We did a three day and two night island expedition with Buhay Isla to travel between Coron and El Nido. What would normally take about six hours on a ferry, we stretched out over three sun drenched, unplugged, well-fed, adventurous days. What a beautiful way to travel from one place to another.
We met at the Coron Pier at 8am and were on the boat and sailing away by 9:30. Sixteen of us embarked on a 3 day and 2 night “back to basics” expedition. We only stopped to snorkel twice the first day because that’s when we drove most of the distance to El Nido.
The first spot was an absolutely breathtaking, idyllic, picturesque, quintessential Philippines white sand beach island... full of other boats and tourists. We drove 3 hours away from Coron to arrive at a packed white sand beach, complete with 3 dozen Chinese tourists doing jumping photos in front of a noisy drone. This is not what I signed up for. I managed to find my own slice of paradise though, by swimming through rocks and walking along a secluded area of beach under swaying palm trees. The beach was shaped like a peninsula, the other side being rocky, with the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen. There were a number of dilapidated loungers under palm trees, and so I sat and took in the turquoise view. I was far enough away from the tourists to enjoy my own little slice of heaven. THIS is what I came to the Philippines for. THIS is what I booked an expensive snorkeling expedition for.
We had lunch decadent enough for a royal family. Two whole barbecued tuna fish, bbq pork, coconut jack fruit, and lots of veggies and fruit. We are not going to starve on this trip.
Our next snorkel spot was a sandy beach inhabited by one family, whose boys I got to play with briefly. There were no other tourists, and it was some of the best corral snorkeling I’ve done. Shallow for 15 meters off shore before it dropped off a ledge. The corral was vibrant with color. I saw an eel, a huge black nudibranch, and a school of cuttlefish. Amazing time!
Just before sunset we arrived at our camp spot for the night. No other boats! Our “back to basics” trip included a beach bungalow with a fan, porch light, and mattress on the floor surrounded by a mosquito net. It’s super cute; Christmas decorations everywhere. We were the only ones there. I was very concerned we would be camping with other groups.
Dinner was fish and veggies and mango and lots of rum! Our trip includes six bottles of local Tanduay rum per evening. We had amazing conversation with some Brits and a few of the several Dutch people on our trip. After day one I was enlivened by the adventure we were having in this beautiful land of 7000+ islands of the Philippines.
Day two of our Buhay Isla expedition solidified for us that these three days would be the highlight of our 30 days in the Philippines. At 6am the power was shut off to our camp meaning the end of our luxurious fan, and prompting me to roll out my yoga mat on the stretch of sandy beach a few steps away.
The birds sang as the waves gently beat against the sand. Only one other couple was awake and strolling down the beach. This is what I visualized. No tourists on a quiet beach, somewhere amongst the 7000 islands. I enjoyed coffee while watching the island across the water slowly getting sun.
We snorkeled three very close islands, as we did the bulk of the driving yesterday. Each island we approached was more idyllic than the last. White sand, turquoise water, swaying palm trees, devoid of other people.
On Kala Kala island, our 30-year old guide Darryl (also known as Justin to his friends due to his affinity for belting out Justin Bieber songs on command) took us on a little walk. We followed a path amongst the bushes into the island interior and over to a secret beach. We ducked through a hole in the rocks and emerged to a tiny beach cove. I immediately climbed the rocks to get a better view and take some pictures.
The 6 or so other people played in the water and then started snorkeling around the rock back to the main beach. It was only me and Darryl left. He offered to show me the other secret beach. We ducked back under the rock and walked up a path through the trees and out onto a completely empty stretch of beach.
I found my deserted paradise. Darryl wanted to climb the 50 foot cliff and take photos of me “like a drone” which made me very happy.
Next we snorkeled at Cobra Island, named for the slinky shape of the island if viewed from above. The corrals were healthy and colorful and attracted an abundance of sea life. Nick spotted three types of anemone with three different types of clown fish. I watched trumpet fish hunt large schools of tiny silver fish. I felt like I was swimming in a fish bowl.
These remote islands in north Palawan between El Nido and Coron are what I imagined I’d see in the Philippines. Not hundreds of people in Orange life vests crowded into one little lagoon. We stopped at Bulawit, a sleepy little fishing village with concrete walls lining the concrete streets. I bought four beers and watched men work at an ice factory, taking huge blocks of ice, dropping them into an industrial sized snow cone machine, and scooping the shredded ice up for packing the immense amount of dead fish that moves through this island.
We got to our camp site early enough to enjoy the beach in the day light, get settled, take a basic bucket shower, and watch the sun set. We didn’t have this island all to ourselves, as another boat disembarked near us and swam down the beach. But we never heard or saw them. It was just us.
The Tanduay rum was flowing and I enjoyed the view while swinging from one of the cozy wicker hammocks. The guys built a massive bin fire after dinner that turned out to be more smoke inhalation and unwanted heat production than anything else. It smoked out our hut while Nick was tying to sleep, so a few of us went on the mission to cover it with sand.
I stayed up and talked with the girls for a while. When I went to bed in the hut Nick was suffering badly from a phantom attack. He tossed and writhed in pain almost all night. We slept with the door open to welcome what breeze we could.
The next morning brought more adventure, and sadness knowing this day would be our last together. We snorkeled at three different spots, drank rum, explored caves, napped on the deck, shared contact information, and eventually made it to Nacpan Beach near El Nido.
After an hour at the largest most beautiful beach on El Nido, where I had a few beers, did a few cartwheels, and soaked in the beach atmosphere, we headed to the dock to disembark and say goodbye to a group of amazing people.