What makes El Nido special is the combination of ~45 karst islets and islands nearby, all surrounded by crystal clear waters. El Nido's premier attraction of Island Hopping, involves taking a boat to visit those different islands, beaches, and lagoons, while doing some snorkelling and kayaking activities along the way.The local tourism authorities define the 4 standard island hopping tours that can be offered by operators (creatively named Tours A through D). It doesn't matter which tour operator you go with - if you do "Tour A", the price and island locations will be the same for all of the operators. That being said, some of the standard locations may be modified due to poor conditions such as strong winds and waves. On a daily basis, the local coastguard decides which tours are cancelled, modified, or allowed, based on the upcoming day's conditions.
We were really pleased with our Tour C experience, so 2 days later, we did Tour A. Here we explored Secret Lagoon on Miniloc Island and snorkelled elsewhere on the same island. It was really windy that day (56km gusts), so instead of eating (a lot of sand) on the beach, we ate on the boat shielded by the karsts of Inatula island.
This was a really nice lagoon with clear water at the beginning and then silty blue water at the end. On our first tour we kayaked here for about 1 hour. On our second tour, we decided to snorkel and saw a group of clown fish.
It was just a beach, but it was nice. There was supposed to be good snorkelling here, but the seas were choppy when we went so the visibility was too poor to see anything.
Off to the side of one of the beaches, there is a hole in one of the karst walls. Once you go through, you end up in a small lagoon that is entirely surrounded by natural walls. We luckily arrived early so there weren't that many people, but as we were leaving, there was a big line starting to form. Later that evening, we overheard other tourists saying they waited an hour in line to get into the Secret Lagoon.
We stopped at a few different snorkelling spots during our 2 tours. Since conditions weren't great, we didn't see very many fish, but we did see a purple clam, a few clown fish, some blue star fishes, a couple of parrot fish, and some other random small fish/sea creatures that we don't know the names of 😂.
The lunch on our first tour was quite spectacular. While we visited the various tour stops, the boat chefs prepped the meal. At around 13:00, we arrived at a small beach and the crew floated a table and the dishes over to the beach, in a kayak. We had a wonderful feast!
On our second tour, because of the high wind, we ended up eating on the boat sheltered by an island. It was still nice, but less spectacular.
In El Nido, it seems that the boats don’t have any personal space. Even if the area is crowded, they go in as close as possible to their destination and then when it’s time to leave, the crew have to figure out how to untangle the pontoons. The pictures show the crew struggling to free one side of the boat, while the other side is completely deadlocked 🤷♂️
- Kayak rental at each lagoon - 300-400 PHP (~$7-8 cad/kayak/hour)
- Water shoes - 100 PHP / person - The water shoes were optional but we highly recommend taking them. There were several areas where people were hit by strong waves or slipped on the uneven surfaces and badly scraped their feet/legs on the jagged coral and rocks.