What’s El Nido without island-hopping on the neighbouring islands? Taking on El Nido’s Tour A is definitely essential when you’re here.
There are a million tour companies (okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point) offering tours around El Nido, but the main tours that are offered in El Nido are Tour A, B, C and D. There is also a Tour E, which brings you around the town’s island itself and you get to discover attractions that are on the El Nido island itself, such as waterfalls. They pretty much cover the same spots, except they are operated by different tour companies.
I chose to book ahead and go along with Tour A.
Tour A starts with one of the tour guides picking me promptly at 8:30am on a motorbike directly from my hotel to the main beach on El Nido Town Proper.
After waiting for close to 20 minutes for the rest of the tour members to assemble, we were ready to set off!.
I sat in a boat of over 20 people, mostly Filipinos from Manila, and also the friendly tour guides who constantly engaged us and made small talks throughout the day to explain the history of El Nido to us. I did wish that the tour group was smaller in size.
Upon embarking, there were some rules that were set in place:
- Wearing life vest at all times, especially close to the pier at El Nido Town, as there are coastguards on patrol
- Waterproof footwear is strongly encouraged as there are plenty of sharp rocks and sea urchins on the seabed.
Not all tours provide snorkelling masks, but thankfully this Tour A package covers complimentary usage of snorkelling masks, so there was no need to bring my own.
To better equip yourself (and prevent any unnecessary exploitation by your tour operators, check with your them in advance when you book to see what equipment and services are included and excluded before beginning your tour. This includes things might include shuttle service to and from your hotel, and the extra 200 pesos/USD4 payment for the El Nido Eco Tourism Development Fee.
With that, let’s begin our El Nido Tour A adventure!
Island hopping with El Nido, Palawan’s Tour A
1. Seven Commandos Beach
This sun-kissed beach had a bit of everything you could ask for. For the relaxed beach-goer, there is an area by the beach that is cordoned off for swimming, away from the boats. Tourists tanning on picnic mats and strolling on the white sands along the coast were common sights along the beach. Grab a beer or some snacks while you chill in one of the huts on the island next to the coconut trees.
What makes this beach different from others is the existence of the tree swing! If you’re a bit of a daredevil (like me), get your ass on the swing that’s hung on a tree bark, and hop off from the trunk into the horizon!
I had equally as much fun challenging myself on the gymnastic rings hanging from one of the tree barks to do pull ups and inverting myself.
There is also a little picturesque spot on the island where sand sculptures are set up for you to take pictures with. It belongs to a photography company, with their own photographers to take pictures for you. It costs about 100 pesos/USD 2 per person.
2. Big Lagoon
Continuing our island-hopping escapade, we next headed to the famous Big Lagoon. The boat slowly inched its way towards the opening of the Big Lagoon, so unsuspectingly that I was caught in awe when we moved through the narrow entrance of the lagoon. You would not have guessed what this lagoon contained within the big rocks that enclose it!
The dark blue waters suddenly transforms into various hues of green, made even more vibrant from the sunny skies. The change in colour is due to the sudden drop in the depth of the ocean bed.
The lagoon is enclosed by beautiful ash-grey rock formations, and the boats take turns to tour the bay slowly, allowing guests to get a better glimpse of the surrounding waters, cliffs and rocks. Everyone was busy scampering to the front of the boat for their winning shots.
If you’re lucky enough, you can stop to kayak around the area too. There are some shallow parts of the water away from the boats’ paths that you can swim around leisurely.
3. Hidden Lagoon
Located on the south of Miniloc Island and close to Shimizu Island lies the Hidden Lagoon. Hidden Lagoon provides tourists a sight of a lagoon completely concealed from the world.
We would never have known about this lagoon if not for the local guides. This lagoon is not accessible to boats. You will need to swim or walk through the low tides about 200m away from the shore to get to the entrance of the Hidden Lagoon, which is no more than a hole on a rock face. We then had to crouch through the hole to get to the other side. I definitely did not expect such an entrance!
The lagoon itself was nothing like I expected. It is as if you are in a private round pool, surrounded by sky-high rock faces, away from the eyes of everyone else.
Perhaps because the clouds took over the skies, the waters inside the lagoon seemed murky green and unclear, dulling the beauty of the lagoon.
If you’re feeling a tad bit adventurous, you can try climbing up a little way up the cliff to get a photo from a vantage point. I mean, as a climber, how could I pass off climbing natural rock? 😛 I climb almost everything, including at Batu Bolong in Labuan Bajo, where I fell and cut my feet on the sharp rock when the loose rocks chipped. Oops! :/
If you decide to climb though, be careful as the rocks are sharp and do not attempt to jump into the waters as the waters are rather shallow.
