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Island Hopping in El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines

There are 4 things you should look for when considering island hopping in El Nido, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia:

1: Nice beaches: If the beaches aren’t nicer than the one you’re staying on then what’s the point?

2: Blindingly blue, clear water to swim and snorkel in.

3: Interesting island scenery. You’ll spend a lot of time looking out the side of the boat, so it better be attractive!

4: The boat: You don’t want to share your experience (and lunch) with 50 other people, being herded from one sight to the next whether you’re ready or not.

Island hopping in El Nido excels on all of those points, so if you’re travelling to the Philippines you should seriously consider putting it towards the top of your list.

Setting Sail

We woke up to strong winds and rain – I almost thought we’d wandered straight into a typhoon. Visiting El Nido in June, the low season, probably isn’t the best idea, but the weather eventually cleared enough for us to set sail (or set motor, I’m not sure if that’s a term though) towards the beautiful Bacuit archipelago, home to secret beaches, hidden lagoons and mysterious islands.

Learning to snorkel

I’ve never been a big fan of deep water, so whenever an opportunity to snorkel came up I’d usually decline. Once we pulled into what they call “the small lagoon” I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the Maldives-like blue water, so I grabbed the snorkel and mask and hopped in. I could touch the bottom, so I knew that even if I didn’t float properly I wouldn’t drown.  It took about 2 seconds of floating along and breathing through the snorkel to realise there really isn’t anything to be scared of. We snorkelled along for a while until we reached a small cave, and although I hardly saw any fish it was one of my best water experiences I’ve had.

Snorkeling in a small lagoon in the Bacuit archipelago, El Nido, Palawan, The PhilippinesSnorkeling while island hopping in El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

The Beaches of the Bacuit Archipelago

We stopped off at a few beaches, each one unique in it’s own way. The water was pretty rough, so walking from the boat to the beach sometimes required great powers of concentration, but the quiet beaches more than made up for it. The beaches were quite small and there wasn’t much chance to explore the interiors of the islands, but there are worse ways to spend a few hours than lazing around on perfect Philippine beaches. There was also a hidden lagoon which we accessed via a small passage through the rocks.

A beach during an island hopping in El Nido tour in Palawan, The PhilippinesIsland hopping in El Nido - clear blue water

Perhaps the biggest attraction when island hopping in El Nido is the beach that inspired the book The Beach. Everyone seems to rave about it, but the water was too rough so we had to miss it. It was quite disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll be back!

Towards the end of the tour we stopped at an abandoned religious retreat/shrine and climbed up a few steps to see a great view of the water and islands below. We had it all to ourselves; in fact all the beaches we stopped at were really quiet (but there were quite a few people snorkeling at the lagoon). Island hopping in El Nido was very peaceful compared to the trips I did in Langkawi and Phuket.

Matinloc ilsand, a stop during the island hopping in El Nido tour, Palawan, The Philippines

Island Hopping in El Nido: The tours

You’ll see businesses peddling island hopping tours all over El Nido, but by the sounds of it they are all pretty much the same. There are 4 main tours to choose from – tours A and C being almost universally recommended. A better way to do it though, assuming you aren’t on your own, is to hire a boat for the day.  It was around 4500 pesos and there were only 2 of us, so if you have a bigger group (up to 10 people) it’ll work out cheaper than booking one of the tours, and you’ll have complete control over where you go. We combined tour A and C into 1 big trip – which gave us an extra day to relax in El Nido town and its mainland beaches.

El Nido is one of the nicer tourist towns in Southeast Asia and the island hopping is the best I’ve experienced in Southeast Asia so far. There is much more to the area though, so spend a few days and explore! If I went back there I’d also check out nearby Coron — you can catch a ferry to Coron from El Nido and it looks like an amazing place!

Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan - Helicopter island

READ MORE: Palawan was recently named the best island in the world! Do you agree?

Have you been island hopping in El Nido, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. July 8, 2014 at 1:33 am — Reply

    You can’t go wrong with a beach photo essay. The water looks so inviting. Great pics!

  2. October 4, 2014 at 12:38 am — Reply

    My motherland! It’s a shame I’ve never been having lived in Northern America and done most of my traveling around here and in Europe. A looming return is mandatory and I’ve got my eyes set on Palawan. Did you find it expensive?

    • March 5, 2015 at 5:18 pm — Reply

      Hey Trish, you should definitely try and get to Palawan! It wasn’t too expensive, pretty much the same as other places in the Philippines that I’ve been to.

  3. Myra
    June 28, 2015 at 6:24 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon!

    I am so happy whenever I read foreigners having the time of their lives in our country. Your pictures are soooo beautiful!! I can’t wait to travel their soon in August. I just want to ask, where did you hire a boat for the island tour? We are a group of 6 so I think that would be the best option. Did they provide lunch too? I hope to hear from you soon.

  4. September 26, 2016 at 9:21 am — Reply

    Shame you didn’t get too much time to visit inside the islands, seen some other photos it’s amazing, for next time!

  5. Liza
    December 27, 2016 at 5:05 am — Reply

    Hi! Thanks for the tips! How did you find your private boat? Just asking around, or did your hotel arrange it? If you liked your captain and boat, do you mind sharing their info? We rather have private and comfortable over staying in a budget.

    • December 27, 2016 at 9:48 am — Reply

      Hey Liza, we got our hotel to organise it (Talindak Beach Cottages). It’s a great way to do it!

      • Liza
        December 27, 2016 at 9:57 am — Reply

        Ah, thanks for the advice!

  6. Priscila
    January 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon
    So, June/July – did it rain every day? When it did, is it the whole day or just for a few hours? It didn’t spoil your trip, did it?

    • January 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm — Reply

      It didn’t rain all the time and we had plenty of decent weather — it’s always a risk though. In general I recommend low season travel with the exception of beach / nature destinations — beaches never look as good under grey skies and obviously you don’t want to be out in nature while it’s raining.

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