This was the highlight of my trip, I was looking forward for months to step on board this traditional Philippines sailing boat. I love to be in and on the water, already did similar boat trips in San Blas, Panama and Belize. I already booked and transferred 650USD (peak season 750USD) for this trips months before I left to the Philippines. This 4 nights and 5 days sailing tour between El Nido and Coron or vice versa is very popular; and now I understand why! You can book different kind of TAO Experiences, depending on boat and length of the tour; you can even book at private experience! If you have the chance don’t hesitate and go; I would go again tomorrow if I could!
After receiving all the confirmations that the money has been received by the company you receive emails with further instructions. The day before the tour starts a briefing takes place at the TAO office, in my case Coron. Here they explain the route (of course all depends on weather and other circumstances), meet the crew and other passengers, tips for packing and much more. Here you will get your cash bracelet where you can load money on, so you can put your wallet safe in your luggage. They refund the balance at the end of the trip; all goes digital and is very handy!
Tip: Embrace island time; plans change due to all kind of circumstances, be relax and be flexible about it.
Tip: There is no reception or Wi-Fi; great for a 5 days digital detox! Although there were three drones on board, but no connection to outside world.
Tip: Take care of yourself and embrace communal living and go with the flow with the all the people on board and on land. Be humble to the locals!!
Below I will describe the route with nice impressions, inspirations and tips for this trip. Each day I will focus on one topic that I will describe more elaborate; like Boat and Crew, TAO Community, Food and Drinks, Activities during the Day and Island Life.
Day 1 + Boat and Crew
First day of the trip! The night before packed all my bags in the right order and took a tricycle to the port where I met the crew and rest of the passengers. Our bags were checked and then it was time to get on board. The boat is amazing! All natural colors with wood and bamboo, loved the vibe on board.
There is enough space in the shade made by red canvas, over the main areas with bamboo chairs and tables. The set-up of the boat is very efficient and you can sit everywhere; although the front part of the boat was mainly taken by the crew to chill and sleep an extra hour. In the back of the boat the kitchen and behind the kitchen the smoking area. There is another part of the boat that is used to clean the fish and where they do the dishes. On the other side you can find the toilet and shower area. A big room for storage food and luggage. At last the sleeping room with hammocks for the crew. Like I said all very efficient and clean as well.
On this traditional sailing boat we used the two main sails and the engine. I loved the parts where we were truly sailing; that is so silent and peaceful. There were life jackets on board, but we only used them for the first part in Coron, to show the harbor control that we have one jacket for every person. It was too hot to wear a jacket all the time anyway.
Our big travel bags were put in the main part of the boat and were accessible during the day. I only went in there after lunch to swap a new bikini and dress for the next night and day; put this fresh set in my smaller dry bag that was in the captain’s cabin. In the captain’s cabin you can charge you batteries on the solar panel, but heard that this was hardly charging. I never used it, I used my spare external battery.
The crew is the best!! In total nine crew members were on board to give you the best time of your life. They all work extremely hard all day and evening to prepare the food, boat, accommodation and entertain you. The best part is that they have so much fun among each other. They use a local dialect to communicate and it was very funny to hear which made me laugh all day. All of them have their own duties on board and on land. Perfect team and they know the boat very well because the build The Balatik together.
Tip: Don’t forget to tip the crew after the tour, half of the money goes to them and half to the people working on land and in the community.
The Balatik is handmade using old traditional Philippines techniques. The carvings on the boat show that this is an unique vessel that keeps the Philippine maritime culture alive. The two outriggers and no deep keel are perfect to sail the shallow reefs in between the Palawan Islands. Sail from island to island, now with tourists; in the past with cargo and passengers. It took two years to build this incredible sailing boat which was finished in 2014. It was an honor for me and my fellow 23 passengers, but also for the crew, to sail this ship.
The group consisted of a lot of nationalities and ages. It was a perfect mix and we got along very well. We shared the drone and other photos afterwards, which I could use for this website. It was great fun and we had a perfect atmosphere on board, this was of course inevitable with this boat, crew and surrounding!!!