The Hidden Lagoon is also where we had our lunch stop, at the beach. While we were out exploring the lagoon, the crew kept themselves busy preparing food for us.
Cooked and grilled by the tour guides on the boat, we were served rice, grilled squids, chicken thighs, prawns, fish, pork and an assortment of fruits such as pineapples and bananas. They cooked such a generous serving that you cannot stop at a single serving. All of us were especially famished after a morning of swimming in the sea and exploring the lagoons.
I didn’t think the food was especially hygienic though, what with houseflies hovering around our buffet spread and the local tourists picking food with their bare hands from the communal plates. Call me paranoid, but ever since my bout of diarrhoea caused by the poor handling of food in my previous island-hopping tour in Coron, I have my reservations about foods being cooked on board.
While we were busy refuelling, we weren’t alone. There are plenty of dogs on the island scavenging for food – your food! They would look at you with puppy eyes – yes, puppy eyes – that you cannot help but offer some of your leftover food from your plate to these little guys!
One thing I liked about the island was the distribution of the coconut trees across the island, providing shade for us as we had our meal while we sat on wooden logs on the floor, overlooking the waters. Also, there are plenty of really nice backdrops of the sharp, grey rock cliffs that you can take photos against!
4. Shimizu Island
The island-hopping never ends on this Tour A (I wish). Snorkelling was the main highlight that Shimizu Island has to offer. As soon as the boat drove closer to the island, we could see the marine life underneath in its full glory. Eager to dive right in, I donned my mask and plunged in with my underwater action camera in hand. Determined to film everything the other world has to offer, I immersed myself in the world that is just me, the bubbles and the marine life.
While I couldn’t name most of the fishes that resided underwater, surely I can identify a Nemo when I see one. I couldn’t help but film a clownfish (a.k.a. the “nemo fish”) dancing along with the sea anemones when I saw one. 😉 Seeing colourful starfishes lying on the seabed was the cherry on top of my snorkelling experience.
Despite the passing rain and tiding waves, it was a leisurely snorkelling session being able to witness the multitude of aquatic life. If you’re not comfortable swimming in the open waters, you can get a life vest and latch on to the tour guide’s life buoy – he’ll pull you (slowly but steadily) along so you won’t miss out on the snorkelling fun.
5. Small Lagoon
Finally, the last stop of Tour A’s island-hopping saw us at Small Lagoon. Personally, this was my favourite spot of all, because we get to go off the tour boat and get in the heart of the action ourselves – by rowing on our own kayak through the lagoon.
Renting the kayak was an additional 400 pesos/USD7.90, an extra expense that I never prepared myself for.
Flanked by cliffs and rock formations, the Small Lagoon is not at all small. Because it was made up of irregularly-shaped rocks, you never know what to expect at every turn. One moment I could be discovering a dark concave under a cliff, and the next, a little entrance that uncovered a whole new lagoon. It’s a continuous cycle of discovery and amazement of how the dazzling shallow turquoise waters complements the shapes of the cliffs.
There were many people kayaking here too, brought by their respective tour boats. Once you’re inside this secret lagoon, you can do a number of fun and crazy activities, such as cliff jumping. We even found a little cave that you can paddle your kayak into. It really is like a little hole from under the rocks, so it can get really dark once you’re inside!
There is a mobile food and snack “shop” paddling around in a kayak, offering you everything from fresh young coconut, soft drinks, to beers and even ice cream. These are exactly what you need on on a good, sunny day after exhausting your energy paddling around the lagoon. Just remember to bring along some small change in your dry bag as you kayak!
The Tour A transfers from one stop to another would have been perfect if there was some music to enliven the atmosphere as we cruised along the islands.
Island hopping with El Nido, Palawan’s Tour C
Many other people I met along the way say El Nido’s Tour C is another tour not to be missed. The tour covers another set of beautiful island stops, namely:
1. Helicopter Island
2. Matinloc Shrine
3. Secret Beach
4. Star Beach
5. Hidden Beach
With a fulfilling day out in the sea, El Nido Town slowly came into view. I lifted my satisfied but spent body from the boat on to the familiar sand once again.
Despite my reservation confirmation informing me that pick up and drop off at my hotel was part of the tour package, I was told that return transfer was not included back to the hotel. Left on my own to hail for a tricycle to get me back to my hotel, I would have otherwise ended my tour on a complete note.
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Special thanks to KKday for making this tour possible! All opinions remain my own.
11 Aug 2017, Fri