El Nido’s Tour C is for the treasure hunter.
In that part of the Bacuit archipelago that’s farthest to reach, and is most exposed to the rough conditions of the open sea, a few secrets hide behind (or beneath) those massive karst walls.
I remember it being the highlight of my El Nido trip last year. I had gone on Tour A (the other fan favorite) the day before, and while I was stunned by the beauty of El Nido’s lagoons, it was Tour C’s towering spiky cliffs and its sense of adventure that blew me away.
Explorer Mode: ON
Tour C’s main attractions are all about the drama of a last-minute reveal.
Your boat is headed towards this huge impenetrable rock island. Its jagged cliffs are like these black knives pointing at the sky. Not a speck of sandy shore in sight, you begin to entertain the thought that the island may just part at the center, revealing a secret passage at the mention of some magic word. Obviously, the entrance to the actual destination is concealed, and assuming there aren’t other boats in the area, you’ll come to know of its general location only until you’re face to face with the island’s rocky walls.
Soon enough, the boatman drops the anchor. You will most probably be told to swim the rest of the way. And then what happens after is something like stumbling upon gold. Even with your jaw to the floor, you’d still be able to manage to mouth a few expletives every so often. How can you not? What’s right before your eyes is just pure magnificence.
Sorry, not today honey.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to be so lucky all the time. On my second go, during this recent El Nido trip with my friend Pong, the conditions weren’t in our favor. There wasn’t any weather disturbance but the current was too strong and waves were huge that day. This meant that the two main attractions – Hidden Beach and Secret Beach, were inaccessible. We ended up just circling these sites. Our guides pointed at the spots where they would’ve dropped us off had the sea been a little more cooperative. They tried to make up for it by taking us to a snorkeling site near Miniloc Island, but of course, that won’t cut it.
In hindsight, I should’ve known better. The waves at the main beach in El Nido town were practically surfable since the day we arrived. In these conditions, booking any of the other tours (A, B, D, or E) would’ve been a better option for us.
It was such a letdown for me. I mean, I was excited to go through the entire experience again, but more than that, I was really looking forward to see other people’s jaws drop in awe. That didn’t happen. Instead of giddy, I saw traces of underwhelmed expressions. It made me feel sad, frustrated, and even up to now when I think about it, I still feel bad for Pong and for the people I was in the tour with, only because I so badly wish that they had seen what I had seen.
On a sunnier day and on calmer seas.
Just so I can provide a deeper context to my discontent, this is how it should’ve panned out for us. Most of the things here, they missed. These pictures, except for the underwater ones, were taken using just my phone during last year’s trip. No filters, no photoshop.
Helicopter Island (Dilumacad Island)
It’s either the first stop or the last. More of a filler stop, but is pretty nonetheless.
The island has a white sand beach with a shallow reef close to the shore. Plenty of stare-off opportunities with the fishies when you snorkel near the southern tip of the island.
Hidden Beach at Matinloc Island
It’s only when you swim past that boulder at the foreground will you discover the inlet that leads to the hidden beach. Even on gentler conditions, it’s already quite a challenge to even get to that first boulder. I remember collecting a few battle scars here. Totally understandable why we weren’t allowed that day.
Once you reach the inlet, how you navigate it will depend on the tide. If it’s low tide, you’ll have to wade through some pebbly ground. If otherwise, you will have to swim all the way to the beach . Either way, you will need to earn your right to be there.
Further inside is a cove, and of course, the hidden beach. Remember that All Saints song – Pure Shores? That was the song humming in my head the entire time.
Talisay Beach at Tapiutan Island
Tapiutan Island lies on the other side of Matinloc Island. To get there, the boat will have to circle around Matinloc’s northern tip, where the waves usually get gnarly. It gets calmer upon entering Tapiutan Strait.
Talisay Beach sits in this area. It’s a tiny strip of white beach perfect for lunchtime lazing around.
Secret Beach at Matinloc Island
A hole in the wall – that’s the only way to get in and out of this secret beach. This spot is said to have been the true inspiration behind Alex Garland’s novel (adapted into a film starring Leo DiCaprio), The Beach. I wouldn’t be surprised. When you come across a place, an experience like this, word vomit is a most definite possibility.
Garland did spend considerable time in El Nido before writing his novel. This was in the ’90s – back when El Nido wasn’t a tourist destination yet, and was still very much an isolated region in the Philippines. Can’t help but imagine how much more enigmatic El Nido is back then.
Secluded and abandoned – this place is eerily romantic. There’s a mansion and a shrine for Our Lady of Matinloc. That heart-shaped rock at the bottom of the altar serves as a symbol for Matinloc, which is exactly how the island looks like from above.
Climb up the limestone cliffs to the side of the shrine, there’s this blissful view of Tapiutan Strait. This is one of the views I will always remember El Nido by.
Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky to end up breathing scenes like this.
That’s me, Uli from Spain, and my friend Jeanette doing a celebratory jump shot to cap off an adventure-filled day. No need to show our faces. Our beaming smiles are apparent just by looking at our shadows.
We were let in on a few secrets that day. For those who come seeking in this corner of the world, I hope they find themselves in the same disposition. Stumble upon the same sights, the same joy.
I hope they strike gold. That and more.