This first day we stopped at the two snorkel places which you can read in my Coron blog (Lusong Gunboat Shipwreck and Lusong Coral Garden). After this we sailed a lot all the way around the north of Culion Island via a lot of smaller islands (south of Popototan Islands) with amazing views. The base camp for tonight was located on Pucoy Island (google maps calls this Rhodes Island) on the west side of Culion. This island had a pier where the boat was barked and we could walk to the stone beach with traditional TAO huts. We could not go into the water due to dangerous jellyfish. This was our first stop and already made me so happy and warm inside to experience this. The sunset set and the moon shining through the palm trees made me fall asleep with a big smile on my face, what a day!!
Day 2 + Food & Drinks
We continued the sailing trip cross the Calamian Islands. Our first snorkel stop was at Dimanglet Island. The water was a bit rough by the wind and current, but I take every opportunity to get into the water. This was not the best snorkel spot but saw a lot of fish, even got stalked by a small yellow fish. Normally after the a snorkel session in we had lunch. I was always looking forward to eat on this trip. The food is fresh, healthy and delicious.
As this is the Food and Drinks session I will say more on this topic here. Normally you get three big meals during the day; breakfast, lunch, snack in the afternoon and dinner. During the day you can get free coffee, ginger tea and water.
Tip: Bring your own water bottle, no plastic on board!!
All meals have a salad, fresh vegetables, most of the times fresh fish and of course the most important Filipino Power, that is how they call the rice here. Breakfast and dinner are served on camp, lunch and snack on the boat. I was really surprised what great food came out of that small boat kitchen. The spices they use and every day a different taste and recipe. I loved the coconut breakfast with oatmeal a lot, but the eggplant with eggs was very special too. I love ceviche and here they have the Kinilaw, which was definitely on the menu. During the trip they buy fresh fish from the local fishermen, that is how we help the community. We had the best BBQ fish and a whole pig! Before every meal we lined up, used stone plates and used sanitizers to stay clean and safe. The waste is collected in six different categories, they really think of the environment on this trip.
Tip: Please help out the crew with cleaning the fish, peeling the shrimps, gathering the plates and cleaning the dishes.
Next snorkeling spot on day two was Manlihan Island or nicknamed Cobra Island by the locals due to its long shape. This island is unbelievable beautiful, the white sand, the colors of the ocean and the warm calm weather made this stop one of my favorites…till now…… Luckily we had some drones on board and the footage I got to share with you. I went snorkeling and walking to the other side of the island. What a great place is this, don’t want to leave and stay here forever!!
The snacks in the afternoon were; fried banana, sweet potato with sugar and fresh fruits. In the afternoon the Jungle Juice was served on the boat and sometimes on land as well. The Jungle Juice is local rum with pineapple juice, a real sugar bomb but it made the sunset looking even nicer! You can order drinks during the whole day and use your charged bracelet to pay for the beers, gin tonics or diet cokes.
Our second base camp for tonight was on Guinto Island close to Linapacan Island. Another jaw dropping island with a kind of pier on the side. Walking on the beach after fresh shower and searching for shells, I did the same in the morning before breakfast. Some of the guys were testing the drones, the girls were chatting getting to know each other better and the crew played basketball. Another great day with amazing spots and adventures with great people.
Day 3 + TAO Community
Waking up with the waving sound of the palm trees and small waves crashing on shore; you can’t make me happier than this! Indeed even happier with a great breakfast served on the beach an looking at a big shell I just found on my daily walk on the beach. Time to get on board to our next snorkel spot Tacling Island. I was getting more and more exited on this trip. This spot is my favorite…..ohh no I can’t choose. Here I saw many fish and beautiful corals, again a picture perfect white beach with palm trees. All the things I love in one shot.
I was looking forward to the next stop; The TAO Explorer Farm. This is the base camp of the TAO Community. The community consist of 250 islanders of Lost Boys and The Women of TAO. The boys work on the ships and islands and the women coordinate the ground operation like offices and basecamps, take care of the families and keep the Lost Boys in place. Both are locals and come from the islands stretched for 200km around Palawan, they are the soul of this whole adventure. Their roots are fishermen or farmers and speak their own language which almost sounds like singing.
At the Farm they crow a lot of vegetables, herbs, fruits and breed animals all for the people that join the TAO Experience. At his base camp they train the boys to become the best crew members, every boy has to climb a coconut tree. Just in case we have to survive due to a typhoon, you always have the coconuts! The girls learn how to give massages to the tourist. Others making the TAO souvenir bags out of used materials and print the logo. We heard the story in the base camp and had the opportunity to buy local coconut oil which I immediately put into my hair. Great to see the whole community and that the money you pay for this tour is going to the local people in the Palawan area.
