I know some people like to throw the word "paradise" around liberally, but I try not to be one of them. Though El Nido Town in Palawan is jam packed with touristy places and would not be what one considered a paradise, once you leave El Nido Town and go out on the water, it's magic. Quite simply, El Nido is stunning, and I was fortunate enough to visit this idyllic place recently.
When I first started researching what to do in El Nido, it became pretty clear early on that this place is all about its islands — clumps of land jutting out from the ocean in stunning shapes and heights with pockets of hidden beaches and lagoons. Though you can do activities like sit on the beach and contemplate life or hike up the Taraw Peak to get your adventure fix, or even dance the night away at one of the beach bars, the main attraction in El Nido is to take one of the area's island hopping tours. Much of the tourism in El Nido Town is centered around this, with four main tours being offered to visitors — Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D (perhaps not the most creative names but they get the job done). Word on the street — or the internet — indicated Tours A and C were the best of the bunch, so my friend and I decided to go with those, though we didn't confirm that choice until we were in El Nido.
First we started with Tour A on what was a very mixed day, weather wise (even paradise gets some clouds and rain). The stops consisted of Seven Commandos Beach, Small Lagoon, Shimizu Island (where we ate lunch), Secret Lagoon and finally Big Lagoon. My favorite parts of the tour were kayaking in the Small Lagoon, snorkeling just outside the Big Lagoon and the ride back to El Nido Town, when the clouds opened up and beams of sunshine lit up the water and land. Our tour guides were also a fun bunch who blasted the most random playlist of music every time we were on the boat (I'm talking Justin Bieber, gospel and Hotel California by the Eagles. Loved it). Here are some highlights from the day:
Two days later we continued our island hopping with Tour C, which was an amazing experience. If you ever visit El Nido and only have the opportunity to do one tour, I highly recommend Tour C. The stops include Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach, Talisay Beach for lunch, Secret Beach and Matinloc Shrine. I loved every stop on this tour, but the best part for me was our stop at Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island. The view is out of this world and the water is a dizzying array of blues. I also loved Helicopter Island, which was our first stop of the tour, as well as Talisay Beach where we ate lunch (and listened to a boat that sold beer and played Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)). To me, this tour is a good mix of beach, a bit of snorkeling (though Tour A has much more snorkeling if that's your thing) and incredible views. It doesn't hurt that the weather was fantastic, making the day even better. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the tour:
Quick Tips for El Nido:
- Bring or rent a pair of water shoes. There is a lot of walking on rocks to get to the beaches and lagoons, and as I found out, sandals aren't gonna cut it.
- Rent a dry bag, but be cautious with it. The dry bag is great for keeping your things dry when closed properly. When it's not closed properly and you are swimming with it in the ocean, don't be surprised if everything (including your camera ::insert sad face::) gets soaked.
- Give the tour guides a heads up if you have dietary restrictions. The lunches that come with the tours tend to be heavy on meat and seafood, so let them know before the tour leaves if you're a vegetarian or have other restrictions.
- Bring cash! In addition to paying the one time environmental fee of 200 PHP, you have to pay additional pesos to use the kayak and there are also opportunities to buy drinks while you're on these tours.
- Have a beach cover-up or t-shirt on hand for the times when you're hanging out on the beach and you want something to sit on that's not your towel.
Thank you, paradise, for the amazing island hopping adventure!