El Nido is a small, beachside town on the northern tip of Palawan island, which has become increasingly popular over the last few years.
It’s mostly used as a base for exploring the incredible natural splendour of the surrounding archipelago.
Known as the Bacuit Archipelago, the area is home to some of the most beautiful islands, lagoons, and beaches in the world. There’s stunning scenery everywhere you look.
The waters are incredibly clear and the sand is always brilliant white. Striking limestone rock formations pepper the sea, with tropical trees and coconuts in abundance.
I was lucky enough to explore the area with some island hopping tours during my trip through the Philippines, and I’m here to tell you how to do the same. A bit of island hopping is a must on any El Nido itinerary.
In this guide, I break down everything you need to know about going island hopping in El Nido, and share some tips on how to make the most of your visit.
If you’re looking to spend some incredible days in paradise island hopping amongst pristine beaches and clear water, El Nido is the place for you!
You might just be unsure about what tour to do, which is where this El Nido tours overview comes in!
- 1 A brief run down of the El Nido standard tours
- 2 My El Nido, Palawan island hopping experience
- 3 The Outpost Hostel’s El Nido Tours
- 4 The Classic El Nido, Palawan tours attractions
- 5 Where to stay in El Nido
A brief run down of the El Nido standard tours
Taking a Palawan island hopping tour is without a doubt the best and most popular way to experience the area. There are four main El Nido island hopping tours. Named simply A, B, C, and D.
Tour A is the most popular of the bunch, meaning it’s also generally the most crowded. But it’s a favourite for good reason, boasting some of the most epic islands and stunning lagoons.
It makes stops at Small Lagoon, 7 Commando Beach, Secret Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Shimizu Island.
Tour B is less popular and more laid back than Tour A. This makes for an amazing day of adventure and sightseeing without as many tourists.
Tour B’s stops include Pinagbuyutan Island, Vigan Island, Cathedral Cave, Cudugnon Cave, and Entalula Beach.
Tour C is a strong contender for the most popular tour and is often considered the best one. This, of course, means that it can also get quite busy.
But it stops at some incredible destinations, including Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Mantiloc Shrine, Hidden Beach, and Star Beach.
Tour D explores the path less-travelled. It’s the quietest of the four and avoids most of the ‘must-see’ attractions.
But it stops at some hidden gems: Ipil Beach, Paradise Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, Bukal Beach, and Natnat Beach.
My El Nido, Palawan island hopping experience
Most travellers here just pick one or two of the four classic El Nido boat tours and follow the crowd. But island hopping in the area has become incredibly popular. So the standard tours can get quite crowded and feel overly ‘touristy’.
Fortunately, there are other ways to do it. We organised all of our El Nido island tours through Outpost Beach Hostel, and I’m really glad that we did.
The tours we took allowed us to see the best bits of all the classic tours with a great group of people. All while avoiding the crowds.
The Hostel is set right on a stunning beach, just outside of El Nido town. The crowd is young, vibrant, and interesting. And this atmosphere certainly carries over to the tours.
Unlike most El Nido island hopping boats, the hostel’s boats are occupied only by people who have booked directly with Outpost Beach Hostel, which means the typical hostel crowd. All the passengers are laid-back backpackers.
There aren’t any families or older couples on board. This creates a really cool atmosphere for enthusiastic, adventurous travellers and makes for plenty of great conversation. We couldn’t have asked for more!
The Outpost Hostel’s El Nido Tours
Outpost Beach Hostel only offers two tours which they alternate between on a daily basis. One day is a combination of tours A and B and the next day is a combination of tours C and D.
These tours can be organised with the hostel directly when you arrive. The combo tours are great because they each blend a popular tour with a less popular tour, allowing you to get the best of both worlds.
They stop by at most of the main highlights of the standard tours. But they do so in the opposite direction – for the sake of avoiding the crowds. It’s a simple trick that makes a world of difference.
We genuinely felt like we were visiting private beaches most of the time. Both of the hostel’s island hopping tours are the usual all-inclusive fare, each stopping for lunch along the way.
