Bacuit Archipelago & El Nido: The Best Island Hopping In Asia?

May 13, 2014

Stunning, stunning, stunning. Surely one of the little secrets of South-East Asia, the Bacuit Archipelago is relatively little-known but oh-so-very beautiful.

If you want to see big limestone cliffs there are of course the more famous Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or even Krabi in Thailand, and objectively speaking these are impressive locations for sure. But the islands of the Bacuit Archipelago left a much stronger impression on me, perhaps because it feels far less spoiled.

UPDATE: I recently posted this longer mini guide to visiting Palawan and El Nido

UPDATE 2: El Nido has become much more popular and crowded in the last 5 years. It’s still just as beautiful, just don’t expect the same kind of serenity that I experienced in 2013. 

I couldn’t help but feel completely at peace while visiting the islands near islands near El Nido, Palawan, which were free from the tourist hordes found elsewhere. Replete with beautiful inlets, secret beaches, lagoons and caves, they are fascinating places to explore.

From the beach on El Nido you can get a little boat and choose between four standardized island hopping packages. It’s tour A and C that most people rave about. You’ll be taken in a small group on a traditional banka catamaran-style boat from island to island, and at lunchtime your boatmen will grill fresh fish on a BBQ while you can enjoy one of the narrow beaches.

Our guides making us some delicious lunch

The highlight for me by far is a place called Secret Beach. You will have to jump off the banka into the sea and swim towards a craggy cliffside that goes up about 10 meters. Look closely and you will see a small hole hidden from view which you can swim through, and once you emerge on the other side you will discover a ‘secret’ beach entirely surrounded by pointy rocks as tall as buildings. Put on a snorkeling mask and you will see wonderful corals with countless fishes below… look back up and you are back in this rockface cathedral. Simply incredible.

Of all the places zealously described by travel guides as a “tropical paradise”, I think this one well and truly deserves it.

The mysterious entrance to the ‘secret beach’

No, this is not someone getting sick. A local fisherman is looking for potential catch.

The waters are amazing for snorkeling with huge schools of fish everywhere

El Nido and its surrounding islands were my favorite places in the Philippines.


  1. Lisa Mitchell Reply January 17, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks for the fantastic post!
    Do you think the beginning of March would be a little less crowded?
    Thank you!

    • Marek Reply January 18, 2018 at 11:30 am

      No idea! It’s still in the Philippines tourism high season. But I do know that in other countries in SEA, the biggest crowds are in Dec/Jan, so perhaps.

  2. Troy Reply February 25, 2016 at 4:02 am

    To Joann and anyone interested, I have been to Halong Bay and it was nice to stay on the boat, and the area has beautiful Karst islands, a lagoon, and caves, but El Nido is naturally more spectacular with so many hidden beaches and lagoons. El Nido the town is not spectacular and sadly misses out on overcrowding the main town beach, but the natural wonders in the archipelago are amazing and there are many other beach locations to stay at outside of the town. I lived in palawan for 2 years, and have travelled for months at a time throughout all parts of China and everywhere in Southeast Asia. El Nido island hopping diving and snorkeling are a highlight.

  3. Charlie Reply July 1, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Cool post, Marek. I was in El Nido just last August and my experiences were very similar. Though I found the area also had a lot of dead coral, which was a real shame.

  4. Clelia Mattana Reply May 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Oh Boy! I’m just back from 4 months discovering the Philippines and to say that I fell in love is an understatement. El nido being one of the most spectacular places in the world. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought I had died and woke up in Paradise. Seriously. I have a blog post coming up very soon about El nido and Coron, I might “steal” some of your pictures 🙂 Here is one of mines taken on the big lagoon.

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply May 28, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Fantastic photo Clelia! Wish I could have done island hopping around Coron as well (and dived some wrecks) but sadly I was hit with some, ahem, “traveller’s curse” so had to leave that to my travel companions. Heard it was as amazing as El Nido. If you use my pics please put a link back to my site underneath (it’ll help me out a ton)

      • Clelia Mattana Reply May 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm

        Ah too bad…I was “cursed” too at some point!
        No worries, if I use pictures and extracts from other sources I always put a link! 🙂

  5. Joann Reply May 25, 2014 at 6:36 am

    I’ve been to El Nido twice and definitely, it’s one of my favorite places in the Philippines! The limestone formation is awesome though I haven’t check out the Halong Bay.

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