El Nido is a must-see travel destination. Considered one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines, El Nido has some of the best views of the Philippine islands. I had the pleasure of staying in El Nido for five days, spending most of my time on the water, taking in the beauty around me.
The town of El Nido is fairly small and consists of one main road and a beachfront. Supported by tourism, people around the world come here to see some of the most beautiful islands and beaches in the world. Island hopping, a popular activity, offers Tours A, B, C, D, or a combination, each offering something different to cater to your preferences
Tours A and C are the most popular, but there’s even an option to do an A/C combination tour in case you can’t decide on one. The combination tour essentially picks the best of both worlds, taking you to 7 spots instead of the 5 spots each tour visits separately. If time permits, I actually recommend doing both A and C separately.
The cost of the tours is around $20 per person and includes life jackets, snorkeling gear, food, and a guide for an entire day. Group tours can be crowded with up to 30 people shoulder to shoulder on the boat, but it does give you the opportunity to meet other travelers. A friend and I opted to hire a private boat for Tour A costing us only $100. So if you have a group of 4, a private boat would be much more comfortable.
Let’s break down Tour A vs. Tour C!
This is the mainstream tour that includes a little bit of everything, letting you see the best of the Philippines. You are surrounded by tall limestone rock formations while the boat effortlessly glides through shallow clear waters. This tour offers opportunities to kayak, snorkel, and chill on the beaches while enjoying picturesque views. One of my personal favorites moment was snorkeling at Shimizu Island on Tour A. I highly recommend it.
If you’re into photography, Tour A makes it very easy to capture the perfect shot. You’ll find yourself in paradise, surrounded by beauty and great photo opportunities. Each stop is camera-friendly - you can easily bring your camera without having to worry about it getting wet.
Tour A makes five spots:
The rich aqua-colored water mesmerizes you as you paddle through a small rock opening, surrounded by sheer limestone rocks, to reach the lagoon. While beautiful, the still water did not offer much visibility, so we opted not to swim much. Nevertheless, there was a sense of tranquility being enclosed in the small lagoon away from the passenger boats. The $16 rental for a two-person kayak was well worth it for the experience.
Big Lagoon is accessible by passenger boat and is mainly known for photo ops. The best part was gliding into the lagoon in three feet of crystal clear water, slicing through the cliffs on either side. The shallow light blue water contrasted against the deeper dark blue water was beautiful. The vantage point from inside the Big Lagoon also showed just how large these rock formations are.
The first photo above is from Big Lagoon!
“Don’t tell anyone, otherwise it won’t a secret lagoon!” said our tour guide jokingly. To get to the Secret Lagoon, we traversed through waist deep water to reach a small, partially submerged opening. The lagoon itself was not very large, but the view was impressive; it was enclosed by 50+ feet rock formations. We also had lunch on the beach here – fish, pork, chicken, vegetables, fruits - it was a feast!
My favorite spot on both Tours A and C! First off, the view from where the boat stops is perfect! You will find yourself floating over crystal blue waters between two islands, with the open ocean in front and the Philippine islands behind. Ugh, it was amazing! I saw a bounty of colorful fish while snorkeling and had the opportunity to dive deeper to see the reefs. It was paradise to dip my head in the water to see all the fish and look up to find myself surrounded by beautiful views.
Seven Commandos Beach
This beach is mainly for just chilling. I got Halo Halo from one of the vendors and spent most of my time wading in the water. It was our last stop and I was already pretty tired, so it was relaxing after an already awesome day.
Tour A is ideal if you want to get a flavor of El Nido and see the best of everything. Each spot offers different activities – from snorkeling to kayaking to beach bumming – and you’ll pass by some of the most beautiful views of the Philippines. The endless photo ops also make it a great tour for photo enthusiasts.
This tour takes your further from El Nido and closer to the open water, offering a majestic view of the limestone rocks against the rich, deep, dark blue water. The deeper water provides a different type of marine life with more vibrant coral reefs and sea turtles. Tour C is also more interactive as you need to swim to reach some of the destinations, but the views are totally worth the effort. So be ready to swim and have your GoPros ready for rare sightings of sea turtles!
Named after its shape, Helicopter Island’s main attraction is snorkeling along the beach. Despite being close to shore, the water was over ten feet deep and full of marine life. I saw several rainbow fish and other schools of colorful fish hovering by the coral reefs. It was amazing to observe the marine biodiversity!
Mantiloc Island Shrine
Just a little bit of climbing on Mantiloc Island will offer a breathtaking view of the Palawan Islands. Limestone rocks towering either side, the ocean turning from a light blue to a dark blue as you look up towards the horizon. It really shows the grandeur and majesty of the Philippines and puts in perspective how small we are compared to nature. The view from Mantiloc Island is comparable to that from Shimizu Island on Tour A but the feeling it evokes is slightly different.
South Mantiloc Island
Around the corner from the shrine are several snorkeling spots. The boat anchored in the middle of the ocean and we snorkeled along the part where the ocean gets deeper. One side were shallow coral reefs (I saw Nemo and Dory!), while the other side slanted into the deep ocean. I saw sardines swimming in unison, along with a variety of other fish at that depth. Apparently, two sea turtles swam by, but I missed them. Unlike Shimizu Island, where I felt like I was in paradise, the depth of the ocean at South Mantiloc Island created a sense of isolation and wonder at the same time.
To get to the Secret Beach, I swam through a partially underwater entrance to reach an enclosed and secluded beach. It felt pretty epic diving underwater to reach the beach, but my favorite part about this stop was actually outside Secret Beach. I spent more time diving, flipping, and hanging out in the water because the water was so deep yet so clear. We were just at the edge where the island chains turn into open water.
The journey to Hidden Beach was an adventure. The boat stopped some 50 meters from shore and we swam to a narrow opening between the rocks. We climbed through the cave-like entrance and came to a beautiful and peaceful beach hidden (ha!) from the outside. The towering rocks on either side opened up to the ocean, while floating in crystal clear water along the white sand beach made me feel as if I was frozen in time.
Tour C involves some amount of swimming and is great if you want to be immersed in nature (literally). The tour takes you further away from El Nido, offering breathtaking views of the open water and opportunities to see marine biodiversity. You’ll end the tour wanting to jump back in the water.
I’m not sure if this makes it easier to decide between Tour A or Tour C, but it should at least justify spending a few extra days in El Nido. I was there for five days, but I wish I could’ve stayed longer.