There are no must-do's --- and that's the point!
People come to El Nido for the sun and the sea --- so the essential activity would be an island-hopping tour or two (or three!), interspersed with some snorkelling, and maybe hiking, or kayaking. There are 45 islands in Bacuit Bay and a standard tour would take you to about 3 of the islands. Local tour operators and guides have standadized these into Tours A, B, or C, with each tour going to a specified group of islands.
Some operators have made innovations on the standard tours, offering add-on activities such as kayaking and trekking. Taking an ocean kayak would really be the best way to explore the famous lagoons (also ideal for photographers who want to get up close); while trekking (for instance, on Cadlao island) offers good opportunities to chance upon local wildlife (El Nido is also known for its rich biodiveristy). Tours are affordable, averaging at PhP500 per person, and come with lunch. You could bring extra drinks. Having your own snorkelling gear would be good, too, though these are available for rent.
Most inns and cottages have their own boats and tour guides who could take you out on these tours. One of the more reliable operators, however, would be Tani and Judith Distal's outfit at the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe. (Info on the Art Cafe is also available in the Resto's section). They also have a website which will give you specific information on the standard tours (URL below). They can also be reached through mobile phone or email.
Of course, you can always do your own thing and hire a boat to take you to a specific island you like, and maybe get yourself dropped off there to just laze around the beach or have a picnic, or whatever, and have them pick you up again by sundown. Remember, you are vacationing in paradise, and that basically means you can do anything you want to do. =)
- Diving and Snorkeling
Tour C - Secret Beach, Helicopter, Matinloc Island
For Tour C, we decided to try the tours being offered by Sea Slugs. The owner, Rey Arante, promised to be the one to guide us in the tour. He promised that he will take very good care of us. Wow, was he true to his word! The service was quite excellent and over and above what we expected.
For our first stop, we went snorkeling in one of the islands (can't remember which). Rey, Nolan and Teng assisted us in our snorkeling escapade. So all of us had someone to hold on to despite the scary depth of the sea. The snorkeling area was quite deep and since we can't swim, it gets a bit scary. But our guides took away our fear so we were able to snorkel to our hearts' content.
But our favorite part is our Secret Beach stop. Wow, it was a really great place to find. I guess it's no longer secret since we found it :) We were also lucky that nobody was around when we went there.
We had our lunch in another island and wow, were we impressed by Rey and his crew. They brought tables and chairs and table cloth. The set up was beneath one of the trees higher up on the beach. Food was yummy since we got our request too. We had barbeque chicken, grilled fish, grilled eggplant salad and ripe mangoes!
- Diving and Snorkeling
Island hopping – Islands in the sun
Island hopping involves taking a Bangka boat from El Nido’s main beach to any one of dozens of little beauty spots in the Bacuit Archipelago. Be sure you get a boat that seems well-maintained and well-run. The one I chartered through El Nido Art café was just fine, though you could probably shave 50 pesos by shopping around.
Activities you can count on include some cave exploration, swimming & snorkeling and perhaps some sea kayaking. I wouldn’t particularly recommend this last, because my own kayak adventure lasted less than ½ an hour and wasn’t really that much in the way of exploration or exercise.
Still, on a sunny day, you can get absolutely knockout beach and water views and it’s nice to be out on the open water.
- Diving and Snorkeling
Tour A - Small, Big, Hidden Lagoons
This will bring you to the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Zimisu beach, Hidden Lagoon and the 7 Commando Beach. If you are not a good swimmer, I suggest you do the kayak tour in the Small Lagoon. It's a better way to appreciate the beauty of the place. And the only way you can take pictures inside the lagoon.
For Tour A, we booked with Arts Cafe at P600 per pax. A couple joined us also in the tour. The tour includes lunch and coffee. Unfortunately, the only food they provide for lunch is grilled fish and salad (cabbage salad with no dressing) and bananas. It's not a filling one and leaves much to be desired.
Also, there aren't enough people to assist us during snorkeling in the small lagoon. The one who assisted us didn't even have a snorkel or fins so he couldn't keep up or assist us. We were generally left to fend for ourselves.
But despite that, the lagoons are quite magnificent!
Island Hopping Boat Trips
Day long boat trips are the thing to do, esp if you are based in town. They have organised them into set trips in town. There are three day long trips (universally called A, B and C) and one half day trip (err..D?). Full day trips include a nice lunch on a beach.
