As of 2018 there are now four daily trips to Coron from El Nido and vice-versa. This includes two morning departures via fast craft (6:00 AM and 8:20AM) and two “slow boat” trips leaving at around the same time.
Where to Buy Tickets
Tickets can be purchased thru agents at just about any tour desk in El Nido, or you can go directly to the pier and purchase from the ticketing office. The price is not affected by where you purchase. I was able to get my ticket for the 8:20am trip about an hour before hand at the pier, though I do not recommend waiting until the last minute. There were definitely some tourists that were not able to get a ticket before the boat filled up and tickets were sold out.
Factoring the difference in cost and time should tell you that the slow boat does not seem to be worth the savings. The 8 hour slow journey will take up an entire day for travel, while the fast option arrives in half the time; just 4 hours.
Is it Worth it to Upgrade?
My general philosophy on long journeys such as this one is based on one question: “Does it save you a night of paid accommodations in a hotel?” For example, the 10pm bus from Manila to Sagada is an overnight trip that arrives around lunchtime the next day. Not only can you sleep through it (if you are lucky), but that journey saves you from paying for a hotel for that night as you will be on the bus.
The slow boat option from El Nido To Coron is a daytime trip so you are burning all of your daylight hours, then have to pay for a hotel when you arrive. That is an important consideration when planning your travels.
Sure, there are lots of things to see and do in Coron in the afternoon, but they are not activities that are unique to the area, in other words no beach or island hopping time. Instead, you will find yourself checking out restaurants, shops and live music.
A single ticket on the fast boat to Coron currently costs 1760p, which exchanges to about 35 USD and some change, depending on the rate at the time. The cost has gone up by at least 300 pesos since the end of the high tourist season (June of last year) but the frequency and availability of seats has gone up as well. Comparatively speaking, it is just a little bit less than a flight from Manila or Cebu to a provincial airport. It is well worth the price regardless.
Tour Packages Can Include Boat Transfers Too
Keep a lookout and be knowledgeable if you are buying tour packages that include transfers between these destinations because I can guarantee you that they all include the slow boat option.
Just observing the waiting lines between the two will tell you that the slow boat does not sell very well “a la carte” when tourists are given the option to get there in half the time for less than 1000p or $20 more.
The people stuck on the slow boat are typically those that bought all-inclusive packages or were sold transfers as part of a deal. Don’t let this be you!
Terminal Fees are a Part of Life
Like most places in the Philippines, you should expect to pay a small port fee. In 2018 that fee was 20 pesos, which is about .40 USD, forty cents. This is typical at just every port of call, and even some airports. The highest I have seen was 200 pesos. This was at the country’s two newest international airports, Puerto Princesa and Iloilo.
What About Bags?
The ticket price includes one carry on and one checked bag, with the option to pay a small fee if you have more than one bag to check. They do not weigh your bags, but the coast guard will most likely have a dog quickly checking over them.
I was traveling with my 90l duffle pack by Patagonia. When I fly or take a bus, I pull my backpack out and use it as my carry-on, while I lock and check the duffle. This method has been very effective for the sake of security since my carry-on bag has my laptop and camera gear. The duffle is left much lighter and only with clothes and toiletries. This boat ride was no different. I confidently handed my duffle directly to the porter and proceeded to board.
The Ride Itself
The fast craft from El Nido to Coron is NOT a big boat. I was actually quite surprised at the small size of the craft when I walked up to the pier. After walking on board, I saw that the boat is clean, comfortable and very well air-conditioned. This was a welcome discovery because in late March/Early April it is already quite hot at 8:20 in the morning in El Nido. The tropical sun will burn you if you are not prepared, even while just waiting in line to buy a ticket or board, so don’t forget the sunblock.
I walked down to the lower deck via the narrow stairwell. There was a front room and a back room, each were very cool (in temperature) and had an LCD TV in the front for on board entertainment. The front room on my particular boat was a bit smaller, with fewer seats in each row. I went right to the very front row and picked the seat with the most legroom possible. I had plenty of room and was quite comfortable, even with my carry on sitting in front of me. I also happened to have a great view of the TV, and a window incase I wanted to check out the ocean outside. The only complaint about the front was that by hour two, it was very cold, so bring a blanket or something to cover up incase you get chilly too.
As I mentioned earlier, this was a fairly small craft considering one short part of the trip crosses a large section of open water. Pair that with the speed we are travelling at, and you can expect a little bit of chop/ bounce to the boat. I would recommend Dramamine for those that typically get motion sick or seasick. The best tip to help avoid motion sickness while on the water is to make sure that you always have a good view of the horizon., even if it is to your left or right. Keeping your focus trained on the horizon will help your brain keep its bearings and should help reduce the motion sickness. Those that are more prone to sea sickness should also choose to stay towards the rear of the vessel, which tends to “bounce” far less. The open air, upper deck is sometimes available to passengers that want to air out during the voyage.
The bow of the boat (the front), where I was seated, will be the part that moves the most. The tradeoff is that you will be listening to water splashing rather than a big diesel engine during the ride.
While seated on the starboard side (the right side of the boat) you can catch great views of the nearby Nacpan beach within 20 minutes of leaving El Nido’s harbor. In fact, you will be able to see land on the starboard side for about 40 percent of the trip, followed by a short period crossing some open water, then it reverses and you will see land constantly on the port side windows (the left side) until you dock in Coron. There are great sights to be seen, including pristine beaches, remote islands, and giant rocks that seem to shoot right out of the sea. At no point do you feel like you are in the open ocean, because you rarely lose sight of land.
With no direct flights between these two destinations, fast boats are by far the most cost effective option to travel between El Nido and Coron.
Safe travels and Bon Voyage!