El Nido Guide – The Paradisiac Island Hopping

El Nido Guide – The Paradisiac Island Hopping

El Nido is a small resort town on the north of Palawan. It is the most visited location in the Philippines and for a good reason. It’s surrounded by some out-of-this-world natural wonders: paradisiacal islands, incredible lagoons, idyllic beaches and other hidden gems, just waiting for you to discover them. In this guide, you will find everything you need to know about island hopping experience in El Nido. Read on this guide for inspiration and hop on a next flight to this heaven on earth: El Nido.

The Island Hopping Tours

Island hopping is without a doubt the most popular thing to do when visiting El Nido. There are 4 main tours: A, B, C, and D. It used to be said that tour A and C were the most spectacular. However, the truth is that no matter which tour you choose, you will be left speechless. The tours A and C are the most popular. Therefore, there is a chance that there will be less people in the other locations. However, we would not count on that, as El Nido is very popular year-round.

Tour A

On this tour you will visit the idyllic Seven Comando beach and will get a chance to swim in the famous Big Lagoon. Later on you will have delicious lunch at Shimizu Island. In the afternoon your captain will take you to discover the Secret Lagoon.

Tour B

On tour B you will discover the incredible Popolkan Island, sunbathe at Papaya Beach and walk on the impressive sand formation called the Snake Island. This day you will also have a chance to explore Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave.

Tour C

Tour C will take you to the nearby Helicopter Island and Tapiutan Island where you’ll get a chance to swim in the blue waters. Later that day you will visit the abandoned shire at Matinloc Shrine and relax at Hidden and Secret Beach.

Tour D

This tour will let you discover the absolutely unbelievable rock formations of Cadlao Lagoon and the beautifull Small Lagoon. You will have lunch at Nat Nat Beach and swim at Bukal island. You can also visit Pasandigan Cove.

Read : 18 Days in the Philippines – the Complete Guide to Paradise


Due to environmental regulations taken in November 2018, there are some significant new rules that travellers have to be aware of.

First of all the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has banned all the Combination tours (Combo A&C A&B etc.) and Party Boats in El Nido. It has also limited the number of tourists in three of the most-visited (premium spots) places in El Nido:

  • Big Lagoon
  • Small Lagoon
  • Secret Beach

From this moment on, tourists will be able to visit only one of the premium spots per day. The time of this visit will be dictated, starting from 7 AM and finishing at 4 PM (each hour for the Small Lagoon and each 1,5 h for the Big Lagoon). All tour operators must also pre-registed their customers for Tour A. The boats have been forbidden to enter the Small and Big Lagoons. Instead they will park at the entry and tourists will be able to enter the lagoons by kayaks (rented on the spots from authorised vendors for 300 PHP (5 EUR).


The truth is that we visited in March 2018 and most of those regulations were already in place and we were not troubled by them at all. The pre-registration was already a thing. Hence, before the boat took off, the captain had to queue in the Protected Area Office from 6 AM to put our names on the list and pay the environmental fee. Already then, only kayaks were allowed into the Small Lagoon and the Secret Beach (which we reached by swimming). We support those regulations fully and hope that they will help preservation of this incredible natural wonders. Even if it means some complications for visitors.

Apart from regulations about the tours, there are few rules tourists must remember. Smoking is prohibited while Island Hopping in the El Nido. The single use plastic has been banned and even plastic water bottles are not allowed on the island hopping. Your boat will be equipped with drinkable water from a tank.

We kindly ask you to take precautions and respect the area you will be in. Do not buy or use plastic and do not leave anything behind.

Read : Simple hacks on being eco friendly while traveling

How would you like to island hop ?

There are 2 ways of Island Hopping in El Nido and this guide covers both: joining an organised tour or with a private tour.

Joining an organised tour

Above all, the obvious upside of joining a tour is the money aspect. The price per passenger for a group tour varies from 1200 PHP to 1700 PHP (20-30 EUR). However, you will be on the boat with 20 or so other people. You will have no possibility of altering or changing the itinerary, even if the weather condition change. You will also always arrive at the location with other people and as a result have a lower chance for taking nice pictures, when you are by yourself.

