Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction that draws tourists to El Nido are the picturesque islands sprinkled off its coast. I planned on staying in El Nido for at least two full days so I can indulge two different island hopping tours. There are a handful of organized island hopping tours in El Nido codenamed “Tour A,” “Tour B,” … C, and D. Each of these tours go around four to five spots in the islands. Even if you’re traveling alone, the boatmen will just let you join a group for the island hopping tours in El Nido. The tours are a whole day affair (picnic lunch included) with prices ranging from P500 to P900 per person. I read from everywhere that the best tours were A and C, so I booked “Tour C” first with Kuya Jason, my contact. I woke up at around 6:00AM, which was really early for my standards, I must have been very excited to finally go on the island hopping tour :)

On the boat approaching Cadlao Island

Waited at Rovic’s to get my morning coffee. I got introduced to my new travel buddies Gen and Nick, a couple from Canada. The three of us had the whole boat to ourselves, which was great! Gen and Nick were very friendly. It was nice to finally meet new friends during the trip. We left El Nido town proper at 9:40PM, I got excited seeing Cadlao Island and its towering steep mountain up close. We only passed by Cadlao Island since it was not part of the tour … I can only imagine the great the view of El Nido atop its peak.

Departing from El Nido Town Proper

Monolithic rock cliffs at the western edge of El Nido town proper

Cadlao Island

Tour A mainly goes around the islands of Matinloc and Tapiutan including: Hidden Beach (Matinloc Island), Star Beach (Tapiutan Island), Matinloc Shrine (Matinloc Island), Secret Beach (Matinloc Island).

Hidden Beach, Matinloc Island

Our first destination was the Hidden Beach in Matinloc Island. So called “hidden” because you won’t be able to notice its enticing white sands when passing by from the coast. It’s partially surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, which blocks the view of the beach.

The crystal clear waters coupled with the scenic raw beach setting was just so beautiful! Perfect for swimming :) There was not much to see when snorkeling though so we moved to this snorkeling spot off the coast of nearby Tapiutan Island.

Star Beach, Tapiutan Island

After snorkeling, our boatmen took us to Star Beach, named after the abundance of starfish in the area. I went around the beach to take photos while waiting for lunch to be cooked and served. It was raining on and off yesterday, I so was happy that we got to experience the gorgeous blue skies since the tour started.

Our picnic lunch consisted of grilled chicken, grilled fish, rice, fresh mangoes, and pineapples. Nothing remarkable about the food but the novelty of eating lunch at the beautiful beach was very fulfilling.

Snorkeling in Star Beach was a lot better than in Hidden Beach. There were many live corals and fish. There was also a steep drop-off a couple of meters from the beach, so I didn’t venture out too far.

Stranded in El Nido Waters

After leaving Star Beach, we were already in middle of the channel separating Matinloc and Tapuitan Islands (enroute to Matinloc Shrine) when our engine suddenly stopped! The boatmen told us that their engine broke down. Gen and Nick told me they’ve had the same bad luck during their previous island hopping tour … great! To make things worse, dark clouds were starting to form in the distance and it looked like it was closing in on us … fast. We were stranded for almost an hour, it was horrible.

Luckily, another tour boat passed us and noticed we were stranded. Next thing we knew, our boat was already moving … it was being towed by the other boat! cool. We were supposed to go to Matinloc Shrine and Secret Beach but it seemed unlikely since we were already headed to the “Helicopter” Island  (Dilumacad Island).

Cadlao Island

After snorkeling in Helicopter Island, the boatmen took us to Cadlao Lagoon, which isn’t actually part of tour C. I think the boatmen wanted to make up for the mishap earlier. We couldn’t dock at the beach since it was low tide. We tried snorkeling but the water was too murky and the corals were too “in your face” so we decided to end the tour. When we got back to the town proper at 5:30PM, I asked for a discount because of the boat engine failure … I only paid P600 for tour C (original price was P900). Although our island hopping tour had its major hitches, the times that we did spend at the beach were just divine! El Nido is definitely a must-visit, so far its a 5 out of 5 for me :)

Back in El Nido Town Proper

Sunset Walk at Calaan Beach

The town center of El Nido doesn’t have a sunset view because of the super tall cliffs on its west side. What I was recommended to do was to walk past the guardhouse at the northernmost end of the town proper beach and go to this next beach called “Calaan.” It’s a place where you can bum around and see the sunset.

I wished I brought a bucket load of insect repellent because mosquitoes started to crowd all over my body as the night crept in. I looked funny jerking around at the beach to avoid getting bitten, thank goodness there weren’t other people around …. the things I do to get the photos that I want :)

Dinner at Squidoo

Wanted to try this place called “Squidoo” after Gen and Nick recommended it. I ordered stuffed squid with garlic rice and mango shake with rum for P290. It was expensive but ohh so gooooood! Best squid I’ve tasted and the rum twist complemented the mango shake really well. It was worth every penny :)

I’m a budget traveler but I’m selective when it comes to scrimping out on travel expenses. I stay at the cheapest hostels so I’d have money left to indulge at getting to see more sights (transpo fares + tours) and to an extent, enjoy good food.

El Nido Island Hopping Notes

  • Tour C (incl. lunch) – P600 discounted price because of the pumpboat engine breakdown (P900 original price)
  • Stuffed Squid and Mango Rum – P270