That night we slept across the Farm on Darocotan Island. Here we had the possibility to get a massage; that was a welcome luxury that evening. The huts were again with sea view, at night the wind picked up and we got some small rain showers but fell asleep dry and still with a big smile on my face.
Day 4 + Activities during the Day
We are close to El Nido now and tonight it’s our last night of the tour, wish this tour lasted forever! We cruised with the boat close around the northern part of Palawan Island to Nacpan Beach. This beach is 3km long and about 20km north of El Nido Proper. Here we got off the boat and went to swim in the waves close to shore. Some went by kayak but I always swam to the activities.
Let me more elaborate on the what and how the activities went during the day. If we could hear the sound out of the big shell we knew an event was coming up. A snorkel tour, getting on shore to sleep, sightseeing a manatee in the water and meals. Then we got all the information, who is the guide, where the best snorkeling spots are and so on.
One or two kayaks went always in the water with us for safety and guidance. In separate baskets you could find the snorkeling gear. There were sufficient flippers to use one for every snorkel session. There is a good mix during the day of sailing, relaxing, meals and activities. Perfect to detox, stare at the horizon, read a book, chat with people, help the crew, work on your tan, get a massage, enjoy the nature below and above the water and relax.
Our last night and I think they saved the best for last in this case. The base camp was on Cadlao Island and partly build on the rocks and the beach; really an amazing spot to spent our last night. Everybody was exited and the drones were flying around. Our last dinner was celebrated with a whole roasted stuffed pig, this was hand rolled above the fire. This lechon is a real traditional festive meal, but I stuck with the veggies and Filipino Power. The night was a lot of fun with drinking games and the Brazilian started a limo dance competition! Fell asleep later than the nights before and bit sad, this was the last night, don’t want this to end!
Day 5 + Island Life
The day after the last night, some guests were more quiet than normal on the boat. After some group pictures and last shots of this incredible Cadlao Island in the Bacuit Archipelago. Today we sailed to the Pasandigan Cove where we entered a cave and swam with through a bunch of pink jellyfish (bring rash guard). The end is coming and the next stop is snorkeling at the impressive Pinagbuyutan Island. The structure of this island with limestone, surrounded by turquoise waters, white sand was unbelievably beautiful. See more pictures in my El Nido blog. Now more elaboration on the Island Life.
Before getting on shore all our dry bags needed for the night were put in the kayak. During this trip no bag felt into to water but we had very calm weather and water. The huts we slept in were pretty basic, but unique and build on the most perfect locations. Indeed it is really back to basic, but the mattresses were thick enough for me. At the first night you get a named TAO bag with a pillowcase, sheet and mosquito net. In the hut the mattresses and pillows are available.
Tip: Use easy and comfortable clothing during the day (mostly bikini for me) and bring sarongs; they are handy for everything.
The next morning you return your bag, which you get back for the next night. A crew member draws an overview with the huts including your name. They mix the people among the huts so everybody got a good spot during the trip; but to be honest every hut has a good spot. The people traveling solo got their own hut. Most of the crew sleep on the boat, which is cooler and no mosquitoes.
Tip: Bring insect repellent and sun protection (sunblock, hat and sunglasses).
The showers are very simple some with running water and some with buckets. The shower area is made of bamboo under the palm trees. Toilets were also simple but mainly in concrete buildings, some with buckets too. Indeed back to basic but nobody minded at all, it’s part of this adventure.
Tip: Bring one bath towel and a wash kit (soap, shampoo, toothbrush and earplugs just in case)
Tip: Protect your digital items in a good drybag; the salt, water and sand can ruin your expensive items.
Tip: Bring a flashlight for extra light at night to walk to the toilet and in your hut.
After saying goodbye, some speeching, giving the tip to the crew and exchanging contact details; small boats took us to the shore of El Nido. I couldn’t sleep that night, I missed the ocean breeze, yellow curtain and my mattress in the hut was way more comfortable than this one…. Take me back please!! I hope I convinced you to join this tour, if not available check the other options from TAO, the company behind it and the good cause gave me an even more satisfied feeling of this amazing trip. Thanks everybody for making this an unforgettable experience!!