There’s nothing quite like expecting to spend a six hour ferry ride from El Nido to Coron in your bikini, sipping on some ice cold beers, listening to hot beats and sunbathing with your buds, only to have it turn into a near-death fourteen hour ferry ride in harsh waters in an old fishing boat built for 5 people.
Now, we may have experienced a bit of trauma, had to cancel an entire island stop in our trip, and lost a bunch of money but what matters is that we’re all safe and sound. I hope our tale of misfortune and a rather rough couple of days helps you better prepare for your trip to El Nido.
The day before we were set to leave El Nido for Coron, we were woken up at 7am by our hotel staff saying they made a mistake with our booking and that we had to be out by noon instead of staying one more night. No big deal - we pack up and venture off to find new accommodations.
After finding a new place to stay, we set off to arrange our ferry to the island of Coron, which can only be done the day before departure. To get from El Nido to Coron, you’ve got a choice of either:
a slow ferry (which takes 5-6 hours),
a fast boat (3-4 hours),
or a flight from the El Nido airport.
There weren’t any flights leaving the El Nido airport for long after our planned stay on the island, so we opted for a ferry. And having been recommended to take the slow ferry due to more stability than the fast boat, we had a tour agency organize it for us.
HOWEVER, after being told that the slow AND fast ferry tickets had been sold out, not only for the day we needed it, but also for several days after, we panicked a bit but arranged for a private boat along with 3 others (making us a group of 7) to take us to Coron on the following day at 9am. Another problem solved - no big deal.
On the day of departure, we show up at our pick up point to find 12 people waiting for the same boat. Turns out there were a lot of people with the same problem. But no need to fret! They got us a bigger boat. A bigger, safer, better boat that serves snacks! Well why didn’t you say so? You had me at snacks.
The van that was supposed to drive us to the most northern port on the island (which is an hour away) FINALLY shows up two hours late. And only fits 8 of the 12 people... So a portion of the group piles into the van with our heavy AF luggage on top of us and they send for another van to pick up the rest. K, at this point people are starting to get antsy and frustrated. Whatever, let it go, we’re on our merry way.
Or so we thought.
We finally make it to the port only to be told that the big boat that was chartered for us had broken down in the middle of the ocean that morning. I’m sorry, WHAT?
No big deal - they say they’re sending two smaller boats for us. “It’ll be here in 10 minutes” they said.
10 minutes eh? Do you guys see the pattern here? Filipino time is FAR from accurate.
After an hour of waiting at the port in a tiny village and being harassed by Arthur, a drunk Polish drug addict who had been stranded in the Philippines for 3 years, telling us tales of kidnappings and murders in Manila, the boats finally show up. They group the four of us with a guy from the UK on one boat, which we had to walk 100 meters out into the water from the shore with our luggage on our backs to get to. But it isn’t until we finally get onto the boat, that we realize it’s actually a fishing boat with two captains that don’t speak a word of English.
At this point, we were feeling pretty uneasy but we had to stay on schedule, so we take off on our journey. But we quickly find out that this boat has a 45 HP engine that was going to take us ACROSS THE OCEAN.
If anything up until this point wasn’t enough of a sign to shy us away, then perhaps we should have listened to our gut when they had more men climb onboard to aggressively play tug of war with the rope that was attached to something below deck - something that we’d soon find out was the engine. This is how they start their boat? You betchya.
Was that enough of a sign? Not yet. Still wasn’t enough of a sign when the captains pulled the lifejackets out from below deck and a cockroach flung across the seats, or when they had us sit sprawled across the boat to help balance the weight out, or even when water started pouring into the boat when we hit big waves.
But something finally flicked the switch in our heads 30 minutes into the ride. We started to talk about whether we should follow through with the boat ride or if we should just turn back around, weighing our options of losing hundreds of dollar in hotels, flights, and travel versus potentially crashing. Did I mention I can’t swim? We decided it wasn’t worth it.
After playing charades with the captain and arguing back and forth about heading back to shore, he finally turned the boat around.
As if the story wasn’t traumatic enough, we arrived back at the port only to be told by a local that our boat would have taken 12-14 hours in rough waters, was definitely not fit to be packed with 7 people, and he couldn’t believe they’d actually try to use that boat to cross the ocean!
Whew! Dodged a bullet there! So we got on the phone with the tour operator and they send for a “bigger” boat for us, which shows up after “10 minutes” in Filipino time (2 hours) and it’s THE SAME SIZE.
The son of the captain of this boat is way too honest when we ask him if the rough waters are normal and safe. His response: I don’t know but we have life jackets. LIFE JACKETS. EXCUSE ME?
HELL NO. This just became a big deal.
So we got a van to pick us up and bring us back to the main town where we could calm down and start planning our escape off the island. Our exit route consisted of taking a 5 hour shuttle bus to the airport in Puerto Princesa, where we caught a flight out from there.
To sum up, we cancelled our trip to Coron, lost some money, wasted A LOT of time, but we’re safe and all in one piece.
Hopefully from all of this, you’re able to take away some tips for your trip to El Nido:
1. Book your island transfers BEFORE you arrive.
2. Know the difference between real time and Filipino time. Patience is key.
3. Listen to your gut.
PS. We heard from the passengers of the second boat who left the El Nido port with us - they made it there safe but “absolutely traumatized”.
PPS. MASSIVE props to @greigmatt for ballin' out and renting out this sick villa and private pool for us to cool our jets at on our last actual day in El Nido. It was a rather rough couple of days but there was no better way to finish our time on the island, than to have a chill day at our own pool with music blaring, drinks in hand and some wildly great company.