Towards the end of 2018, an opportunity arose to venture to Asia, to go island hopping in the Philippines. I didn’t know much about the country at that stage and didn’t do much research before the trip. My friends, who were travelling around Asia for a few months, had chosen El Nido and Coron as our destinations. It’s probably a good thing they had already planned the locations because I’m incredibly indecisive and there are thousands of islands in the Philippines. Excluding travel days, I spent three full days in El Nido and one full day in Coron.
Getting to El Nido
El Nido is one of the most popular destinations for island hopping in the Philippines. There are a couple of ways to get to there – a popular and cheap way is to fly into Puerto Princesa and take a shuttle bus or van to El Nido, which is estimated to take about 5-6 hours. Because I was short on time, I took the direct route and flew from Manila to El Nido airport with Airswift. The flight took about one hour and fifteen and cost PHP 6,142 / £92 / €109. A window seat is essential, there were beautiful views as we came down to land. I hadn’t pre-booked an airport transfer, so upon arrival I needed to figure out how to get to my hostel. Luckily there were motorised tricycles hanging around, so I hopped into one of those for the twenty minute drive.
Where to Stay
The tricycle dropped me off at the top of a wooden staircase leading down to Corong Corong beach. The hostel, which was a short walk further along the beach, exceeded all expectations. It’s directly on the beach, only metres from the water, with an upstairs veranda overlooking Bacuit Bay. The people working there are really welcoming. And there’s a great social atmosphere. It’s the right balance between chill and party. The sunsets are accompanied by free shots and there are different events on each night. But at the same time if you want to catch some sleep, the mixed dorms are comfortable and quiet. The hostel parties finish up at 10pm and usually people head into town for drinks and dancing (only a ten minute tricycle ride away). Don’t ask me for the name of the bar/club we went too… I was having too much fun to take note.
Where to Eat
The hostel serves breakfast (go for the French toast), lunch and dinner. But if you fancy venturing into town, there are plenty of other options.
It seems weird. We’re in Asia but we go to an Italian restaurant. But when the food is that good, it has to be done – twice. I really loved the pasta. It’s popular so maybe go early to avoid queues.
What to Do
El Nido blew me away. The natural beauty of the surrounding islands was breath-taking. Needless to say, an island-hopping trip is an absolute must. We booked our tours through the hostel – and I can’t recommend this enough – the guys doing the tours were brilliant. They had so much personality and kept us laughing throughout.
We did tour A+B on day one. And ended up doing tour C+D on day two because one day just wasn’t enough. And most of the people on our first tour felt the same. The tours take up most of the day and a delicious lunch (think fresh fish, vegetables, salads, rice and fruit) is included. There were so many highlights from the two days – kayaking to the Small Lagoon, shooting basketball hoops at 7 Commando Beach, eating lunch on Snake Island, swimming into Cadlao Lagoon and taking in the stunning beauty of Pinagbuyutan Island and Entalula Island.
We spent most of our third day lounging on the day beds at Panorama Resort El Nido, which was next door to our hostel. If you’re not on an accommodation budget, this could be a cool place to stay.
There are so many other things to do in El Nido that we just didn’t have time for Las Canañas Beach, Nacpan Beach and Kuyawyaw Falls.
Scroll down to find out about our adventures at the next location.
Getting to Coron
Our time in El Nido quickly came to an end. On the last day, we headed to the port to catch a ferry to Coron. The estimated travel time is three hours, but it actually took four. The seats were really comfortable but it was quite a wavy ride. Alternatively, it’s possible to fly direct with Airswift via a 45 minute flight. On arrival we checked into our guesthouse – it was adequate but nothing to write home about – and then went for a wander around town. There are plenty of places to buy souvenirs (check out Aramintas Arts & Crafts), grab a coffee or go out for dinner.
Where to Eat
We were delighted when we realised that our fave restaurant in El Nido also had a place in Coron. Of course, we had to go there again to get our fix of pasta and pizza.
