The moment you’ve been waiting and starving yourself for to get that beach body has finally arrived. At last, you’re on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, El Nido. You are so ready to go all Moana to see how far you’ll go. The question is, where are you going to go? There are four tours in El Nido after all. If you have all the budget (and time) in the world then no problem, you can take all four, but what if you don’t? Which tour should you pick then? I have an answer for you, take Tour C and I will try my best to tell you what you must know about it.
I haven’t taken Tours B and D, but I did A (twice) and C and I do recommend them. On which one is better of the two, kind of hard to say. Tour A would show you the most beautiful lagoons, Tour C would show you the hidden beaches. The fun meter is slightly better for Tour C at least for me because it offered a little bit of adventure. I will expound on it further in the post.
Choosing a Tour Operator
There are many tour operators in El Nido and they are practically everywhere; they’re the people outside the Puerto Princesa airport, the tricycle drivers, the people you see in the port, the persons you meet randomly. You will have no problem finding a tour operator, your only concern is who to pick. If you want to know my recommendation, it would be Sealand Venture El Nido (check the bottom of this article for their contact information). It is a local tour operator that offers island-hopping, inland tours, transport assistance, among others.
Since I’ve already written about Tour A before, let us focus on Tour C today, shall we? To know more about Tour A, you may read my old article linked below
Tour C Inclusion
The islands covered in tours A-D tours are pretty standard as well as the rates. For Tour C, the rate is PHP 1,400 (USD 27.71) per head. This is the most expensive tour out of the 4 and arguably the most popular to tourists. Tour C would take you to the following islands:
- Helicopter Island
- Hidden beach
- Matinloc shrine
- Secret beach
- Star Beach
To give you an idea, here’s the map that I created of the tour that shows the islands covered and the routes taken.
One of the staff of SLV picked us up from our hostel at 8:30 in the morning. We rode a tricycle to get us to the port, about 5 minutes away from where we’re staying.
|Eat your breakfast before you do your island-hopping activity. Although lunch is included in the tour, it won’t be served until around 11 AM and preparation may take a while. You don’t want to be hangry now, do you?|
Our first stop is an island named after how it’s shaped; a helicopter. I heard someone say that it looked more like a chicken leg; well it does in another angle. But from where we came from, it looked just like how it is named, a humongous chopper.
This island has rich and shallow reefs making it an ideal snorkelling and diving spot even for beginners. According to a website, you even have a good chance of seeing sea turtles here. My friends wasted no time and immediately jumped into the water with their snorkelling gears (provided free of charge by SLV). I, on the other hand, wasted no time taking selfies.
The beach itself is not as gorgeous as those that we found on other islands. The sand here is more yellow than white, covered with with twigs, rocks, and leaves. But Helicopter Island’s appeal is not the beach but what you can see underwater.
The next three spots we were taken to are all located on Matinloc Island, the first of which is the Hidden Beach. The captain killed the boat’s engine in front of a long stretch of towering cliffs. True to its name, the beach is hidden and couldn’t be reached by boat, thus, we had to swim our way there. Not exactly the best swimmer of the lot, I had a bit of a hard time treading the water, while Lara and Lou being the legit swimmers in the group expended little effort.
We reached a long path flanked by a row of massive limestone cliffs. There, the water level only goes waist-deep that people can take the rest of the way by walking. On our way, Lara gestured for me to take a look at what she found on the sea bed. The water is so clear I had no trouble seeing this dark-coloured elongated creature that was barely moving. I thought it was a snake because it sure looked like a snake, but Lara said it’s a sea slug. Turns out that what we saw was neither a snake nor a sea slug but a type of a sea cucumber.
The Hidden Beach itself is a small strip of white-sand beach with towering rock formation for a background. It’s rugged and beautiful. It took more time reaching the beach than the time we spent staying there.
There is only one island in which we had to pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos (USD 1.98) and that’s on Matinloc Shrine. We were saved the shock of this charge because the boatmen had the mind to inform us about it before steering our boat to the island. I appreciate that they asked our permission because nothing is more annoying than hidden charges. The boatman said that the place is worth the extra bucks as it offers an amazing view of the islands. Plus, they intend to prepare our lunch there so I thought, it’s just a hundred bucks not a hundred thousand, no big deal. So I took it upon myself to speak for the rest of the passengers and said that it’s okay. The other passengers seemed to be on board too so we pushed on.
Matinloc Shrine is unlike any of the other islands; it has its own dock, an abandoned building, and a shrine. The building, which appeared to be an unfinished hotel now lay deserted on the middle of the island.
According to our boatmen, this place was built to become a retreat island but the owners had to shut it down due to the lack of funds. I haven’t seen a verified account of this story anywhere in the Internet and I even found different versions, one of them is that the owners weren’t able to secure the necessary permits, hence they were forced to stop the construction.
