El Nido, on the island of Palawan in the Philippines is paradise on earth! Crystal clear warm turquoise waters, amazing limestone formations, pristine secret beaches, hidden lagoons and perfect weather! No wonder after 9 months backpacking we couldn’t wait to drop our bags and hop straight onto one of the traditional wooden boats and sail around this magnificent region. We headed out on one of the famous El Nido island hopping trips to see this area in its full glory!
Setting sail on our El Nido island hopping trip for the most amazing adventure in the most unbelievable waters
Up early we can’t wait to get out on our El Nido island hopping tour and explore this stunning area, this is the place that made us want to come to the Philippines, the images of the stunning blue waters, limestone lagoons and little wooden fishing boats bobbing up and down. We waded out through the shallow waters and hopped onto the little traditional style boat, there wasn’t much room that is for sure, but there was a great group of people on board and an atmosphere of excitement! We made sure to bring our dry bags too as there really wasn’t anywhere to keep anything dry!!
You can get to El Nido itself via boat from Manila or Coron, a bus from Puerto Princesa or you can also fly. Booking in advance is advisable whilst flying around the the region to take advantage of Cheap Philippines airlines Tickets.
And we were off, the warm breeze in our hair, the boat cutting smoothly through the shimmering blue waves, this was perfection! This is what we dreamt of when we signed up for the El Nido island hopping tour, we were so happy to be finally ready to see some of the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines!
Finally setting eyes on the jaw dropping clear waters of the big lagoon
After a stunning 30 minute ride on the El Nido island hopping boat around the bays, taking in the impressive landscape from the rocking boat we finally turned down into the big lagoon, the place that ultimately had brought us all here. This cathedral of white limestone and bright blue waters was an undeniably jaw dropping place, its beauty was almost too much to believe. We leaped from the side of the boat and into that irresistible water, donning our snorkels to take in the wonderful scenery both above and below the water!
It was an amazing and intense experience swimming in such a wonderful place. Getting back on the boat it was time for the most wonderful part of the journey. From this vantage point we could see the narrow channel we had to navigate to get back out of the lagoon, the changing colours and shades of the azure water that danced and dazzled us before our eyes was a sight we will never forget. Taking our time with our wide boat meant we could really just sit back and take this majesty all in, this is what the El Nido island hopping tour is all about!
Swimming through the hidden chambers of the small lagoon on the El Nido island hopping tour!
What was next was even more magical, I had known about the big lagoon before we came here but nothing about the small one! This one is inaccessible to the boat and to enter into this enchanting world of towering cliffs and clear blue water you must swim through a narrow cave only open during the low tide. Though here you enter into this lost world of hidden caves and caverns to explore. We once again donned the snorkels and discovered the world of tropical fish and corals that live in this mineral rich and protected area.
It really was a rainbow of colour and life that we were exploring, the colours that you experience on El Nido are like no other, it feels as though someone has turned up the saturation on life. The green of the forests and jungles that cover the island in a blanket of bright green are too vivid to imagine, the deep black of the jagged limestone cliffs, their weathered crevices and edges telling a story of a million years of erosion and stunning natural creation. The blue tones from the deep dark edges of the far off sea to the milky clear waters of the shallow bays, the intense turquoise of the lagoons and the never ending azure of the clear skies. This then contrasts against the bright gold of the bright yellow and pure white sandy beaches. It truly is like a fantasy, a dream or a scene from a movie. You have to pinch yourself to know its real!
Taking a break and having lunch on a secret beach on the beautiful Shimizu Island
After all that swimming we are all ready for some food and a break halfway through our El Nido island hopping trip. The boat once again rounds another corner of endlessly beautiful landscapes before coming to what looks like a dead end. We needn’t have worried of course, the local boat men know these little inlets, caves and beaches like the back of their hand. They drop anchor and as we float gently along the most amazing little beach appears on Shimizu Island. Here we will have some lunch, BBQ’ed on the boat and skilfully transferred through the water onto the beach without loosing a single grain of rice!
The fruit and veg here on Palawan is the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, as vegetarians we tuck into the colourful display alongside heaps of rice! The Filipino mangos and specifically those on Palawan have to be the best in the world, it’s a good job they put on extra because I just couldn’t help myself take a few extra!! Sitting back here enjoying good food with good company we made friends with people that day who we are still very much in touch with. We seemed to all bond over this awe inspiring place and the wonderful experience of seeing it together.
Playing a game of hotly contested volleyball against the locals on 7 Commandos beach!
