The Must-See Islands of El Nido

el nido, palawan

It’d be lovely to see them all, but 45 islands is a lot of hopping. If you’re short on time and must choose, these are the must-see El Nido islands.

Vigan Island, El Nido (aka “Snake Island”)

Vigan Island might just be the fairest of them all. It’s been dubbed Snake Island due to the curving stretch of sand bar that perches perfectly between two parallel islands.

It’s best to visit Snake Island during low tide when you can see the winding sandpit clearly. The elegant slopes and perfect curve is startlingly gorgeous, so perfect as to seem not quite real. If you follow the path the entire way, you’ll wind up at a beautiful mangrove that leads into the other island.

Warning: Walking along the sandy snake path can produce conflicting feelings of wanting to look both right and left at the same time.

Miniloc Island, El Nido

Miniloc Island is home to both Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon. The Big Lagoon offers gorgeous above-water views, with limestone cliffs towering above you as you kayak through the lagoon.

Underwater, it’s not much for coral but its deep emerald waters are frequented by sea turtles.  Unfortunately, huge sea urchins like to congregate here too, so be careful where to place your feet.

Small Lagoon also offers a fun snorkeling opportunity: at low tide, snorkelers can swim through a four-foot crevice into a small, cliff-lined cove for a surreal experience.

Miniloc Island is also home to the famous Secret Lagoon (lots of lagoons on this island!) On top of all the lagoons, Miniloc is also an underwater paradise, largely due to the fringe of coral reefs that outline the island. In fact, the island, with its transparent, turquoise waters and colorful coral formations originally gained fame as a diving station for Japanese and European tourists.

Pangulasian Island, El Nido

You probably knew this one was coming. This beach is oft-mentioned, oft-photographed, and oft-revisited. Why? For starters, it has one of the widest stretches of pure powdery white beach in El Nido. The waters are calm and there are clusters of coral close to the shore, which makes this area ideal for viewing aquatic life at your own island-time pace.

There’s hiking to be done on the island as well and a trail that leads to the peak of the island for panoramic 360-degree views of the nearby islands. This island is perfect for sunset watching.

Note: Pangulasian Islands is going the way of the high-end resort and soon public docking will be no longer allowed. There are already the beginnings of luxury accommodations being constructed and it won’t be long ’til it’s complete. Visit this beautiful island now before it becomes another Hilton playground.

Matinloc Island, El Nido

Matinloc island is home to the famous secret beach. This beach is deemed secret since in order to get to it, you have to swim through through a hole formed in a cliff.

Once through the hole, it is spectacular. You have a calm, pristine beach of turquoise waters lapping at your toes while magnificently dark, jutting limestone encases the entire beach.

Secret Beach was allegedly the inspiration for the novel, The Beach. Quite the claim, but once you visit, you’ll see why.

Matinloc island also has a small slice of Greece. Not really, but the Matinloc Shrine is reminiscent of Greece and also offers a beautiful view.

Dilumacad Island (aka Helicopter Island)

From afar, this island looks exactly like a military helicopter. Upon closer inspection, it’s an island boasting a perfectly white sand beach that stretches nearly 300 meters.

The southern part of the island is bordered by a coral reef and the northern part has a deep underwater cave at about 30-50 feet that can be explored if you want to don the diving gear. As a favorite nesting site of marine turtles in El Nido, as well as the site of one of the most picturesque beaches, the island attracts its fair share of visitors.

The largest of the El Nido islands, Cadlao, can be seen from Helicopter island, giving Dilumacad one of the most stunning scenic landscapes of all the islands in El Nido.

Pinagbuyutan Island

Pinagbuyutan Island offers the most magnificent landscape. The juxtaposition of blindingly white sand and dark marble towers is incredible.

Underneath the jutting rock formations, there stretch tall, bendy coconut trees to provide natural shade for every beach bum who comes to Pinagbuyutan’s shores. This island also has quite a collection of seashells.


The Best Islands Around Port Barton

port barton palawan

The beach at Port Barton is laid-back and relaxing, although it’s admittedly not the most gorgeous beach in Palawan. It’s still plenty close to a bevy of islands with stunning beaches, though, and they’re not difficult to get to.

Port Barton’s islands are beautiful on land and in water, so be sure to snorkel while island hopping.

Here are the best islands to sneak away to while visiting Port Barton, Palawan:

Best Island Around Port Barton #1. Exotic Island

Exotic Island has a breathtaking white sand beach. This island is actually made up of two islands, but it doesn’t exactly appear this way because the water separating them is really shallow.

port barton palawan

If you want to snorkel here, you’ll have to swim out a little but there is plenty to see once you do: lots of fish and corals.

Best Island Around Port Barton #2. Capsalay Island

This island has a reef named Manta Ray Reef about 200 meters from its shore.

