A visit to El Nido, Palawan wouldn’t be complete without joining at least one of the island hopping tours. Since we only have a few days in El Nido, we decided to choose only two of the five tours. Of Tours A to E, island hopping Tours A and C were the most recommended. Offering the most adventure and dramatic landscapes.
Unlike our island hopping experience in Caramoan. El Nido Island Hopping Tour A is centered around one island (Miniloc Island) and its many lagoons. Miniloc Island’s Big Lagoon is one of the most photographed locations in El Nido, gracing several tourism advertisements.
I gathered, through hours of sifting blogs and forums, that combining of tours is no longer allowed. Still, many tour operators offer combined island hopping tours at a little over the price of one tour. The boatmen we spoke to told us that the local tourism office discourages this practice. He also mentioned that spreading the tours also means spreading the income to more locals.
Here are some key points of our El Nido Island Hopping Tour A:
- There are several tour operators in El Nido. Many of them are clustered near the port area.
- You may also book El Nido Island Hopping Tour A with your hotel.
- Rates are regulated by the local tourism office, so they are all pretty much the same everywhere.
- Our El Nido Island Hopping Tour A included guides, generous buffet lunch and snorkeling gear.
- A separate environmental fee, valid for 10 days, needs to be paid before boarding the boat.
- Island hopping tours usually start between 8-9 in the morning and ends by 4 in the afternoon.
Our contact, Mercy, took care of everything for us, we just gave her the needed amount. She arranged a tricycle to pick us up from our hotel, free of charge. She also gave us a discount, saving us a few hundreds from the published rates.
Seven Commandos Beach
Our first stop was Seven Commandos Beach. It’s a short stretch of fine, white sand. A few resorts and the occasional bars. Seven Commandos Beach offer great views of the islands that dot Bacuit Bay. One of which is Miniloc Island; the main island explored during the El Nido Island Hopping Tour A.
If by some strange reason you’re still not awed by the karst islands of El Nido, then the Big Lagoon will surely take your breath away.
With the tide low, our boat wasn’t able to go inside the lagoon. We rented a kayak and asked our guide to paddle for us. It was a dramatic reveal as we pass through the towering karst walls that flank both sides of the corridor that leads into the Big Lagoon.
There’s so much to see inside the Big Lagoon: A small dock where, according to our guide, several marriage proposals have been made and numerous caves both over and under water. Water is crystal clear. You can see the corals and fishes from above water.
We docked at the small beach near the entryway of the small lagoon. Early lunch meant we had the place to ourselves.
As our guides and boatmen prepare lunch, we decided to explore the Small Lagoon. Access to the lagoon is enough to fit a small kayak. Our guide told us that there is a narrow underwater cave that leads to the Big Lagoon. Although swimming through it is not advised as it is extremely dangerous.
Lunch consisted of rice, vegetables, various grilled meats and fruits for dessert. Carbonated and sugared drinks are sold by the boatmen as added income.
Not part of the El Nido Island Hopping Tour A, Shimizu Island is often a stop for those heeding the call of nature.
As you pass between Miniloc and Shimizu Islands, you’ll notice small, wooden structures attached precariously on the sheer cliff walls of Miniloc Island. These serve as guard posts for those harvesting swiftlet nests.
Our boat also stopped near this area for snorkeling. The water is so clear, you can see the abundant marine life, colorful reef, all the way down to the sea floor.
The last stop during our El Nido Island Hopping Tour A was the Secret Lagoon. We needed to swim a bit from our boat to reach the shore of the Secret Lagoon. The low tide made the beach inaccessible to large boats.
The lagoon is accessed through a small opening in one of the cliffs. Encasing the lagoon are karst formations that reminded me of Mordor. :)
It’s encouraging to know that the local tourism office is taking steps to regulate tourist impact on El Nido. The islands are clean, with minimal man-made structures. The guides have undergone seminars though a lot can still be improved. Some of the foreign guests were just shrugging it off, but delivering the entirety of the tour in English would have been helpful. Much of the instructions and tour information were also drowned by the loud noise of the boat’s motor.
Without a doubt, El Nido Island Hopping Tour A offered some of the most beautiful natural landscapes I’ve seen. It’s a wonderful introduction to what the province offers. If El Nido Island Hopping Tour A is any indication of what the other tours are like, then sign me up for the other four! My wallet just hissed! :P