skip to main content
Suitcase and Heels Suitcase and Heels

What You Need to Know Before Island Hopping in El Nido, Palawan

It’s the main reason why people endure that six hour bumpy, swervy, roller coaster of a shuttle ride to and from Puerto Princesa. Island hopping in El Nido in the Philippines. It’s a pure tropical island experience. You hop aboard a banca and spend the day hopping from one white sand beach to the next, exploring lagoons, and snorkeling along the way. Sounds ideal. So what do you need to know before you go island hopping in El Nido?

Island Hopping in El Nido

Every Company Offers the Same Tours

The local government dictates which tour routes companies can offer and how much they charge. Tours A (P1200/person) & C (P1400/person) are the most popular and you’ll have a hard time finding a company willing to run Tours B (P1300/person) or D (P1200/person). In theory, the only difference will be in your crew and their service. In reality, it’s up to the crew where they take you on the day so you may have a different Tour A experience than your hostel mate who went with someone else.

I did both Tour A and Tour C and found that neither one ran according to the advertised itinerary. On Tour A there was confusion with our boat and crew and, in the end, our group had to be driven by tricycle caravan to Corong Corong to board a different boat. This meant that we didn’t set off until 11am and had to do a modified, condensed trip. I never did see Secret Lagoon.

On Tour C, we didn’t stop at Mantiloc Shrine and no one on my boat was willing to face the waves and currents to go into Secret Beach. Also, our guide didn’t always tell us what beach we were landing on so I’m fuzzy on whether our first stop was at Helicopter Island or some other beach.

El Nido Island Hopping

Cancellations Are Common

Every morning it’s up to the Coast Guard whether tours will run or not. If the winds are up, the tours get scrapped. The boats aren’t made for heavy weather so if the Coast Guard thinks they should stay anchored, you wouldn’t want to be out on them anyway. Trust me.

It seems like it doesn’t take much wind to call off the island hopping tours. Don’t plan your time in El Nido so tightly that everything will be ruined if your tour gets called off. Be flexible with your schedule.

You May Also Be Interested In:
Article Continues

You Should be a Strong Swimmer

You’ll be given a life jacket, but if you have any fear of deep water or aren’t a confident swimmer, island hopping may not be an enjoyable trip for you. There were more than a few places where we had to get off the boat in deep water and swim to shore. At Hidden Beach on Tour C the waves were strong and, in the end, I needed some help from the guide to get back to the boat, but not after bashing myself on the rocks and getting scraped up. To get to Secret Beach, you have to swim underwater through a narrow rock tunnel with strong currents. Was not for me.

Typical Island Hopping Lunch

A typical island hopping lunch consists of grilled fish, chicken, pork, rice, cucumber, fruit and maybe extra likes crab or shrimp.

Bring a Dry Bag and Water Shoes

I live in Newfoundland where, if you want to get on a boat, you go to the wharf and walk over a gangplank. Not so in El Nido. To board the island hopping pump-boats you’ll wade through the surf and then climb a small ladder. The depth of water varies from stop to stop. Water often sloshes up over the floorboards of the boats due to their design so you’re going to want to keep all of your stuff in a dry bag. If you didn’t pack one, no worries, every other store in Palawan sells them.

You’ll also want to wear water shoes. Not the sexiest or most stylish of footwear but absolutely necessary. The entrance to Hidden Beach is covered with sharp rocks and you’ll tear your feet up without protection. You can rent shoes for 150 pesos from a shop/restaurant on Serena St but it’s always nicer to have your own.

I also picked up a waterproof pouch for my phone so that I wouldn’t have to worry about ruining an expensive piece of technology but could still take photos. It worked, but a waterproof case would’ve been an even better option.

You May Also Be Interested In:
Article Continues

<3 El Nido

Don’t Forget Your Patience

Palawan is a seriously stunning place but sometimes it felt like the most disorganized place. If you forget to pack your patience, you’re gonna have a bad time. With our first tour, we were picked up slightly late and we followed our host down to the waterline, picking up more guests along the way. We were deposited down near the pier and our host talked to someone manning a small shop and then…just walked away. What was happening? Which was our boat? Was the tour still going ahead? We watched boat after boat board and leave and still we waited. It was the most frustrating feeling. In the end we went on our tour but it felt completely haphazard.

