When you arrive in El Nido you will notice very quickly that every tour provider, the exact same tours, which are marked with A, B, C and D. Price-wise, the providers don’t vary much. The prices fluctuate around 200 PHP – thats about 4€. With something negotiating talent in addition you might be able to save some more euro. There is a bit of leeway.
We booked Tour A for 1200 PHP at the tour office next to our hotel. However, the tour offices are only the intermediaries. Our tour was conducted by Dos Hermanos.
Start of the tour
We are picked up at 8:45 in front of our hotel. To be exact a young lady picks us up, who then puts us into a tricycle that drops us off at the beach. Since the driver does not know exactly where we have to be dropped off, we stand for a few minutes on the beach promedande and look at each other helplessly. Then, however, a woman picks us up, which obviously belongs to the Agency.
We are taken to the beach. There they check if we had already paid the environmental tax. It amounts to 200 PHP per person. However, we had paid it directly when we bought the tickets.
Now we have to wait. While we stand by a sign with our boat number, we are chatted up by numerous vendors. If you still need a wetpack, you can buy one here. For this tour they are very helpful, as we quickly discovered. (The wetpack 20l was offered from 300 PHP – about 6€)
Our boat the Dos Hermanos 4 parks second row on the beach. At 9:30 boarding begins. That is, to get on board we have to wade the entire distance through the water. So clothes off (put swimsuit necessarily on before the tour, there is no changing room on the beach), stow belongings in the bags and off to the boat. To reach the parked boat you have to go through water that has a water depth of about 1.3 meters ! The bags stay only dry if you carry them over your head on board. We are now soaking wet before the tour has even begun.
On board there is a short briefing and explanation of the day planning. Then we’re off. Big plus: it was mentioned that corals should not be touched and damaged and that in reefs numerous poisonous sea creatures live. Previous tours had missed that.
1 Stop: Seven Comandos Beach
The beach is named after seven soldiers who hid on this beach during the war. However, you see this event must be long gone, because when we arrive there is already about a dozen other boats at anchor. Therefore we park second row and swim to the beach. to the beach.
There is a lot of activity on the beach. Still, the setting of azure water, white beach and palm trees is picturesque. There is a small bar. Coconuts cost 50 PHP (With rum 100 PHP), you can play beach volleyball or snorkel.
Snorkeling is only allowed in a segregated area, otherwise the risk of being run over by a ship is too big. As usual, this dive spot is already completely flattened.
In addition, there are numerous jellyfish in the water. Most are however harmless. Max brushes against one, however, which for about 10 minutes causes an itchy spot. Also without the jellyfish there is something itchy in the water constantly. We are told its a kind of plankton. After a few minutes out of the water the unpleasant feeling disappears fortunately again.
2nd stop: Big Lagoon
Our next stop is the Big Lagoon. It is touted as the highlight of the tour. On the boat we learn that we have to rent the kayaks separately. A kayak for 2 people costs 300 PHP, a kayak for 3 people costs 500 PHP. (For 500 PHP you can rent a kayak for the whole day at El Nido beach by the way).
We do without a kayak and prefer snorkeling. At the anchorage of the ships is definitely still quite a bit to see. Much was however already destroyed by the anchors. After we have anchored a good 150 meters away from the beach, we have to swim a good distance through the sea. However, here on site life jackets are mandatory. Since there is no life jacket in Max size on board, this duty is somehow senseless. We are nevertheless forced to take a second life jacket with us. We hang it together with the wetpack, in which our valuables are, to my life jacket and I transform into a swimming mule.
To the Big Lagoon you have to pass through a very shallow spot. Here the water is partly only about 30cm high. Even the kayaks get here to their limits. So we walk through it. Grandios as we are, we have forgotten our water shoes – they would have been a very good idea here, not only because of the sharp stones, shells and corals, but also because of said poisonous animals. But we are lucky.
The lagoon itself looks interesting, but when you stand in it not as great as in the commercials. Aerial photos look simply more gigantic. You can snorkel in some places in it, but you see far less than in the sea before. The itching was stronger and there were more jellyfish. In short, we did not swim the entire lagoon. It’s possible that it was much more spectacular in the back part. But the canoeists did not mention anything alike.
We are currently making do with the reef by the ships.
3rd stop: Hidden Lagoon
Then we headed toward lunch. Before get to the small beach to eat, there is the Hidden Lagoon a few meters beforehand. To reach it you have to get out of the boat into the sea again, swim a few meters and then trample over corals. There is no other way to get there. The majority of the corals is already dead. For me it is still a sacrilege.
