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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Further reading: 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!