Three years ago, my officemates and I went to Coron, Palawan. The owner of the place we stayed in gave us a boat with two boatmen, and much like a paper boat we sailed not knowing where we would go. They took us to several islands, those that can be reached by the fuel that revved up the boat. Our island-hopping tour was spontaneous and unpredictable; we had no set itinerary. It’s an entirely different story in El Nido.
If El Nido is a TV character it will be Monica of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, everything is organized. There are so many islands to explore in El Nido, they had to divide them into four different tours:
The most popular tours of them all are Tours A and C. Out of curiosity, I asked this driver from Lexxus why is it so. According to him, the islands on Tours B and D are farther than those on A and C. When you take B or D he said, you may only get to visit 2 or 3 islands in a day.
Rates for these tours are fixed regardless which agency you book your tour with. Tours are inclusive of lunch, but you have to shell out an additional of PHP 200 for the environmental fee.
Though I was quite curious about Tours B and D, I opted to just follow my friends’ advice and booked Tour A. There are many big-time and small-time tour agencies offering their services.
Unlike in Coron, the boats in El Nido have no toilets. According to the same driver I mentioned earlier, the islands in Coron are so far apart, they required the boats to have toilets. [Read: Travel Guide to Coron, Palawan]
All tours begin at El Nido Port. For the Tour A activity, I went with Sea Horse Travel and Tour, on a boat with 11 other tourists and 3 boatmen. [Read: First Solo Travel in El Nido Palawan]
The first island we went to is Miniloc where you can find the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Secret Lagoon. We arrived on an island teeming with people, some were swimming, the others were kayaking. Our boat, as the others, stopped a few meters away from the opening of the Small Lagoon. When the head boatman announced that we have to swim our way to Small Lagoon, I stared at him like he just spoke in tongues. I almost cried out in protest, not out of laziness but because I know my limitation when it comes to swimming. Sure, I was wearing a vest but if I have to rely on my strength to get there it would probably take forever.
Still, I went to the water and tread lightly. I used to own a waterproof pouch for phones but it suffered from wear and tear and I didn’t have the chance to buy another one. So I did a very stupid thing and that is to put my phone inside a plastic bag. So imagine me wading in the water with only my left hand and my legs doing the work while my right hand, the one that was holding the phone, raised on top of my head. Yes I know, I looked stupid. Because of this stupid move, I didn’t make much of a progress and eventually, my balance got screwed up that I rolled over the water and ended up soaking my phone in the process. Why did I bring the phone? Because I have no other camera and of course, I wanted to take pictures inside the Small Lagoon for this blog. That’s dedication and that’s stupidity. And now that phone is ruined huhuhu…
Anyway, the head boatman saw my struggle and offered to return my phone in the boat. I was already questioning my sanity for trying to swim my way to the lagoon and it’s not just because of my limited swimming capacity but because of the corals. The water is not too deep, but the seabed is covered with corals. You can walk a bit but not without the risk of getting yourself hurt. In fact, I did graze my shin in them corals and I was even bitten by a friggin’ fish that I yelped in surprise. Also, there are lots of jellyfish that I wonder why people are allowed to swim in there in the first place.
I didn’t want to make unnecessary expenses on this trip so I ignored the kayak, but I think I suffered enough and there is no way I would leave that place without going inside the Small Lagoon, so I asked the head boatman how much is a kayak rental. When he said that it’s only PHP300 per hour I let out a sigh of relief because it was cheaper than I thought it’d be. I thought it’d cost somewhere between 500 to 1,000 pesos. The boatman swam his way like a pro to the kayak area and got me one of those. He also thought it best to keep me company, probably because he witnessed how stupid I can be, so I instantly had a kayak buddy.
My effort wasn’t for naught because Small Lagoon is so beautiful. There, the water is deeper, but it’s so clear you can still see the beautiful corals. And the jellyfish are everywhere! I found them so cute, I even tried to scoop them with the paddle (to no avail).
Here’s a short video of my time in Secret Lagoon.
There is a small cave somewhere inside the Small Lagoon, which reminded me of that cave that my friends and I went to in Coron.
Some people got creative and made a human chain while their boatman pulled them along to get to where they wanted to be. I imagined myself doing the same if I were with friends but of course, you already know, I went on this trip alone.
We were supposed to go to the Secret Lagoon next, but I informed my boatman that I need a bathroom. You see, I happened to be on my first day of period. Please don’t tell me this is too much information, okay, all women get their period and unfortunately, I got mine on that day. Because it’s that time of the month, swimming was an extra challenge for me. The head boatman was kind enough to consider my condition so he decided that we go have lunch first on Payong Payong beach. If you are curious, there is no restroom in Payong Payong. I will spare you the details but let’s just say that I took care of the matter “creatively” and no longer went swimming for the rest of the trip. So to all women out there, I highly recommend that you schedule your trip when you’re not menstruating, especially if you are going on an island hopping.
Payong Payong is a rugged beach surrounded by sharp, uneven rock formations. The seashore is bedecked with rocks and crush corals that you have to be extra careful when you take a walk here. While our boatmen prepared our lunch, some went snorkeling (like this Chinese guy who reported that he saw turtles), some spent time taking pictures, while I got busy taking my own picture, what else.
