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El Nido Tour A – Everything You Need To Know

Do you want to know if El Nido Tour A is the right tour for you? Read on to see what you will see on Tour A, the places you will visit, included stops on the standard itineraries, and the additional costs you may not be aware of.

If you are considering an El Nido island hopping tour, but also want to know more about Tour B, Tour C or Tour D, check out these posts:





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!

“Jumping off boats, hopping off another cliff. Every six months I need a new bucket list.”

– Jay Z –

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.

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 who you book it through.

It is worth mentioning here that all El Nido island hopping tours require some level of swimming ability.  In saying this, there were many weak swimmers on our tours who were still able to participate by wearing life jackets all the time.

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Summary of El Nido Tour A, Tour B, Tour C, and Tour D

Tour A:

A great mixture of beautiful beaches, lagoons with turquois water, limestone cliffs, and perfect snorkelling. You will see:

  • Big Lagoon or Small Lagoon
  • Secret Lagoon
  • Seven Commando beach
  • Shimizu Island

Tour B:

Far more relaxing due to the fewer crowds in each of the locations. Great for those who have an interest in history. You will visit:

  • Snake Island
  • Pinagbuyutan Island
  • Entalula Beach
  • Cudugnon Cave
  • Cathedral Cave

Tour C:

This tour is the pick for those that love snorkelling and viewing marine life. This was by far our favourite! The places you will visit include:

  • Helicopter Island
  • Hidden Beach
  • Matinloc Shrine
  • Secret Beach
  • Talisay Beach or Star Beach

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’. Your tour includes:

  • Small Lagoon
  • Natnat Beach
  • Bukal Beach
  • Cadlao Lagoon
  • Pasandigan Beach / Cove
  • Paradise Beach
  • Ipil Beach

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.


El Nido Tour A – Everything You Need To Know

El Nido Tour A is the most popular island hopping tour as it offers a great mixture of beautiful beaches, lagoons with turquois water, photogenic islands, limestone cliffs, and perfect snorkelling. Due to its popularity, however, it is also the busiest tour.

Originally, Tour A visited both Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, however, there are now municipal rules in place that prohibit this. This means that there are now two versions of this tour available, one which visits the Big Lagoon and another which explores the Small Lagoon. 

Top Tip: Tour operators usually visit the destinations in the same order, but if you ask around, some tour companies offer an alternative order of stops so you won’t have to share lagoons and beaches with lots of other people.

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El Nido Tour A – General Booking Details i.e. Cost, Duration, Inclusions etc.

  • Cost: from 1200 PHP per person (USD$25 / AUD$32)
  • Departure Time: 8:30 – 9:00am
  • Pick-Up: from any hotels within El Nido town proper
  • Duration: approximately 7 hours
  • Attractions: Big Lagoon or Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Seven Commando Beach and Shimizu Island
  • Availability: Tour A is available on a daily basis. 
  • Types of Tours: offer both a shared tour and private tour
  • Boat (‘bangka”) Capacity:  either 12, 15 or 25 passengers (boat type depends on the availability and number of participants)
  • Inclusions: BBQ lunch buffet, bottled drinking water, mask and snorkel (depends on tour operator), towel (depends on tour operator)

El Nido Tour A – Stops on the Itinerary

Big Lagoon (or Small Lagoon)

The Big Lagoon is one of three beautiful lagoons located around Miniloc Island, and is an iconic attraction to explore in El Nido. Characterised by emerald coloured water and massive, lush limestone cliff walls, the Big Lagoon really showcases this areas beautiful and exotic scenery.

The downside of this however, is that due to its popularity, it can get very crowded.

Cruising up to Big Lagoon was our first real opportunity to see how dramatic the cliffs and landscape was in El Nido.

The Big Lagoon is entered by a shallow but wide channel which is wide enough for several outrigger boats to enter simultaneously. However, boats are now required to remain outside for environmental reasons.

To enter the Big Lagoon, you will need to either swim in (it is quite shallow) or rent a kayak. Kayak rental is available at Big Lagoon for a small fee of 300 peso.

Inside is an enormous natural swimming hole with clear, emerald waters surrounded by enormous towering limestone cliff walls. It is a magical place to just float around and take in the beauty.

