It was already 37 minutes past three in the morning when I did a final check if all the plugged gadgets were charging, ensuring we have enough juice for our El Nido island hopping activity. Following firefly watching in Iwahig (where I have no proof of the sightings because I was too busy dramatically thinking if a croc was gonna attack our boat in the dark), we flew from Puerto Princesa to El Nido in a van. It was one of those moments where you get to be thankful for an nth life, where n > 1.
We stayed at El Nido Sands Inn which was directly facing the playa. Of course, during that time I had no idea that “playa” is “beach” in Spanish. The place was basic with no air-conditioning, and I’m saying that not for a negative connotation but to point out that there really was no need for us to stay at a fancy accommodation since we were essentially staying for just one night. Young, wild, and free, if I may say. (On cue, Snoop and Wiz!)
El Nido island hopping has different flavors. We were to select from Tours A through D and we went for a combination of A and C, the supposed crowd favorite, and had a boat to ourselves since there were seven of us. After some food and beverage to start the day and some goofing on the balcony, we set off at eight minutes past nine.
Only a few meters away from the mainland, we were greeted by a turtle. I wasn’t adroit enough to take a snap though.
In around half an hour we arrived at our first destination—Helicopter Island. You might think of a position when you hear “helicopter” but even a kid should be able to tell why the island is named so. We spent the next 30 minutes snorkeling and socializing with Ariel’s
Nemo, our favorite clam, and corals were in for the attendance check.
We still had a long day ahead of us so as much as we wanted to savor the white sand on our feet and check out the island itself, it was time to move on and set sail again.
El Nido is known for its limestone cliffs and it never comes short of them. Another 30 minutes elapsed and Hidden Beach was already in sight. The tide wasn’t what John Holt belts out in his song (it was already Atomic Kitten’s and Kardinal Offishall’s versions during my time) so the boat couldn’t be beached and we had to reach the beach ourselves.
The Beach and All Saints singing “Pure Shores” was what immediately came to my mind upon beaching. Trivia: Although the novel of the same name (Wikipedia, ikaw ba ‘yan?) from which the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was based was set in Thailand, the author was allegedly inspired to write it after visiting Palawan. Di mabasol.
What six-letter s-verb first comes to mind?
We had a lot of choreographed group photos on this beach but majority of them have bombs so I’m settling with the one below. After frolicking for about half an hour, we made our way back to the boat and headed off to Matinloc Shrine.
After approximately 27 minutes (don’t ask me, but the duration of our transfers from one island to another up to this point seemed consistent), pointed cliffs of Matinloc Island greeted us before revealing the shrine behind them.
Aside from the Virgin Mary and angel statues under the dome, there was also a statue of Jesus Christ on the island.
Hardly any time was spent on swimming here; we exhausted our stay by sniffing around, taking photos, and climbing the cliffs by the shrine. As they say, never settle for less so aim for the high one!
It was midday when we left for our next destination and along the way our boatmen started cooking our almuerzo. I didn’t really search beforehand what to expect so I was absolutely ecstatic when we were told that to reach Secret Beach we have to swim through a hole. *grinning emoji*
See that hole right there? Let’s get ready to rumble!
With uncalm waves, swimming to the concealed beach was so reminiscent of when we swam a great distance from our boat to the shores of Apo Island without life vests and, as confident as we were with our swimming skills, ended up struggling. That was another life and I’ll spare the story for a different post.
Just right before the orifice was a massive school of sardines which I would’ve mingled with had I already known how to hold my breath better then, had flippers, and the waves were pacific. (Muchas condiciones amp!)
But first, let me take a selfie with my ever reliable flappy little wings.
From the looks of it, the beach is also accessible when the tide is high (there, I finally spilled the lyrics) by climbing over the crevice (or whadever it’s called) seen below. Why’d I fail to ask the guides for kanfeermation, I wonder?
The soulmates didn’t join us; I had my Game of Thorns moment. Secret Beach certainly wasn’t a long stretch but we still spent a good amount of time on it.
Seventeen minutes past one o’clock it was when we approached Secret Lagoon, our preantepenultimate stop. Again, our boat had to be docked away from the shore because of the water level. It was great, actually, because the background was like no other. Like no other!
