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!

Lovely comments:

  1. 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!

  2. This is killing me, Deepa! This winter stretch is really depressing and these photos just make me want to orb myself to Palawan right this moment!

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

  3. Got goosebumps while reading this. This is our country! It is beautiful!

  4. soooo beautiful! amazing photos!

  5. 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! :)

    • 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.

      • 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.

  6. 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 :)

    • 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!

  7. 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.

    Jenny

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