Then we go through a narrow rock opening into a very small lagoon beyond. The rock opening consists of very sharp-edged Stones. In addition, the opening is at the same time also the flow for the water and with every wave you get a gush of water as suction to the back or front , which very likely gets you out of balance. So please be careful with your hands, head and feet.
The cave itself is perhaps five by fifteen meters. in size. Within it are a few flattened corals. The rock walls rise up imposingly on the sides and give a view of some trees and the sky at the top. The place would be spectacular if they had not killed the corals and without fifteen strangers quite cramped sitting in the cave.
4th stop: lunch
Lunch is on the beach in front of the Hidden Lagoon. I am frozen to the bone by now. There is a strong wind. The water is just warm enough that it is not cold, but you cool down in the long run. The outside temperature is exactly warm enough that it is warm, if you are dry and there is no wind.
For lunch we have chicken, fish, shrimp, eggplant porridge, cucumbers, rice and fruit. The vegetarian selection is not particularly large. However, the eggplant porridge is very tasty and the fruit also. Therefore, this does not bother me at all. Max is very fond of the chicken. Another tour member confirms that the fish and shrimp are excellent.
The food is so rich that even some is left over, although all neatly grab.
After dinner, we all swim back to the boat.
5th stop: Secret Lagoon
Our next stop is the Secret Lagoon. I am so frozen by now that I stay on the boat. Max takes a look however.
First, you swim to a beach. On the way there there is unfortunately no reef to admire. The underwater world is dead.
Then we go next to the beach through a hole in the rock. Since there are several ships at the same time with us, there is a traffic jam at the entrance of the Lagoon. A guide stands at the rock hole, through which you have to climb into the lagoon (caution, sharp-edged stones) and regulates the traffic. The people leaving the lagoon have right of way.
The lagoon itself is about 50×50 meters. Max is in there at the same time as about 20 other tourists. The water in the lagoon is a little over knee deep and churned up in such a way that you can’t tell what you’re walking on. It does feel like rocks, though. Its too, is surrounded by rock walls
On the way back to the boat Max gets again into stinging Plankton. When he gets on board, he scratches his whole body. Fortunately the itching subsides again quickly.
Later research reveals that it is probably a kind of mini jellyfish in the plankton. These small cnidarians release venom when they come into contact with the skin. As long as one does not react allergic they are harmless. What is striking this day is, that the itching is especially intense in the places where many larger jellyfish were in the water. The larger animals that we saw on this day were all harmless. But if you don’t like itchy spots, they can be a good indicator of which waters you should avoid.
6th stop: snorkeling site
Our last stop is the snorkeling site. Supposedly its also one of the dive spots that are approached by the boats of the dive stores in El Nido. I am just thawed out again and even with the best will i cant’t go in the water again.
Max inspects the reef. Much has been lost, destroyed by the anchors of the Boats. There are few fish to be seen. Max sees a few Squid. That’s pretty cool, since we’ve never seen them in the wild before. Otherwise, there are almost exclusively stony corals. The condition of the reef is so bad, that we cancel the previously planned dive two days later.
If you’ve never seen a reef up close before, the Stony corals are certainly impressive nonetheless. But as beautiful as it is. the reef only a shadow of its former self.
It is very unfortunate that in the Philippines apparently nothing at all is done for the protection of the reefs. Not only these beautiful and sensitive ecosystems disappear thereby, the tourism industry also destroys its own sources of income.
The return trip to El Nido
The return trip to the harbor takes an hour because of the meanwhile nevertheless quite strong swell. With less waves, the trip would be probably only half as long. The wind and the spray splash in the boat and we get completly wet again. When we almost reached the harbor, we see a few Kayaks fighting the waves.
Since there is not so much going on in the harbor yet, we park at a floating Steg. The fact that I dont’t need to get in the cold water again makes me spontaneously extremely happy.
Summary of the tour in El Nido
Unfortunately, it was not obvious to us from the advertising that you climb the whole day in and out of the water. This made the tour unexpectedly strenuous. To whom that’s rather frostbitten like me, I can only advice several towels and perhaps a thin neoprene (if you have that by chance in your suitcase). I at least froze my butt off at 30°C.
Extremely negative was also the handling of the reefs, what hopefully became very clear with this.
The absolute highlights keep absent for us on this day. But if you visit the region for the first time, you will certainly get many beautiful impressions.