Located in the island of Palawan, El Nido is with no doubt the most beautiful-perfect place we’ve ever been to. When we go away, we try not to repeat destinations for several reasons, but the truth is that with the Philippines ever since we went, we dream of going back.
When in search for new destinations, sometimes I catch myself describing the Bacuit bay and its islands: amazing landscape of majestic limestone cliffs in contrast with crystal clear turquoise waters, pristine beaches where you can be all day from coral reef snorkelling to white-sand “croquette time”, with opportunities to explore uninhabited islands independently, meet lovely local people around, low budget prices, wildlife watching, rainforest, waterfalls, picturesque villages, and much more.
We combined motorbike days exploring off the path villages, with days of island hopping by kayak, discovering turquoise lagoons, beautiful reefs and pristine islands and got a deal with one of the guards of a beach ,to take us privately to the furthest islands on the bay! I know it sounds awesome, and it really was! But don’t be jealous! We’re here to help and tell you how we did it, so you can have your own El Nido adventure.
Kayaking El Nido
When doing the research of this trip something caught my eye: kayaking and camping, what a perfect plan!! There are agencies that offer kayaking and camping adventure visiting the main islands on the Bacuit Bay. I requested a price and though reasonable for the type of kayak (sea kayak) and the extras included, our sensitive wallet would have blamed us for a time, and sorry for the guides, but we love venturing independently. So, we decided to do it, at the end of the day we just needed a kayak and a tent!!!
What would you need and where to get it
For one day kayak
You don’t need much but there are some basics:
- The Kayak, we rented a double kayak (at el Nido beach) 400 PHP per day. Though in the rest of the places was 700 PHP.
- A map of the Islands and a bit of orientation from the start point .
- A waterproof dry bag, needed if you are taking some gear like phones, non waterproof camera, food etc… chances are, you’ll want to take your camera to make sure you share those photos of paradise with everyone –I took mine and came back intact- . The guy renting the kayaks had a dry bag for rent, and it was asking 100 PHP but we convinced him to have it included in the price.
- Food, we bought a couple of takeaway tapsilogs (typical Filipino breakfast: fried rice with fried egg and meat) some fruit, bread, and enough water to spend the day.
- Snorkel equipment, one of the best thing of kayaking in El Nido is that the paradise is above and underwater, so make sure you bring your equipment with you, so you can enjoy the reefs and marine life.
- Life vest, very very important!! You might think that you know how to swim, but you never know what can happens, and in case something goes wrong it will help you to stay afloat for hours. We got them with the kayak and it should be included in the price.
Tip: We used them as comfortable seatbacks on the kayak.
Note: You can always find out what time the tours depart and what time they are around the places you want to visit, so you can plan your route in order to miss them!
Which islands can you visit in a day and how long will take?
Due to distances/time you’ll be able to explore only the closest islands on the bay:
Cadlao Island route
Distance: approx. 14 km return
Time: This depends on how long you stay on each place you visit along the way, just bare in mind that the total distance non stop from El Nido to Cadlao Lagoon is approx. 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Cadlao Island , you can spot it from El Nido town, and is the largest island in Bacuit bay ( 10 square km). You will have plenty to visit here, there are a few beaches, main and first you’ll probably arrive to is called Nat-Nat or Paradise beach.There are more hidden isolated paradise coves on this west route until you get to Cadlao lagoon, a beautiful lagoon of still turquoise water surrounded by impressive limestone rock formation and green vegetation. It is one of the wonders of the Bacuit bay, with one of the best snorkel sites and even better you can have the chance to have it to yourself as not many tours stop here.
Attention: once you pass Pasandigan beach (the closest distance to helicopter island) is open sea , and current and swells become stronger so try to kayak as close to shore as possible. Look out!!! In our first expedition looking for Cadlao lagoon we passed it and we nearly surrounded the island ending up in a fisherman boat.
Helicopter Island route
Distance: Approx. 14 km return
Time: Non stop distance one way EL Nido to Helicopter Island 2 hours, depending on sea conditions.
Attention: This route is a bit more challenging because you need to kayak across the open sea, which means strong currents and swells! Please check forecast and sea conditions before departure.
Helicopter island, also named Dilumacad, is a limestone and fine white-sand Island that from a distance resembles the shape of a helicopter.
This island is perfect to relax with beautiful views of paradise after a paddle morning!
Seven commandos route
Distance: Approx. 6 km return
Time: non stop from el Nido approx. 1 hour
This is an easy route for you to practise your kayaking skills or if you don’t want to venture very far. There are a couple of coves before 7 commandos , Ipil beach and Ipil 2 beach.
