I was staying in El Nido for 8 nights. One of the main things to do in El Nido is Island Hopping.
The Honda Bay trip cost PHP1200 PLUS PHP150 for Mask & Snorkel PLUS PHP150 for Watershoes PLUS PHP150 for Fins. A total of PHP1650 with less than 5 hours on the water.
The Port Barton Trip cost PHP700 PLUS PHP50 for the Permit. The Port Barton Trip was much better than the Honda Bay one, had better snorkelling / corals, and cost half the price.
In Port Barton, you can stay over-night in a tent on German Island. The 2 Day / 1 Night Trip cost was only PHP1500… the same price as 2 one-day trips… so, effectively, you got an over-night stay PLUS an extra Dinner PLUS an extra breakfast for free.
I thought that I would try a 2 Day / 1 Night trip in El Nido… it looked like fun…
BOOKING THE TRIP:
I was staying at the Tandikan Beach Cottages in El Nido.
I met a Romanian couple there: Angel and Rodica (but, I called her ‘Erotica’).
The trips in El Nido are structured similar to Port Barton: you can choose from Trip A, B, C, or D. Each has its own different ‘flavour’. The ‘standard’ price for Trip A is PHP1200, Trip B PHP1300, Trip C PHP1400, and Trip D PHP1500.
Angel & Erotica had already done Trip A and Trip C as 1 day trips but wanted to do an over-nighter. So, we already had 3 people. They had 2 Romanian friends that they believed would also want to come and they had met some other people who they believed would want to come… we also talked to some other people staying at the Tandikan. We believed that we had a minimum of 9 people and as many as 15.
With such numbers, we decided to try and put together our own private ‘charter’ trip and get off of the ‘beaten track’.
Angel had been trying to negotiate with one tour agent the night before, but it fell through. The next morning I made my own enquiries…
So, from my experience in Port Barton, I knew that I should be able to put together the over-nighter for the cost of just the 2 1-day trips. In El Nido, the over-nighter is usually made up of Trips A and C. My target price, therefore, was PHP2600 per person…
The first quotes that I got were for PHP6000 and PHP6500 per person. This is OVER-PRICED.
It didn’t take long to establish that the ‘standard’ price is PHP3000 including the PHP200 Permit. If you already had the permit, the cost was PHP2800. Angel and Erotica already had their permit (which lasts 10 days).
Angel and I decided to try and negotiate a ‘fixed price’ for 13 people. Our target was PHP25000 all inclusive – which would be about PHP2000 per person. The worst case scenario was that we had 9 people to share the cost at just under PHP2800 each. It was worth a try.
The 5th tour agent agreed our price. They offered:
- Tour A on Day 1
- Tour C on Day 2
- The ability to vary Tour A & C if we wanted to
- Masks & Snorkels provided (but no fins)
- Enough 2-person tents for the group
- Mattresses, Pillows, Linen, and Towels each
- Free Rum & Coke – 1 big bottle between 2 people
- Free drinking water with hot water and coffee for breakfast
- Day 1 lunch and dinner
- Day 2 breakfast and lunch
- Back to El Nio by 4:00-5:00pm on the second day
- Toilets on the camping island with supplied toilet paper
We checked all of these details with the Agent before laying down a PHP5000 deposit. We agreed to settle the remainder the next morning.
That night, we confirmed that we had 11 people. Our cost would be PHP2280 per person. Our objective was met.
The best that we could do elsewhere was PHP30000 for 14 people – but we couldn’t find the extra 3 people that we needed.
MEET AT THE BOAT:
Pick up was to be at our hotel at 9:00am. By 9:15am, they had not arrived, so I walked down to their office which was a short walk away. They were still getting organised.
She said that they had no towels and asked if we could take our own. No problem… the Tandikan allowed us to take the towels from our rooms.
Carong Carong is only 5-10 minutes away by Tribike. We were loaded onto our boat and off by 10:15.
DAY 1 OF THE ISLAND HOPPING TRIP:
We had a lovely group of people:
- Angel & Erotica from Romania (40s)
- Ana & Ana from Serbia (20s)
- Milan & Vanja from Serbia (20s)
- Dustin & Nicole from Switzerland (20s)
- Peter from England and his partner Laura from Colombia (20s)
- And me (50s)
Most of us had already met the night before – and, now, a day together on the boat.
Nicole had a slight hair problem.
The first island was pleasant enough.
There were a few other trip boats there – but not too many.
We donned our masks and went for a snorkel.
