“Expect the unexpected”
Do you love nature? Can you fall asleep to the sound of the ocean? Are you a fan of mosquitos? Do you long for a bucket shower? Or mind staying salty for days? Do you love to swim in pristine waters? And lastly, can you let go of technology?
If any of these answers are a yes, then we suggest jumping on board the ultimate island hopping tour from El Nido to Coron (or vice versa)! The must-do tour in Palawan, Philippines.
What’s the best company for island hopping El Nido to Coron?
Tao is a highly reputable company that runs a similar trip. The difference is that Tao goes for 4N/5D (US$580) vs Buhay Isla which is 2N/3D (US$311) and subsequently, more expensive.
Tao may have one bad-ass boat and awesome campsites but for those on a budget and pressed for time, the price tag may come a little steep. 4 nights is a little bit long in our opinion, which is why we recommend Buhay Isla. We’re not affiliated in any way, just so you know!
Over 2N/3D we explored the islands on an outrigger canoe past the tip of Palawan to Culion and the Linapacan islands. We sat back and enjoyed the deserted tropical islands, swam through areas uninhabited in the clearest water in the world, relaxed on sandbars and in hammocks, snorkelled through colourful reefs filled with all sorts of fish and enjoyed the BEST local food we’ve had in the Philippines.
Here’s our experience:
Our bags were packed, the sun was shining, the boat was ready and we’d just been introduced to the cutest little puppy in the world. Things were off to a great start!
Its also interesting to note that in the Philippines, dogs love to be on boats. On every island tour, no matter the company, there was a dog. We made quite a cute family, if only we could take him home!
It didn’t take long before Jacob and I realised we were the minority of the group. 13 passengers and 9 of them were Dutch! Thankfully, we find the Dutch people some of the friendliest in the world. We boarded our boat, had our briefing and we were off to begin our expedition through the Bacuit Archipelago. One of the most incredible sights in Asia. Goodbye civilisation!
Living the Island life
Eat, swim, snorkel, sleep, repeat. There’s not a lot of stimulation that goes on when you are island hopping so be prepared to relax!
Swimming! Every new place we parked our boat, we were the first to jump in the water. It was just incredible being in that transparent water… until you had to share your space with tiny electrocuting jellyfish. During one of our stops, those little bastards were everywhere and being stung by them felt awful. The itch was only temporary but it was enough to pull the anchor and head elsewhere. Thankfully we’re surrounded by beautiful water so we didn’t have to go far!
Snorkelling! We snorkelled so much on this trip that each stop blurred into one. At every stop there were endless schools of fish swimming, jumping tuna and whale sharks (just joking, we wish!). Over the course of 3 days, we saw loads of Nemos, puffer fish, lionfish, barracuda, baby stingrays and plenty of fish I couldn’t give a name too.
It was only a short time until we reached a new “swim stop” and there was yet again, that moment of wow. The weather, apart from a small amount of rain one evening, was perfect. The skies were sunny and the water was clear and calm. Not a lot of words can really describe the places we visited and besides, I think I’ve used them all up so instead, here’s a few pics to give you an idea what our days looked like.
The only time we stopped swimming was to stock up on snacks and beer at the local village. Jacob took the opportunity immediately to start up a game of basketball with some of the locals. Filipinos are so passionate about their national sport and they’re so quick on their feet. Lucky he had some practice during our volunteer week in Tigman Village. God knows how they play with no shoes on!
Island Hopping Highlights
The whole trip was a highlight but there were definitely some moments that took our breath away more than others.
Ditaytayan Island Sand Bar
What could possibly be cooler than an afternoon on a sandbar? An afternoon on a sandbar with a drone!
Ditaytayan Island had the most incredible scenery and definitely our favourite stop of the 3 days. As the boat pulled up to the shore it felt like we had just arrived at an untouched heavenly paradise. To be honest, it didn’t even feel real. We soaked up the sun, played around with our drone, took postcard-worthy photographs and felt at an all-time high.
We’re so glad we can finally share with you more than just pictures!