And so far as lunches go, the one they offer is pretty amazing. They cooked up some delicious barbecued fish which we ate on the beach. And there’s free-flowing rum on the cruise back at sunset!
The tours are a fixed price of 1,500 pesos per person. Just a little more expensive than each of the classic tours (which go for around 1,300 pesos on average).
But each of the combo tours offers highlights from two classic tours, so they could be seen as more affordable.
Each of the combo tours offers a unique experience, and I’m really happy we ended up doing both. Here’s a breakdown of each tour, with some more detailed information on my favourite stops.
El Nido Tour A and B Combo
The stops include:
– Pinagbuyutan Island
– Snake island
– Pupolcan island
– Entalula island
– Seven commandos beach
A narrow strip of white sand and coconut trees line the shores of Panagbuyutan, with rugged rocky cliffs towering up above. It’s an impressively dramatic island that juts boldly out of the sea.
The main destination here is Ipil beach, where visitors can relax, swim, and explore. There’s a distinctly desert island type atmosphere, with very little evidence of human presence.
And being a Tour B stop, it’s not particularly popular, meaning it’s usually really quiet. It’s worth venturing beyond the beach if time allows. There are a bunch of little secret coves and pockets tucked away.
Snake Island, El Nido
Vigan Island, or as it’s more commonly known, Snake Island, is a tiny island just off of mainland Palawan.
It earned the name Snake Island thanks to the long, winding sandbar that connects it to the mainland (not for actual snakes – you can relax).
The sandbar is usually covered in roughly half a meter of water. Most visitors spend their time walking through the water and soaking up the breathtaking scenery.
There is also a little viewpoint from which you can see the sand bar from above.
Entalula Beach is a textbook paradise. The water is impossibly clear, the sand is dazzlingly white, and the rock formations are truly stunning.
It’s almost entirely undisturbed wilderness, with a series of tiny bays and coves to explore. Each one peppered with tropical vegetation.
A stop here will likely entail a lot of swimming and splashing in the warm waters, relaxing on the pristine beach, and admiring the unreal natural beauty.
As a tour B stop, it’s usually pretty quiet, so there won’t be hoards of tourists to detract from the magic.
Seven Commandos Beach
Seven Commandos Beach is a little bigger and more popular than many of the others. So while there are usually quite a few other people, the beach is big enough to share.
It remains almost entirely undeveloped, with the exception of a few huts and shelters. The palm-lined beachfront is a prime spot to relax and have a few dips in the water.
It’s also a popular spot to do a bit of snorkelling. You may even spot a sea turtle or two while exploring the beach’s underwater world.
El Nido Tour C and D Combo
The stops include:
– Paradise beach
– Bukal Island
– Pasandigan beach
– Cadlao Lagoon
– Helicopter Island
Here are some of the best bits in detail.
Paradise Beach is certainly one of the lesser-known gems of El Nido. It’s a stop on Tour D, so it’s often less busy than the better-known islands.
The beach certainly lives up to its name, with a small white-sand shorefront, palm trees, and crystal waters. While there isn’t much to do other than admire it, hang out, and swim, it’s a great little beach with a charming remote-island vibe.
It might not be called Paradise Beach but Pasandigan Beach comes second to none when it comes to natural beauty. Fine white sand, clear turquoise water, palm trees lining the edge of it and sheer cliffs in the backdrop.
Even if you may soon get used to these beautiful scenarios while island hopping in the Philippines, trust me when I say it never gets less impressive. This is a fun beach for chilling, tanning and swimming.
Helicopter Island, El Nido
As a Tour C stop, Helicopter Island is one of the most popular in El Nido and can be busier than other stops. But there’s a good amount of space, so it doesn’t feel overly crowded.
Believe it or not, the island actually resembles a helicopter from certain aerial angles. Hence the rather obscure name. It’s a great place to relax and swim, but it also offers some fantastic snorkelling.
The waters by the shore are home to a stunning variety of underwater life. So be sure to put on a mask and dive under the surface for an otherworldly experience.
