Are you going through the same frustration as we went through with accessing the waters of the Philippines? Or are you simply researching before setting out to the Philippines? We did plenty of research before leaving but apparently we only read what we wanted to read… crystal clear accessible ocean. We watched countless YouTube videos showing the most beautiful waters teaming with fish .. the most gorgeous beaches with impressive karsts surrounding you. And in our readings, the term “island hopping” kept coming up over and over .. and we got excited .. so excited.
I’m going to clarify a few things for those in the same boat .. pun intended. Yes, the Philippines is packed with beaches and coral reefs. However, getting to them is very tightly controlled with tours. 10-25 people sandwiched on a boat being hand held from location to location .. joining up to 10 other boats doing the exact same thing… anchoring in the coral, destroying it .. littering in the sea, clouding it.. getting in the photographic shot, ruining the impression you had before paying that hefty airfare to get here. The term island hopping is not something you can literally do on your own, unless you are rich and can afford to rent or buy a boat. Island hopping is the activity of joining a large tour and being taken to a few islands in a day. You will be given your time limit at each place .. you will be fed .. you will be taken home at the end. If this sounds like fun to you, then book your flight now and quit reading this guide.
For the rest of us .. it’s brutal. We took the 2Go Ferry to Coron in great anticipation of coral reef heaven. After a few motorbike rentals to search the surroundings, we found no place to even sit on a beach without needing a boat. Coron town is surrounded by filthy water full of floating liter.. When you can get close to the water, you are either on concrete or in mangroves. There might be beaches you can access, but we didn’t find them. Taking a tour is the only way. So we did a tour .. it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t our thing.. and it was very expensive. So we packed up and took the Busco ferry to Elnido hoping things would improve.
That Busco ferry rocked by the way .. We slept the whole way and we were woken up to lunch halfway through.. in no time, you are in Elnido. This place is a step up from Coron town for sure. More shops and restaurants .. more walking space .. a slight beach going on .. bungalos offered .. beach front motels also. We are getting somewhere. We quickly realized that much of the water around town and even down the coast is the same green murky water.. obviously because of the waste running from the mainland directly into their sea. And the tours here were even more expensive than Coron… great.
But don’t despair, we found a gold mine. Elnido is annoying to walk around in .. those tricycles are everwhere .. and those scooter drivers who think they are cool riding 60 km/hour through crowds of people .. dangerous, loud and not what I signed up for. We left town just 5 minutes south to Corong Corong along the highway. There are many beach front hotels here .. budget and luxury.. We are staying at a place for 1500 pesos per night with breakfast included.. it’s like a mini resort and it’s right on the water. I type this seated on the second floor balcony staring at the back side of the karst that walls Elnido.
The water here is no good .. however, you can rent a kayak and make your way to paradise very easily. Kayaks rent for 500 pesos .. and restaurants will make you a little picnic meal for under 400 pesos .. rent some goggles and snorkel for another 200 pesos and you have yourself a perfect day. But where!!??
From Corong corong beach, you follow the north shore of the karsts and stick to it.. within 15 to 30 minutes you will reach a secluded beach that is always deserted. You can stop here and call it a day .. crystal clear snorkeling right out front, some shade under the trees, and a small beach to call your own. If you have more energy and want to perhaps be around a few more people, you can continue on past this beach to Papaya beach just around the corner in the next bay. Here you will be joined by a couple locals and a couple other adventurous travels who discovered the secret of renting the kayaks. The snorkeling is excellent with decent visibility… 8 out of 10 on the clarity scale. I saw my first white ray just yesterday .. amazing. Be prepared for a swarm of tour boats that will arrive in the late afternoon to take over this beach. Knowing this before it happens helps with the frustration you feel seeing them line the beach with their boats and loads of helpless tourists. If you come early enough you will have the beach relatively to yourself for quite a few hours before these people show up. There is a snack shack on this beach if you need to purchase basic food snacks. Don’t forget to take your garbage with you when you leave.
If you want a larger beach with more amenities, then continue past Papaya beach to 7 Commandos beach. Much larger and more people. Between the 3 beaches I have mentioned, you should be able to choose something that suits your needs. And with these choices, you shouldn’t need anything else from the Elnido area. Las Cabanas beach is ok .. murky water .. some fun waves to play in.. and some non adventurous travelers chilling out on the beach. We didn’t bother searching any further .. there was no need.
Moalboal, Cebu Island
After a couple weeks in Palawan, we took a flight to Cebu island to search for more snorkeling options. We took a bus out of Cebu city and headed to the west coast of the island. A little ways down the coast you will reach an area called Moalboal. You can rent yourself a scooter along the highway portion of this place and then take Panagsama road west to the coastal area. If you don’t rent a scooter, then be prepared to be at the mercy of the tricycle drivers to get around, which can get quite expensive.
In Moalboal we discovered 2 very good DIY snorkeling options. The first was at “White Beach” a bit north along the west coast. It’s a popular place and anyone can direct you on how to get there.. we took our scooter. White beach is a bare bones beach of shell like sand .. not the greatest beach, but the snorkeling was surprisingly very good. A short wade out from the shore and the sea urchins begin .. keep swimming and the corals will start to appear. If you keep swimming, you will eventually reach a beautiful cliff to hover above and follow. There are tons of fish here. We spent hours floating around with the Gopro. The water is very clear .. 7 out of 10 on the clarity scale. There is a bit of a current to fight .. but a very cheap, easy option.
Your second, and probably better options: In Moalboal town at the end of Panagsama road, where all the hotels and tourist are, there is the same cliff as White Beach just waiting for you offshore. There is one restaurant/hotel with this yellow gazebo type structure that sticks out into the ocean. Snorkeling just south of this thing will bring you great happiness. There is a very pleasant surprise waiting for you here .. a swarm of sardines. A real swarm .. I mean, like thousands .. maybe tens of thousands of sardines that will let you swim through them, around them, with them.. just beautiful. This was the largest school of fish we have ever swam with.. just an amazing experience! You may want to research about times of year that this occurs .. perhaps it’s all year, but maybe not. We were here during the month of December and they seemed to be hanging out at the cliff full time. There are plenty of other fish to see as well in these easily accessible waters. Snorkel gear is available to rent if you aren’t carrying your own. And for cheaper accommodations, head back east on Panagsama road to get a room rather than staying in the tourist area.
I hope this helps you on your quest for clear snorkeling waters in the Philippines. At first, we were very disappointed with our choice to visit the Philippines. The videos we watched were very deceiving and were probably made by local Filipino folks who perhaps haven’t traveled abroad very much, and are very content with their “Island Hopping” tours and such. But we persevered and found a couple great spots to get the job done. There are so many islands in the Philippines, so do some research before leaving.. some real research. We barely skimmed the surface … I’m sure there are way more spot to find out there.
We welcome you to please post any DIY spots you find in the Philippines. We want to return one day and we are always on the search for crystal clear waters.