60 minutes

All the morning lagoon hopping is sure to work up an appetite, so we headed to Shimizu Island for our lunch stop. The island has many little beaches scattered around it, so our boat captain was able to find a prime spot all to ourselves. They prepared the same lunch as the previous day which was excellent, consisting of an entire grilled fish, chicken, rice, vegetables, and fresh fruit. This is also an excellent spot for photos, so use the extra down time to snag a few good shots!

7 Commandos Island

  • Time To The Location: 15 minutes
  • Time At The Location: 30-60 minutes

Our last stop was 7 Commandos Island, which is another excellent beach to relax and take photos. There is a little stand selling snacks and drinks, so you can easily grab a Red Horse, the Philippines’ strong but tasty beer, find a spot on the beach, and work on your tan. It was the perfect lazy end to another adventurous day!

PLANNING YOUR DAY TRIPS

As mentioned, I highly recommend booking your day trips through Corazon Tours. Their El Nido partners were just as good as their tours in Puerto Princesa, and the boats were significantly less crowded than the other tours we saw.

  • Book the El Nido tours with Corazon here. Prices range from 1,200 to 1,400 PHP ($23 to $27 USD) per person depending on tour route.

HOW TO GET TO EL NIDO

EL Nido is most easily accessed by shared van from Puerto Princesa, which is a 5-6 hour ride and costs about 800 php ($15 USD) per person. We arranged our van with Corazon Tours, which was well organized, arrived on time and drove safely. We left around 10 am, made a stop for lunch at a surprisingly photogenic restaurant serving local food overlooking the beach, and arrived in El Nido around 4 pm. The van dropped us off directly at our accomodation which was a great bonus.

One tip is see if you can sit in the first row of seats behind the driver. This gives you extra leg room and minimizes any car sick feelings you might have, though the drive was relatively straight.

Other options include booking a private car to take you from Puerto Princesa, but this would be significantly more expensive in exchange for more comfort and the ability to stop at any other destinations along the way. El Nido also has a small airport serviced by a few local carriers from Manila, Cebu, and Boracay. If you are coming from Coron, I recommend Montenegro Fast Boats, which we took after leaving El Nido for Coron.

WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO

We booked our accommodation last minute, so the only remaining options were either expensive resorts or lower budget properties. We opted for CED Villas, which was basic but well priced at about $40/night. The property is located about 20 minutes outside of town, but they offer a free tricycle service whenever you want a ride into town, and hiring a ride back is only about 150 PHP ($3 USD). Also, it meant the property was extremely quiet at night, and we heard most people who stayed in the center of town complain how noisy their hotels were. The wifi was relatively non-existent, but this is the case for most of El Nido which is why I highly recommend running off of a local SIM card hotspot (either Globe or Smart).

WHERE TO EAT IN EL NIDO

Food options are somewhat lacking in El Nido, but there are some decent spots if you hunt around. By far the best was Altrove, which is a great pizza place located in town. Word is out about this one, because there can be a serious line by 7 pm, so try to arrive for your dinner early. They also have a location in Coron if you go up there and are craving a good wood fired pizza.

For an after dinner snack, be sure to go to Gusto Gelato, which was some of the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy. They had some amazing flavor options and was the perfect way to cool down on a warm evening.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY IN EL NIDO

I would suggest three nights in El Nido. Be sure to budget 1 day for Tour A and 1 day for Tour C. Any extra days can be used for lesser known Tours B or D, or you can visit Nacpan beach for a land based day trip.

I hope this article gave you a good idea of what to expect on your El Nido day trips and inspired you to visit one of the most beautiful island destinations in the Philippines!


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We Are Travel Girls Founder & Editor Becky van Dijk of BeckyvanDijk.com
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I took both my tours with Corazon on a complementary basis, as always all opinions are my own and reflect my true experience on the day trips. This website is a free resource and to keep it free for our readers we may use affiliate links in our articles. Please see our Disclosures for more information.

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