Island Hopping is big business in the Philippines. Every town in Palawan will offer you a range of day tours ranging from Lagoons to wreck snorkelling. Instead of giving you a whole low down on the different ones available (you can google that!) we thought an overview of key things to note and how to make the best choice would be more useful.
Can you swim? I know, it sounds like a stupid question. We went on a Lagoon tour in El Nido – this is essentially get on boat, go to 4 lagoons, go to a beach. It’s not an activity that you should do if you can’t swim. Three girls joined who not only could not swim, but were absolutely petrified of water. They freaked out when in a foot of water. They even kept their life jackets on when we stopped at a beach for an entire hour. I have no clue why they put themselves through the stress
The boats get pretty rocky if the water isn’t calm. If you get motion sickness, get some tablets. The pharmacies in the Philippines are often out of these, so take some with you just in case. Incidentally, the ones you can by in the Philippines tend to be for vertigo as well as seasickness & they work really really well so if you can get some, buy some!
The dreaded tourist fee/Environment tax
The Philippines are big fans of tourist fees. You will pay fees ranging for 50 to 200 pesos in each town – in Palawan alone we paid 5 environment taxes (El Nido, Sibaltan, Nacpan, Coron, Port Barton). Bear these in mind when it comes to budgeting.
Don't Book in Advance
There are many tour operators to choose from in each town. Do not book before you go – they are all much cheaper to book when you get there. In El Nido and Coron there are multiple Island hopping itineraries. Its often cheaper to book more than one island hoping tour through the same operator as they keep a record of you tourist fee payment & deduct this from the 2nd trip cost. Otherwise you can end up paying the fee twice. If you choose to book a second trip with a different company, make sure you get proof of your tourist fee payment.
Don’t pay over the odds
Even the budget tours generally include pick up & a really decent lunch (if you like fish). Drop off is often not included, but transport is easy to arrange & often not necessary. Basically there is very little reason to pay a whole lot extra for the standard Island Hopping tours. They are all very similar. The more expensive ones often include Snorkel gear but you can rent this easily from your hostel for less. Alternatively if you plan to do a lot of snorkelling whilst in the Philippines buying your own before you arrive will doubtless save you money. Be aware that in Coron they often won’t let you out on the boat unless you have water shoes, so its definitely worth having your own.
Get off the beaten track & go private
If you stay in some of the smaller towns in Palawan they often do very reasonable private island hopping tours. These generally take you to islands which are not on the commercial itineraries. We took one in Sibaltan which was about 400 pesos (£7) more than a tour from El Nido town for 2 of us. We got to spend all day going to completely deserted islands. In Port Barton, we were on a tour with one other couple, and again, there was no one around on any of the Islands we visited. The trade off? Off the beaten track in the Philippines is REALLY off the beaten track. Power for a few hours at night, limited or no internet, and generally a hot, bumpy, dusty journey to get there. Always worth it though.
Tours we'd recommend
Sibaltan: We stayed at Bayog Beach Campsite & their private Island Hopping tour was such good value for money.
Port Barton: Harmony Haven Hostel do a fixed price Island Hopping tour which takes you to some of the lesser known islands.
El Nido – Tour A – which covers most of the Lagoons is amazing
Coron – Reefs and Wrecks, if the weather is good. You need decent visibility to see the wrecks in particular.
Check out more of our 30 Photos from the Philippines here