The coral was very average.
Again, the snorkelling was very average with few corals. We were done there in less than 30 minutes.
We landed at the third island at 12:00 noon. We had 1 hour to swim and snorkel before they were to serve our lunch at 1:00pm.
- Small whole Tuna, Chicken, and Pork
- A Cucumber and Tomato Salad
- Boiled Rice
- Bananas and Melon
We arrived at 2:50pm.
You anchor in a sheltered bay.
The locals bring the kayaks to your boat.
The other side opens up into a beautiful lagoon with karsk walls surrounding you.
There are 20-30 kayaks going backwards and forwards through these lagoons; some people abandon their kayaks for a while to have a revel in the water.
A very pleasant place and definitely worth paying a bit extra for a kayak.
We left the Small Lagoon at about 3:30pm and headed for the Big Lagoon a short distance away.
Our boat crew and guide were indicating that they wanted to be somewhere by 4:00pm. It was now that we realised that they had to make their way back to El Nido to pick up more food and equipment for our camping night. They needed to drop us off so that they could get to El Nido and back before it got too dark.
We looked at how many boats were anchored in the Big Lagoon and we all decided not to stop. The Small Lagoon is meant to be the best of the two anyway.
We asked the captain to do one more ‘quiet’ beach before dropping us off for our camping.
We went to neither of them.
We had no ‘4th stop’, but were taken to a small beach on a secluded island.
This is where we were going to camp.
There were no facilities, no toilets, and no toilet paper.
OUR OVER-NIGHT CAMPING:
The plan was to be that 2 of the crew stayed with us on the island while the other 2 did the return trip to El Nido.
However, only one of the boat boys was left with us and he disappeared very quickly (only God knows where). Our group were left on our own.
The boat crew left hardly anything with us. There were still no tents – so we couldn’t get our accommodation ready yet. There was a chilly bin with nothing in it… and our rum & coke had not arrived yet… luckily, we had brought a few extra bottles of our own… so, we cracked them open and started settling in.
It was, now, about 5:00pm and we had about 1 hour of daylight left.
A couple of us decided to gather wood for a bonfire on the beach.
There was plenty of wood around but it took us about 1 hour to find everything that we needed and to construct it.
The revelry started.
We didn’t need much rum & coke to break the ice.
Out came the portable Bose Speakers and on went the music.
By 8:00pm our boat and crew had still not returned; and, we hadn’t seen our ‘boat boy’ since 5pm. Some of us were starting to get worried.
We wondered if they had abandoned us… there was nothing that we could have done anyway… we were not in control of this situation… and just had to wait to see what unfolded.
The boat and crew finally returned at 10:00pm. We were ready for dinner. There was no guide with them.
They had only 2 tents: enough to sleep 4 people. 1 mattress. 3 pillows. They put the tents up and we, of course, gave priority to the ladies.
Luckily, Dustin & Nicole had brought their own tent and 1 hammock.
Dinner arrived… boiled rice with one small piece of chicken. Mmmm. The boat and crew ‘legged it’ as fast as possible.
Yep, we had been abandoned!
It is what it is… so we made the most of it. At least they did bring the free rum & coke!
We forgot about the problems and had a really good time.
By now the tide was coming in and we were losing our beach. Angel had to help me wade through the water around a rock to save my gear on the other side. He stripped down naked so his clothes wouldn’t get wet – I will carry that ‘vision’ for the rest of my life 🙂 and, no Angel, your big beer belly does not hide your ‘crown jewels’!
We had to move our bonfire further up the beach 2 times to save it from the approaching water.
One positive about the island is that there were no Sandflies and no Mosquitos.
The youngsters took pity on me and I was ‘told’ that I had the hammock. They wanted this ‘old fart’ to have a bed. That was nice of them.
I tried to sleep but couldn’t. After 2 failed attempts to get out of the hammock back to the bonfire, I finally made it on the 3rd attempt. Angel and Milan were still there listening to music.
The three of us played music for a while and then played ‘DJ’ – each playing our favourite 3 songs in turn. Angel started with his songs – he likes Heavy Metal. I followed with my songs: ‘In The Gallery’ (Dire Straits) and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (Robert Plant); I couldn’t find my third song which was to be ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ (Andy Roachford), so I threw on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (Led Zeppelin) instead to keep Angel happy. Milan cheated… he put on ‘The Wall’ (Pink Floyd) as his first ‘song’. We fell asleep next to the bonfire listening to the rest of the double album.