7 commandos beach is located in mainland el Nido but it’s only accessible by boat. Still a beautiful beach although can be a bit more crowded. There is a small and nicely built resort in one end of the beach and some small stores selling snacks and drinks. So if you are the kind of adventurer that don’t mind to be a bit spoilt here you will have your peace of heaven.
Multiday kayak & camping island hopping
If you are adventurous enough to paddle a few hours per day consecutively, camp on a deserted beach far from crowds and comfort, which includes being without shower for days! -Who needs a shower when you’ll be in the water for most of your day anyway-, you can have the adventure of your life: kayaking, snorkelling, fishing and sleeping under a million stars!
When we were in el Nido we tried to do it , but all we took for sleep was a mosquito net , which could have been enough to make it work instead of a bulky tent. But we noticed that our net holes were too big and some insects could get inside, and been bitten by mosquitos or sand-flies – which is even worst – didn’t appealed much to us, and believe me when I say sand-flies are unbearable!! Wild beaches are mined with them when the sun sets. We tried to rent a tent, but at the end didn’t manage to find any.
- Bring your tent or make sure you can rent one in El Nido.
- You can also bring your own fishing gear so you can enjoy of nice fresh fish everyday!
Note: Is it legal to camp in any islands of El Nido? There is not much information about this, and some will tell you that it’s illegal. What we know is that, islands are privately owned and security guards keep a watch, but they’re nice people and if you ask them they’ll let you stay for a night or two.
Not Kayaking ? Don’t worry !
If you are not into kayaking, you will find several options of tours in the agencies in town. These are the most popular:
Tour A, 1.200 PHP: Visiting 3 lagoons on Miniloc Island (Big, Small and Secret lagoon) also Seven commando beach, snorkel in Simizu Island.
Tour B, 1.300 PHP: Snake Island, Cudugnun cave, Cathedral cave, Lagen and Pinabuyuntan Island.
Tour C, 1400 PHP: Helicopter island, hidden beach, Secret beach, Cadlao lagoon.
Tour D :Cadlao Lagoon , Pasandigan, Nat Nat , Bucal and paradise beach.
Note: Snorkel and lunch are included in the tour price.Private tours are aslo available but at higher price.
As our multiday kayaking-camping adventure didn’t go to plan, we had to look into other options and sometimes opportunities come when you less expect them. In one of our kayak trips to Cadlao Island, my curios gaze fell upon a little banca –Filipino’s typical boat- it was just off shore on one of the beaches, as we were getting closer to the beach we could see there was also a hut, curiosity killed the cat – not in this case though- We disembarked our kayak and went to have a chat with the nice old man that owned the hut, after half English half signs conversation and with the help of our printed map, we dealt with him to take us privately on his small banca to the furthest islands.
This ended up to be a great deal, doing tour A, B and C in two days at a total cost of 1500 PHP (price for both of us) with our private boat, sharing our time with local people and deciding how much time we wanted to be on each place. With the plus side that he knew the tours timetable, so we missed the crowd nearly every place we visited, we had it all to ourselves! Magical!
The best thing is that everyone wins, because we were directly contributing on helping a local, and not playing the game of making the rich, richer!
Exploring mainland by motorbike is a great way to discover the the Philippines culture and do some other different activities.
We did a couple of motorbike expeditions; First day we went to find Duli beach visiting some interesting villages and waterfalls on our way. Duli beach is an uncrowded paradise where you can have a 2 Km long beach, backed by jungle all to yourself.
On the second motorbike day trip we visited the famous Twin beaches of Calitang and Nacpan where we lived one of the highlight of our trip. Calitang and Nacpan are two beautiful white-sand beaches separated by a hill, from where you can take beautifull photos of the coast specially at sunset. Although undeveloped and hidden beaches , the secret is out and more people make their way here every year. So don’t wait more and go now!
Right on one of the corner of the beach there is an almost-camouflaged fishing village and we couldn’t resist but to walk into it’s sandy alleys surrounded by bamboo huts. We started playing with the children and talking to the adults, only a few knew some words in English and we were surprised when they told us that other toursist don’t even try to interact with them. That is a pity! As spending time with them, was the highlight of our trip. We shared a lovely evening where they invited us to eat fried-dried squid and drink homemade Brandy and rum.
At night, as there was not electricity, we were chatting with our new friends in one of the most beautiful starry skies we have ever seen, whilst the rest of the villagers met in one of the huts to watch a film in a tiny screen, powered with a car’s battery.
This is really what we came for, this is the reason why travel is so fulfilling:the possibility of learning from other cultures and to enjoy the warmth and friendliness of local people.
Watch the video of our adventure !!
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