Big Lagoon - El Nido Tour A
Big Lagoon – El Nido Tour A

Small Lagoon (or Big Lagoon)

Small Lagoon, located on the picturesque Miniloc Island, is one of the most photographed sights in all of Palawan, along with Big Lagoon.

It is very similar to Big Lagoon in many ways except smaller (hence the name). The lagoon boasts crystal clear waters and dramatic jagged limestone cliffs.

To enter, you must swim a couple of hundred metres and go through a small hole in the limestone cliff wall. Alternatively, you can rent a kayak for 300 peso and paddle in at low-tide.

Once inside, it is easy to explore this hidden world. We enjoyed floating around on our backs and taking in all the scenery around us. Truly beautiful!

N.B. Rough seas and high tide may hinder access to Small Lagoon. Be sure to leave Small Lagoon before the tide changes otherwise you may not be able to squeeze back through the opening.

Small Lagoon - El Nido Tour A
Small Lagoon – El Nido Tour A

Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon (sometimes known as Hidden Lagoon) on Miniloc Island is not such a secret anymore! It is one of the most popular and visited attractions in Bacuit Archipelago.

Secret Lagoon was one of my least favourite stops due to the huge number of tourists crowding this small lagoon.  It is still worth a visit though and hopefully, you will be lucky enough to have fewer people there at the same time as you.

When dropped off from your boat, you need to scramble or swim (depending on the tide) through a small hole in the side of the limestone cliff wall to get to the lagoon. Once inside, this small lagoon (only about the size of a tennis court) is totally enclosed by extremely high limestone cliffs.

Ensure you make the most of this stop by exploring the small caves, sandy coves, and the beach. There are some great snorkelling and swimming opportunities here. 

Small Lagoon - El Nido Tour A
Small Lagoon – El Nido Tour A

Shimizu Island

This little island with towering black limestone rock walls and a powdery white sand beach is a popular place to stop for your BBQ lunch. Also, Shimizu Island is a great representation of El Nido’s geological beauty that boasts limestone cliffs covered with vegetation.

Shimizu Island was named in memory of a Japanese diver who lost his life while exploring an underwater cave in this area.

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.

This stunning white sand beach is also the perfect place to do a bit of sunbaking and chill for a while. 

Shimizu Island - El Nido Tour A
Shimizu Island – El Nido Tour A

Seven Commando Beach

Seven Commando Beach is usually the last stop on a full day tour as it is the closest to El Nido town. This isolated beach is located on the mainland, but is only accessible by boat due to the surrounding mountainous terrain.

There are several legends as to how this beach got its name. One legend has it that seven Japanese commandos got stranded and ended up living on the beach for several years during WWII. The second legend claims it was named after a huge fishing vessel was once stranded on the beach. After the boat was repaired and the fishermen returned to their home, the local people discovered a carving with the word “Seven Commando” which they believed was the name of the vessel.

This wide expanse of beach has soft, powdery sand, impressive karst cliffs, and is lined with dense tropical jungle and coconut trees. Enjoy your last snorkel of the day, a swim in the ocean or go and explore. There is also a bar which offers refreshing coconuts and cocktails, so it is the perfect place to finish off an island hopping tour! 

Seven Commando Beach - El Nido Tour A
Seven Commando Beach – El Nido Tour A

Booking El Nido Tour A

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


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.

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. 
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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 Big 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.

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 $US30)

  • 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.


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.

Relucio Travellers Pension - El Nido
Relucio Travellers Pension – El Nido

In Summary: El Nido Tour A – Everything You Need To Know

Of all the island hopping tours available in El Nido, Tour A is definitely the most popular of the four. Unfortunately, this does also mean it is usually very crowded.

The planned tops on the itinerary are simply breathtaking and the beauty of this part of the Philippines never ceases to astound us. If you love beautiful beaches, lagoons with turquois water, limestone cliffs, and perfect snorkelling, then El Nido Tour A is the tour for you!

I hope you find this El Nido Tour A island hopping guide useful to help you make a decision 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?

If you are considering an El Nido island hopping tour, but also want to know more about Tour B, Tour C or Tour D, check out these articles:





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!