Island Hopping Around The Lagoons of El Nido

When you see the Philippines on Instagram, TV commercials or travel brochures, you’re probably looking at an image of Palawan.

One of the most beautiful islands of the 7,000 plus islands that makes up the Philippines, Palawan is home to a handful of these incredible islands, all covered in white sand beaches, crystal clear water, perfect palm trees and some epic snorkelling opportunities.

Most people head to Palawan predominately to jump on a fishing boat and spend the day exploring some of these islands. There are quite a few different tour companies that run day tours out of the water, and they all follow the same tour options, so you’re sure not to miss out no matter who you go with.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect island hopping day in El Nido.

el nido lagoons

Choosing your El Nido Tour

There are actually four different tours you can take if you want to go island hopping around El Nido, they’re simply known as tour A, B, C and D.

Island hopping is the number one attraction in El Nido and from the minute you hit the water it’s not hard to see why. Slowly floating around these islands, stopping to swim, snorkel and grab some lunch is such a lovely way to spend the day and a great way to see more of the Philippines.

If you’re having some trouble choosing which tour to book onto, let us break it down for you.

All tours are about 7 hours long, returning you to El Nido at around 4pm and include a snorkel and mask for the day, drinking water, and a BBQ buffet lunch of grilled fish, chicken or pork, rice, local fruits and traditional seasoning sauce.

Check out all the things to do in El Nido

Island Hopping Tour A

The perfect place to start, tour A shows you some of the best spots around the islands all in one day. It’s jam packed with incredible lagoons, dramatic landscapes and deserted beaches.

Places you visit: Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and Seven Commando Beach

Tour price: 1,200 PHP – approximately $33 AUD.

island hopping el nido

Island Hopping Tour B

If you’re hoping to check out a cave on your island hopping day out, tour B is the choice for you. This tour has a little more adventure, including a very unique sand bar stop in the middle of the sea.

Places you visit: Snake Island (also known as Vigan Island), Pinagbuyuyan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave and a special secret snorkelling site.

Tour price: 1,300 PHP – approximately $36 AUD.

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Island Hopping Tour C

Perhaps the most popular tour around the island, tour C is recommended as the tour to choose if you only have enough time to do one tour. Expect beautiful islands, incredible snorkelling and stunning beaches.

Places you visit: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Island, Secret Beach, Star Beach and Hidden Beach.

Tour price: 1,400 PHP – approximately $40 AUD.

While it is the most popular, tour C is also the tour that is the most often cancelled due to weather conditions. If you planning to do a couple of different tours, schedule this one in first to make sure you don’t miss out if the weather isn’t great.

big lagoon el nido

Island Hopping Tour D

Last but not least, tour D might be one of the cheaper tours, but it actually takes you to what is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Palawan. When you think about just how many beaches there are here, that’s a mighty call. These locations are actually much closer to El Nido as well, so you can expect less boat time and more exploring time.

Places you visit: Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach and Bukal Beach.

Tour price: 1,200 PHP – approximately $33 AUD.

For every tour option there is a choice between a group tour or a private tour. If it’s within your budget, we would highly recommend splurging for a private tour.

Not only do you get the luxury of having the boat all to yourself, but there’s no waiting for other people, no awkward small talk, and when it’s just your group you have much more control over how much time you spend at each destinations.

el nido

Highlights from El Nido Island Hopping

When we visited El Nido there was also a tour known as the combination tour, which took you to the best spots from tour A and tour C and was a little longer in length to make up for the extra travel time. This is the tour we chose.

However, since our visit apparently combo tours have been forbidden by the municipality of El Nido, so you just have to choose from the standard tour menu at the moment. There are still some incredible options though, and if you have more than one day to spare, we would highly recommend a few days of island hopping to really check out the best of these beautiful islands.

Some of our favourite places from our day island hopping include –

el nido snorkelling

Big Lagoon

There’s no doubt about it, the Big Lagoon is sure to take your breath away. It’s absolutely incredible – huge dramatic cliffs rising out of the sea, crystal clear warm water sitting peacefully at their feet.

To get to some of the best places in the Big Lagoon take the option to jump in a kayak. It will let you get further into the lagoon and see some of the most incredible scenery before you need to jump back onto your boat to head to your next destination.

Secret Lagoon

This place would be pretty amazing if it wasn’t for the dozens of tourists that are dropped off here at the same time. From your boat you jump straight into the water, swim through a small hole in the rocky cliffs and emerge on the other side to a peaceful little rockpool.

The water here is shallow and very warm, with a small sandy bank where you can enjoy the sun beaming through the gaps in the cliff faces. It is definitely a beautiful spot, however the number of people here at once makes it a little harder to find the peace and tranquillity.

snorkelling in el nido

Small Lagoon

By the time we arrived at Small Lagoon clouds had started to appear in the sky and the scenery was starting to look pretty dramatic with the grey sky descending on the jaggard cliffs. We were happy to finally get the drone out and experience this landscape from above, it’s always worth checking things out from above.

Random beaches along the way

Some of our favourite spots though, were the ones that our tour guides just stopped at because they thought we would like them. The quiet beach we stopped at for lunch, the random place we jumped out to go snorkelling.

There are absolutely so many places to explore around the islands of El Nido you could spend days or weeks on the water out there and still have more to see.

Check out the best places to stay in El Nido

el nido

What to pack for island hopping in El Nido

Make sure you have the best island hopping day possible by taking everything you might need on board. Some of the things you will definitely want to take with you include –

Sun protection – make sure you are equipped with strong sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and a t-shirt that you can throw on when you’re in the sun for too long. The reflections coming off the water can often increase your chance of sunburn, so be as prepared as you can.

Food and drinks – your tour guides will likely have a few soft drinks on board for you to purchase, but they don’t mind you bringing your own snacks, beers and drinks on board at all.

A waterproof bag – no doubt you will have seen these all over the streets of El Nido. You can’t go past more than a few shops without someone asking you if you want one, but they do come in extremely handy. Throw all your valuables like your phone, camera or drone into a waterproof bag to get them to shore without getting wet or damaged.

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lunch stop el nido

No matter which island hopping tour you go with for your adventures in El Nido you’re sure to have an amazing day. This place is absolutely amazing and hopping around the islands is one of the most incredible days we had while we were in the Philippines.

From the dramatic scenery, to some of the warmest water in the world and more island beaches than you can imagine, there’s something out here for everyone.

Explore more of our adventures around the Philippines

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Happy travels,



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Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started Explore Shaw to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

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Just two twenty-something married Aussies, visiting as many places as we can in between normal life, and hoping to inspire and offer advice for your travel planning.

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