Riding a moped around the El Nido Peninsular

Most people visit El Nido for the stunning Bacuit Archipelago, or for the sensational boat trips through the island chains to Coron.  These are for sure amazing, but another option is to rent a moped and ride the loop around the El Nido peninsular for something that is a little simpler, cheaper and quieter . There’s something just so fun and adventurous about leaving the busy touristy town and resorts of El Nido Town and within less than 20mins be in what feels like a different world of super quiet roads, real Philippino villages with no tourist facilities, world-class near empty beaches and views that make you gobsmacked so few people visit here.  Really worth it

Top tips:

  • The route is simple – there is a very clear circular route that follows around the peninsular’s edge and then cuts back across the interior on the TayTay-El Nido National Highway (don’t let the name fool you – it’s a single lane road barely wide enough to drive a truck on).  You’ll only leave this main circuit route for 5-10mins at a time for certain beaches
  • Renting is super easy – can do so just about anywhere in or around El Nido, don’t need a license and won’t pay more than 700 pesos / US$12 for the day’s rental (500 pesos) plus petrol.  Just rock up and you’ll have be leaving on the moped within 10mins max
  • Driving tips – this is South East Asia with different road rules and dogs / pigs / whatever darting onto the road.  But these obstacles are generally only in the towns and, as long as apply a bit of common sense, the danger is very limited.  Think of it the same as picking up a push bike
  • Quality of road – the road is absolutely fine except for around 3km of non paved road in the interior crossing and maybe half of the detour routes to the north west beaches.  For these sections you’ll get bumpy non concrete roads, or a bit muddy
  • Places on the route you must stop at:
    • The beaches in the north west – Nacoan Beach is the famous one (voted world’s best beach) and with great beach clubs along it.  But if looking for the quiet vibe, go for Duli Beach just past it. Just as nice and with only one small beach surfing shack
    • Views down across the east coast – you’ll see these at various places on the route 
    • If looking for place on the remote east side for lunch, Ursula Beach Club was nice and not many other options.  You access it by driving along the beach which is also fun
    • Ille Cave is really worth it – get a guide to enter

Diving the Bacuit Archipelago off El Nido

The Bacuit Archipelago is seen as one of the highlights of the Philippines – hundreds of islands with huge jagged limestone sides looking like something from the Lost World often opening up to reveal a turquoise coloured lagoon or perfect white sandy beach.  Most people go by a tour to check these spots out, but its also worth considering doing some diving around here – you still get to have the experience of taking a boat through the beautiful islands, but with some diving also included.  Only things you won’t see are the lagoons and spend time chilling on a beach


Top tips:

  1. Make sure you dive the Tunnel on Helicopter Island – you know that scene at the beginning of the Little Mermaid when she’s in her cave?  Yep, that’s it.  A 40m / 130ft long tunnel that runs through Helicopter Island, has two entrances and a large wide cave in the middle cave.  It also has the benefit of some great micro things to see – variety of slugs and even Mandarin Fish
  2. South Miniloc Dive is also great – this is actually the more famous dive.  There is a huge Cabbage Coral Garden (more impressive than is sounds) and thousands of Yellow Snappers
  3. I went with Submariner Diving Centre and would recommend
  4. Where to stay – El Nido has way more options than the likes of Coron, but still light on mid range (or at least very few if don’t book ahead).  I’d actually recommend The Outpost Beach Hostel – it’s a party hostel, so be prepared for that, but it more than makes up for it with its sensational views out to the archipelago
  5. When to go – for weather, you ideally want November to May as this is when it’s driest in Palawan.  For visibility – lower your expectations.  The sensational 80+ visibility to the east of Palawan in places like Tubbataha Reef is not found in El Nido.  But, it is by no means restrictive and aiming for April – May time will see a clear improvement

Island hopping Coron to El Nido with Tao Philippines

The islands in the north of Palawan between El Nido are some of the most stereotypically idyllic tropical beach paradises you can imagine – hundreds of islands surrounded by perfect white sand, gorgeous clear turquoise water, tropical reefs, and only occasionally sprinkled with tiny villages along the shoreline.  Whilst there are many places around the world, and even in the Philippines, that can offer trips through very similar settings, it is the ease of access to these trips (multiple trips leave every day), reasonable price (think less than US$1k for 6 days vs minimum x4 for an equivalent liveaboard), and focus on interacting respectfully (and genuinely) with the local communities that makes the Palawan experience stand out.  A must if visiting Palawan . . . and almost a must if visiting the Philippines


