El Nido (Philippines) is an excellent base for exploring the stunning group of islands known as the Bacuit Archipelago, home to crystal clear lagoons, coral reefs, white sand beaches, black jagged rocks and towering limestone cliffs.
It is possible to book a private tour but many people opt for an organised excursion. Regardless of the operator these are numbered Tour A, B, C, sometimes D and sometimes A and C are combined. There are many booking and tour agents which line the streets of El Nido all offering these tours all of which follow the same A, B, C and D routes.
We read different reviews on each of the tours and as they all take you to around 5 different places we were not too bothered which one to do. Which was just as well as we had booked Tour B, but when we arrived we had been mistakenly put on Tour A!
El Nido Tour A:
We met at the tour booking office and our transport a few streets down to the boat was on the back of a moped… both of us…
We had to wade through the sea for about 100 metres before getting onto the boat. There was about 14 tourists and 4 crew and we all had to wear a life jacket.
There were indeed 5 stops throughout the day, starting with a stop at Seven Commandos beach. As all of Tour A trips make the same route (and some do it in reverse) it was crowded with at least 15 similar boats. Snorkelling was possible but in a small square’d off area of the sea. There was a bar on the beach so we got ourselves a drink and sat on the beach until our 45 minutes was up and we were off to the next stop…
We sailed for about 30 minutes to stop 2 which was Small Lagoon on Miniloc Island. Again, there were many other boats already there but we were able to hire a kayak for an hour which was great fun. We kayaked under a small low ridge and into the still and reasonably quiet lagoon (without too many other tourists). The crew barbecued our lunch which was ready when we returned.
After lunch we sailed around the corner to Big Lagoon. As it was high tide the crew were able to carefully navigate the boat through the shallow sea into the lagoon, skilfully missing the jagged rocks on either side. The lagoon itself was spectacular.
We stopped next for snorkelling but whilst there was a lot of fish and it’s sometimes possible to see turtles within 5 minutes were both mildly stung by jellyfish so didn’t stay in the water for long! They were only small pin prick stings but that was enough…
Our final stop was to Secret Lagoon which to be honest neither of us really enjoyed. It was again full of tourists and in our view nowhere near as stunning as Big Lagoon.
It took an hour or so to get back to El Nido at around 4 pm.
We usually prefer to be independent and try to avoid taking tours and trips but this is the cheapest and easiest way to see these beautiful lagoons. In hindsight it is probably best to try and get a private tour especially if you are travelling in a group and are able to share the costs.
Here are a few tips if you are planning to visit El Nido and thinking about taking a similar tour:
- No water was offered while on the boat (except at lunchtime) so take plenty of your own water.
- No alcohol on the boat.
- The boat had a sun canopy but as with any boat trip and being in the sun all day you need plenty of suncream.
- There are lots of boats doing the same thing so while you get to see the amazing scenery you won’t be alone!
- You have to pay a 200 peso (per person) environment fee
- You can hire fins, snorkels, masks and rock shoes. For our trip the sea was very calm and we felt that hiring fins wasn’t necessary (particularly for us as we didn’t snorkel for long…)