ISLAND HOPPING GUIDE FOR EL NIDO, PALAWAN: WHICH TOUR TO CHOOSE (A,B,C,D)
El Nido, Palawan is the gem of the Philippines, with mind-blowing scenery matched with a small island town atmosphere is why this location is so popular.
El Nido island hopping is the number one attraction here and with good reason, it is freaking amazing.
ISLAND HOPPING IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
I was lucky enough to experience Tour A, Tour B and Tour C, but have not yet made it on Tour D. However, even the day I paddled out on a kayak was amazing so don’t stress about which ‘letter tour’ will be the best. It’s El Nido, you are going to be visiting lagoons and beaches that will blow your mind no matter what tour you are on.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING A TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Three Lagoons at Miniloc Island, Shimizu Island, Snorkel with turtles at Seven Commando Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING B TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING C TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING D TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Cadlao Island, Pasandingan Beach, Small Lagoon, Natnat Beach, BBQ Lunch
Below I will show you what each tour looks like and describe the locations you will visit so that you can decide which tour you are keen for.
Tour A: Most popular and includes big and small Lagoon. Key attractions but can get crowded. Awesome day!
Tour B: A more relaxed day with off-beat island locations, hardly any crowds, epic landscapes.
Tour C: Second most popular, great snorkeling and the secret lagoons and beaches are amazing.
Tour D: Shorter tour much closer to El Nido, underrated and less crowded.
SEVEN COMMANDO BEACH
Coconut trees lined Seven Commando beach and we, of course, sipped on a few after a quick snorkel. Our boat docked here for a 45-minute chill/exploration session. Many people snorkeled but we just hung out on the beach and had a swim. The rocks in El Nido are incredibly sharp, Seven Commando Beach was no exception. Wear shoes if you are planning on exploring in caves and on rocks like us.
On my second visit to Seven Commando Beach, I also did a beach clean-up. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent.
BIG LAGOON EL NIDO
Cruising up the lagoon was our first real look at how dramatic the cliffs and landscape was in El Nido. The lagoon has a narrow and the boats manage to navigate alongside each other as everyone on board arches their necks checking out the intense cliffs. The boat glides across the glassy water, almost crystal as the narrow entrance finally opens up into a giant lagoon. The boat did a slow circle in the lagoon letting us take in the sights before heading back out the narrow stretch.
LUNCH AT SHIMIZU ISLAND EL NIDO
Our guides had been cooking on the grill all morning as we cruised around from island to island. It was time to see what they had produced. It was an absolute feast. I’ll be honest I’ve been on some tours where you get a cruddy sandwich and a bag of chips. This blew it out of the water. Grilled pork and chicken, fresh grilled fish and fruits and of course an abundance of rice. There was plenty for everyone as we sat around on the logs watching monitor lizards amongst the trees. A bit of exploration post-lunch never hurts and we found a very shallow spot for a couple of jumps.
SECRET LAGOON EL NIDO
This spot was amazing but probably my least favorite as there were more than fifty tourists crammed into a tiny lagoon at once. We had to swim to a small hole and clamber through. One through sun shone down into a tennis court-sized lagoon, totally enclosed by sharp cliffs. It was a great spot but a little bit of an anti-climax. However, the beach around the corner once back out of the lagoon was really cool. The landscape here was by far my favorite spot of the day and I camped on my favorite spot at the front of the tour boat as we left snapping a few shots to capture the entire scene. I have never seen anything like it before in my life.
The second time I visited Secret Lagoon in El Nido on Tour A, I was armed with a drone. It gave me a whole new perspective on the lagoon and the scale of the beach. I’ve added those photos below.
SMALL LAGOON EL NIDO
Our last stop of the day would be the small lagoon. By now I had become a bit desensitized to the majestic beauty all around me. But the small lagoon hit another chord. We were offered kayaks as we arrived but also given the option to swim. Being the cheap guys Jorden and I were of course we swam. It wasn’t too far just a few hundred yards both ways. Swimming through this lagoon was beautiful, calming and a great way to end the day. We went as far in as we could and just spend a while floating on our backs taking in everything around us.
The second time I visited Small Lagoon was actually with the Red Bull Cliff Diving team, which was a whole new experience. They had set up ladders to a platform and were jumping from 21m and 27m for their competition. I’ve put the video below about this epic experience.
Pinagbuyutan Island is probably my favorite island in El Nido. It has huge towering cliffs that shoot straight down dramatically over the small stretches of the beach below. There’s nothing more than a shack and coconut trees on this desolate island. When we rolled in there was just one local selling coconuts and no other tourists. It stayed that way for most of our visit.
We walked around the edges of the island in between the tall grass and scattered palms. This is how island hopping is supposed to be. Quiet, relaxing and away from the crowds. Luckily for us, we were in no rush and actually spent several hours at Pinagbuyutan Island.
There are also some great snorkeling spots just off the shore with beautiful reefs waiting to be discovered below the surface.