Top tips:

  1. Go with Tao Philippines.  Whilst there are around 10 companies offering these type of trips, Tao are the pioneers, have the scale, and everyone I’ve spoken to has raved about them. Put it this way – I can see they consistently have 9+/10 ratings
  2. Expect it to be fairly basic.  The Tao Philippines site gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect and tries to manage the expectation (www.taophilippines.com) – basically don’t come if you’re a princess, but in summary:
    • The boat – you’re on a large Philippine-style bangka boat for the day – plenty of areas to lounge around on.  Nothing private.  Up to 25 on the boat (we had 24 and didn’t at all feel crowded at any stage)
    • Sleeping – you sleep in village bamboo huts by night.  Think a 3m / 3m (10ft x 10ft) bamboo platform on stilts, with a roof covering by two bamboo sides leaving an entrance and exit either end, a thin single mattress surrounded by mosquito nets.  Goes without saying – no aircon
    • Food – surprisingly good
    • Showers – cold water, shared bathrooms
    • Electronics – half the evening stops have charging (helps to bring a powerbank), none have wifi, cell coverage is patchy depending on network
  3. Expect a backpacker vibe.  For anyone who has travelled through South East Asia, you know what I mean.  Chilled out, not expecting 5 star (or 3 or 4 star!), probably doing this as part of a bigger trip, respectful, up for fun.  Age is only one of many factors that reflect the vibe, but typically the age range is 18-45
  4. What do you do?  Expect a lot of sailing through tropical paradise, snorkelling, chilling out on distant beaches or beaches you’ll be sleeping on
  5. November was PERFECT.  Not too hot, very little rain, very few mosquitos, and fewer fellow tourists at this time of year
  6. 3 days / 2 nights or 6 days / 5 nights?  It completely depends on your appetite for chill, how much time you have and which route you are doing.  I booked 3 days / 2 nights (from Coron to El Nido), knowing I could change my mind and extend on the 3rd day, which I didn’t do.  After meeting up with my group on their 6th and final night, and after discussing with many who have also done the 6 days, I would summarise as:
    • 3 days / 2 nights – I left thinking I’d had a wonderful time, fantastic group and it was one of the highlights of the Philippines.  I’d “done it” and didn’t need another 3 days of the same tropical island experience, and was able to use the remaining 3 days for scuba diving in the same islands, sleep in a nice hotel (it feels soooo good after sleeping a little rough) and generally explore other areas
    • 6 days / 5 nights – you get the full chill experience, get to stay at “The Farm” (which was the best place to stay) and experience the highlight of the trip which was the final day in the Bacuit Archipelago
    • If going El Nido to Coron, go for the 3 days / 2 nights.  If Coron to El Nido, go for the 6 days / 5 nights

Wreck diving in Coron

On 24th September 1944 over a period of only 15mins, 120 American Navy fighters and bombers attacked and sunk the Imperial Japanese Navy support fleet in the sheltered harbours near Coron. 10 ships ranging from 160m / 525ft oil tankers and sea plane tenders to smaller 25m / 80ft gunboats were sunk that day, and the result is some of the best wreck diving in the world that can be easily accessed on day trips from Coron Town (detailed dive tips listed in the Tips section below)


As with so many dives in this part of the world, the surrounding scenery is also idyllic-paradise-lovely, which makes this a really enjoyable experience even for the non divers who can join in snorkelling some of the shallower wrecks and generally just enjoying the islands. It’s also the start point for an adventure through overall Palawan, and the start / end point for the unforgettable experience of sailing through the island chains from Coron to El Nido (see the 3/6 day island experience here)

7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region.  A big call?  For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:


  • World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
  • World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
  • World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
  • World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan


And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in.  A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!