This seafood restaurant is at the end of a boardwalk, over the water. It would be beautiful for sunset. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather was not on our side. But the food was good.
What to Do
Of course, we did what we always do and booked another island-hopping tour. Coron is another popular destination for island hopping in the Philippines. Many different places were advertising different tours, so we just went into one randomly and booked a tour. I found island hopping in Coron to be much busier with tourists than El Nido (but there seem to be different opinions on this online).
The day started out wet and gloomy. There was a torrential downpour as we were getting on the boat. But as it pulled out of the port, the rain started to clear, and the day was looking up. That was until we heard a sudden crack and the bench my friends and I were sitting on collapsed. We quickly were helped up by our fellow tourists and relocated to the bench on the other side of the boat. A few minutes later, the original bench, which had been barely hanging on, give up completely and fell to the water. The guys working on the boat basically ignored us and got on with recovering the bench and trying to fix it back into place. Despite the dramatic start to the day, things calmed down and we had a blissful day exploring.
Kayangan Lake is very popular for a reason. After disembarking, there is a climb up to a viewing point overlooking the boats, then you climb down the stairs on the other side and along a boardwalk to the lake. It’s another good place for a swim. Note, you have to wear orange life vests to go in the water – that’s one thing you don’t see on Instagram.
The Twin Lagoons are another popular destination. The boat anchored near the first lagoon and from there we swam to the entrance of the second lagoon. During low tide, you swim through a gap in the rocks. And for high tide, there is a wooden ladder to pass over it from above.
One of my highlights was Skeleton Wreck, a 25m long Japanese ship hit by a US airstrike during WWII. Part of the ship is only 5 metres below the surface. There were also schools of colourful or patterned fish swimming around, so it was a really good place for snorkelling. Towards the end of the day, we also stopped to snorkel above a coral garden.
Getting to Coron Airport
Again, I hadn’t booked an airport transfer for my last day. I didn’t really think about this until about two hours prior to my flight departure. On Google maps, the airport doesn’t seem too far from Coron but I hadn’t considered how I would actually make that journey. It all got a bit frantic. The guesthouse wasn’t able to help find a taxi. While I finished packing, my friends were canvassing the streets trying to find a tricycle that would drive me to the airport. They eventually found one that said he could take me there and it would take 45 minutes. Even when he was flooring it, we were hardly going fast and there were a couple of hills that were a struggle for the tricycle. But the driver was true to his word and I arrived in time for my flight.
Although there were further hiccups. I was to fly from Coron to Manila to Hong Kong to London. The first two flights were booked with the same airline as connecting flights. But at first, they wouldn’t let me check in for my Manila to HK flight as I didn’t have confirmation of my HK to London flight. There was no Wifi in the airport and I had no data so I couldn’t access my emails. And I didn’t think it would be an issue since that last flight is from another country and with a different airline. Eventually, they took pity on me. The flight to Manila was with Cebu Pacific and took one hour and twenty minutes.
ATMs are not easy to come by – there is only one in El Nido. We walked to town one day in search of this elusive ATM. We stopped to ask for directions a couple of times but that didn’t really help. Eventually we found it. It’s definitely worth having cash to cover at least a few days so you’re not relying on this one and only ATM.
Have a copy of all your flight information and important documents downloaded to your phone or printed out.
The domestic airport terminal and international airport terminal in Manila are in different parts of the city. They’re not far apart but you do need to take a shuttle bus to get from one to the other. There is supposed to be a free shuttle bus but the one I took charged me a small fee. It was hardly any money at all, but I only had larger notes that I had just taken out from the ATM at the airport. So, the driver had to stop at a petrol station to get me change. When I was leaving, I found the free shuttle bus.
Bring a dry bag for the boat tours – often when we stopped at islands, we had to swim or walk through the water to shore so a dry bag is useful if you have a camera or other things to carry with you. Also a waterproof phone pouch is worth having.