El Nido Island Hopping

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, PhilippinesEl Nido Island hopping tours in Bacuit Archipelago are the reason we came to Palawan. We were excited for the Underground River and Honda Bay, but hopping between the islands off El Nido, with their sheer rock faces jutting out of the ocean, white sand beaches, caves, and hidden lagoons was at the top of our list of Palawan activities.

There are four tours available to see the islands that dot Bacuit Bay. These tours are cleverly named Tours A, B, C, and D. We took all four tours and put together this post with all you need to know to plan your trip and choose the best El Nido island hopping tour for you.

El Nido Island Hopping Tours: A, B, C, and D

The island hopping tours in El Nido are standardized into four tour options: A, B, C, and D. No matter where you book your tour the itinerary will be more or less the same. Each tour has 5 stops and they are grouped so that each tour goes to a different area of Bacuit Bay.

The basic itineraries for each tour package are below. In addition to the mainstays described below each tour generally includes a couple of other beach stops at varying locations based on crowds and timing.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

A typical island hopping tour sign showing the 4 options.

Typically the tours are shared, meaning guests from various parties share the same boat. The boats vary in size from accommodating about 6 passengers to nearly 20.

It is possible to hire an entire boat (in which case you could dictate the exact itinerary) for added cost.

Tour Providers

Most hotels can arrange tours for you, and many own and operate their own boats. There are also several tour providers with storefronts in El Nido proper.

Our tours were all arranged by Telesfora Beach Cottage, where we stayed on Corong Corong Beach (just south of El Nido proper). For Tours A, B, and C we went on boats owned and operated by Telesfora round trip from Corong Corong Beach. For Tour D the Telesfora staff arranged for us to go with Cadlao Tours in El Nido proper due to boat availability (i.e. we were the only ones at Telesfora who wanted to go on Tour D during our stay on the days we had available).

Our experience on the tours run by Telesfora was excellent, and definitely better than our experience with Cadlao (which was still fine, but Telesfora was excellent).

While the Telesfora boats often left a bit later than other boats in the morning, we had as much time as we wanted at each destination and typically returned at or after sunset. The lunch food was delicious and plentiful. Erwin, our guide on two of three tours, was super friendly and knowledgeable about the destinations.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Returning to a beautiful sunset over Corong Corong Beach after our island hopping tour from Telesfora Beach Cottages.

Telesfora has at least three boats of varying sizes, all of which are comfortable. The smallest one (“DHRUV”) is pretty loud, so a set of earplugs would be a good idea.

The Cadlao tour was fun and we still had a great day, but we felt rushed and only stopped at 4 of the 5 locations on the typical Tour D circuit, while still getting back pretty early. They cut out Helicopter Beach “because we had already been there” but did not replace it with another stop. The lunch was fine but Telesfora’s food was better.

Our Cadlao guide, AJ, was excellent though. He guided me to the top of the mountain on Bukal Island and made little bird puppets from palm leaves for the kids.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Inspecting the lunch spread during our Tour C with Telesfora Beach Cottages.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

AJ, our Tour D guide, with the palm leaf birds he made for the kids.

Tour A

Tour A focuses on lagoons and typically includes:

Small Lagoon

Our favorite part of Tour A, small lagoon branches into a few different coves after you enter through a small archway in the cliff. You can enter either via kayak or swimming, though we’d recommend kayaking for a couple of reasons. First, there are biting fish near the entrance to the lagoon (we were in a kayak but heard several swimmers complaining). Second, the kayak will let you see more of the lagoon during your time there. Despite the name it’s actually quite large. Your tour provider may bring a kayak but if not you can rent one at the lagoon for 200 pesos.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Bobbing in Small Lagoon.

Big Lagoon

Big enough to tour without leaving your boat Big Lagoon offers many impressive vistas (apparently Hollywood agrees – the ending of the Bourne Legacy was shot here). It’s a majestic place. We spent a good part of our journey through the lagoon posing for pictures on the bow and outriggers of our banca with the cliffs and bright blue water in the background. One of the best views is from inside the lagoon back towards the entrance, with the sun gleaming through the gap in the rocks.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Four of us smiling and looking at the camera. It’s like spotting a unicorn.

