Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (1 of 2)

I’ve had it with this gray, gloomy, freezing winter weather. In revolt, I hereby declare this El Nido Week on the blog!

For the whole week, I refuse to blog about anything but turquoise waters, remote beaches, secret lagoons, sunny golden shores, and charming little beach bars and restaurants. Tough luck for you!

El Nido Palawan island hopping Helicoter Island beach

Looking for wintry layers, coats, boots and blankets? Look elsewhere!

Marlon and I decided to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary in another bucket list destination: El Nido, Palawan. The plan was to leave Tala with my family for a few days and aim for something a little more adventurous and off the beaten track. What better place to go than the Philippines’ so-called “last frontier?”

There are two ways to do El Nido: go for luxury with the exclusive, full-service, five-star El Nido Resorts, or do it backpacker style by staying in El Nido proper. With only our bank accounts and no baby to consider, Marlon and I joined the great unwashed among the basic, no-frills hotels of Bacuit Bay.

Regardless of accommodation, everyone goes island-hopping in El Nido. It’s simply the thing to do. All the tour companies on El Nido offer the same four itineraries with standard prices, which is brilliant because it saves you the hassle of researching or bargaining.

Our first tour took us to the beautiful white shores of Helicopter Island (see above) before depositing us at Matinloc Island for—no exaggeration—the hardest, most challenging swim of my life. And I consider myself a fairly good swimmer.

El Nido Palawan island hopping swim to Hidden Beach

Seduced by the prospect of a hidden beach, I jumped into the water without much thought and was immediately caught up in a powerful, pounding current. There had been a storm the day before, and the tide was still churning. The banca was too far out to return to, so there was nothing to do but swim to the island before the sea bashed me against the rocks. Seriously—it was a very real possibility.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach entrance

Somehow, after fighting the tide with everything I had, I made it! I headed into calmer shallows, and up a corridor of dramatic limestone peaks…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach

until I reached Hidden Beach, which is everything you hope a hidden beach could be: idyllic, remote, so beautiful it’s almost surreal.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Hidden Beach crystal clear waters

I mean, just look at that water!

Having escaped death on the rocks, the rest of our island-hopping adventure was serene and relaxed. We parked for lunch on Payong-Payong Island…

El Nido Palawan island hopping banca parked for lunch

where our tour guide set about preparing a picnic.

El Nido Palawan island hopping lunch on Payong-Payong beach

Picnic lunches and bottled water are included in the price of the tour. The meal is simple but delicious: rice, grilled fish, meat and vegetables, with fruit for dessert.

El Nido Palawan island hopping lunch

Clever beach dogs from the neighboring islands swim over for lunch. They don’t get enough meat, living off the sea, so they come because they know the picnicking tourists will have some. Too adorable!

El Nido Palawan island hopping beach dog

Also on the itinerary is Matinloc Shrine, which sounds more romantic than it actually is—it’s an abandoned church and seminary dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The buildings are decrepit, so there’s not much to see, but the views from the top of the sharp and dramatic rocks are beautiful.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Matinloc Shrine cliff

There are places that make me wish I had better equipment to do them justice with my photos. Like Cappadocia or Iceland, El Nido is one of these places.

El Nido Palawan island hopping rainbow

I spent all evening selecting photos, and I still have way too many that I want to share. El Nido is full of beautiful moments that go beyond photos and words, and I can’t believe this is all in a country I call home.

El Nido Palawan island hopping sunset

Some practical information:

Island Hopping Tour C (Php 1,400 for a group tour) comprises Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach on Matinloc Island, Matinloc Shrine, and another hidden beach we didn’t visit because of high tide and rough waters.

Tour guides and boat captains reserve the right to modify the itinerary for safety concerns, based on sea and weather conditions; they’re not trying to cheat you, they just know better—so trust them!

Bottled mineral water and picnic lunches are included; snorkeling masks, fins and aqua socks or booties are an additional Php 200 each. I find it way easier to swim with booties than fins, and booties are essential to protect your feet from sharp rocks and corals.

El Nido Week continues tomorrow!

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  1. says

    New blog reader here. I fell in love with your blog after seeing your photos and the fact that you’re currently based in Amsterdam. :) Now I’m back-reading your entries. Hehe!

    • Deepa says

      I know, right? Don’t you wish someone would just invent Apparating already?
      We need to catch up while you’re grounded. Breakfast soon!

  2. says

    Just got back from our own beach vacation (in Siquijor) last week and this welcomes me on your blog. Aaahhh…to live in our beautiful islands! :)

    • Deepa says

      I’ve been hearing a lot about Siquijor recently… from Europeans! Was pleasantly surprised to meet a few different people who spent a few weeks (!) in Siquijor and loved it. One guy said to me, “We stayed in… oh, what’s the name of that island with all the half-women, witches and horse people?” Manananggal, aswang at tikbalang, haha! They found Siquijor’s reputation among Pinoys really funny.

      • says

        Yes! Most of the guests are French and other European nationals. There were only a handful of Filipinos and other Asians. My theory is most Pinoys don’t go into the island exactly because of its reputation.

  3. mosh says

    i just googled el nido palawan travel blog and i saw you. I’m planning to go to el nido this coming april or may. We’re planning to celebrate our 6th anniversary with my boyfriend. We’re on a budget. Could you please help me? What’s the name of the hotel that you stayed in? How’s their rate? I do like staying on beach front hotels but i heard it’s too pricey..

    Hope you’ll answer this.
    Yey thanks :)

    • Deepa says

      Hi Mosh, we stayed at El Nido Beach Hotel. I can’t remember the exact rate but I found it reasonable for a basic no-frills hotel. You can check out their current/seasonal rate on Agoda. Have fun in El Nido!

  4. Jenny says

    Hi, Ms Deepa

    I love your photos. I love your blog actually. Would like to ask permission if I can post your el nido link on our facebook page. My husband and I operate a travel agency here in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. You have amazing photos! Thank you. Let me kmow if okay.


    • Deepa says

      Hi Andrea. El Nido Beach Hotel booked the tours for us. But it’s really easy to find the same tours anywhere in El Nido town.

  5. says

    Nice to see amazing photos! We just went to El Nido over a month ago and your blog makes it worthwhile to reminisce about that awesome trip! Keep it up!

  6. Krystel says

    Thank you for all the important information and practical tips in your blog. I just have one question I would like to ask, how many hours would it take for the tricycle to arrive from the town proper to Nacpan beach? Looking forward to your reply. Thanks!

  7. preeti_meeh says

    hi. . i was amazed seeing your photos in El Nido. . we change our tour from A to C because they say if you really like beaches, tour c is the best! We’re praying for a good weather newt week . . you’re blog was very helpful! God Bless!

  8. says

    Hi Deepa! I love your photos! I also took a lot of photos af those adorable dogs at the beach. :)

    El Nido is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have been to! And it is accessible for a traveler on budget as well 😉

    When I wanted to go to El Nido I did online research but couldn’t find a comprehensive travel guide. That’s why after my trip, I decided to make one, whe I included all the essential info about El Nido, including, accommodation places, eateries, transportation, best places and important tips. Here is my article:

    Thank you! Best wishes,


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