The Philippines has always been just a small speck on my radar. I wanted to visit, but had so many other places that were higher on my list. Then I moved to Korea, and learned that not only were the Philippines easy to get to from my new home base, but everyone and their mother was traveling there now!
People around the world have been taking notice of the Philippines, El Nido and the island of Palawan in particular. CNN rated El Nido as one of the top 100 beaches in the world, Conde Nast Traveler ranked Palawan as the Number 1 island in the world, and Huffington Post wrote about how Palawan is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Even Johnny Depp wants to visit El Nido, so it must be beautiful, you know because celebrities go there!
El Nido is an archipelago of 45 islands and islets. From pockets of white sand beaches, to secret lagoons and hidden sinkholes. It is necessary to explore the islands when you visit El Nido.
This is where the Island Hopping Tours come in.
Everyone from big businesses to restaurants to that guy on the corner’s Grandma can set you up on an island hopping tour. For the most part, there are 4 tours and they are all the same; A, B, C and D.
They each take a different route and stop at various locations in the archipelago. It really doesn’t matter which company you join a tour with, Tour A is Tour A and Tour C is Tour C.
The island hopping tours are the perfect combination of adventure, relaxation and food!
We only took one tour, Tour A, which explores the area around Miniloc and Simizu Islands
Stop 1 – Small Lagoon
We carefully swam through the crystal clear water over some sharp coral and entered the small lagoon through a 6 foot wide entrance. The lagoon is quite small (especially with all of the people) but fun to swim around. The water in the lagoon is turquoise and has a group of territorial fish that bite!
Stop 2 – Lunch on Simizu Island
This is the island that all of the boats come to for lunch. There is a small BBQ pit where everyone was cooking their fish. At first, the beach was packed – there was barely room to sit! But the vibe was actually quite enjoyable. Everyone was drinking beer and getting excited about the delicious food that was coming. The ice cream man even showed up. Yes, a boat pulled up and a guy got out with a cooler filled with ice cream. Brilliant.
Our crew did all of the cooking on the boat and so it took them a long time. Slowly, many of the boats started to leave and we were one of the last groups left on the island! That was the only moment of the tour that we got to enjoy an island in isolation!
Stop 3 – Snorkeling Stop near Simizu
We just anchored the boat near some island and did some snorkeling.
Stop 4 – Hidden Lagoon and Secret Beach
The hidden lagoon was pretty cool. We had to crawl through a small entrance, with sharp rocks and crashing waves, which opened up into an almost perfectly circular pool. The lagoon was filled with waist deep, cold, turquoise water.
Stop 5 – Big Lagoon
No swimming or exploring the big lagoon. The boat enters a narrow canal, where we got stuck on a few rocks and almost collided with other boats! At the end of the canal is a large blue lagoon surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is pretty cool to be inside!
Stop 6 – Seven Commandos Beach
Seven Commandos Beach is a beautiful white sand beach, with a bar (drinks 4x more than anywhere else) and a few chairs. It took the boat 10 minutes to “find a parking spot” because there were so many boats at this island, and the stop was kind of unnecessary (in my opinion). The beach was nice, but it was too crowded, it was the end of the day and everyone was tired!
I loved exploring the islands near El Nido, but to be totally transparent, there are some problems with the island hopping tours.
Tourism is growing so hard and fast in El Nido, more and more people are going on island hopping tours and more and more boats are launching each day. Since each tour is the same, you can imagine that the areas visited get pretty crowded. At one of our stops (the small lagoon) I counted 24 boats.
24 boats x 14 people in a boat = a shit ton of people
It was kind of ironic that all of the stops were called “Hidden” or “Secret”, yet there was always a minimum of 5 boats and 50 people at each stop. Clearly the islands no longer live up to their names!
As tourism continues to grow, the people running these tours will need to do something to create some sort of order and schedule for the high demand!
There is a way to do some exploring in a more isolated way. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate for us, and we were unable to get back in a boat to explore other islands! Next time!
A few companies offer different tours that don’t follow the same route as the popular four:
- El Gordo’s Action Adventures lead 1-3 day kayaking tours of the islands. Each tour is private and catered to you. You can pretty much sit with Gordo and plan your ideal trip!
- Pura Vida Inn leads tours similar to A, B, C and D, but stop at different islands that Wolfgang, the owner, as scoped out.
- There are lots of people with boats that will take you to other islands for the day or night.
Despite the crowds, El Nido is still one of the most beautiful places I have visited. My biggest recommendation would be to do at least one island hopping tour. Then ask around to find someone with a boat who will take you on your own tour, or just drop you off on an island!