Trip A goes to small and big lagoon and a couple of beaches. The lagoons are limestone Karsts, similar to those to be found in thailand and vietnam, but these are the only ones I've been to you can actually swim into. Trip B goes around the southern bit (around lagan). Trip C goes up to secret beach (further). Judith has more info
Snorkelling is ok, but beaches are the truly outstanding feature. Secret beach is well worth the long trip, I will say no more about it though, best to be a surprise. I'd also recommend the half day trip, helicopter island esp impressive.
Trips cost between 500-1000 pesos, snorkel and flipper hire usually extra. The boat guys actually operate a cartel, with a queuing system for boat men, so I dont think it makes a huge difference who you book with.
Rent a private banca for your island hopping
You can join any of the ~100 operators that offer the standard tours, A, B or C. These are all standardized tours and vary between 500~600PHP depending on the operator and if lunch is included.
But if you wish to spend a little more time anywhere specific or explore with your own freedom, you can hire a private banca. The boat does not care how many people are in the group. You will pay the whole fare and divide by how many people there are.
You can negotiate down to about 3000PHP for a full day. Prices can drop down to 1800PHP if the day is not complete or the stops are limited.
If you simply want a drop off and pick up on some remote beach, cost will be about 500PHP per person.
Adventure - Experience nature
Island hopping tours are a must in El Nido! Do them all for there is several and they are all different from each other and really fantastic. The lunches are usually cooked over a charcoal fire on a deserted beach.
Kayak Tours to the lagoons and beaches around Miniloc are many travellers favorite.
For the fittest, i highly recommend you climb the cliff, towering El Nido town for a challenging hike and a breathtaking view. If you feel like trekking, wildlife watching (there is no monkey feeding in El Nido, thanks god) join a trekking tour by the El Nido Tour Guide Association (office at Artcafe). They offer Trekking trips to Cadlao island to an inland lagoon thru dense virgin forest or visit the hot spring and waterall on the mainland.
For a relaxing day, have yourselves dropped off on a lonely beach. Bring your own lunch, there are no restaurants anywhere.
- Diving and Snorkeling
For island hopping we have arranged at El Nido boutique and Art Cafe, run by Swiss Judith, who has been established here for 15 years. Her tours include 3 or 4 islands where you can snorkel and swim. The price includes an adequate lunch and her employees are friendly. We certainly enjoyed it, especially when a writer for one of the travel guides dived in and lost his shorts.
- Diving and Snorkeling
The Hidden Lagoons & Miniloc Island
The island is home to Ten Knots Development Corporation’s Miniloc Resort, which opened here in 1982 with just one dive boat and 15 cottages. Some of its native cottages stand on stilts right over the edge of a cove. Access is restricted to its own guests. www.elnidoresorts.com
Among the attractions Miniloc Island is famous for the Big and Small Lagoons, ideal for kayaking, snorkelling, and swimming. They are both located on the north-east side of the island. Similar to the Hongs in Thailand's Phang Nga Bay, the lagoons of Miniloc are believed by scientists to be caves whose roofs collapsed millions of years ago. There are said to be barracudas in the deep centre of the lagoon, and Turtles have occasionally been sighted here. The Lagoons can be reached by taking a 30-45 minute pumpboat ride from the mainland.
• Big Lagoon: The Big Lagoon can be reached by taking a 30-45 minute bangca ride from the mainland; or a short kayak trip around the corner from the resort. Its deep blue and emerald waters are surrounded by cliffs, and unusual rock formations which provide perfect acoustics; so sometimes musical concerts are held here, with a string quartet and tenor spotlighted by nothing but the full moon.
• Small Lagoon: The northern lagoon is comprised of a main lagoon, and a smaller, secret one of to the right.
• Secret Lagoon:The small lagoon can be reached by bangca up to the entrance, a two meter crack between rocks, in a low cliff. The only way in is by swimming. Once inside you enter a secret world, enclosed by black marble walls, covered in thick, exotic flora. This cliff-lined world is totally quiet, the tranquil serenity inside broken only by the sounds of birds and cicadas. The point here is to swim in, find an outcropping along the shore, and listen to nothing while looking at everything. The secret lagoon is very shallow and provides the best snorkelling.
- Luxury Travel
- Sailing and Boating
For our cliff climbing tour, we arranged with Romy who's one of the tour guides. The fee is just P500 for all of us.
