Philippines – Enjoying Island Life with TAO
Sunshine, perfect beaches, snorkeling and a bottle of rum, the perfect ingredients for an amazing island adventure! With TAO Philippines we went back to basics as we explored the islands between Coron and El Nido. It turned out to be one of the best travel experiences we’ve ever had, nothing short of incredible!
The day before the start of our five-day-expedition we had a meeting at the TAO office and received some unsettling news. The previous day, the tour got cancelled due to a gale-warning and we wouldn’t know till the next morning if we would actually be going. They even made us fill out a form with phone-numbers in case it wouldn’t go through…Luckily they had some “Jungle Juice” (A local cocktail of rum and pineapple juice) to ease our increasingly tense brains. We chatted with our fellow expedition-members and couldn’t be happier about the amazing individuals that were joining us.
Worried that we wouldn’t be going at all, we had a very short nights’ rest before we got the liberating text message: It’s on!
To optimize the experience, there are never more than 24 explorers and ten crew aboard. Our group was mostly made up of European travelers with four exceptions (three Americans and one hospitable Filipino). All exceptional people!
We were super happy with each and every amazing crew member. Leader of the pack, Dodo master of all traits, took excellent care of the group and stood for a great time! The friendly captain, mechanics and boatmen took care of everything on the boat so that we could relax to the fullest. In the tiny kitchen Dong prepared our meals to perfection. He carefully prepared every meal with fresh ingredients and the fish was exceptional!
The TAO experience begins…
We took a tricycle to the harbor and boarded the TAO-boat with the rest of the group. The light-colored boat has an open design which creates lots of space to wander around. In the back was Dong’s small kitchen and in the front the main eating area with a large wooden table. Up-top was lots of space (later dubbed “pleasure-palace”) to lie down and relax.
After a short introduction by Dodo and the crew we sailed out of the harbor in a southern direction to our first stop of the day. The first stop couldn’t have been more amazing as we explored a Japanese gunship wreck in the shallow waters off the nearby Lusong Island. The sixty meter long vessel was sunk in WW2 by American bombers and only lies a meter deep at the front end.
We hopped back aboard and sailed to the other side of the island to see the colorful coral garden. We saw so much healthy coral, colorful fish that we could have stayed there for hours. We were also greeted by a small curious turtle who sat on a large piece of coral before slowly descending into the deep.
Before going to base camp we made a quick stop at the beach of Patsy Island to enjoy the sunshine and its white-sand beach.
At nearby Ngey-Ngey Island, Tao’s latest and largest base camp, we had our first night. On our arrival we found out that we weren’t the only ones that were impacted by the gale-warning. One group was stuck on the island for three days, while another couldn’t move to the next island, meaning we had three expedition groups on the same island at the same time! As we were the last to arrive we got improvised sleeping arrangements. In the evening we had dinner with the other groups and gazed at the stars with a bottle of rum.
Day two: Crossing the strait
We woke up early the following day to a rising sun and had breakfast on the boat. We sailed for several hours while fishing from the back of the boat. We didn’t catch a thing but we did have a great time with beer and good company!
We made a stop at Kuring Village, to resupply and hang out with the happy-kids of the town. The kids loved taking photos and had piggyback rides from everybody on board. As we said goodbye to the kids we hopped back on board to continue our long journey across the rough strait. Six hours later we celebrated our arrival at Guinto Island with some jungle juice before being assigned to our sleeping quarters. This time we all got our private TAO-style hut, overlooking the turquoise sea and a setting sun. Just perfect! We put our dry bags at the hut and collected firewood at the beach for an evening bonfire. We had an amazing dinner lit by improvised candles and had several drinks with the group. On the dimly lit beach, you can see glowing plankton as the waves break and as you kick the wave the water lights up like a Christmas tree!
Day three: Snorkeling through tropical paradise
At the long wooden table on the beach we had breakfast before saying goodbye to the camp. Our first stop of the day was Kala-Kala Island, with a stunning reef lying just off the shore. Lots of colorful coral in all shapes and sizes made it one of the best snorkeling spots everrr! Most went ashore at Cobra Island, but instead Anna-Lena, I and some others hung on the boat, doing some fishing and cooking. We had an amazing calamari lunch before we set out.
We continued our journey to the TAO farm on the tip of the Palawan Island. It is THE place where TAO gets most of their fresh ingredients from and where locals are being taught and given opportunities to sell items. Tao is all about community upliftment and minimizing the impact on the environment. We had a fresh-water shower with coconut-shampoo with the group and had a tour of the farm before going back to the boat.
Our base camp at Daracuton Island looked like something from a postcard. Elevated-huts on a white sandy beach, turquoise water, a small cargo wreck close to shore, a nearby village, and a full bar… just prefect! Before dinner we looked at the sun set over the hills and enjoyed the best massage ever! Glaring at the stars while being massaged on a perfect beach is something that is going to stick with me for a long time! We had an amazing dinner in the main hut and in the evening we drunk til the early hours, gazing at the stars and kicking the waves.
Day four: The perfect beach & overnight in the Jungle Camp
After another early start, we explored the cargo wreckage in front of the camp and made our way to Nacpan Beach. One of the most beautiful long beaches on the planet. Four kilometer of picture-perfect white sand lined with coconut trees. As we swam ashore we surfed the waves to reach the beach. We played in the waves and enjoyed everything the beach had to offer. Dodo went up a 10m high coconut tree and got us some amazing fresh coconuts. It’s incredible how he makes climbing up and down look so effortless. We made our way to Cadlao Island for some amazing snorkeling. More amazing reefs, fish and sunshine!
We then headed for our base camp on Tapiutan Island. Such an amazing place among the limestone cliffs. It is so secluded that you can barely see the entrance. As you swim in, you come across coral and a friendly turtle. The small but beautiful beach is just breathtaking and could (should!) be on a postcard. Huts line along the trees with a big table at the center for dinner. This jungle camp is very different from the last one, but definitely one of my favorites! As it was our last night, we made a final party, and spent the evening drinking with the group. Hamish, arranged a Whisky tasting and Dave pulled out a Jägermeister bottle to add to our range of spirits. We spent the evening laughing and enjoying chatting to our fellow explorers.
Day five: All good things come to an end…
We woke up early as usual, but this time with quite the hangover. Luckily for us Dodo had the perfect hangover-cure; rice porridge with banana curd and fruit-salad in a coconut! Best breakfast everrr! Before we left I stared at the perfect beach, and how the crystal clear water made the place look amazing. With sadness we said goodbye to our incredible accommodation and set sail. We pulled up to the Big-Lagoon near El Nido. We were awaited by kayaks to explore the lagoon and its pristine waters. We had Dodo in our Kayak to show us the secret passages and gazed at the huge cliffs. The water is so clear, that it feels like staring into an aquarium. Stunning! Afterwards we had our last lunch before going to our last stop of the tour… Hidden among the limestone cliffs is a cave entrance you have to crawl through over life-jackets to prevent yourself from being cut by sharp rocks. Inside there is natural light from above adding to the “caving experience”.
We sat on the beach for a bit before getting back on the boat. Dodo blew the horn for the last time before we headed for the port of El Nido.
Not accepting that the expedition was really over we agreed to meet at a restaurant in town to have dinner and said our goodbyes to our fellow explorers and friends.
This expedition is really the best way to hop the islands and sleep under the stars. We had such an amazing adventure with so many lovely people I am sure I will think back to this one for a long time.