ENTALULUA BEACH OR PAPAYA BEACH
One of the stops on Tour B in El Nido will be Entalula or Papaya Beach. Both are awesome and we hung out at Papaya Beach. It is quite similar to Seven Commando Beach, which you will find on Tour A. Beautiful clear water, a nice sandy beach with a backdrop of coconut trees.
This is a great stop to relax and chill on the beach with your friends. There aren’t too many activities here other than just hanging out and maybe sipping on a coconut from the local stand.
We did a beach clean-up at this stop and collected several large bags of trash. El Nido is making great changes but trash on the islands still remains prevalent. I have posted the video of the cleanup below.
Snake Island is an epic spot, one I didn’t even know about until we arrived. So often in El Nido, all of the focus is on lagoons and secret beaches that anything else is almost pushed to the side. Anywhere else in the world and Snake Island would be the number one attraction.
This beautiful island arcs out into a sandbar that connects to the mainland at low tide. This area reminded me of a mini French Polynesia with the steep, green hills as a backdrop to the cerulean blue water.
I really enjoyed this spot and flying the drone here was so much fun with something to look at in all directions. Snake Island was a great surprise and not a spot I had seen before so it was great to be exploring something a little different in El Nido on Tour B.
On Tour B there are two caving opportunities. The first cave is Cudugnon Cave, which was actually super cool. The boat parks on the beach and then you crawl through a little hole into a hidden area inside the cliffs. Here there are amazing rock formations and you can actually keep climbing up pretty high. It was remarkable that this cave exists hidden inside the cliff walls, out of view from passing boats.
The second cave was pretty wild. Cathedral Cave was incredible and one of my favorite caves I’ve visited in the Philippines. You jump off the boat and either swim or kayak in. We swam inside despite our guide saying there were snakes. I’m still not sure if he was serious or not!
Inside huge stalagmites and stalactites hang from the roof and grow from the floor. It is mindblowing to look around at the rock formations inside this sea cave. Under the surface, the water has a luminescent glow so definitely bring your snorkel to enjoy this cave. We explored it all the way to the back where things get quite creepy and gross but it is here that you can see the luminescent glow of the blue water on the walls. Make sure you go all the way to the back of the cave to look back towards the entrance to check that out.
The first island on the itinerary of Tour C in El Nido is the famous Helicopter Island. It isn’t hard to figure out how this island earned it’s name with a distinctive helicopter shape, visible from a side profile. It is incredibly busy… always but you can still have a great time here. You can hang out here on the beach or go for a bit of a walk but the best way to explore Helicopter Island is with your snorkel and mask.
When your boat docks walk down towards the left (while facing the island) and then snorkel around the corner. Here you will get away from the crowds and be able to explore some beautiful coral. There are also some unique shelves and rock formations under the cliffs if you go far enough. I embedded a video from my underwater exploration at Helicopter Island below.
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MATINLOC SHRINE (OR NEARBY BEACHES)
Matinloc Shrine is a bit of a weird stop on an island hopping tour and it is probably the least impressive thing to do on Tour C. It is essentially an abandoned shrine. Your captain will likely ask if you do indeed want to visit or just go snorkeling/visit another beach. I believe it costs extra to visit as well. All you do is get off and go look inside the abandoned building. Bit of a waste of time when there are beautiful beaches, reefs, and turtles nearby!
We chose to visit a nearby beach instead (no extra fee) and went snorkeling and exploring. The beauty of the area near Matinloc Shrine is that there are lots of different beaches, coves, and snorkel spots so your captain should be able to pick a spot that isn’t crazy crowded!
Our captain took us to an amazing snorkel spot and beach but we just hung out on the boat and ate there. We snorkeled after but there was no need to get out and unpack the food we just ate it straight on the boat. I can’t remember the name of this spot for the life of me but most of the tours will choose lunch at one of a few spots.
Hidden Beach is a cool little cove hiding behind the karst limestone cliffs. Your boat will drop you at the entrance and you swim/wade through the water until you make your way into the cove after about 200m. It is usually very crowded in here although it is incredibly beautiful. If this cove was empty it would be one of my favorite places in El Nido but both times it has been full of life jackets and hundreds of people so it is often a bit more manic than magic. Nonetheless, I’ve always enjoyed sitting on the sand here and admiring the jagged cliffs and the beautiful scenery.
On my second visit to Hidden Beach, we did a cleanup and carried out 1.5 bags of trash and even swam out with it. It’s great to leave places better than when you found them and added a challenge to our Hidden Beach experience.
SNORKEL SPOT (TURTLES!)
Our final stop of the day was right next to Matinloc Shrine again where our captain told us there was a great reef. He wasn’t wrong and our guides even spotted a couple of turtles for us to swim with. There was a huge drop-off and it was an epic spot for free-diving and getting a closer look at the coral below. There were some really cool table corals and lots of fish in this area. We were the only tourists enjoying this spot, which is what I liked about Tour C in El Nido. It seemed a bit more flexible than Tour A, which was all about the lagoons. Tour C was a bit easier to change depending on what you were interested in.