5 of the most stunning islands in the world are off El Nido, on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Majestic and breath-taking views in every direction simply made this one of the most memorable tours (and we usually dislike tours) that we have ever taken. Simply jaw-dropping.
We hope our photos demonstrate the true beauty of El Nido, Palawan Island, and the stunning islands surrounding it. Palawan Island was named the best island in the world by Travel + Leisure Magazine, 2016. We were skeptical, but now we have to agree.
The jaw-dropping and changing colours of the ocean waters surrounding the islands are unforgettable: emerald-green, creamy soft turquoise, crystal clear, deep sparkling cobalt blue, the sheerest pale green, azure, cerulean, indigo, teal, ultramarine, and sapphire. We cannot begin to adequately describe the stunning island panoramas, but hopefully the photos will offer a more accurate description of the seascapes.
Climbing into the Boat
We knew that the boat would stop and pick us up in the bay in front of our hotel, the Garden Bay Beach Resort.
What we did not know was that we would have to walk half a kilometre down along the beach over rocky slate.
No one bothered to tell us either, that after that, we would have to walk about five hundred feet waist-deep into the ocean water and try to pull ourselves up to the back of the boat while it sloshed this way and that.
Not an easy feat to climb up the back of a boat, even for the most young and agile. The ocean waves are wrestling with your balance. Just when you put an awkward leg three feet up to the first step to climb up in to the boat, the boat moves and a wave pushes you either backwards or sideways so that you miss your step up. There you are, a leg in mid-air losing your balance and the boat is two feet to the left. Sure, funny in hindsight. At the time, you wonder if you will ever manage to get on the boat, not to mention being embarrassed as those on the boat watch you struggle.
The guide assisted us, saying “slowly, slowly…”, and people on the boat did offer a hand up and along the rocking boat as you went to your seat.
Getting in and out of the boat five hundred feet out in the sea and walking to shore and back again was a challenge too, but fellow passengers helped pull me up the giant step from the water. There are kind people in this world. No one helped T of course, and once he twisted his back as a wave tossed him sideways.
There were about 10 of us on the boat, and we sat across from a lovely Italian couple, Jane and Pasquale, whom we became good friends with over the course of our time in El Nido. Two of the sweetest people we have ever met! We miss them.
Later, on one of the beaches, we met a Filipino couple, who were applying to emigrate to Canada. It was a serendipitous meeting in that with my background in Immigration, I was able to answer many of Krizia’s questions about Canada and the immigration process, and we continue to communicate by email. They have a young son that is their whole world.
Out to Sea
Our Guide had a brilliant smile and I’m sure he offered tons of factual information that I either missed in the breath of the wind, or I was too dazzled by the spectacular vistas to pay much attention.
While our little bay at Garden Bay Beach Resort was usually a soft clear blue or soft clear green, we could not help but notice the deep rich sapphire blue of the water as we started out to sea.
The outrigger boats with the big claws out to the side look like giant spiders, but they do provide valuable stability at sea.
We stopped off in El Nido town and the bay was a mish-mash of tour boats.
With those wide rigging wings, they often became hooked together, and it took the deckhands some wiggling to get them separated. We couldn’t help but be impressed with our deckhand as he would scamper down the narrow plank of the outrigging as nimbly as a squirrel down a branch, just to push our boat away from another boat’s outrigging that was in the way. Other times he dove deep into the water to loosen a rope or a hooked anchor. Jumping up out of the water, he would look around eagerly to see what he must do next. Sometimes the Captain shouted directions and each time, the deckhand would perform his sea acrobatics to perfection.
The views were incredible. I’m talking about the islands and the water too.
Tour A: Five Islands
There are 4 different Island Hopping Boat Tours, and there are dozens of companies offering the tours. Tour A was the best one, we were told, and it really was incredible. We would recommend doing more than one tour if you can. Some say Tour C is the best. We’re willing to bet they are all spectacular.
We were going to five destinations: Secret Beach, Shimizu Island, Commando Beach, and two lagoons on Miniloc Island (Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon).
Seven Commando Beach
Our first stop was Seven Commando Beach, a soft sand beach enclosed by towering limestone cliffs on three sides. The cliffs alone were impressive, but the water was a glimmering jewel.