THE NEXT MORNING:
People started to awake from about 6am. Very few people got any sleep. The 2 young Serbian girls awoke with half of their tent underwater.
There was still no sign of our boat nor crew.
We used the remains of the bonfire to cook the sausages and to make toast.
We drew ‘HELP’ in the sand and waited to be spotted by passing boats and aircraft. We used a coconut for ‘Wilson’.
The 2 young boys from the boat were visibly embarrassed and couldn’t have packed up the equipment any faster. They wouldn’t answer any questions. They just wanted to get out of there.
BACK TO EL NIDO:
The 2 young Serbian girls were very unhappy. They did not want to continue.
The reality was that it was so late that we wouldn’t be able to do Tour C properly anyway.
Before the boat came back at 11:45, the group had already agreed to abandon the trip.
Everyone was OK about it. Nobody blamed anybody. It was just the logical decision to make. We weren’t going to have much fun on Day 2 anyway. Not now.
If we went straight back to El Nido, our ‘negotiating position’ with the agent was stronger.
We got back to El Nido at about 12:45pm. Tired, thirsty, and hungry.
I had organised the trip. I felt responsible. My plan was simple… we wanted a full refund… not negotiable! Our group were all agreed on this and accepted that the ‘worst case scenario’ was that we could get nothing.
I went back to the tour agent whilst the others organised themselves. It was 1:00pm.
A worker was there. I asked to talk to the boss. ‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Because she has a big problem’, I said. The girl called her boss.
It wasn’t the boss who came, but the girl that I made the deal with (Elvie). I told her that she had 10 minutes to give us a full refund. If not, I was going to the Tourist Police and the Harbour Master to make official complaints.
She got onto the phone to her boss who, this time, did come. The boss tried to negotiate and came up with all sorts of excuses. She offered us a ‘partial’ refund – after deducting all of her expenses. She offered us a refund of PHP10000.
After 1 hour of getting no-where with her I gave in and headed for the Tourist Police. Elvie was already there. I briefed the police on what had happened. They called the boss and fetched her.
The police were very friendly and, wierdly enough, we had a few jokes and a bit of fun between us as we waited. They read my formal written complaint out loud to each other and laughed their heads off!
The boss arrived and duly continued with her ‘hard luck’ story. Insisting that she had expenses that she could not refund.
They spoke in Filipino but I got the feeling that the Police told her to provide a full refund.
She agreed to pay PHP14000 immediately and the remaining PHP11000 at my hotel at 7:00pm that evening. I got this in writing and witnessed by the Police.
A 7:15pm she had still not arrived at the Tandikan. I walked back down to her office. She was there. She tried to negotiate again and asked if she could retain some of the money. I said no and reminded her that she had an agreement with the Police. Reluctantly she handed over the remaining PHP11000.
We had a celebration drink back at the hotel and went to a nice restaurant for dinner. We all felt that we needed to ‘treat ourselves’. It is a bit ‘fitting’ that there was a smiley face on the wall behind us – don’t you think?
Adversity brings people together. We all made good friends on that island.
Amongst it all we did have lots of fun. With a different group, it could have been a nightmare – but not with these lovely people… it was a delight.
We all have a memory that we will not forget in a hurry. We are now all friends on Facebook.
IS THIS WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT?
No. I do not think that what happened to us is normal.
I suspect that most of the trips are well organised and go without any problems. We were just unlucky and got a ‘rogue’ trader.
DO YOU WANT TO DO ONE OF THESE TRIPS?
Don’t let our story put you off. Of course you should do one of these trips.
My only advice is that, for safety, you may want to pay the standard rate of PHP3000 with a reputable agent.
I suspect that it was our attempt to put together a ‘charter’ that backfired – our agent, probably, tried to ‘cut corners’ and ‘stuffed up’.
A positive is that you know that you can always go to the Tourist Police for help with such things if you need to. Tourism is too important to El Nido… they don’t want El Nido to get a bad reputation just because of one ‘rogue’ operator.
If Port Barton is on your itinerary, I would recommend doing your Island Hopping trip there: it is half the price, the islands are just as nice, you can over-night stay on German Island, and the snorkelling / corals are better than El Nido.
I don’t usually post pictures of myself on this blog. But I have to post these ones… they capture the essence of the evening on the beach so well.
Laura looks like Demi Moore’s daughter. Beautiful. I kept asking her if she had an older sister. But, alas, no. I got some cuddles out her though. I love my cuddles. Peter didn’t seem to mind (he knew that I was no competition :-))