El Nido Island Hopping Tours – Which is the Best One for You?

Published Categorized as Travel Blog, Asia Travel, Destinations, Philippines Travel
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When considering an El Nido island hopping tour, you have four main choices of tours: Tour A, Tour B, Tour C or Tour D. From white sand beaches, limestone surrounded hidden lagoons, history and fantastic snorkelling experiences, each of these tours offer something a little different to suit everyone’s interests. If you are unsure on which one is best for you, read on to help you make your decision.


READ MORE ABOUT THE DIFFERENT TOURS:

EL NIDO TOUR A: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

EL NIDO TOUR B: ISLAND HOPPING IN PALAWAN

TOUR C EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING

ISLAND HOPPING IN EL NIDO: TOUR D


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


“We strongly believe that the Philippines has huge potential in the tourism industry, given our beautiful islands, moderate weather conditions, good cuisine, and the flair of Filipinos for hospitality and entertainment.”

 – Henry Sy –

Where is El Nido?

El Nido is a small, coastal settlement and major tourist destination on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. El Nido is the primary base for exploring the beautiful Bacuit Archipelago, which comprises 45 islands and islets.


Map of El Nido

Map of the Philippines
Map of the Philippines

How to Get to El Nido

There are a number of ways to get to El Nido:

  1. The most common and cheapest is flying into Puerto Princesa International Airport and then taking a mini-van to El Nido. The journey by van along windy roads will take between 4 hours and 7 hours depending on the time of day and traffic.
  2. The quickest way is to fly into El Nido airport with Air Swift airlines flying direct from Manila, Cebu, and Caticlan.
  3. A third option is to catch a fast boat from Coron. The trip takes about 4 hours and we highly recommend doing this at least one way so you can see what Coron has to offer as well.

El Nido Island Hopping Tours

Bacuit Archipelago is the ideal place for popular activities such as climbing, diving and snorkelling. However, the most popular activity and the reason most choose to visit El Nido is to go island hopping. Tours cost from P1200 (USD$25 / AUD$32) a day including a pork, chicken and seafood BBQ lunch, bottled water and snorkel gear.

There are four basic day trips to choose from named Tour A, Tour B, Tour C, and Tour D; and can be booked from all over town. Each tour offers different destinations but all of the tour boats follow roughly the same schedule. The quality of the boat, guides, food and tour depends on which company you book through.

Map of El Nido Island Hopping Tours
Map of El Nido Island Hopping Tours

El Nido Island Hopping – Tour A

The most popular tour that hits all the main highlights i.e. islands, lagoons and beaches, but also the busiest one.

  • Discover the clear waters of Miniloc Island, where you will visit Big Lagoon and Secret Lagoon.
  • Snorkel in the pristine waters of Seven Commando Beach, and get a chance to see a few sea turtles!
  • Soak up the sun and relax on the white sand beaches of Shimizu Island.

Big Lagoon

The Big Lagoon is entered by a shallow but wide channel which is wide enough for several outrigger boats to enter simultaneously. However, at low tide the boat will need remain outside and you will need to swim into the lagoon. The entrance into the lagoon best demonstrates how dramatic the cliffs and landscape is in this area of the archipelago.

Once inside, you will really appreciate the emerald green waters in this enormous swimming hole. You can hire a kayak or just float around and enjoy the moment!

N.B. Kayak rental is available at Big Lagoon for a small fee (300 peso)


Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon (sometimes known as Hidden Lagoon) in Miniloc Island is not such a secret anymore! Once dropped off in your boat, you will swim to a small hole in the limestone cliff face and clamber through one at a time to get to the lagoon. The lagoon is quite small, totally enclosed by high cliffs, but really beautiful.

We were allowed 45 minutes to explore the small caves, sandy coves, and inside El Nido Secret Lagoon itself. The beach there is beautiful and combined with the snorkelling and swimming opportunities, it is one of the most popular stops on Tour A. 


Seven Commando Beach

We stopped at Seven Commando Beach for 45 minutes on our tour and enjoyed a quick snorkel followed by a beer and swim. The beach is lined with coconut trees and the sand is soft and powdery. Perfect to relax and watch the world go by….