Our lunch was pretty basic, there’s grilled fish, roasted chicken, vegetable salad, and fruits. There’s 15 of us on the boat and rice was not enough. One of my fellow passengers complained to the boatmen about the rice, the boatman replied that he and the rest of the crew didn’t get that much food too. The passenger sorta felt guilty so she started offering them cheesecake.
My appetite was absent so I hardly ate much, and I also went easy on drinking water because like I said, there is no toilet in our boat.
Out of all the islands we went to, I wasn’t able to enjoy the Secret Lagoon. As the name implies, it is not out in the open so you have to go through this small opening to see it for yourself. Because I didn’t want to risk getting wet anymore, I decided to just stay on the boat.
One of the Chinese tourists, the companion of “Turtle Guy,” asked me to take his photo with his SLR. He went to the tip of the boat while I carefully balanced myself because it would be a disaster if I somehow fall off the boat with his camera. I thought I was supposed to take just one photo but the guy started doing some poses that obviously meant, I should keep on taking his picture. So… we had a photoshoot and I wasn’t informed. Later on, I found out he’s a photographer but because he likes to keep posing for the camera let’s call him “Tyra Banks Guy.”
In fairness, he returned the favor by taking some of my pictures too. He even instructed me how to pose in front of the camera. I must say Tyra Banks Guy knows what he’s doing. Thanks to him, I have this photo.
When the rest of our group returned, one of the passengers was already sporting a jellyfish sting. I told you, jellyfish come aplenty in Miniloc so be extra careful when you go swimming here. Good thing there’s a vinegar in our boat so they were able to do some first aid on her.
After the Secret Lagoon, my phone died on me. My hunch is that it short-circuited because, stupid me, I plugged it on my power bank even when it got soaked in water. Because of this, I wasn’t able to photograph the most beautiful lagoon I’ve ever seen on this trip, the Big Lagoon. This time, we just passed through the lagoon and were refrained to do any more swimming. This has more to do with the fact that we no longer have enough time to spare.
When they say big they sure weren’t kidding. The Big Lagoon begins with a path submerged in water that is no higher than the knees. Because the water is shallow most of the boats stop by the opening and then the tourists are asked to walk their way toward the lagoon. A few boats go all the way to the lagoon though, just like ours. It wasn’t easy because as I mentioned, the water down the path is low. In fact, we got stuck at one time so some of the men on our boat including the passengers got off to help push it forward.
Just to give you a clue on how beautiful the Big Lagoon is, I asked my friend, Cai of Travelosyo for some pictures. So don’t be surprised if he’s in one of the photos.
The view in the Blue Lagoon is something beyond my wildest dreams. The head boatman told us to take the opportunity to go to the tip of the boat and have our picture taken, with the Big Lagoon perfectly set as the background. Tyra Banks Guy took it to heart and posed himself away as Turtle Guy took his picture. I, on the other hand, felt like a loser, silently praying for the heavens to turn my phone on, but alas, the screen remained black, and it wouldn’t switch on until the next day.
Seven Commando Beach
For one and a half hour, we went beach bumming on the Seven Commando Beach. The island reminded me of Banol Beach although this one is bigger and has more cottages to accommodate people. There seemed to be some people inhabiting the island too as hinted by some shacks that can be seen around the place. This is the only island we went to with a restroom although the condition of them left much to be desired. Still, there’s running water and a toilet and that’s what matters.
Just like the Big Lagoon, I wasn’t able to take some photos. The following pictures are also courtesy of Cai.
My co-passengers took this time for swimming while I chose to catch some zzz’s. I did it while sitting in of the cottages, with my head resting against the wall. Don’t ask me how I managed to sleep, I just did. When I opened my eyes an hour has passed already and it was time to return to our boat. It started to rain on our way back but thank heavens it didn’t form big waves on the sea. It was a long, wet, but safe ride back to the port. We were back on land at 4:30 p.m.
And so this is the story of my only island-hopping activity in El Nido. I hope I’ve given you enough information or at least an idea on what to expect if you take the Tour A. As I mentioned it is one of the most booked tours in El Nido and based on what I saw and experienced, I now understand why. In closing, learn from my mistakes and remember the following:
- For the girls, schedule your island hopping activity when you are not on your period. Sure you can still enjoy the trip or go swimming but the hassle it brings after, especially when you go back to the boat will make things difficult for you.
- Just bring a goddamn waterproof pouch if you don’t have a water resistant camera or phone. And if ever your phone got wet, do not, under any circumstances, charge it right away.
- Rent a kayak at Small Lagoon, I assure you that extra PHP 300 (USD 6.03) is worth it.
- Make friends especially with the boatmen. Talking to them made a load of difference especially if, like me, you decide to travel there alone.
You may view or download my itinerary for Puerto Princesa and El Nido, Palawan trip by clicking the image below ↓ .
Sea Horse Travel and Tour
Serena St. Brgy. Buena Suerte
El Nido, Palawan
Contact nos.: 0939-8830866/0905-9323612