This coral reef has an area of 150 hectares and is the largest are of corals in San Vincente. It was unfortunately damaged by high water temperature bleaching in the late 90s, as well as Typhoon Norming, but it is slowly recovering.

Best Island Around Port Barton #3. Paradise Island

Paradise Island is a privately-owned island and a small fee per person is required for docking here, around 50 PHP. This fee goes to the caretaker and his wife, who go far and above in taking care of the island, such as keeping poachers away from the reef and raking the beach to rid it of sandflies.

As a result, the beach here is pristine and has one of the best seascapes of the islands in Port Barton. It’s also a great lunching spot. You can bring your own or enjoy fresh-caught fish from the sea.

Best Island Around Port Barton #4. German Island

German Island is also a private island but doesn’t require any fee for docking. The island is full of underwater life, but you need to swim out a bit further to see kaleidoscopic fish, beautiful corals, and the occasional sea turtle.

To get to these islands, you can rent a boat which will cost you around 1,200PHP, or $30, and accommodates 4 people. Ask around for boatmen – there are plenty – and go with the one who has good recommendations.

You can visit these islands separately by hiring a boat to drop you off then pick you up at a certain time or you can purchase a package deal that groups the islands together for a set price.


Things You Must Do in El Nido

things to do in el nido

The best thing about El Nido is not its stunning beauty, but the various ways you have of enjoying it. El Nido really has something for every interest, whether you’re looking to explore several feet underwater or hike hundreds of feet above ground.

From cliff climbing to cave exploration to diving and of course, island hopping, the choices are almost more overwhelming than the sheer loveliness of this place. Almost.

Must Do in El Nido #1. Island Hopping

You cannot leave El Nido without island hopping. Seriously, it’s a travel offense punishable by years of niggling regret. El Nido’s 45 islands and inlets are home to over 100 species of birds, 5 different species of marine mammals, over 800 species of fish, and five species of endangered sea turtles.

You can snorkel, swim, dive, play marine biologist, fish, or just lie around to your heart’s content on these islands. If you don’t have the time to visit them all, at least check out the must-visit islands in El Nido.

Click here to find out everything you need to know about island hopping in El Nido.

Must Do in El Nido #2. Kayak the Lagoons

Or more specifically, the Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon. There’s a reason these famous lagoons are photographed so often. You see, these beauties are examples of “sinkholes” – caves whose roofs eventually collapsed under their own weight.

Even if this geological fact doesn’t thrill you, you’ll be blown away by the serene wilderness you see while kayaking the lagoons. As shown in the picture, a boat is usually taken around the Big Lagoon and then the Small Lagoon is explored via kayak or snorkeling in through the narrow opening.

The Small Lagoon is easy to kayak so just let yourself be floated down the water as bird song and the monkey calls reverberate through the air. Kayaking the Big Lagoon requires much more effort and sweat, but it’s well worth it for the scenery and the chance to see wildlife. It’ll be much easier to approach, say, a black-tip reef shark with a quiet kayak than a motorized boat.

Kayaking is available as part of the Tour A itinerary, which is about 1400PHP per person. On the other hand, you can simply rent a kayak in town for less than 500PHP for a half-day rental.

Must Do in El Nido #3. Cliff Climb

The limestone cliffs jutting out of the crystal clear waters are phenomenal. Imagine being on top of them. Or better yet, actually do it.

You can book a cliff climbing trip in El Nido town. It’s highly recommended you hire a guide, since this can be a dangerous activity even for those in the best physical condition. And did we mention the closest hospital is an hour away? But don’t let that scare you. After a three-hour climb up the precarious slopes, you’ll be rewarded with a 360 panoramic view of all of El Nido and its beautiful islands. Trips cost about 200PHP per person.

Trek Cadlao Island

The largest island in El Nido, Cadlao Island also boasts the highest peak (640 meters above sea level). There are a few trails, with one leading to the tip of the peak where you can triumphantly gaze down at the beauty below.

Or you can take another trail to the Makaamo Lagoon, which is an easy 2-3 hour walk along the coast, up to the lagoon, mangroves, and a small cove for swimming and snorkeling. Come at sunrise or sunset to watch the birds feed.

Go Caving

Cudugnon Cave has inspired the imagination of many. Ever since archaeologist found bones and other artifacts inside the cave and brought them back to the National Museum in Manila, Cudugnon Cave has been rumored to have served as a hiding place during the Japanese occupation, a burial site, and a quarantine area for the malaria-stricken. Some of the items that were found (or later recovered) included neolithic items such as jewelry and pottery dating back to 1200 B.C.  While it’s unclear how the items got to the caves or which of these stories may be true, what’s certain is that there is a mysterious allure to the cave. Now empty of bones, it houses fruit bats.

Cathedral Cave is on tiny Pinasil Island. To get inside, you have to kayak through the narrow entrance. Enter the cave and you’ll find high ceilings with shafts of light streaming in through the top rock, casting a cathedral-like atmosphere (thus the name).