Shimizu Island

This little island with towering limestone rock walls and a powdery white sand beach is a popular place to stop for your BBQ lunch. Shimizu Island is well known for being one of the best snorkelling spots in the archipelago with a wide variety of corals and other marine life. However, the current can get strong depending on the tides, so check with your tour guide first to see if it is safe.

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

El Nido Island Hopping – Tour B

This tour is more diverse than others goes off the beaten track to spots without as many crowds to explore caves and coves; and snorkel and relax at world-famous beaches.

  • Discover Snake Island, known for its unique sandbar in the middle of the sea!
  • Swim and snorkel in beautiful Pinagbuyutan Island and see its famous limestone formations.
  • Visit the Cudugnon Cave, where locals used to hide from Japanese invaders during World War II.
  • Relish a delicious grilled lunch on the beach.

Snake Island

Snake Island is a unique spot in El Nido as it has a long sandbar that connects the Palawan mainland to the island. The sandbar only appears during low tide and is the perfect place to take a stroll along the powdery white sand. This is the perfect place to put the drone up and get some spectacular video footage.


 Pinagbuyutan Island

Pinagbuyutan Island in El Nido features huge towering cliffs that shoot straight up from the beautiful beach below. There are also some great snorkelling spots just off the shore with amazing reefs waiting to be discovered below the surface.


Entalula Beach

Entalula Beach is considered by many as one of the best beaches in El Nido. It is actually a privately owned island so going on Tour B is one of the very few ways of experiencing its magic. The sand is fine and white, and as soft as powder. The water here is crystal clear and blue, and is the perfect place for a swim. This is a popular lunch spot due to the many shaded areas in the caves along the shoreline.


Cudugnon Cave

Cudugnon Cave is a small cave on mainland Palawan. To access this cave you need to crawl through a small hole which will take you into an opening inside the cliff itself.  Watch your head as you move through the rock passageways and explore the gorgeous natural caverns of this rock formation.


Cathedral Cave

Situated in Pinasil Island in El Nido, this cave cannot be accessed by most tour boats, but you can swim into this cave and explore. Inside, the cave has the shape of a cathedral (hence its name) and is surrounded by black, limestone rock formations.

N.B. Kayak rental is available at Cathedral Cave for a small fee (300 peso)

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

El Nido Island Hopping – Tour C

This is the second most popular tour in El Nido and is great for snorkelling and caves.

  • Visit the unique Helicopter Island, named for its limestone cliffs resembling that of a helicopter.
  • Explore Hidden Beach, a beautiful little cover hiding behind karst limestone cliffs.
  • Get to hear the local stories and history behind the Matinloc Shrine.
  • Relish a delicious grilled lunch at the hidden beach.
  • Discover Secret Beach’s hidden natural wonders.
  • Snorkel at Talisay Beach / Star Beach, another fantastic spot to see the beauty of the coral reefs near the island.

Helicopter Island

Helicopter Island, or Dilumacad Island, got its name because of the shape it takes when you see it from a distance. Once you get closer, it’s soft white sand and turquoise waters will lure you in and keep you entranced. It is a beautiful place to relax, unwind, and enjoy the beautiful beachscape.


Hidden Beach

Hidden between two large rock formations is a strip of white sand beach, Hidden Beach. However, to reach this beach you have to swim or walk in waist to knee deep water for five minutes (about 200m). The effort is worth it though as the views to Hidden Beach are magnificent.


Matinloc Shrine

Formerly a shrine and convent, this abandoned area offers an opportunity to explore and ruins and there is also a viewpoint which has stunning views of the surrounding areas. N.B. Due to privatisation, the owner of this land now charges a 100 peso entrance fee.

Some boat Captains will offer an alternative snorkelling / beach visit to one of the many beaches and coves in this area. There are some wonderful snorkelling spots in this area with the possible chance of spotting some turtles.


Secret Beach

Secret Beach, located at another area in Matinloc Island, is a lagoon completely enclosed by imposing limestone cliffs. Tour boats stop in front of huge rock and limestone cliffs, and it is only then you see the opening to the Secret Beach. In order to get inside, you have to swim through a narrow gap.


Talisay Beach or Star Beach

Star Beach or Talisay Beach on Tapiutan Island is a fantastic spot for snorkelling. This area harbours a rich diversity of marine life and was amongst the best we experienced at any of the spots we have visited in the Philippines.

