The Highlight: Snorkeling
Other activities: Snorkeling
El Nido's Island Hopping Tour C should be called the snorkeling tour and is a CAN’T MISS for anyone that snorkels. You will start off on Helicopter Island which has some absolutely beautiful coral ranging from just 1-5meters of depth and a large variety of marine life. In June the small stinging jellyfish are in season and can show up in large numbers, but you can put on a little bit of sunblock as a deterrent. With some careful swimming, you should be ok. There can be a little bit of chop to the water here at times, but the snorkeling here at Helicopter beach is generally an easy swim. The large, roped off area easily accommodates a dozen boatloads of tourists. Individuals can all swim around without feeling crowded.
Secret Beach requires a water transit, in about 8 meters of water and there is often times a fairly strong push and pull current at the entrance; a small opening in the rocks. Not too tough for someone in a life vest, but I’ve seen boatmen pull lines of tourists by the vest if they weren’t confident to make the swim on their own. The interior beach is worth the effort. Just remember wear something to protect your feet from the sharp corals along the way.
Hidden Beach can also require a short water transit in about 3 meters of ocean before it levels out quickly to a flat and shallow sandy bottom. The quick trek through the sandy passage reveals a great beach that has supposedly been used as a filming location for Survivor. There’s some snorkeling available with nice coral to see in the deeper water where the boats wait, but not many fish in compassion to other sites on this day.
When you get to the Mantiloc Shrine location I would personally opt out of the entrance fee and just get in the water instead. This is not because the shrine is not worth seeing, but because the snorkeling here is NOT TO BE MISSED. This location rivals Helicopter Island as the best snorkeling on the tour. Being at the edge of a deep drop-off into the sea (25+m) means there is a possibility to spot a sea turtle, and a healthy reef also lives at the edge of the shallower drop offs (to about 10m) with much sea life around. This is a large open area with plenty of shallow water to explore for those that don’t like deep water. There is no shortage of a variety of fish and coral to see, including blue starfish, even in the shallows!
UPDATE: March 2018
Upon my return to El Nido in March 2018, just 10 months after my previous trip in June 2017, I was mortified to see that most of the coral reefs surrounding Dilumicad Island (AKA Helicopter Island) have died off.
In this particular location, 95% of soft corals and animals like sea anemones were completely gone, nowhere to be found; while 80% of hard corals have bleached or died. The next phase of this is that Sea Turtles and migratory fish will no longer return due to the lack of reef life, followed by the loss of marine life that permanantly inhabit this area that rely on the visiting fish to feed on.
This is directly attributed to the rising temperatures of our world’s oceans, and coral reefs are bleaching worldwide, NOT just in El Nido. ONLY TWO DEGREES in constant temperatures has killed most reef life here.
While I was not able to return to Mantiloc Shrine, I did find that Star Beach (just across the channel) has also lost a significant amount of coral, and I was unable to find any giant clams at Hidden Beach, which was previously home to many.
El Nido Tour C is still a wonderful way to spend the day, but let it be noted that it is definitely NOT what it once was due to climate change.