It’s only natural to expect a destination to change, especially if got more popular and the inevitable development creeps in. El Nido is one of those destinations where I have seen change since visiting the place several times since early 2000 and even lived briefly as a local. Recently, I was able to return as soon as the pandemic restrictions started easing. Aside from doing the El Nido Canopy Walk, I was able to join the El Nido Island Hopping Tour A. I noticed and observed some minor changes in how they do the tours these days since I last visited.
El Nido Island Hopping Tours
There are four El Nido Island Hopping Tours available and each of them had a set of highlights. These are the updated ones from my last visit in the last quarter of 2022.
- Tour A: Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, 7 Commandos Beach (Price – P1,200)
- Tour B: Pangulasian Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave, Cathedral Cave (Price P1,300)
- Tour C: Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Star Beach (Price P1,400)
- Tour D: Small Lagoon, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Cove, Nat Nat Beach, Bucan Beach, Paradise Beach (P1,200)
While these are the standard tours, it is possible to combine tours for the day.
One major change from my last tour here is they separated the access to the Big and Small Lagoons. Before you can access both lagoons in Tour A. Now the Small lagoon is included in Tour D.
Surprising to see Pangulasian island in Tour B. Before, they no longer allow the public on this private resort island. I wasn’t able to take tour B so I wasn’t sure if they allow tourists to land on the island or just snorkel along its waters.
Aside from the tour fees, there’s a P200 environmental fee for each visitor to El Nido.
All tours are now launched at the port in Barangay Buena Suerte. They use a floating dock system here for the boats. I think this is a welcome change and more organized. Before, visitors board boats from the main beach or near the resorts where they are billeted. Coastguards are also strict in checking the number of people on the boats and wearing life vests.
The most significant change I noticed here is the guides and boatmen. I guess a lot of them went through “Tour Guide Training” here as they now have set scripts. That’s another welcome development as they brush up their knowledge of the islands and share it with visitors. Their photographic skills are leveled-up too. At least now they know how to take decent tourist photos and trick shots. Though a little downside here is the suggested experiences on some of the sites which I’ll detail later.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour A Sites
I won’t delve much into the details of the tours as I had extensively shared them before but will just share what changes or what I noticed from the tour.
Seven Commandos Beach
The Seven Commandos Beach was the first stop of the tour. We came just in time and we had this nice stretch of beach all to ourselves. It is still spectacular with a wonderful backdrop of the Taraw Cliffs. I noticed there were cottages on what seemed to be a private resort. There were also some “photographic set-ups” there for tourists.
I was also glad to see a number of the endemic Palawan Hornbills and Slender-billed Crows near the rock face. The few people there don’t seem to notice them and I guess are oblivious to their importance.
Our lunch and snorkeling stop is at Shimizu Island. Lunch on these trips was always a treat as boatmen and their cooks can get creative with the presentation of their meals. These guys didn’t disappoint.
What I enjoyed most was the snorkeling and freediving as I was with a group of freedivers. We had a good amount of time underwater.
There’s a considerable amount of crowd during our island hopping day. I noticed it more when we visited the Secret Lagoon as we had to wait a while to get inside the lagoon. It’s the same old lagoon but made more “exciting” as the guides added activities for tourists. Visitors were asked to create a circle and do a circular group swim while the guide takes a photo and video from a high perch on the limestone rocks.
One of the significant changes here, as I mentioned earlier, is the non-inclusion of the Small Lagoon in this tour. Another is that outriggers or tour boats are no longer allowed to go inside the big lagoon. That’s another welcome development for me. This way, it lessens the impact on this waterway.
Instead of bringing the boats in, there are now rental kayaks just at the entrance of the lagoon passage. I had been seeing the kayak rentals during my last visit but now they implemented the rentals as the mandatory means to explore the lagoon. Rental is P300 per kayak which can be shared by two.
Since I enjoy kayaking, I liked that they offered this option for visitors. It allows visitors to explore the big lagoon at their own pace and time.
Island Hopping Tips
The EL Nido Island Hopping tour lasted around 7–8 hours. We were back before 5 PM in the afternoon. Some tips before joining the tour:
- Waterproof your stuff. Best to use a dry bag when island hopping as the ride can be splashy at times.
- Bring only what you need like sunblock, gadgets, power bank, shades, hat, etc
- Bring some snacks and extra water. While a meal and snacks are provided on tour, it would be nice to have snacks that you like to nibble on between island trips.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.