El Nido's Tour A: Miniloc's Lagoons, Shimizu Island and 7 Commandos Beach

beach on Miniloc Island on the way to Secret Lagoon

Hidden lagoons with crystal-clear turquoise waters ringed by imposing karst formations have been the defining picture of El Nido for years now. Despite the increasing popularity of other destinations here, most people visit El Nido for island-hopping, and more specifically for touring the lagoons of Miniloc Island. We normally prefer to visit less-known sites but the beauty of El Nido and the allure of these lagoons were simply too irresistible.

Operators in El Nido offer 4 tours, named Tours A, B, C and D – each good for a whole day of island-hopping. If you only have a day in El Nido, you should get Tour A because that includes the remarkable lagoons of Miniloc, probably the most stunning scenery in all of the Bacuit archipelago. Also included is Shimizu (or Simizu) Island and the Seven Commandos Beach.

entrance to the Small Lagoon, Miniloc Island
The entrance to the Small Lagoon

Miniloc Island and the Lagoons

Like Tour C which we took on our second day in El Nido, our boat for Tour A left El Nido town a little after 9AM. Our first destination: the Small Lagoon in Miniloc. The view from our boat towards the entrance to the Small Lagoon was already impressive – crystalline turquoise waters back dropped by jagged limestone rock formations with clumps of verdant vegetation shooting out from among the rock crevices. But this is just where the boats park.

turquoise waters just outside the Small Lagoon
Crystalline turquoise waters outside the Small Lagoon

The entrance to the Small Lagoon is actually too small for any of the motorized outriggers to enter. We had to hop on brightly colored kayaks (available for P300 rent per kayak at the entrance) and paddle through a small opening among the karst formations to see the beauty of the lagoon inside. And what a beauty! The Small Lagoon is a pool of turquoise water so clear that the kayaks seem to float on air while hemmed in on all sides by towering karst cliffs rising straight out of the water. The only problem was we couldn't bring our camera inside without a dry bag – the same reason you won't see a lot of pictures of the Small Lagoon.

Small Lagoon kayaks for rent
Kayaks for rent at the Small Lagoon entrance

After our Small Lagoon adventure the boat crossed over to another side of Miniloc – passing by the Miniloc Island Resort along the way – and into a white sand beach framed by even taller karst formations. This is the entrance to the Secret Lagoon.

white sand beach at Miniloc Island that leads to the Secret Lagoon
Approaching a beach on Miniloc that leads to the Secret Lagoon

Again there was no way for our boat to enter this lagoon. We had to walk past the charming beach, wade through shallow waters, then walk into an opening large enough for just one person to enter at a time – and we had to sit sideways and haul ourselves into the tiny opening to get inside. Once inside the view is mystical with the waters of Secret Lagoon mostly ankle to foot-deep only and with the now-usual surrounding karst formations looming ominously over us. Individual Pacific swallows or swiftlets would dart in and out of the lagoon, attending to nests that they had built among the crevices in the rock – El Nido's name actually comes from the nests of these birds.

boats at the entrance to the Big Lagoon, Miniloc Island
At the entrance to the Big Lagoon: no go this time.

In between our Miniloc lagoon tours we did a detour to another island for lunch but right after lunch we were back at Miniloc for our final lagoon of the day – the Big Lagoon. On other days and during high tide boats can enter this lagoon and navigate inside the elongated and somewhat narrow waterway of white sand, jade-green and turquoise waters and towering limestone cliffs. We were actually looking forward to shooting both stills and videos of the Big Lagoon but on this day no motorized outrigger could enter inside. The water at the entrance to Big Lagoon was just too shallow at this time of the day. We would either have to swim or take a kayak inside. Already tired from paddling at the Small Lagoon – and suffering the comical experience of an overturned kayak there – we decided to skip the trip. Seeing a few kayaks overturn due to the strong waves also discouraged most from our boatload of tourists from proceeding further, although our life vests and alert boat crew would have kept us relatively safe.

tall karst formatiosn at Shimizu Island
Karst formations at Shimizu Island

Shimizu Island

In between our Secret Lagoon and Big Lagoon visits it was time for lunch, so our boat crew took us on a detour to Shimizu Island, a small gem of an island just south of Miniloc. This island is a frequent lunch stopover for boats doing Tour A and as a result we found ourselves sharing the beach with several other tour boats.

rock formations at Shimizu Island beach
Interesting rock formations on Shimizu Island's white sand beach

One thing really nice about El Nido is that during our stopovers, as our boatmen cooked our lunch on board, we were given time to snorkel around the place where we would soon be having lunch. It turns out that Shimizu Island is one of the best places to snorkel in El Nido. This time however, we had so much fun shooting pictures of Shimizu's white sand beach, interesting rock formations, parked outriggers and tourists chilling that we forgot about snorkeling. Soon it was time for lunch under the shade of the huge rocks on another sunny noon.

deserted beach on Shimizu Island
After the lunch stopover: all of the tour boats have gone

We were somewhat intrigued by Shimizu's, what with all the other islands having local-sounding names. We later found out that a Japanese diver who enjoyed the marine life in these islands had unfortunately lost his life while exploring an underwater cave here. This island was named in memory of him.

parked motorized outrigger on Shimizu Island
Shimizu Island is the usual lunch stopover for Tour A

7 Commandos Beach

We're not quite exactly sure how it got its name so we'll just leave it at that. But if the origin of its name is a mystery, the reason why it got included on this tour wasn't a question for us. The last stop of Tour A before heading back to El Nido town, the Seven Commandos Beach looks attractive even from afar. The wide expanse of creamy-white sand beach, the impressively tall karst cliffs, the dense tropical jungle behind the beach and verdant coconut palms are reasons enough for including this in Tour A.

Seven Commandos Beach
Seven Commandos Beach

Seven Commandos beach actually lies on the El Nido mainland, unlike the other tour destinations, practically all of which are islands in Bacuit Bay. It is supposed to be privately-owned but there are no entrance fees here and the cottages on the beach are actually rent-free. There is a refreshments store here serving snacks and drinks. This was a welcome stopover after a sunny day and we were soon gorging on tall glasses of cool halo-halo. Other beach combers were lazing away the last minutes of Tour A in the refreshing waters of the beach or tanning themselves on the sand. Soon we would be hauling off back into our boat and into the port at El Nido town as a low sun began casting its golden rays across our path.

beach bummers at 7 Commandos Beach
Beach bummers chilling at 7 Commandos after their Bacuit Bay island-hopping

How to Get There

Tour operators in El Nido proper offer the same island-hopping tour itineraries, packaged as Tours A, B, C and D. The tours normally leave town at 9AM and finish anytime from 4 to 5PM. Tour A costs P1000 to 1200 per person and includes lunch buffet, snorkels and masks and life vests. The boat crew will assist people, especially those with no or limited swimming skills.

outriggers at the edge of Seven Commandos Beach

If you are on a tight schedule you can go for the Combo Tours – tours that combine 2 of the packages such as Tours A and B, Tours A and C and Tours C and D. While you can certainly see more with the Combo Tours, you will have less time to appreciate each destination. You also need to shell out P200 per person for the eco-tourism development fee. This fee is good for 10 days.

Our resort at Corong Corong – Desert Rose Hotel – offered to include the boat tours in their package and priced their Tour A at P1,000 per person. It seems that other hotels and resorts are doing the same.

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