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

El Nido Island Hopping – Tour D

Visits the hidden gems the other tours don’t go to. This is the tour for you if you want less crowds!

  • Visit El Nido’s famed Small Lagoon.
  • Discover Cadlao Island, known for its hidden lagoons and white sand beaches such as Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach and Paradise Beach.
  • Relish a delicious grilled lunch at Bukal Island, Natnat Beach, or one of the many other amazing beaches on Cadlao Island.
  • Relax on the beaches or snorkel around and admire the colourful aquatic fauna.
  • Close to El Nido town proper, picturesque Ipil Beach is only accessible by boat.

Small Lagoon

To enter Small Lagoon, you need to swim through a hole in a rock wall or paddle through in a kayak at low tide. On the other side is a wonderful hidden world which you can explore by kayak or by swimming. The water is beautiful and clean, and the limestone cliffs rise dramatically from the sea.

N.B. Kayak rental is available at Small Lagoon for a small fee (300 peso)


Natnat Beach

Walk along the long stretch of white sand at Natnat Beach or cool off in the clear waters. This beach is a great spot to relax.


Bukal Beach

Bukal Beach is located on the tiny island of Bukal Island, right beside Cadlao Island. This charming island has a beautiful stretch of white sand beach and is a wonderful area for snorkelling.


Cadlao Lagoon

The towering limestone and emerald waters surrounding the lagoon are alone good reasons to go on this tour. Since there aren’t many tourists who go on this tour, expect to swim with barely anybody else around you. The clear emerald waters make a perfect snorkelling spot as well.


Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach is actually a pair of beaches separated by a clump of rocks, but both of the beaches have soft white sand and great coral for snorkelling. From here you can get good photos of El Nido town seafront.


Pasandigan Beach

Pasandigan Beach is one of the less visited places in El Nido, so it’s a great place to relax on the beach, enjoy peace and quiet, and the surrounding nature.


Ipil Beach

The day will end with a stop at Ipil Beach, close to El Nido town but accessible only by boat. You can swim and snorkel in its clean and clear water, or just relax on the white sand beach, in the shadow of a palm tree.

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

Which Tour Should You Choose?

All of the El Nido Island Hopping Tours will appeal to different types of travellers for different reasons. If you ask a local Filipino to recommend a tour, they will usually say Tour A or Tour C because of the dramatic landscapes. These tours are also most the popular. Below is a brief summary of each to help you make up your mind. 

Tour A – A great mixture of beautiful beaches, lagoons with turquois water, limestone cliffs, perfect snorkelling.

Tour B – Far more relaxing due to the fewer crowds in each of the locations. Great for those who have an interest in history. 

Tour C – This tour is the pick for those that love snorkelling and viewing marine life. This was by far our favourite!

Tour D – For the beach lovers who are looking at more of a relaxing day or for those that have already done the ‘must-sees’.

N.B. If you have the money and the time, we highly recommend doing more than one of these tours. Tour A and Tour C are the most popular for a reason and we would suggest doing both of these tours.


What About Combination Tours?

At the end of 2018, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) banned all the combination tours (Combo A&C, A&B etc.) in El Nido. This new policy was implemented to help minimize the negative impact of tourism in El Nido. In saying this, combination tours can still be purchased from some tour companies, but this means you will only be able to visit either Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon or Secret Beach on the same day.

For those travellers short on time, a combination tour is your best option to see the most of what this amazing area has to offer. You will be able to check off a few of the ‘must sees’, however, you will not be able to spend much time at each location and as a result, you may not get the full experience of each destination.

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

New Rules and Regulations for El Nido Island Hopping Tours

Due to the new government regulations mentioned above embracing sustainable tourism, a number of changes are now in place which have effected El Nido tour companies offering the four island hopping tours. These are:

  1. Government standardised pricing of tours per person
  2. You can’t do both Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on the same day
  3. Pre-registration is now required to visit a Premium stop (Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon or Secret Beach) – to pre-register you must contact your tour operator at least one day ahead of departure. Only a certain number of pre-registered people on a pre-registered boat can go inside each lagoon on a given day, and it’s first-come-first-served to get access. If a given premium tour has hit its limit, you will have to select a non-premium tour that doesn’t have a premium stop.
  4. The Protected Area Office is charging a 200 peso per person fee for pre-registration to visit a Premium stop. This fee will be in addition to the 200 peso charge for your ETDF (Eco-Tourism Development Fee).
  5. Premium stops now have time slots
  6. Boats can’t go in to Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon – To protect their fragile marine ecosystems, when you’re at either Small Lagoon or Big Lagoon, island hopping boats will no longer be going inside the lagoon. Instead, you can rent a kayak from an approved vendor for 300 peso.

