One of the main reasons why people visit El Nido, Palawan is to visit the beautiful beaches and picturesque lagoons. The only way these places are seen is through island hopping tours. While in El Nido, we were able to do three different trips. There are a lot of companies that offer the same tours but we ended up booking with was Umi Travel and Tours.
TIPS FOR A GREAT ISLAND HOPPING TOUR:
- Buy or rent water shoes for all of the tours. You don’t need it while walking the beaches but it’s handy for other stops.
- Buy or rent waterproof backpacks/dry-bags to carry things. Rain or shine in El Nido, your things will get wet while on the boat – better safe than sorry!
- If you can book a private tour, ask to leave early before the other groups; this way, you’ll get great photos without having crowds around. With a private tour, you can also ask if the tour can be done in reverse order to miss the crowds.
- Bring extra towels. If you have a private tour, they provide towels for each passenger but it gets cold heading back from the visit and having a dry towel to cover up will help a lot!
*Snorkel gear is included with all tours.
All tours are 4.5 hours long. Some packages are flexible enough to do different tours across two days. On the first day, we did Tour C and on our second day, we did Tour A and B.
TOUR A: LAGOONS & BEACHES
Tour A takes you to Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and Seven Commando Beach. It’s the most popular tour being that it has the famous lagoons and beaches you’ve probably seen in movies or social media. It was our favorite tour because of the picturesque places we witnessed. The tour cost 1,200PHP/ $24USD per person.
Small lagoon is on the northern end of Miniloc Island and one of our more favorite highlights of the tour. Two large stones hide this little gem creating a lovely welcome into the lagoon. We were in awe once we entered this fantastic side of the island.
The Big Lagoon is an open lagoon with beautiful limestones rocks, clear turquoise water, and lush greenery. This spot was all about sight seeing and enjoying the view. Although this area was not a place for snorkeling, it was the best for taking the well-known social media photo at the edge of the boat.
Secret Lagoon is called a secret for a reason. You can either swim or kayak to the lagoon, but I suggest renting a kayak; it’s quite a long swim from where the boat is anchored. Kayak rentals are only available at this spot, and it’s first-come first-served. Once we got our kayak, we headed to the small opening of Secret Lagoon. Only one kayak can fit at a time, but once inside, you can swim around.
During Tour A, our lunch stop was on a new island called Shimizu Island. While boats are to be docked by the sand, we anchored our boat in the middle of the water for the kids to do some diving. Since we have a private tour, we were able to choose where to dock. While the crew were preparing our lunch, we snorkeled and saw a lot of different fishes! We couldn’t get over at how crystal clear the water was.
SEVEN COMMANDO BEACH
Seven Commando Beach is the last stop destination for Tour A. This is the only place that offers a bathroom out of all of the stops. This place also has food stores, souvenirs, activities and photo opportunities. The reason for the name and the soldiers is that legends say seven Japanese soldiers were swept away and took refuge on this island during World War II and lived here.
TOUR B: CAVES & COVES
Tour B takes you to one of the most incredible caves and white sand beaches in El Nido. From Cathedral Cave, Cudugnon Cave, Pangulasian Island, Snake Island and to Pinagbuyutan Island. Each stop has its own beauty and all very different from each other. This tour cost 1,300php ($26usd) per person for this tour.
When it comes to the tour, the caves were not my favorite. Because there was not much to do in the caves besides take photos. The rock formations was very beautiful though, it was very shallow and shaped like cathedral spires which is why its called Cathedral Cave. Usually, boats are able to go inside and were able to swim but there were a lot of sea snakes at that time.
I enjoyed our second island more than the first one. Our tour guide grabbed a sturdy mat, and we all headed towards the cave. He placed the mat in a small entry hole which we crawled through. The mat was used so our knees wouldn’t scrape on the sharp rocks while crawling. As soon as we reached the other side, there was a drop where we jumped into ankle high, icy cold water. Just a few steps into the cave and it opened up massively with many interesting rock formations.
The only thing I recall from this stop was that there were a lot of reefs here which are rich with different marine life along with distinctive and lively corals.
Heading to this island, we thought there were going to be snakes. Fortunately for us, the name is because the island formed like a snake. There’s a hike to the top, and you’re able to see the shape from there. We weren’t able to do the hike since the kids wanted to enjoy snorkeling in the pristine sandbar. The sandbar is so long it connects two islands. We also saw a lot of fishes, starfish, and a monkey. Yes, a resident of the isle is a monkey. Be careful of the monkey, he bites and steals food! Stay away from the monkey if you see him.
The very last stop for Tour B is Pinabuyutan Island. Tip: Save some food you had at lunch until this stop. We saw the cutest dogs on the island, and our tour guide informed us that those dogs live there. They venture out on the beach whenever they see boats because that means they’ll be getting fed! With crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and friendly dogs, it’s a perfect way to relax before heading back to El Nido town.
TOUR C: SHRINES & HIDDEN BEACHES
Tour C was our second favorite tour which stopped at Matinloc Shrine, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Star Beach and Helicopter Island. This is a perfect trip for those looking for an adventure in exploring hidden beaches and even more crystal clear waters. This tour costs 1,400PHP ($28USD) per person for this tour.
Limestone cliffs surrounding this preserved, The Lady of Matinloc, shrine. It cost extra to be on the island but you can swim to the shrine or the boat can pull over close to the docking area.
Such a magical place in a tucked away island! This was the farthest swim of the tour to get to this hidden beach. However, you don’t have to be a strong swimmer to get to this place; you’re able to use a vest and have the tour guide help. There are two openings to get to this beach with the closest entrance being a small cave opening. Be careful going in because the waves are crashing – make sure to have those swimming shoes on!
This was a fantastic snorkeling spot. The beautiful coral reefs were so close to the island. We spent almost an hour here exploring under water while the crew cooked our food for lunch. I wish we stayed longer!
We were able to eat at the Star Island but we spent our time snorkeling and wanted to head to the next stop. Once we got here, there were boats cooking and doing the same thing, eating lunch.
I see a bird, a plane, no a helicopter! There is no further explanation as to why this island is called the “Helicopter Island” – I guess it looks like a helicopter – can you see it? This was our last stop which had similar crystal clear waters for snorkeling and white sandy beaches for tanning as the other stops.
Food is prepared fresh every tour. They cut everything on the boat and barbecue during the tour. The presentation of the food spread was incredible. They tasted as good as it looks. Also, it was Landon’s first time trying yellow watermelon – he loved it! The fruits were so sweet and the seafood was the freshest!
Our tour guide, Jayson, was such an amazing guide along with the rest of the crew! El Nido is known for these island hopping tours and it’s no surprise that it’s always booked. My favorite was Tour A followed by Tour B and then Tour C being the last. I would highly recommend Umi Travel and Tours for a private tour!
Umi Travel and Tours
Hama Street, Barangay Masagana Zone 3
El Nido, Palawan, Philippines