A necessity for many who travel to the Philippines via Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila is good for partying and, if you have a spare day waiting for flights, the Fort and Intramuros area is worth checking out.  But, bluntly, considering the traffic (up there with the worst anywhere in the world), dirtiness and general lack of any real highlights, I would sack it off and spend your time enjoying some of the other wonderful experiences to be had in the rest of the Philippines.  Or, if looking for a big developing South East Asian city to explore, put the likes of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Yangon, Phnon Penh ahead of Manila

Diving off Balicasag Island

For so many divers its all about seeing a specific thing, like certain sharks, a giant coral wall, or a cave, but sometimes you just want a shallow dive along a beautiful reef with good visibility and in a chilled out tropical beach place.  Balicasag Island, just off Panglao, is the later.  Very nice spot


Top tips:


  1. Dive Sites – we dived the Royal Garden, with a max depth of around 25m and great for seeing turtles, and Rudy’s Rock, with a similar max depth and a rock wall to explore
  2. Stay on Pangalao Island – Tagbilaran didn’t look too appealing.  Aim instead to stay on Pangalao Island.  We splurged a bit and stayed at the South Palms Resort, which was great and would recommend
  3. Bohol – if in the surrounding area, be sure to explore the Chocolate Hills in the centre of Bohol by quad bike and see the Tarsiers, the world’s smallest primate – see Quad-biking through the Bohol Chocolate hills for further tips on this experience
  4. Getting to Bohol from Cebu City is relatively straightforward, but its not a bad idea to ask your hotel / hostel to help you with getting the ferry tickets you want
  5. See if you can visit Malapascua Island – you’ll most likely be flying into Cebu.  If so, and you are a diver, be sure to head up to one of the other idyllic paradises of Malapascua Island ,which is the only place in the world you can dive with Thresher Sharks – see  Diving with Thresher Sharks at Malapascua Island for further tips on this experience

Quad-biking through the Bohol Chocolate hills

The Chocolate Hills are 1,776 grassy hills in the centre of Bohol Island that turn brown during the dry season, hence the name, and look a hell of a lot like the hills in Super Mario on the Super Nintendo.  They’re nice to look at, but you’ll probably be a bit bored of them after a look from the view point and quick wander around near them.  To make this more fun, and to go more towards that Super Mario vibe, ride around them in quad bikes with a guide – way more fun


Some tips:


  • Rent a taxi for the Chocolate Hills Loop – it’s easy to follow the Loop from Tagbilaran or Pangloa area.  To give yourself more independence, and to generally avoid the mass-tourism tours, rent a taxi and make your own way round
  • The Quad Biking – there will be people offering quad biking near the entrance to the Chocolate Hills main viewpoint.  Expect to be away for an hour or so
  • Make sure on the Chocolate Hills loop to visit the Tarsier Sanctuary where you can see the smallest, and very delicate, primates
  • Stay on Pangalao Island – Tagbilaran didn’t look too appealing.  We splurged a bit and stayed at the South Palms Resort, which was great and would recommend
  • If staying on Panglao Island, make sure to do some diving or snorkelling at Balicasag Island, just 6km to the west of Pangalao.  Some gorgeous tropical reefs there and more info in this post Diving off Balicasag Island
  • Getting to Bohol from Cebu City is relatively straightforward, but its not a bad idea to ask your hotel / hostel to help you with getting the ferry tickets you want

Diving with Thresher Sharks at Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island is the only place in the world where you can regularly see Thresher Sharks – a 6m long shark that has a very distinctive long sloping tail used to stun fish during hunting and, as they usually live at 350m / 1150ft, are very rare to see.  This makes it a real must for divers, but Malapascua is also an idyllic small tropical island to relax on – certainly worth checking out as part of a broader Cebu trip if a non-diver

Puerto Galera, Mindoro

Puerto Galera has a lot of things going for it – in particular its beautiful tropical harbour with surrounding mountains and its ease of travel from Manila without flying (couple of hours drive and then 1 hour banka ferry from Batangas on Luzon).  But it unfortunately just feels like sprawling tourist development done badly, which in the Philippines can be very bad.  The main area of Sabang really encapsulated this with the trash on the beach and the sprawl of beach front restaurants only broken up by speakers designed to break your skull.  To be fair, we had a good time, mainly because we were looked after so well by the staff of The Sunset at Aninuan Beach Resort, and we didn’t try the diving which many people recommend.  But, my suggestion, would be to head out to see some of the rest of the Mindoro island, which is undeveloped and looks to be truly stunning in parts