Tour Boats Everywhere
Again, we were not the only boat there. Dozens of tour boats crowded into the bay, and we thought wistfully of how lovely it would be if we were the only boat here. The views were still the same, the water was still as sparkling clear, but people everywhere spoiled the ideal of natural beauty. Wouldn’t it make sense to stagger the visits of the tour boats, so that they were not all fighting to get through small openings into the lagoons? Wouldn’t that make for a more positive experience of the spectacular panoramas of the islands for the passengers? Every country is different, and we have no idea of the other reasons it might done this way, but in any case, it was almost impossible to take a photo without people or boats filling the picture, however – just look at that clear blue-green water!
We did get a few photos of surrounding islands from the boat, and then walking up onto the high side of the beach, we were able to get some shots of the view across the water from Seven Commando Beach.
There were a few shacks offering food and drinks as we wandered along the beach, and others went swimming or snorkeling.
A Sad Monkey
At first we were delighted to see a little monkey sitting on the back ledge of a shack, until we noticed that he was chained by one leg, that he had a sad forlorn look, and that his master would push and pull and tease him to make him react for onlookers. Quite sad really.
Secret Lagoon was ideal for snorkelling and as soon as we stopped, many passengers grabbed their snorkels and jumped into the water.
Every few minutes the water seemed to change colour from that deep sapphire blue to a brilliant turquoise or to a see-thru green. Always, the water was clear as glass to the bottom.
An enterprising young man in a miniature outrigger boat, stopped by the tour boats selling beer and drinks and treats. How he managed to wriggle his outrigger under our outrigger without getting caught inside is still a bit of a mystery.
The rock walls were a equally intriguing with their odd wind and water carvings and how they jumped strikingly out of the sea.
Then the storm clouds rolled in and it started to pour. You can always count on a good rain at least once a day is S. E. Asia. You could see a bit of anxiety, though, on the faces of seamen. They knew how a calm sea can suddenly become a wild and rough monster. What fun it would be to be stranded on a gorgeous tropical island for a few hours! But we headed out to sea and the storm passed in about half an hour.
As we cruised along, I noticed that the Captain was also busy on a rough-made grill, carefully putting food on the grill. At times the smoke billowed out and he rushed to fan the flames with a well-used plastic lid, and flip the pieces of meat. It was starting to smell good. Chicken maybe? Set on the side, it looked like whole fish wrapped in foil was next.
Our third stop was Shimizu Island. There we rested on the beach, exploring and admiring the amazing natural surrounding of lava rock, sand and sea.
A few adventurous boys climbed up the sharp lava.
There were overhanging rocks and hidden coves, and even little lagoons hidden high in the rocks.
But again the water was clear as glass; the sand soft and fluffy.
Half an hour later a long table was set up in the sand on the beach and a little later, it was spread with a tablecloth. As we waited, having worked up a fairly healthy appetite, the Captain, the Guide and the deckhand walked waist-deep through the water with succulent trays of food.
It was a feast fit for royalty, and we couldn’t help but think how each of them had to be a master of the sea, an acrobat, a master chef, and a public relations officer, often doing all four at once. We could barely walk through the water managing ourselves, let alone carrying fancy trays of food!
The fourth stop was Small Lagoon, another jaw-droppingly beautiful cove with incredibly blue water and wildly jagged cliffs.
The “Piece de Resistance” was our last stop, Big Lagoon. As we approached, we could easily see the grandeur and magnificence of this lagoon. Gigantic cliffs surrounded a large lagoon with an opening at one end. Even with dozens of other tour boats crowding in and out of the opening, one could not fail to be dazzled by the natural beauty in all directions.
Mountainous striated cliffs reaching high into the blue sky; a sea of such gorgeous colours that one was staring fascinated into and across the water. Sometimes the water was so clear it felt like you were looking down through coloured glass.
It was devastating to leave this ravishingly beautiful place, but soon we were on our way back splashing across the ocean, and now we had truly seen the most stunning islands in the world.
At 1200 Philippine Pesos plus government environmental fee ($40 CAD) for a full day tour (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and a fantastic lunch, this is the bargain of the century.
You seldom see breathtaking landscapes of such power and beauty that they sweep you off your feet. El Nido’s stunning islands are such a place. Don’t hesitate to add El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines, to your bucket list.