Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and a Typhoon on the Philippines
We have been looking forward to the second destination of our world trip. We heard many amazing stories, saw breathtaking photos from the Philippines, and could not wait to see everything with our own eyes.
We booked a flight to a small island. Eleven days later, our next flight should leave from another Island. We had a vague idea of what we wanted to do when we had but have not booked anything yet. We researched a lot and read many blog posts, and everyone said that it is possible to book tours spontaneously. Although we had not thought that the small fishing villages, changed into tourist hot spots in the last years, many excursions are fully booked in advance now in the high season over Christmas and New Year, and that we will have to wait till a typhoon passes by. But let’s start from the beginning.
A tiny airplane brought us to Coron, where our adventure in the Philippines was supposed to start. We could see the beautiful turquoise water and many sandy islands from the small window in the plane, and we couldn’t wait to explore this fantastic landscape from near.
The airport was just one big hall, and a lot of taxi drivers were waiting outside. After a while, we found the sign with our names on it. We drove to the other side of the island, which took us about one hour to stay in a small town.
We spent the afternoon strolling through the streets and booked an Island Hopping Tour for the next day. Our hosts told us that we do not have to hurry for breakfast the morning st because it was not sure if our boot could leave today. We waited and waited, and three hours after we were supposed to get picked up, we got informed that our tour is canceled because a typhoon is somewhere out there, and it was too dangerous to go on the water today.
We tried our luck in a few other shops that offer boat tours, but they were all canceled, and most likely, no boat could leave Coron for at least three more days.
We did not want to wait till the typhoon passes the island, and lying on the beach for a week is too boring for us, so we needed a new plan. We have been thinking about doing a scuba diving course for a while, and luckily we found a driving instructor who worked despite the typhoon warning and the Christmas holidays. We could watch a learn video and get some working books to go through in the next two days.
Today was the 24th of December, why we treat ourselves with pizza for dinner. Our hosts invited us to sing karaoke with them. We listened for a while but didn’t dare to sing.
The next morning, we finished the theoretical lessons of the scuba dive course, and after that, we could start our first dive. It was still not allowed to take boats to the open ocean. A tricycle brought us to a bay outside of the town, and from there, we could take a small boat to a coral garden hidden in big rocks and safe from the wind. We were overwhelmed by the underwater world’s beauty, all the colors, and the corals’ formations on our first dive. The fishes were so fascinating.
When we came up to the surface, it started to rain, and we had to go back to the beach.
We could leave our diving gear there for the next day, and our instructor said that it would take too long to wait for a tricycle so that she would give us a lift on her scooter. We have been a bit nervous to sit all together on the same scooter, but it is normal in these countries. You can often see whole families of five people plus their dog on the same scooter. We prefer a car or tricycle, but it worked out fine and without an accident. Just when we arrived in the town, it started to rain heavily. The typhoon came closer.
The next morning we drove back to the bay, so we could do two dives before the storm started. We dived again through the beautiful coral garden, and at the second dive, we did a lot of exercises, like take off the full gear and put it back on under the water. We also learned what we have to do in an emergency and practiced the signs. Just in time, before the storm got stronger, we came back to the beach.
It rained the whole afternoon, making it easy for us to stay inside and learn for the theoretical test.
We hoped that the typhoon would pass quickly, we still had to get to the other island, from where our plane was supposed to leave.
The next day, the wind and rain slowly stopped, and we could take a boat out into the ocean. At the first dive of the day, we explored an ancient shipwreck, and then we drove to a freshwater lake on a small island in the middle of the ocean, which had different layers of cold and hot water. Diving there was a pretty cool experience. But our favorite dive was definitely in the coral garden.
Of course, we passed the theory test and are now proud holders of the PADI open water certificate.
The scuba dive course was great, and the best thing was that we were the only ones with our instructor. I think we used the typhoon day perfectly.
We went to pretty much every one of the little tour shops in the town the last few days and tried to book a three-day island hopping tour from Coron to El Nido. I heard so many great things about these expeditions that it was the only one I wanted to do while in the Philippines, and we had to get to the other island anyway to catch our plane. The famous tour-operators were all fully booked in the high season, and because of the typhoon, a lot of the smaller tours had to reschedule and were now full or had not enough passengers.
After hours of asking, we could find one woman who said that there is a chance, and she wanted to call us back the next day and tell us if the boat would run or not. The next day we got a cancellation from her, so we tried to find another tour. One man finally told as that there was a boat going after he did a few phone calls. We were so happy and pays the deposit to secure our spot for the next morning. At 11 pm the woman from the other shop called us, and told us that the boat was not leaving in the morning, the man from the new shop talked to her, and they both thought they had our booking and enough people…. Oh no… So we did just a one-day tour around Coron the following day and hoped to get a tour to El Nido for the next day. Otherwise, we would have to take the ferry.
The one-day island hopping tour around Coron was great. A bit touristic, but the landscapes were amazing! We snorkeled around a coral garden, swam around the twin lagoon, hiked to a freshwater lake, and got a tasty lunch directly on the boat.
In the evening, we finally got informed that we could start an expedition to El Nido the following morning. Two couples from Denmark had booked a private boat and let us come with them. We were so glad it worked out in the end!
The next morning we walked to the meeting point, and no one was there.
After a while, the other couples arrived, and another two hours later, we finally drove to the harbor, where we had to wait again. The boat could not leave earlier because of the low tide (they should have known that already the day before)
We have been so relieved when we finally sat in the boat and could be sure the tour will run!
The first stop was beautiful, a tiny sand island in the middle of the ocean, the water had a perfect temperature, and we saw even rays and sand dollars.
We only stopped once before we had to go to the beach where we camped that night because of our late start.
It was beautiful to sleep in a tent directly on the beach. We could listen to the sound of the sea when we fell asleep and wake up in the middle of nature to watch the sunrise.
Unfortunately, our crew forget again (or on purpose) that it was low tide in the morning, and we had to wait almost till midday to get the boat back into the water. So we made our way directly to the next beach camp.
Today was New Year’s eve, and the locals on the small fishing island invited us to play karaoke with them. It seems like every holiday gets celebrated with Karaoke in the Philippines. After a few rum and cokes, we even sang with them.
Instead of fireworks, we watched the amazing stars in the night sky at midnight, and when we woke up in the morning, we had the most beautiful view over the beach directly from the tent—what a lovely way to start into the new year.
On the last day of our tour, we did just one shortstop on an island for our lunch, and then we wanted to drive directly to El Nido. One of the men on the boat was so afraid of the waves that he got aggressive. And the crew (a hangover from the night before) lost their nerves and brought us to the first beach they saw on Palawan. From there, we had to drive on the back of a pickup truck for over two hours on bumpy dirt roads to get to El Nido. It was not the end of this tour we had imagined but for sure an adventure.
If we will ever come back to the Philippines, I would book one of the famous tours in advance. We saw a few of those boats and heard a lot of amazing stories. Some expeditions are much more expensive than what we paid, but you would see so much more and need fewer nerves. I heard that they are perfectly planed and professionally operated.
We arrived a few days later in El Nido than planned and had just one night left before we had to drive another six hours to Puerto Princesa, from where our airplane started the next morning.
Our time in the Philippines was other than expected. The landscapes are amazing, and the sandy beaches in the turquoise water could not be more beautiful. The locals are super friendly, and the hospitality is excellent. The only thing was that booking the tours was chaotic and exhausting. I am sure that would be better in the low season, without a typhoon, and if we had had more time, in that case, our vacation here would have been even more beautiful.
If you want to read more travel stories from our world trip, have a look at this blog post from our month in Vietnam.