Seven Commando Beach

We were familiar with Seven Commando Beach before our tour as we kayaked there a few times from Corong Corong beach. Seven Commando is very large with great expanses of powdery white sand. Depending on your timing you can either have it to yourself or be surrounded with boats and tour-goers. Unlike most beaches there’s a dedicated swimming area in the center so even during peak time you’ll be able to find some open water free of outriggers and anchor lines.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

7 Commando Beach. This is from a time we kayaked there – there can be more people if you arrive as part of an island hopping tour.

What really sets this beach apart is the snack stand where they serve up delicious halo halos for 100 pesos apiece. Halo halo is a Filipino dessert made of crushed ice and any number of other ingredients including various fruit jellies, beans, ube paste, peanut butter, coconut, and sweetened condensed milk. After our first visit the kids started referring to 7 Commando Beach as “Halo Halo Beach”!

One time we visited they also had fried sweetened bananas on skewers for 20 pesos (2 bananas per skewer). We got two and could have had 10. Delicious.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Making halo halo’s at 7 Commando Beach.

There is another lagoon in the Tour A area called Secret Lagoon. It’s a “secret” because the entrance is through a small hole in the rock, barely big enough for an adult to fit through. The lagoon is very small and the water is a cloudy blue as it’s not directly connected to the ocean so rainwater filters down over the rocks before mixing with ocean water from below.

Secret Lagoon wasn’t on our original Tour A itinerary but we asked to go there and it wasn’t a problem to add it as a stop. It’s cool and worth the time, but it’s crowded and there were so many bancas in the cove that the water smelled of diesel fuel when we were there. So don’t get too upset if it’s not part of your tour.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Secret Lagoon – kids making their “scary” faces.

Tour B

Tour B showcases caves and a spectacular beach. Included in the Tour B itinerary are:

Cathedral Cave

A towering cave with swaths of color black, white, and grey on the stone walls. The cave opening is big enough for the bancas to poke into, giving a view without disembarking. We recommend jumping out for a swim if your tour guide will allow it though, as there are some brilliantly colorful corals just to the right of the cave entrance. Swimming into the cave also provides a unique perspective.

Cudugnon Cave

To enter Cudugnon cave you must crawl through a small opening in the rocks barely big enough for an adult to fit through. Once inside you’re treated to a couple of large chambers with light filtering in from above. Apparently a former burial ground and site of treasure hidden by the Japanese during World War II, it’s now just a beautiful cave with multicolor walls and some bats. There’s also a beach here with some picnic tables where we had lunch. You can buy drinks from a small stand, including fresh buko (coconut milk).

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Cudugnon cave with friends from our boat.

Snake Island

There’s no actual snakes here but there is a cool sandbar that resembles a snake when viewed from above. When you leave the boat walk to the left to go up the hill to an observation area to see the “snake” sandbar. It’s a short climb. Definitely take the time to walk across the sandbar itself too. On the far side is a fun mangrove forest which makes for a great spot for photos.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

The lookout point on Snake Island.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

In the mangroves at Snake Island.

Pinagbuyutan Island

Also known as Honeymooners Island, this is one of the prettiest beaches we’ve seen in the Philippines. The sand is bright white, palm trees overhang the beach, the water is gleaming cobalt, and rocky cliffs tower above. There’s a soft grassy area behind the sand that would be great for a picnic. It’s idyllic.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Quiet beach.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Happy girls.

Our Tour B also included Las Cabanas Beach because some folks on our boat wanted to do the zip line that runs above it. While not officially part of most tour itineraries, it’s worth asking your tour operator or boatman if you’d like to stop. It’s a pretty beach with a few options to get some food.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Las Cabanas Beach.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Las Cabanas Beach.

