I follow a few Philippine tourism accounts on Instagram, and I swear around half of their posts are of El Nido in Palawan. The pictures always show turquoise crystal clear waters and towering cliffs, so naturally I was excited to see this for myself. There are few flights which go directly to El Nido, so I flew to Puerto Princesa which took an hour from Manila. From Puerto Princesa to El Nido I took a van which cost 500PHP. Google Maps thinks it takes a little under four hours to get to El Nido. In actual fact, it takes around six hours.
Once in El Nido, there’s a lot of tour operators who basically all offer the same tour packages, A, B, C and D. From speaking to other backpackers, it seemed like A and C were the most popular. The hostel I was staying in (Our Melting Pot) also ran their own tours so I started with Tour A.
The meeting point was in the hostel at 9am, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy the free breakfast. Once on the boat, we were told there would be 5 stops. The first stop was Seven Commandos Beach, a white sand beach . The beach is quite large so although there were a lot of tourists, it didn’t feel busy.
The boat spent around 40 minutes there, then headed for the next stop: Shimizu Island. The beach here was already full of boats by the time we arrived. Everyone got off the boat whilst the crew prepared lunch. There’s snorkelling to be done in this area but a lot of the coral is dead. We headed to the beach where lunch was served: salad, grilled chicken and fish.
The next stop after lunch was the Secret Lagoon. We headed over there and yet again, there were a lot of tourists. Only one person can go through the entrance to the Secret Lagoon at a time so there was a large queue at the entrance. Once inside, the lagoon does look great.
The fourth stop of the day was the Small Lagoon. This was my favourite stop because three of us hired a kayak and paddled around the lagoon. The water is beautifully clear. The water in this area is full of jellyfish which fortunately do not sting. Whilst in the kayak we got drinks, ice cream and a guy on a boat gave us a shot of rum to make us fully realise our dream of becoming pirates.
The final stop of the day was at the Big Lagoon. Unfortunately it was low tide so there wasn’t another opportunity to kayak. This stop wasn’t as busy as the others, but I preferred the Small Lagoon.
I had a great time on Tour A and I felt that for 1300RM, the price was reasonable for such a touristy area. The downside was that each destination was crowded so sometimes it was difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of these places. It’s possible to hire private boats for a similar price (you’ll need a group of 10+ to make it cost effective) and they’ll take you wherever you want to go.