Barracuda Lake (Luluyuan)
Our second favourite was the Barracuda Lake. Just when we think we’ve swum in water clearer than air, we get to the Barracuda Lake in Coron. This lake felt completely see-through, as though we were floating on air! Barracuda Lake is well known because of its dramatic thermoclines where saltwater and freshwater coexist in the same space. The first few layers of water are normal freshwater (around 28° Celcius) but once you dive deeper, the water becomes saline and the temperature rises to a steamy hot 39° Celcius.
You could feel the difference the moment you jumped in (mainly because you had to work a little harder to stay afloat!). Michael, our tour leader, helped capture these entertaining and ever so peaceful moments under water!
We had no idea that our 3 days would be more than just island hopping but also a gastronomical tour too. It’s astonishing what can be cooked up in such a small kitchen on board a boat. No meal was ever repeated (apart from rice!) and the quality of the food really was the best local food we had in the Philippines. Somehow, in the midst of a tiny kitchen the size of a bathroom and one little BBQ, they cook up these incredible, mouthwatering, flavorful meals.
For breakfast, our tummies were fed fluffy banana pancakes, omelettes, eggs, toast, fruit, sausages, tea & coffee. During lunch, either on the boat or the beach, we were filled to the brim with grilled fish, pork adobo (local dish), vegetables, chicken, shrimp, curries, mussels, fresh fruits and yes, of course, rice.
By early evening we had reached the campsites. Everything was loaded off the boat and transported by kayaks into the kitchen on the campsite. We relaxed, read and waited for the table to be filled for dinner with yet again, delicious food.
Lowering your expectations is one of the best things you could possibly to do yourself whilst travelling. By doing so, we were rather surprised at our accommodation. Sure, the camp was basic. As basic as you can get really, but we had a mattress with a clean sheet, a mosquito net, a bucket shower with cold refreshing water to wash our salty skin, first-class views of the ocean and the peaceful serenity of a secluded island. What more do you need?
In past trips, tents have been used for sleeping but due to recent strict government laws they have removed the camping and they’ve upgraded everyone to these bamboo huts.
The only downside was little huts turned into a wood-fired oven at night and we shamefully have to admit, we didn’t think it was possible to sweat so much trying to sleep. Thankfully some rain in the evenings brought some sweet relief and kept those pesky mosquitoes away. When it wasn’t raining, the rest of our downtime was spent lazing about in the hammocks.
- Cost – 15,500 PHP/person ($311 USD).
- The cost includes 3 awesome meals a day, light snacks, water, soft drink, accommodation in tents or bamboo huts, mosquito nets, guides, the use of kayaks, snorkel, masks and transportation to and from the town.
- The best time to go is between December and March when the skies are clear and dry.
- Rainy season starts in June so if I was you, I’d think twice about going during this time unless you’re really adventurous.
- Invest in a dry bag to keep your valuables safe and dry. Grab them for cheap in either El Nido or Coron before you leave.
- Pack yourself a separate “day” bag for the 3 days. Your big luggage goes under the boat, wrapped in plastic and it’s a pain in the backside to get it out every time you need something. You spend 3 days in a swimming costume and sleep in something (or nothing?!) so don’t over pack, just bring the essentials.
- Bring plenty of sun cream, bug spray, hand sanitizer, a hat and a water bottle (water is provided).
- A headlamp/torch is helpful for the campsites in the evenings as there is no electricity.
- Invest in water shoes for cliff jumping as the rocks are really sharp.
- Bring spare batteries for your camera. There is nowhere to charge throughout the trip.
- Rum & soft drinks are provided. If you want beer, bring it from the town and they will keep it cool for you.
- Lower your expectations and bring a smile! No one likes a party pooper.
Is this tour for everyone?
No. Absolutely not. You have to open your mind, let go of your worries and embrace the island life. If you’re going to complain about the sleeping arrangements, some rain or a mosquito bite, please, don’t waste your money or the poor tour leaders sanity.
For us, this trip was a real highlight during our month in the Philippines. It is no doubt a great way to discover the beauty of the Palawan Islands, embrace the authentic Filipino culture, and enjoy some of the best home-cooked Filipino food with the ever so smiley locals and cute as puppies!
A special shout out to Michael, our tour leader, photographer, professional dancer and comedian. He made this trip that much more enjoyable with his incredible energy. We’ll miss you!
Married days survived: 810