Philippines / Palawan
The island hopping tours have been the clear attraction to El Nido for the past decade of ecotourism, but as these tours become crowded, many tourists have been searching for alternatives to them. After all, not everyone in your group may want to do all 4 island hopping tours. Or, what do you do on a stormy day when the ocean is clearly going to be rough? I want to go over a handful of the growing options, that don’t involve a boat.
I clearly remember one of the first moments of my first El Nido tour being that of horror. With my drone on my back, my non-waterproof camera at my hip, and my cell phone in my pocket, the guide proudly said the words, “This is a water activity tour”.
Oops, how did I not read that important fact anywhere in the tour literature …and the tour propaganda scattered all over town …and the internet for that matter? This is supposed to be an island hopping day right? I did not sign up for a watersport tour!
The guide was talking specifically about Tour C that day, but actually, the majority of stops on the El Nido island hopping tours (A-D) are indeed packed with beach or water activities. Tour C, however is particularly set up for getting wet; even if they don’t actually mention it it in the activity descriptions. In fact, many, if not up to half of the destinations along Tour C will actually REQUIRE some sort of water transit to get to from your tour boat!
On tours A, B, and D, you will, at the very minimum, need to wade waist deep to depart your tour boat and get to the beaches; something that was noticeably difficult for elderly tourists. The boatmen and tour guides were always willing to help, but many tourists opted to stay on the boat rather than disembark on some of the programmed stops. Some of these destinations, such as the big and small lagoon on Tour A for example, can be transited via sea kayak (for an extra charge) if you do not wish to swim the open water.
Having successfully scared you all by now, I want to say:
PLEASE do not be discouraged by these accounts!
Despite the risks, these are all beautiful destinations and visiting them is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even if you only get to experience half of them, it will be worth your time and energy. I PROMISE.
Just be forewarned and please be prepared ! I prepared a list of what you should bring along in that link above.
As of June 2017 many companies are offering the “Inland Tour” package. While they are all worthwhile destinations, you definitely do not need to book a tour to see them. The inland tour includes waterfalls, and beaches, but fails to mention the trek right in El Nido town! Climbing the craggy mountains to catch the sunset over Bacuit Bay is well worth the early rise, and you can still make an island hopping tour afterwards, as long as you come back by 9am. Just ask your tour operator where to meet for that trek.
The nearby beaches are also very underrated. So much so that I did separate posts on them. These will be short descriptions but you can read the longer posts on each, they are linked below.
Nacpan & Calitang (Twin Beach)
Like a handful of other destinations, Nacpan Beach has been dubbed the nicest beach in the Philippines; even in comparison to White Beach in Boracay.
Both have pristine stretches of soft white sand that extends well beyond the long sloping shore, free of rocks, shells and coral. Both are western facing, palm lined coasts with a lack of strong waves and undertow. But only Boracay has Starbucks and dancing to house music until 4am.
Nacpan however, does have some places along the beach to buy food and rent beach chairs or hammocks. Its also a nice quiet place to trek along the nearly 4km of white sand. It is almost never crowded here, even in El Nido’s busy season.
Marimegmeg AKA Las Cabanas Beach
A 15 minute tricycle ride from El Nido town, this beach offers you many options to catch the sunset with a drink in hand. The soft, white powdery sand isn’t quite devoid of shells and coral, but its still a pretty impressive shore on the Bacuit Bay, with many of the famous El Nido islands on the horizon.
So with so many alternatives to island hopping tours, you should find yourself with plenty of backup options incase there is a tour that doesn’t interest you, or you have less than ideal weather for being on the water.
Enjoy El Nido!