After all that time at sea it was now chance to sit back a little and let our lunch settle in and have a leisurely swim! Well, that’s what some of the group did! We ended up in an intense volleyball match, Brits and Aussies against Filipinos in a game that went on for over an hour! We were diving into the sand, flying across the beach for loose balls and leaping up for close calls at the net. It was a fun way to enjoy a game the locals love and tire ourselves out yet again, the El Nido island hopping trip was shaping up to be one of the best days during our 10 months in Asia!
Covered from head to toe in sand we had yet another cooling dip in the stunning ocean that surrounded us. Catching our breath we could really sit back and appreciate the beauty of the place we found ourselves in. Sometimes you land yourself in absolute paradise and wonder how you even made it there. Sitting down on the pristine white beach, huge palm trees looming above and the sea stretching out in front of us for miles with the odd karst stack poking up on the horizon! I could have happily lived out my days on this little inlet, forget the rest of the El Nido island hopping trip!
Hiking up to the top of Snake Island for the most amazing views of the sandbank
One last stop before we headed back! We were tired, windswept, sea worn, cut and bruised from our amazing adventurous day exploring this wondrous place. But this was a place we had all been eagerly waiting for on our El Nido island hopping tour. The so called snake island is named so because of the magical sandbar that appears between here and the neighbouring island. The S shaped white sand slithers across the bay, the layers of depth against the mesmerisingly clear water created an array of blue shades that was just magical.
To get the full effect we clambered up a small hill carved into the jungle island to a viewpoint point above. Watching out for the single and slightly aggressive monkey that calls the island home on our way up! Up here the waters against the sand were even more enchanting, El Nido completely lived up to and exceeded our hopes and dreams for the paradise we came for in the Philippines!
Sailing back to El Nido after the most wonderful day in one of the most stunning places in the world
That was it, a long and tiring day but one none of us on that little wooden boat will ever forget. Sailing back through the mystical land of the lagoons and limestone caves towards El Nido we knew we had had one of the days of our lives and experienced one of the world’s most beautiful places.
More Info: Where to Stay In El Nido:
The Best Backpacker Option: Spin Designer Hostel/ Happiness Hostel
For backpackers visiting El Nido there are a lot of hostels to stay in and one of the best in the town is the Spin Designer Hostel. It is one of those fantastic hostels that is just so well designed and arranged with an amazing vibe. The hostel has BBQ nights, pub crawls, movie nights and most importantly comfortable beds and clean bathrooms! It’s also close to the beach and has private rooms too.
Another wonderful hostel is the Happiness Hostel is a lovely hippy vibe hostel with a traditional style with a modern twist.
Mega Cheap Hostel: Big Mike Hostel
For those on a proper backpacker budget the basic Big Mike Hostel is the best offering for the low end of the market in El Nido. Don’t expect anything fancy but it does offer breakfast, clean rooms and friendly staff at rock bottom prices. It is also ideally located and one of the best rated hostels in El Nido.
Best Budget Hotel: Neela Tourist Lodge
If you’re still on a budget but want a nice hotel for the price then the Neela Tourist Lodge offers a tidy, well kept and comfortable place right near the beach and close enough to town too. Many of the rooms also either have terraces or balconies which makes it a lovely place for couples.
Fancy a Treat Whilst Staying in El Nido: Playa Encantada Beach Resort
For those on a holiday or backpackers looking to splash out a little and treat themselves to a couple of nights somewhere incredible then the Playa Encantada Beach Resort offers luxury for a comparatively affordable price. The tranquil and serene setting is right on the beach and offers private traditional style bamboo cottages and bungalows.
Book Your Accommodation For El Nido Here:
How to tour El Nido for yourself!
From El Nido town you will find it very easy to head off on one of the boat trips. Here there is a boat company on almost every corner, in fact you might actually get a bit annoyed with them after a while!
However, it does mean that prices are all pretty much standardised between the companies and so you are unlikely to get ripped off. There are 4 tours: A,B,C,D. Over the course of our time in El Nido we did A on its own and a combination tour of A and B through the hostel Outpost. The general consensus is that A and C are the best but all of them are sure to be amazing. A includes the Big and Small Lagoon and B includes Snake Island.
The tours range from PHP 1,200 – 1,400 / £18.13 – £21.15 / $23.49 – $27.40 depending on which tour you take. You should also ask your tour operator to throw in a snorkel mask for free too.
There is also the option of chartering your own boat for a personalised tour of the bay. If you can get enough people together then this is a great option and split enough ways is only slightly more expensive than one of the set tours.
Book your El Nido island hopping tours here:
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Have you every swam in the warm turquoise waters of Palawan, Philippines whilst on an El Nido island hopping trip?
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