Tour C

Tour C brings you to particularly dramatic scenery and includes a couple of “hidden” beaches to satisfy your explorer fantasies. The typical itinerary includes:

Hidden Beach

A nice white sand beach that’s not visible from the ocean. The bancas anchor in a small inlet from which you can swim and wade around the cliffs to Hidden Beach (bring reef shoes). For a little more exciting entrance to Hidden Beach look for a small cave just to the left of the main wading area (where most people will be walking) after you get off your boat. It may be easier to find the cave first from the beach and go out – just walk all the way to the left as you get to the beach from the water.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Hidden Beach.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Exploring the secret cave tunnel to Hidden Beach.

Secret Beach

You get to secret beach by swimming through a small hole in the rock, which brings you to a lagoon and a white sandy beach. Though it feels a little less secret when filled with a dozen bancas full of tourists, it’s still beautiful and worth the stop.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Secret Beach.

Matinloc Shrine

An abandoned church and shrine set amongst the jungle and rocky cliffs adjacent to sparkling blue water. There’s also an observation point above which you reach by climbing a set of stone steps to the right of the shrine that offers great views out over the water. We understand there is also a museum here with exhibits describing the history of the area, though we only found out about it after our tour so we weren’t able to check it out ourselves.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

The viewpoint at Matinloc Shrine.

Helicopter Beach (sometimes)

Helicopter Beach gets its name from the island it is on, which, from a distance and with some imagination, resembles a helicopter. The beach itself is long, wide, and covered with soft sand. The swimming is good and there’s even a gentleman selling ice cream (bring cash). Can’t beat it. We stopped here on our Tour C, but we understand sometimes it’s on Tour D instead.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

We had Helicopter Beach to ourselves.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Helicopter Beach selfie.

Tour D

Tour D is primarily a beach tour. There is one lagoon, but otherwise the focus is on gorgeous out-of-a-postcard beaches. The stops include:

Pasandigan Beach

Pasandigan is a powdery white sand beach lined with coconut trees. There’s a large covered picnic table nestled in the trees behind the sand for lunch. The swimming is nice here, though there’s not much to see snorkeling.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Pasandigan Beach.

Cadlao Lagoon

This large lagoon is big enough for the bancas to enter. The main part of the lagoon is hidden from view until you are inside making for a dramatic entrance. Bright blue water beckons and we enjoyed swimming through the lagoon, marveling at the cliffs above.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Swimming in Cadlao Lagoon.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Swimming in Cadlao Lagoon.

Paradise Beach

The rock formations and crystal clear water make this a fun stop. The beach is all beautiful white sand and there’s both good swimming and snorkeling. For snorkeling go straight out, past the first patch of mostly dead coral, and you’ll find a colorful reef with lots of fish. Swimming is best off to the left (as you face the ocean) where there is clear water, a sandy bottom, and really cool rock cliffs carved out by the the waves.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Paradise Beach.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Paradise Beach.

Bukal Beach

On the corner of Bukal Island this small beach feels totally isolated even though it’s actually within kayaking distance of El Nido proper. We were lucky to arrive at the beach when there were no other boats. The beach quickly felt crowded once one and then two more bancas joined us. There’s decent snorkeling straight out and to the right (as you face the ocean).

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Bukal Island.

If you’re up for an adventure bring some sturdy sandals (or better yet hiking boots) and climb to the top of the mountain on Bukal Island. There’s a trail behind the beach that leads up the rocky cliff.

The climb is a mix of steep stone steps, wooden ladders, balance beams, and even straight up rock climbing. It is a relativelly short climb and in about 20 minutes you’ll be at the top where there’s a small nipa rest hut with a spectacular view back towards El Nido.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

The view from the top of Bukal Island.

At one point you’ll get to what looks like a dead end – a sheer rock wall straight up. If you look above you you’ll see a piece of wood going across between the rock. Climb up to that and then look to the right where you’ll see a cave. Go through the cave and you’ll be on your way.

It’s a very challenging, technical climb and a fall at certain points would mean serious injury on the jagged rocks, so take our time and be careful if you give it a shot. I was very glad to have left the kids safely enjoying the beach with Mommy while I went on this trek with our guide. This is not a climb for children.