A private tour

It has all the benefits: you are independent from others, can schedule a custom tour, change the next destination at any time and if the place you arrive to is too crowded, head for a next one and come back here later. You will have the long tail boat to yourself and will be able to talk to the captain and the cook (it’s usually 2 locals on the boat with you) about the Philippines, El Nido and learn about their culture. However, the downside is the cost of the private tour as renting a boat for yourself costs 6000 PHP (100 EUR). The boat fits up to 8 people so if there are few of you it’s the obvious choice. Overall, we think that even for a couple it’s worth the money spent. You really will get an idyllic and paradisiacal experience out of it.

Note : Delicious lunch that will be served on the beach is included in the price of both- the private and organised tour. It usually consists of freshly caught and grilled fish, mussles, chicken, rice, vegetables, salad, fruits and the most delicious sauce made from soya sauce, fresh onions, tomatoes and some magic ingredient which made it so tasty, that Hamilton talks about it till this day ?

Which tour to pick?

We highly suggest you to rent a private boat and combine the best spots from all the tours. According to the new regulations of course. We assume you will stay in El Nido at least 3-4 days, as it’s the minimum to truly appreciate this paradise. Hence each day do a different tour with new stops.

We did the Tour A and C and D. Each stop on this tours was spectacular and mind blowing. The one with biggest ‘wow’ factor for us was the Cadlao Lagoon. It’s unbelievable rock formations just blew out minds. The water differently from all the rest spots was bright green (not turquoise blue) and enhenced the colours of sharp, grey mountains surrounding the lagoon.

The Small Lagoon was very impressive and fun, as to enter you must rent a kayak and pass through a small (a kayak size) rock gateway. The water inside was crystal clear and super calm.

Half way swimming, half way walking to the Secret and Hidden Beach was really interesting as well. The beach is not big, but extremely beautiful.

Shimizu Island and Helicopter Island were both ideal spots for lunch. The water is perfect for swimming and Shimizu has great snorkel spots.

How to book?

It is important to insist in this guide that you should book your island hopping experience in El Nido at least a day in advance. As all the operators share the same prices, there is really no point in looking for a cheaper one. The easiest way to book a tour is to arrive at the El Nido beach the day before you want to do the tour and make a deal on the spot. We booked with a lovely lady at Prince Hannai who has been very kind and went out of her way to finding a boat for us.

Arrive as early as possible for your island hopping tour

We have arrived 2 consecutive days at 10 am on the beach without prior reservation. There were no boats left at all. All the operators were calling each other trying to find a boat for us. The first day they managed to find one, but as the boat hasn’t been used for a while, the engine broke ruthly 50m from the shore. We had to paddle back to the beach (Martyna actually ended up jumping into the water and reached the beach before the boat did) and the tour was over.

The second day we had to change the accommodation and ended up being too late again. Luckily for us, the lady had a boat rented out for a private tour for 4 young Filipino’s who have agreed to take us on board. It was super fun day as we talked a lot, shared experiences and learnt interesting things about living in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, from people our age. We are in touch till today.

The last day we finally arranged the boat just for us and departed early in the morning. The whole day was perfect.

If you want to avoid any obstacles and make sure that you will have a boat, or a tour on the desired day, specially with the new regulations limiting people allowed to visit Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, book in advance. You can book your boat online here.

If you prefer to join an organised tour, you can book it here.

What to bring

  • For sure the swimwear and a towel. Wear flip-flops as you will walk barefoot on the boat anyways and wont need to walk a lot: you’ll do swimming mostly.
  • Biodegradable sunscreen, a hat or a scarf for your head and sunglasses.
  • You won’t need snacks or water as the lunch will be sufficient and delicious, and the boat will have a tank with drinkable water.
  • Camera with spare batteries and plenty of memory card.
  • Go pro for beautiful underwater shots.
  • Light rain coat (the weather might change unexpectidly)
  • It’s good to have your own snorkeling gear. If you don’t have it make sure that the company will provide it.
  • Small change for kayaks to Big and Small Lagoons and for fresh coconut served from a tiny boat that will pull up next to your at different locations.

What’s next?

And so, you’re done with this guide for island hopping in El Nido. But do you know what are the other top things to do in this paradise?

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