If the view below doesn’t impress you then I don’t know what will. #gondo
An advantage of having a boat exclusively to your group, aside from providing flexibility in your pit stops, is it won’t be awkward taking photos on the bow (unless you’re comfortable with strangers watching you, of course). You can have as many shots as you want until the perfectionist in you is satisfied. Lights, camera, accion!
At half past one, we fin’lly feasted on the scrumptious meal our boatmen prepared. Por supuesto there was rice! Nyormnyorm.
When we’ve had our fill, we started our search for a Horcrux. Apart from watching out for sharp rocks on my way, I was also on the lookout for critters in the shallows. No big deal.
For not being witches and wizards who can apparate, we had to walk to the left to the entrance of the lagoon.
Fortunately, no sacrifice in the form of blood like what Dumbledore did was necessary as the hatch was wide open.
With the stillness of the water licked by a gloomy sky and the way we broke into the lagoon, it was as if we were in the cave where
Voldemort You-Know-Who hid Slytherin’s Locket, one of his Horcruxes. If we weren’t there to steal it, then we probably were among the Inferi.
I failed to ask again but it appears that the lagoon can also be accessed through the crevice when there’s a rise in the water level.
Including our lunchtime, we lasted for an hour and around 40 minutes before proceeding to Big Lagoon which was roughly a 10-minute ride. Yet again, as the tide wasn’t in our boat’s favor, we made use of our limbs—for ten minutes—to reach deep waters.
Seeing what lay beyond reminded me of another movie: The Lord of the Rings.
Always watch out for this spiny sea creature. For
being a prick having been pricked thrice at the time of writing, perhaps I should add vinegar to my checklist?
Big Lagoon would be my favorite in the tour even with the low tide taken into consideration. The water was placid and perfect for practicing freediving, which is again quite a shame that I wasn’t any better with my lungs then and didn’t have fins.
Our plunge was a bit abrupt despite the size of the place but I still enjoyed it as evident in the lack of photos while we were at it. That didn’t mean that the shabu pose could escape though.
On our way back my company maximized the “availability” of land while I chose to be with marine life by retracing my steps. Was worth it.
We reached Small Lagoon at four o’clock after about ten minutes of transfer from the bigger one. One hole for the road! It was as peaceful as Secret Lagoon.
At this point my back was already burnt to a crisp. Not that I cared. I am dust, and to dust I shall return, anyway.
And then we were finally off to our final stop.
Seven Commandos Beach
It was nearing five o’clock when we were arriving at Seven Commandos Beach and from afar I could already tell why it was the last stop. With the presence of huts, there was no denying that were was gonna be a place to buy food.
Of course, I was actually looking forward to drinks. And I naturally had my gesture of triumph when their presence was kanfeermed. Thinking back, I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring booze with us. Would’ve been sweet being squiffy all the way. Hic!
While we were waiting for the sun to set over beers, our girls were being hit on by a foranger. Isang round nemen jen!
There was a tree swing near the store and someone had his Wrecking Ball moment. #ngeshu #LawitDilaPaMore
Capping off the El Nido island hopping activity on Seven Commandos Beach is a great option. You can chill out on the sand, get one final soak, or just wait for the sun to be swallowed whole while finishing a bottle and thinking about decisions you failed to make in the shower. We passed an hour and a quarter more on the island.
As we were setting out for the mainland, another heavenly body was attitudinizing; the moon was beaming, as if reassuring the horizon that the sun is already out of the way. (Gracias, Samsung Galaxy Camera!)
And can I just mention the cavity on the cliff below? For what it’s worth, it felt like a Wall Titan should’ve been in it.
Apparently Seven Commandos Beach is not far from where we started the day, as in less than 20 minutes we were already back at El Nido Sands Inn, excited for dinner and the bottles of Excelente and G.S.M. Blue Mojito.
- Our El Nido island hopping tour cost ₱1,700 per head inclusive of lunch.
- Private tours are also possible in which you don’t get mixed with other tourists and you can select which islands to go to (i.e. you can stay on them as long as you want).
- Ask about how the day’s tide will affect your destinations.
- If you want to maximize visiting islands, I’d say you have to be in El Nido for at least two days.