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Our guide climbing the rocks to the top of Bukal Island.

Helicopter Beach (sometimes)

See our description above.

Snorkeling in El Nido

If you’re big into snorkeling, tell your guide right when you start your island hopping tour. They seem to have some leeway in where they stop for lunch and we were able to go to some really great snorkeling spots because we specifically asked about it.

One great example is on Tour C, we stopped for lunch on a secluded beach a little ways down from the Matinloc Shrine. The water is shallow right by the beach, but swimming out a little ways into the “channel” between the karst islands we found a steep coral wall drop off. There was tons of fish and bright colored corals to explore.

Most stops have at least some area to go snorkeling, so if it’s not obvious ask your guide and he or she can point you in the right direction.

Safety Tip: Watch out for banca boats while you’re snorkeling. Don’t assume they see you or are looking out for you.

Best El Nido Island Hopping Tour

The best El Nido island hopping tour for you will really depend on what you want to see. If you’re after beaches then check out Tour D. For natural beauty and impressive views from the boat Tour C is best. Tour A has some of the most unique sights in the Large and Small Lagoons, while Tour B is the only one to bring you to caves and also includes an amazing beach.

If we had to pick just one tour, it would be Tour A. Of all the tour destinations the ones we would have been most sad to miss are the Small and Large Lagoons. The addition of the awesome 7 Commando Beach and the route itself between destinations give a good sense of the dramatic scenery in Bacuit Bay. One downside is Tour A seems to be the most popular with tourists, so while it’s an easy tour to schedule, it’s harder to find solitude!

If you have time for two tours, add either Tour B or C. Tour D is too similar to A (they both go to beaches and lagoons).

El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

El Nido Island Hopping Tour A

El Nido Island Hopping Tour Cost

The cost per person ranges between 800 pesos and 1,400 pesos for a shared boat. The cost varies some based on the tour provider, the specific tour chosen, and your bargaining skills.

The cost is for a full day of touring and includes lunch. There are no separate admission charges to visit any of the individual stops (though there are some opportunities to spend money along the way as described above).

There is also a one-time environmental fee of 200 pesos per adult, which is good for 10 days (so you can use it for multiple tours). You pay this before your first tour and get a certificate that shows you paid, so hang onto it if you plan to do more than one tour.

Worth the 6 hour van ride from Puerto Princesa.

The island hopping in El Nido is nothing short of spectacular.

El Nido spoiled us with pristine, white sand, nearly empty beaches at every turn. We’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere in the world and it more than lived up to our lofty expectations. We loved all four of the tours and they are at the top of our list of our favorite Philippines activities.

Note: Telesfora gave us a discounted rate for our island hopping tours.

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El Nido Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

Swinging from vines at Pasandigan Beach, Tour D.

Author: Matt

Husband to the lovely and talented Kat. Father to Aurora, Jasper, and Piper – the smartest, cutest, funniest, and most adorable minis on the planet. Traveling the world with all four. Overall a pretty lucky guy.

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19 Comments

  1. hi.i stumbled upon ur blog over facebook. I am glad that you and your family had a good experience in Philippines. i hope one day well have the courage to do the same. take care.

    Post a Reply
    • Go for it! There’s never the “right time” 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and taking time to comment!

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  2. Kind o’ surreal to look at you guys doing all this beaching while we’re getting more snow tonight! Just what we need! Feb is in the books as the coldest February since 1936 or something like that. Matt, your dad will know the exact answer.

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    • I’m sure you guys are setting all kinds of records!

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      • As I’m sure you are as well!

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  3. Hi Matt,

    Awesome!

    I’ve heard awesome, wonderful things about Nido. Need to get over there. Pristine as can be and it looks far from overrun, at least according to the images I’m seeing above on these tours. I am a sucker for those waters, the peace and the beauty in such a spot.

    Keep on inspiring guys!