The next tour went more smoothly but we still didn’t get going until after 10am, when I was told to be ready at 9am. Other guests commented that someone picked them up at their hotel and then just deposited them on the beach without explanation. Maybe it’s a language barrier or maybe that’s just how they do things but you need to be able to go with the flow. Your timetables mean nothing here.

Island Hopping in El Nido

Was It Amazing? Absolutely!

Despite a few headaches, island hopping in El Nido is still an amazing experience. Digging your toes into the whitest sand while eating the freshest fish and fruit lunch. Snorkelling with colourful tropical fish. Kayaking in stunned silence while staring at towering limestone cliffs. Absolutely breathtaking and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Have you been island hopping in El Nido? What are your tips?

Fact Sheet

  • Company: Booked through my hotel. All companies offer the same tours.
  • Location: El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
  • Length: 7 hours
  • Cost: Tour A: P1200/person, Tour B: P1300/person, Tour C: P1400/person, Tour D: P1200/person
  • Gear required: Swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, water shoes

Be sure not to go island hopping without travel insurance. In case an injury means you need to cancel all or part of your trip, travel insurance will help you when you need it most. I recommend World Nomads as travel insurance for island hopping in El Nido.

Book Your Trip to Philippines

Book Your Flight

Find a cheap flight by using Expedia. It's one of my favourite search engines because it allows you to search for and compare flights from multiple airlines.

Book Your Accommodations

You can book your hotel with as they have the most comprehensive inventory so they are best for booking a hotel. If you want to stay in a vacation rental or cottage in Philippines, use VRBO to find the perfect place for the whole family.

Book Your Car Rental

If you want to travel on your own timeline, be sure to book your car rental with Discover Cars early.

Book Your Travel Insurance

While Philippines is generally a safe country, you never know when something could happen. Be prepared with travel insurance from SafetyWing. Travel insurance has certainly saved my butt before.


Don't Miss: Philippines Activities


  1. Becky says:

    April 22nd, 2017 at 5:00 pm (#)

    Great Post! I really want to go to the Philippines one day it looks beautiful! :)

  2. Melissa Hogan says:

    April 23rd, 2017 at 7:44 pm (#)

    It really is gorgeous there. I hope to get back and see more of it some day.

  3. HelenL says:

    July 4th, 2017 at 3:29 pm (#)

    I’ve been lucky to go island hopping in El Nido every year for 16 years – long gone are the days of quietly chartering a boat through your hotel and having a beach to yourself! But I went this year again and it is still the same beautiful place. I enjoyed my trip as usual. My tips are: 1) laze around doing whatever you’re doing until someone comes to find out where you are because the boat is waiting for you – they won’t leave without you if you’re booked on a tour; 2) yes, you will get more out of it if you can swim – it is a boat trip to go snorkelling. The swimming is pretty minor for a regular swimmer. If you can’t swim but still want to snorkel, arrange for the boat to take you to one of the beaches with corals close in. Sometimes these have strong currents further out, but I’ve never experienced a strong undertow anywhere there, so if you stay close to shore and wear a lifevest you should be fine and get to see fish; 3) it is still possible to charter a private boat tour, but it costs quite a bit more. We often hire one to just go to two stops, but we are usually a big group. Also, the stops are regulated for environmental conservation reasons, so if you go private you’ll still only have certain options. 4) the best snorkelling varies yearly, depending on environmental issues. I have been to the small lagoon in years with no fish (a wasted swim! No kayaks then) and years when it was like an aquarium. Trust that the local guides know where the corals are healthy and where they are not, and don’t get too hung up on a specific itinerary. 5) Have a wonderful time!

  4. Sustainability Guru says:

    July 6th, 2017 at 8:36 am (#)

    How about limiting boats and people per beach per day? El Nido’s rich natural treasures should be preserved and conserved for the future generations! Think and DO SUSTAINABLE TOURISM now! Before it becomes another environmental disaster due to over-tourism.

Leave a Comment