It was a scary and exhilirating climb. But you need to bring water (coz you'll need it!) and spray on plenty of mosquito repellant. You will also need to have gloves because the stones are quite sharp and it will be easy to cut yourself. Climbing shoes or mojos are also necessary.
Unfortunately, we did not complete the climb. We were only got halfway. That's because we did the climb on our last day and we run out of time. We were told that the longest is 2 hours both ways but since there's 4 of us and we were not 'fast climbers', it took us a wee bit longer. Since we have a plane to catch in 2 hours, we couldn't go on anymore. It was a pity because we were enjoying the climb and we're getting our 2nd wind...I guess there's always a next time :)
This was the activity that made me sweat buckets! It sure is different from climbing mountains :)
- Mountain Climbing
Snorkeling at Secret Beach
Secret beach is one of my favorites. You swim through a rock opening to get to the beach. Inside is very shallow but with fantastic corals. if you snorkel at the opening, you'll see lots of small fishes and there'd be big fishes eating the small ones.
go on island hopping for only PHP 500. We took the tour A that the El Nido tourism association offers. The Tour, which starts at 9am and ends at 4pm, took us to the small and big lagoon and the island of simisu, and the beaches of entalula and commando. The tour includes lunch which is barbequed chicken, grilled fish, veggie salad, loads of rice, and bananas for dessert. Truly worth it!!!!
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Budget Travel
Some general tips on boat tours
There are many island-hopping tour operators in El Nido. They all seem to offer the same tours: A, B, C and sometimes D. There are two price ranges which differ Php 100 per person per tour. But there are other unmentioned differences. Here is a brief list:
-THE FOOD: Most tours come with food included but some give you a Php 100 discount if you don't want it. Generally the meal consists of grilled fish, salad, rice and bananas. Some tours also have pork and chicken in the menu but just before leaving they can say "ah, sorry we have only fish today". In some cheaper places you can pay Php 50 pp to add these on the menu.
-TOUR PROGRAM: Although it is written down somewhere it is good to talk to the boatman or the tour operator before the tour and make sure you will go to all those places. If not you may get answers like "oh, now there is a resort there, it's private", or "it's high tide now" (of course they very well know when is the tide and when you'll be there).
-SNORKELING STUFF: Your snorkeling experienced can be ruined by a leaking mask or snorkel (pipe). Just know that since you are paying extra for these (100 each) you don't have to get them from the place you take the tour. And check the mask by pressing it on your face without the strap and inhaling a little. It has to be finely vacuumed on your face. Check the pipe by covering the end and breathing in to see if any air is coming in. Some tour organizers have discount if you rent their equipment with the tour.
-THE BOAT: Depending on the size of the group, there are small boats and big boats. Small boats have their seats facing forward while big boats have them facing center (watching each other). Bigger boats cannot come very close to the beaches while small boats sometimes almost land on the beach. The size of tarp which will protect you from the sun and possible rain does not depend on the size of boat.
-RESERVATION: Although you'll be asked to confirm your tour one day before you don't have to do this, in case it rains in the morning or you change your mind. You can walk along the beach in the evening and ask if there are already any confirmed tours (which means there are already some people who confirmed and possibly paid) and join them in the morning if you like. In fact you can even do this in the morning.
-AWARENESS: If you know anything about corals you may be shocked by the senseless destruction the tour boats do to the corals. They break so many corals, it's hard to imagine there'll be any more left after 10 years. Most are already dead and the rest is disappearing. So please do not touch any corals or break them and tell the people on your boat to do the same (read entry under Dangers & Annoyances).
- Diving and Snorkeling
Island Hopping: Snake Island
Don't be mistaken,this is not an island full of snakes.It's the S-shape sandbar that stretches between 2 islands.The best time to go here is,when it's low tide,the sandbar will be very visible.But don't get disappointed if you come here high tide because you can climb up a hill and see the long S-shape sandbar.It's really breathtaking!The water is shallow,so you can walk right up to the tip of the sandbar.
Fun with pandanus – natural arts and crafts
The pandan tree throws a beautiful fruit that’s not really sweet, but its leaves have long been used as weaving material for mats and children’s toys like the ones you see here. During an intense squall, our boatmen entertained our island hopping tour participants by showing us how to put together these attractive toys in just a few minutes
- Family Travel