Private Tour versus Group Tour

There are a couple of options for travellers looking to island-hop around El Nido – group tours and private tours.

Group tours are offered daily for Tours A, B, C and D and all follow the same itinerary. As a result, the tours can be crowded. It is the best budget way to see the islands, however, you could potentially share your experience with hundreds of others. 

The main plus of a private tour is the ability to tailor the tour to your own group needs and also to avoid the crowds. This is usually accomplished by departing earlier or later than the standard group tours, or by doing the islands in the opposite order. 

As you would expect, the downside of private tours is that they are generally more expensive than a group option, however, if you are in a large group of family or friends, you may find that this offsets much of the costs. The price for the full day private tour is between 6000 PHP to 7500 PHP.


El Nido Yacht Tour

If you’re spending time in this incredibly beautiful place, why not cruise the islands in style! Enjoy Cadlao Island, Star Beach, Seven Commandos Beach and Small Lagoon or Big Lagoon on this 7 hour tour on board the bright red Secret, a classy 50 foot sailing catamaran.  As you cruise the blue sea from one island to another, you can tan your worries away on the deck or lounge on a bean bag or trampoline while sipping cocktails. Yacht tours start from 5000 PHP per person.


Best El Nido Island Hopping Tours

If you are looking to pre-book an El Nido Island hopping tour, Trip Advisor offers some great tour packages at very competitive prices.

BOOK YOUR EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING TOUR NOW 

El Nido Island Hopping Tour

Additional Costs

Eco-Tourism Development Fee:

  • 200 pesos per person (mandatory)
  • Check with the tour operator whether this has been included in your tour price or not
  • N.B. Valid for all tours occurring within a 10 day period. Keep it in a safe place because if you lose or misplace it, you will need to pay this cost again.

Small Lagoon / Big Lagoon Fee (Tour A and Tour D): 

  • 200 pesos per person (compulsory)
  • This fee is in addition to the cost of the tour
  • N.B. Secret Beach (Tour C) is also expected to join this list of ‘premium stops’ eventually, but so far it hasn’t.

Mask / Snorkel Rental:

  • Check whether mask and snorkel hire is included free in your tour cost
  • If not, rentals start from 200 peso
  • N.B. These are a must if you want to get the most out of your tour!

Spending Money:

  • Kayak rental at the Small Lagoon or Big Lagoon – 300 peso per kayak
  • Refreshments on one of the islands – coconut water, soft drink, beer etc.

El Nido Island Hopping Rules

At the start of each tour, your tour guide will give a brief rundown on some of the island hopping rules. These are the main ones:

  1. Life jackets are compulsory during boat travel and this is enforced by the Coast Guard. In saying this, we were only required to wear life guards when we left the beach and again upon our return because that’s the only time the Coast Guard seems to be checking.
  2. You cannot pick up coral, sand, any marine life such as starfish etc. and you should not stand on coral. This rule is one of the basics of marine conservation and helps protect the islands from the multitude of tourists that come here every year.
  3. Single-use plastic water bottles are prohibited on all boat tours (technically), but again this rule is not enforced and there were many people with plastic bottles.

What to Take on an El Nido Island Hopping Tour?

You don’t need to bring much for any of the island hopping tours in El Nido, but this is what we think are essential items to pack for the day.

