If you are in the Philippines, the one thing people always book, is the amazing island hopping tour with TAO. However, did you know there is a more affordable option?
One of the things I really wanted to do whilst on my trip in the Philippines, was to take an island hopping tour for 3 or 5 days. Departing from El Nido to Coron or the other way around, in Palawan.
The Tao Expedition
This is a tour that not all tour operators offer. The most famous one around is the TAO Expedition tour. (they are highly recommended by the Lonely Planet) Tao have become extremely popular over the last year because of all the media attention they have been given. They have the biggest and most badass boat in Palawan and they are extremely well organised. BUT. (Yes, there is a but) they are very very expensive. For a 3 days, 2 nights tour, you will need to pay 25.000 peso’s per person. This is almost 500 euro’s! Besides this shocking fact, they are fully booked if you don’t book in advance. I did however check in with them to see what my options were but they were fully booked.
The more affordable option
I thought this tour wasn’t going to happen.. Until I walked through El Nido town and saw a sign outside of a tour operator saying: ” El Nido to Coron 3 days, 2 nights, leaving 25th of December” I walked in and learned that this tour was offered at only 11500 peso’s. Jackpot! Yes, that’s still about 250 euro’s but half the price then TAO’s tour. Tip » Be aware that they will ask you to pay in cash. This is normal in El Nido but if they offer credit card payments or paypal, you should take that option as you need your cash in Palawan due to the lack of ATM’s.
The ultimate tour, but more affordable
What to bring:
» Sun protection +30 or more
» Towel (one that dries quickly
» Mosquito repellent
» Hat (for sun protection)
» Something warm (it can cool down at night)
» Toiletries but minimal (toothbrush, face cream etc)
» Slippers or watershoes
» Sea sickness tablets
» Paracetamol (just in case)
» waterproof camera or case
Unlike some places in Asia, the coral is very much alive and full of colours.
Departure was at 10 in the morning. Make sure you confirm the right time and double check this. Getting out of El Nido town is always a beautiful sight with islands and beaches surrounding you. After 2 hours we stopped for some snorkeling and it was one of the most beautiful coral reefs I have ever seen! After 30 minutes of snorkeling, we continued our way to a beach where we could relax and enjoy our first lunch. On the first day you will be at sea a lot so prepare yourself for a sore bum and perhaps some sea sickness.
At around 4-5pm, we arrived at our first camping ground. A simple island with nothing special but big enough to walk around the beach for about 20 minutes. Dinner is always freshly prepared and really tasty! Vegetable curry, Shrimps, Chicken or Pork and fresh Watermelon. The men of the boat (crew of 4), set up all the tents and prepare your food so you can relax. We made a big campfire and enjoyed the full moon. After all, it was Christmas!
The sun rises about 6am and that’s a pretty special moment so if you’re awake, you should get up and watch it. After breakfast we headed to the Linapacan islands, which have some of the cleanest and clearest waters on earth. It’s a great place where to snorkel and relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in Palawan. You will also get to meet the Tagbuana, the local people of Linapacan, and discover their culture. Here you can buy bread, sweets and soft drinks if you want. You will also visit 2 more snorkeling spots and spent the night at an island where there is a small village and a change to wash yourself. (don’t expect much!) This is also the only island that has a toilet. After a full day of swimming and exploring, I was tired before 10pm so decided to call it a day.
Bluest sea ever?
This is the last day and probably the most relaxing day of all. I was used to the sea by now and enjoyed flying fish and water splashing against my salty skin. We were heading up north and stopped for lunch at the most beautiful beach ever. Apart from the occasional resort guest, you and the baot crew have this island for yourselfs. Be sure to wear sun protection or a hat as there is no shade. The water is shallow and clear and we stopped here for 2 hours before arriving in Coron at around 6pm. From here you can choose to continue your way here or go back to El Nido.
Don’t head back at night!
I decided to go back as I wanted to celebrate New Years in El Nido but Coron has a lot to offer so plan your trip wisely! We went back at night as it was full moon and bright enough to see but it took us 10 hours to get back because of the stormy weather. Nope, that’s something I wouldn’t do over again. Thank god, nothing happened!
On the website it says 18.000 peso’s and on the leaflet in the tourist office (in El Nido) it says 11500 but if they are not fully booked, you should be able to get it at 11000 or less. Remember, it’s all a game. I paid 10500 in the end. Tour operator: El Nido Paradise The best period to do the El Nido to Coron Tour is between Dec – March when the typhoon season is gone.
» Breakfast, lunch, dinner
» Water, beer, rum
» Tents, sheet, small pillow (No mattress!)
» Snorkeling gear (No flippers)
» English speaking guide
» Eco Fee
Be aware that there are no showers or toilets on the first island and that on the second island you have a barrel of rainwater that you need to wash yourself with. If you can’t handle that, this trip is not for you. It’s the perfect way to travel from El Nido to Coron although I do think the TAO tour offers the best experience. Is it worth 500 euro’s? I’m not sure but at least you have a few options. Another tour I heard of is the Native Exploration Tour. They only offer a 5 day tour though for 20.000 peso’s.
For more tips and recommendations in the Philippines check below!