As to why it was built, to begin with, here’s what I found; in 1982, a religious visionary named, Guadalupe Yabes allegedly had a vision of the Virgin Mary who told her to build a shrine on a heart-shaped island. She then set out on a mission to find such an island in Palawan and found Matinloc. And so, a dome made of marbles supported by 12 pillars was built to become the Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc.
On the left side of the dome you will see a stone stairway that leads to the viewpoint area. The stairway is narrow and steep flanked by jagged karts. I found it fairly easy to climb and it only takes a few minutes to reach the top. Up there, behold this surreal view of the ocean.
Secret Beach, which is said to be the inspiration of author Alex Garland for his novel, The Beach can only be accessed by braving the deep waters and the waves. Our boatmen ensured that if they find the waves to be too strong then they would abort the plan of leading us there. You’d think Alchris and I would be the ones who would hesitate about going since we’re not exactly stellar swimmers, but nope, it was Lou. I couldn’t blame her though, if the waves are bad we may run the risk of meeting an accident and nobody wants that. Fortunately for us, the waves were not as intense as we were expecting so off we went.
It doesn’t mean though that the journey was a walk in the park. Without a life vest there is no way I would do this; the water is deep and the waves a little strong that swimming is a bit challenging. To make my life easier, I did backstroke. I floated on my back and started to flutter kick my way to the destination, notwithstanding the fact that I couldn’t see where I was going. Surprisingly, my pace was a lot faster than other people that I felt so proud of myself. I went past my friends and the other tourists, then I turned my head back to see how much I’d been progressing and found one of the boatmen pulling me as he swam through the water.
Turns out I was proud for nothing. I was going fast not from my own effort but from somebody else’s. I had to laugh in spite of myself for allowing myself to believe for a second moment that I was doing it on my own.
We reached a small opening that leads to the Secret Beach. The waves in that area are stronger and the hole is so small we could only enter one at a time. The boatman pushed me into that hole like I weigh nothing and I would have minded it if it weren’t for the fact that the view inside stole my breath away.
We walked over the slippery rocks that were submerged in the water. We encountered some tourists leaving the beach who provided some tips that we walk where the water is shallower and sure enough it was a lot easier to walk on. Out of all the hidden gems that we found in El Nido (Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Secret Lagoon), the Secret Lagoon takes the cake for being the most beautiful. Imagine swimming inside a natural pool, concealed by the towering karsts. I’m telling you it was an experience like no other.
Star Beach (Dalisay Beach)
Saving the best for last is the Star Beach, a small stretch of pristine white beach on Tapiutan Island. It is known locally as Dalisay Beach and this is where we spent the remaining hours of our island-hopping tour doing snorkelling and free diving.
This is where I had the most fun just because I did something that I consider to be brave. You see, I know how to swim, but I never dared to do it on deep waters without a life vest. Then I saw Lara and the boat crew having the time of their lives doing free diving that I got envious. So I told myself, “Marge, you can do it. Take off your vest and swim.”
I asked Lara if I would stay afloat if I remove my vest; “Give it a try, it’s saltwater, you’re bound to float,” she answered. She advised that I keep my vest close by if I’m not too confident.
I thought about it for a sec and remembered that I’ve done scuba diving. I’ve been to the depths of the sea and I’m still alive. I am also surrounded by good swimmers so how bad could it be. “I’m gonna do it,” I whispered. Before I could second guess myself, I slowly took off my life jacket, let it go, and watched it float right in front of me. To my utter delight, I stayed afloat! Surprisingly, I was completely calm and when I found myself sinking, I just kicked my legs, flailed my arms and that seemed to do the trick. I kept the vest floating nearby just for safety measure and whenever I found myself too tired, I just grab on the vest to rest for a moment.
The view underneath the water was just as magnificent as the view on the surface. The massive corals, the colorful fishes, everything looked like a dream. The boat crew, young men with dark skin and lean frames swam in the sea like it was their playground. They dove into the deep without effort, and moved in the water like they belonged in it. They were fascinating to watch that I was inspired to take free diving lesson when I get the chance.
The rain has started to pour when we traveled our way back to El Nido port. I sat on the boat and felt the mist of rain and seawater on my face. We were fortunate to have gone through the entire island-hopping tour under what I consider to be the best weather. It was a little bit of sunshine and gloomy skies, and the rain only came when it was all over. I saw the boat crew huddled together on the bow of the boat, talking animatedly with each other. How lucky they are to be living in this paradise that many of us could only visit whenever time permits. Nevertheless, I am grateful, to see so much beauty in a day, to swim in clear blue waters with the company of my friends.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Mr. Philip Morales, owner and operator of Sealand Venture El Nido for agreeing to arrange our tour. The island-hopping tours were sponsored by Sealand Venture El Nido. Review and opinions are my own.
Sealand Venture El Nido
Brgy. Buena Suerte, Serena St.,
Poblacion, El Nido, Palawan
Contact no: +63 919 608 8077