Cadlao Lagoon is the only lagoon that the Outpost Beach Hostel tours visit. The standard island hopping tours go to more famous lagoons, which ultimately are always incredibly busy.
During the tour C and D combo we visited Cadlao Lagoon which was a perfect in between experience.
We still got to see the stunning scenery of the clear turquoise water surrounded by the steep limestone cliffs, with only a few other boats around.
Trees and dramatic rock formations hang over turquoise waters at Cadlao Lagoon. It’s a little pocket of heaven on Tour D that immerses you fully in an incredible landscape.
The rocky walls that surround it are sheer, with plants growing from the cracks. And the water is perfect for a swim.
Here the hostel boat put some kayaks in the water for us to explore the lagoon with. You should also grab a mask and snorkel and swim close to the cliffs, the underwater views are so different from those of a beach!
The Classic El Nido, Palawan tours attractions
While the hostel’s tours hit most of the top attractions, there are a few that they miss out. The following are some of the best attractions that are offered on the classic tours.
The El Nido lagoons on Tour A
The main element that’s lacking in Outpost Hostel’s tours is a focus on lagoons. They revolve more around the beaches, which are great. But there are some amazing lagoon stops on Tour A which the hotel leaves out.
El Nido is famous for its stunning lagoons, with Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon being two of the most popular. They’re basically isolated little pockets of seawater, surrounded by stunning cliff faces, vegetation, and rock formations.
The lagoons are almost the opposite of an island; water surrounded by land rather than the other way around. So they can be a refreshing change.
The tour boats tend to be too big to access the lagoons, due to shallow sections and small entrances. So you can usually rent a kayak to explore them or brave the waters and opt to swim.
The caves on Tour B
The caves of El Nido may not have the same tropical charm as its beaches and lagoons. But they certainly make for an interesting and memorable experience.
Cathedral Cave and Cudugnon Cave are two of the most popular, both of which can be explored on tour B. Cudugnon Cave is accessed by climbing through a small hole in a cliff face.
Once inside, it opens up to reveal steep, jagged ceiling and rocky walls. There are holes overhead, pouring in golden sunlight and creating an ethereal vibe.
Cathedral Cave is larger and less closed off. And it’s a pretty amazing space. The boat anchors nearby and you can swim or kayak inside.
Where to stay in El Nido
As you may have guessed from this post I stayed at Outpost Beach Hostel, and I loved it. Besides the epic island hopping tours, Outpost is possibly one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at.
The hostel itself is very cool, located right on the beach with spacious communal areas. They have a great restaurant and bar, with fun social events on every night.
They also have a 10:30PM curfew time so you can get drunk and socialise, but if you want to go to bed early you don’t have to cope with loud party travellers.
The dorms all have aircon, with big and spacious beds and big drawers under the bunkbeds to lock up your belongings.
If you don’t want to stay in a hostel there are a few guest houses and boutique hotels next to it along the beach, where you can get a private room.
That way you can have your own room but still go to Outpost in evenings, bond with the hostel crowd and join their island hopping tours.
Final Thoughts about island hopping in El Nido
The island hopping tours that are available in El Nido offer a range of fantastic experiences to suit a variety of tastes and preferences. Outpost Hostel’s tours are a great option, but everyone’s different, and some may choose to stick with the standard tours.
If the classic tours sound more appealing to you, you can book them ahead of time online. I’ve listed them below with a recap.
Tour A – The most popular one that hits all the main highlights, but also the busiest one
Tour B – Goes off the beaten track to spots without as many crowds
Tour C – Great snorkelling and caves, second most popular and contender with tour A for the title of best tour in El Nido
Tour D – Visits the hidden gems the other tours don’t go to.
This is also a good option for those who want to have everything booked and sorted before travelling.
Whichever tours you choose, you’re bound to have an unforgettable adventure! Just be sure to pack wisely for your trip.
With so many incredible sights, perfect-temperature water, amazing island vibes, and wonderful weather, the area is nothing short of paradise.
I hope you find this El Nido island hopping guide useful in deciding what tour to do, and in planning your own time in El Nido!
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