    Tweeting now 😉

    Ryan

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Ryan! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. El Nido is absolutely spectacular, and pristine for sure. We LOVED it there. Some of the tour spots can get a little busy at times if several boats come at once, but we didn’t have trouble finding peace and space to ourselves. This is even more true if you get out in a kayak – post about that coming soon! 🙂

      Love your blog Ryan – has definitely been an inspiration for me.

      Cheers!

      Post a Reply
  4. matt, did u ever do malaria prophylaxis when you went to el nido? pls let me know. thanks for ur advice. very helpful blog!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Charmaine! Thanks for reading, glad you’re finding it helpful! We took antimalarials while we were in Palawan. Definitely check with your doctor though for advice specific to your own situation.

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  5. Thank you for posting this. We have two small girls and are planning this same trip!

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  6. Hi! This is one awesome entry. We are visiting the place too this December 14. But unfortunately we can only take up to two tours because we have to be back in Manila by the 17th. Aside from Tour A, what is the second best tour for you? And your pictures look great too! What camera did you guys use? THANKS AND GREAT HELP!

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    • Thanks so much! For your second tour do either B or C. B goes to some cool caves and a very nice beach, while C hits some really unique and impressive natural beauty (stunning cliffs, etc)… feels like the end of the world. Most of the photos from this post are with a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. You can learn a bit more about our gear here.

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  7. Hi. I am visiting Palawan with my partner and my 9yr old son in March. We are flying into Puerto Princesa, staying in that area for around a week (Honda Bay, Underwater River (trek there) etc. We are then hoping to head towards the North, flying out from the North of Palawan after 3 weeks (total stay – just under a month). We love walking, seeing nature at it’s best, secluded areas, snorkelling and exciting adventures! We like to be amongst the locals rather than staying in hotels. Any recommendations on activities or any advice will be appreciated

    Thanks

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Deb. Sounds like you’ve got a great trip lined up. As far as logistics, consider going to Sabang (Underground River) on the way north, rather than a round trip from Puerto Princesa. It’s quite a long drive and though it’s often referred to as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it most certainly is not in Puerto Princesa. We’ve got lots of posts about Palawan, including about trekking to the Underground River, staying in some awesome local places, and snorkeling! You can check them all out here and here. Have an awesome trip!

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  8. I enjoyed reading your blog. Always made me smile whenever i see the twins having a fun at the beach and lagoons. You have a happy family. A few years from now when the twins are grown ups, and looking back, these photos and experience will make them realize how they were truly lucky to experience El Nido at a younger age. When they grow up, i am pretty sure they would want to go back to El Nido to experience it one more time. 🙂

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    • Thanks for writing Lulu! I’m pretty sure that we will all want to go back to experience it at least one more time!! 🙂

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  9. Hi, thanks for sharing. Was it difficult travelling with your twins? My twins are turning 4 and we’re planning to travel with them this year–yep, first time to travel by air and by water with them. Would you recommend El Nido for our first family travel? Is it safe for the kids? Hope to hear from you. Thank you.

    Post a Reply
    • Hello! Thanks so much for writing, and congrats on taking the plunge into travel with the twins!! So El Nido… it’s fabulous. Absolutely stunning and paradise on earth. But – it’s hard get to. So as a first major trip with young twins, I’m not sure it’s the best bet.

      If there is any way you can afford to fly directly there from Manila (the flight is costly and you can only bring very little luggage) do that. It will save you a lot of aggravation. The van ride from Puerto Princesa is terrible, no two ways about it. In our experience it’s often overcrowded (like 20+ in a 16 passenger van + people on the roof) and there’s a high likelihood someone (or everyone) in the van will get carsick. Depending on your driver it can be pretty hairy on the roads too, as they are winding and the drivers often go very fast.

      If you do go to El Nido, stay at Telesfora! It’s amazing for families and once you get there you will never want to leave (and not just because of the van).

      If you are looking to go to the Philippines, Boracay is easier to get to and has tons of fun family stuff too. You may find that a better first step into world travel with twins!

      Post a Reply

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