With its endless white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and an underwater world of coral reefs island hopping in El Nido is an amazing experience. El Nido remains a relatively hidden gem on the island province of Palawan in the Philippines. The journey to get there is a challenging one, with the most budget-friendly option being an extremely bumpy 7 hour ride crammed in a van with up to 12 people from the city of Puerto Princesa. But when we arrived at our destination, we knew we had made the right decision.
We stayed at the El Nido Cove Beach Resort and Spa, a beachfront resort that’s nestled along a quiet cove around a 20min tricycle ride from the centre of town. The secluded location away from the swarm of tourists and backpackers made it feel like we had our very own private beach. When the sun sets, the pool is the perfect place to relax as you take in the stunning panoramic views of Bacuit Bay.
When you need to dry off after taking a dip, lounge in one of the beach chairs as you gaze out towards the sea that’s dotted with stunning karst rock formations, lagoons and islands in the distance.
For a morning pick-me-up, take a stroll along the stretch of sand at your doorstep, or hop into a kayak to glide along the calming waters.
When you’re done relaxing and indulging at the resort, exploring the neighbouring islands is a must! All island hopping tour groups offer 4 routes to visit different islands and lagoons. Going with a tour is a great way to meet other visitors but if you’re travelling in a group of more than 3, I’d recommend organising a private tour. That way, you can tailor-make your own island hopping route for the day with your own boat and local guide.
For all the tours, you have the option to explore in your own kayak or snorkel. The local guides are all extremely friendly and enthusiastic, and are very knowledgeable of the different spots you visit as part of the tour. With the stunning views of the pristine white sand beaches everywhere you look, it’s no wonder Alex Garland, the author of the best-selling book ‘The Beach’, got his inspiration for the story while he was living in El Nido.
Snake Island was the first island we visited; even though it wasn’t part of our tour itinerary, our guide ‘Noy’ was kind enough to take us there anyway. The island gets its name from a naturally occurring sand bar that forms and twirls in the shape of a snake from the incoming tides on each side. Walking along the full length of the sand bar takes some time, especially when you’re stopping every few minutes to take a photo!
When it was time for lunch, our guides prepared some local delicacies for us, including barbecued fish, pork, rice and fresh fruit. It’s not everyday you see your food cooked and served right in front of you on a tropical island.
Words fail to describe the otherworldly beauty of the karst rock formations that you’ll undoubtedly see when you’re island hopping.
Diving in and swimming alongside the different kinds of colourful marine life will give you a taste of a whole new underwater world. Our other guide ‘Arjay’ had the eyes of a hawk and was able to spot a small school of local clown fish hiding in the coral reefs. You’ll also inevitably encounter some jellyfish along the way so be prepared to dodge them. Or you can see this as a positive and use it as a chance to tick off ‘swimming with jellyfish’ off your bucket list, if you’re into that.
El Nido was put on the tourist map in the 1980s as a popular destination for diving and it has no signs of slowing down. The construction of new hotels and facilities for the growing number of visitors each year is happening all too quickly. The beauty is hard to put into words so be sure to go island hopping in El Nido and see this place with your own eyes while it remains relatively untouched.