Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Island Hopping off El Nido, Philippines

Island hopping off El Nido has been the most treasured holiday for all Filipinos and there is a lot of good reasons for this trait. The foreign tourists are slowly discovering this too. Be it scuba diving, snorkeling, cave diving, swimming in lagoons, discovering caves and lagoons, relaxing on deserted beaches and/or sipping a tropical cocktail on a pristine beach, the waters off El Nido play host to innumerable options.

In one of the lagoons near El Nido, Philippines
Traditionally, all the attention of beach vacationers go to Boracay, the party capital of Philippines. It also has great beaches and good connectivity with the rest of the country. May be, this was the reason, El Nido went undiscovered for a long while. Even today, getting to El Nido would mean taking a flight to Puerto Princesa and then doing a 6 hour bus/van ride to El Nido or taking an expensive private charter from Manila. Today’s visitors are bearing a little hardship to indulge in El Nido’s nature and charms.

El Nido Banka Oarman at work
Whatever the reasons may be, the limestone karsts, the sensational cave systems, the amazing underwater life and nature here follows a life of its own. It is believed that the Palawan island was once connected to Borneo and due to tectonic forces moved away as a land mass of its own millions of years ago. Hence, most of Palawan’s ecosystem is related to Borneo and in some ways unique.

Enroute to the secret lagoon in the waters off El Nido, Philippines
Most of the people who wish to do island hopping off the waters of El Nido stay in El Nido, keep it as a base and do island hopping as day trips. There are other luxurious options where in one can stay on the luxury resorts on some of these islands and explore from there. Off late, a third option has become a possibility where tourists can camp in basic style amidst the rugged nature of one of the remote islands. All three options have takers, but the one that is more popular is the first one, since staying at El Nido comes with various perks, like good food, decent party scene, healthcare and connectivity.

One of the many small and beautiful beaches near El Nido, Philippines
One can either take a private tour or go on a group tour to visit the various islands. There are many tour companies who advertise the options and their prices. As a thumb rule, the tour package and the price remains the same. The prices remain standard unless you join at the last moment, in which case, you can request for a discount.

Tour boats moored in the lagoons off El Nido, Philippines
If I remember right, there are tours from A to F and Tour A and Tour C are said to be the best of the lot as they offer a good combination of swimming, snorkeling, lagoons, caves, beaches and more. Most of the tours cost between 600 and 1000 PHP per person. This includes snorkels and lunch. If you are vegetarian, you might need to inform in advance to give you vegetarian food for lunch. Generally, lunch consists of pork, fish, salad and rice.

The beautiful Small Lagoon area off El Nido, Philippines
A typical tour would start in the morning at 9 AM from the El Nido beach on a banka (traditional Filipino boat). Depending on the size of the banka, the group size could vary from 8 to 20 people. If the weather is bad, the boat ride could get rough, but generally, the short distances ensure that sea sickness is nearly unknown on these island hopping trips. Depending on the tour, you will spend time swimming in lagoons, snorkeling in coral reefs, crawling through caves, climbing up view points, sipping a cocktail, seeing beautiful sights and/or relaxing on a beach.

Beach Bar on Seven Commandos Beach near El Nido, Philippines
If you happen to plan a holiday to El Nido, do ensure that island hopping stays on top of your to do list. If you have less time, try out Tour A and C and if you have more, try all of the tours. The perfect El Nido holiday is waking up to the sounds of waves crashing, having breakfast, going on an island hopping tour, indulge in pristine nature along with some physical activity and sunshine, a relaxed evening and then some partying in the night before continuing the same routine for the successive days. Get ready to be enchanted!

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