  1. Dry Bag: We highly recommend keeping all your gear in a dry bag, especially those items you do not want getting wet. Everyone on the boat is in and out of the water all day and the boat gets very wet. In addition, if the wind picks up in the afternoon on the way home, it is impossible to stay dry as the water splashes on-board.
  2. Camera: A waterproof phone (or phone in a good waterproof phone case) or camera is a must on this trip due to how picturesque the area is. We took our GoPro and managed to get some magnificent pictures.
  3. Sun Block: You’ll be in and out of the sun all day so this is a must! Make sure you reapply at least once during the day to ensure maximum coverage.
  4. Towel: Some companies provide you with a towel for the duration of the tour but we recommend you also take your own as they get extremely wet. We travel with fast drying microfiber towels so these were dry again by the time we came back from each of our swims.
  5. Water: Most tour companies will provide you with water throughout the day but we always take our own to ensure we never get thirsty. Just remember, single-use plastic bottles are not permitted on your tour so you will need to have a reusable bottle.
  6. Money: There are a few extra costs (detailed above) so it is good to have some extra cash on you. 
  7. Mask and Snorkel: If you don’t already have your own, masks and snorkels are readily available for rent (if not included in your tour cost) from 200 pesos. We always travel with our own masks and snorkels because we use these often so for us, it pays off to have own not only because it is more hygienic, but also rented equipment is not often in the best quality. READ OUR MARES X-VISION DIVE MASK REVIEW and MARES ERGO DRY SNORKEL REVIEW
  8. Reef Shoes: These are an optional extra which are available to rent for the day. Although there are only a couple of places that are a little rocky on Tour A, these shoes are recommended for the other tours. 
tusa switch pro package 240x240 1

Accommodation Options in El Nido

El Nido was once a small fishing village, but in the past 10 years, the word of its beauty is out and has spread far and wide. Nowadays, almost no Philippines itinerary is complete without visiting Palawan and El Nido. In order to satisfy this high demand, you can find many hostels and hotels in El Nido to suit every budget.

Luxury (US$100 and Up)

  • Lagun Hotel – Rooms come with all mod cons and the plunge pool on the rooftop has a great view.
  • MaryGold Beachfront Inn – Beachfront property with breathtaking views.
  • Vellago Resort – Superb ocean views from your beautifully spacious room set on a secluded island.

Mid-Range (US$30 to US$100)

  • Forest Camp – Chalet style accommodation with magical views of either the sea or mountains.
  • Bulskamp Inn – Centrally located with spacious rooms, great WiFi, and close to lots of great restaurants.
  • Inngo Tourist Inn – Very quiet, despite its central location.

Budget (Up to US$30)

  • Wilnag’s Guest House – Located in the centre of town and only 50m to the beach, there are a variety of cottages available from share rooms to private rooms with A/C.
  • Aleston Secret El Nido Hotel – Large double room centrally located in El Nido town proper with breakfast included.
  • Bunakidz Lodge – Rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable and within easy walk of all town amenities.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN EL NIDO AND MAKE A RESERVATION!


Where We Stayed in El Nido

We stayed at the Relucio Travellers Pension right in the heart of El Nido town proper and right on the water front. We stayed in a clean private A/C room with our own private bathroom, and paid USD$19 per night. This also gave us a beautiful continental breakfast each morning served on the balcony outside our room overlooking the water. We have recommended this place to many other travellers and none of them have been disappointed.  If you are travelling on a budget, we cannot recommend this place highly enough.

El Nido Relucio Travellers Pension - Breakfast View
El Nido Relucio Travellers Pension – Breakfast View

In Summary

When you ask other travellers the destination they would recommend for island hopping, exploring beautiful beaches, and for the best water activities, we believe that El Nido in the Philippines would be high on the list. Once you have been there, you will understand why…

Pristine white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, perfect water temperature, amazing white limestone cliffs, serene lagoons, incredible underwater life, and the list just goes on. If you ask us, El Nido on Palawan Island in the Philippines is unquestionably in our top 5 of places where we would like to return one day to see the spectacular natural beauty, both above and below the water.

I hope you find this El Nido island hopping guide useful in deciding what tour to do, and in planning your own time in El Nido.

Have you been on an El Nido island hopping tour? Which tour did you like best and why?


READ MORE ABOUT THE DIFFERENT TOURS:

EL NIDO TOUR A: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

EL NIDO TOUR B: ISLAND HOPPING IN PALAWAN

TOUR C EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING

ISLAND HOPPING IN EL NIDO: TOUR D


Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money4.5
Cuisine4.5
Friendliness of Locals5
Ease of Language Barrier5
Climate4.5
Activities and Tours5
Ease of Travel4.5
Culture Barrier4.5
Safety4.5
TOTAL EXIT45 RATING42 / 45

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El Nido Island Hopping Tours

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


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By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

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