So you still have another day or two left in the little city of Puerto Princesa, you’ve seen the Underground River, and going to the mall just doesn’t sound that exciting… Well then try an Island Hopping Tour in Honda Bay! Now like with any other tour you get what you pay for and it can all be set up by your hotel or even the tricycle drivers. As usual, the van will come to your hotel to get you so it’s very convenient. I think I paid around 1,200 pisos and of course this includes lunch, but not snorkeling gear. You will pay about 200 for that when they take you to the dive shop to rent it.
The van showed up around 9am and the drive to the harbor was about 15 to 20 minutes. The boat was the typical banca boat and the group was made up of mostly Filipinos on vacation. I am guessing that not many tourists really spend a lot of time in Puerto Princesa. While I will say the islands were beautiful and the water clear and blue, it wasn’t as stunning as what you’ll see in El Nido. Just my opinion though and the weather was a bit cloudy and chilly as well. Also, something to keep in mind, the Palawan coast was often covered in a marine layer in the mornings, which generally cleared up by around noon. So if you have cloudy weather, there’s a chance it’ll be sunny in a few hours.
OK so off we go! We passed a few islands and I found out that the tour actually starts at the furthest one away. This was nice because toward the end of the tour we didn’t have to go far to get back to the harbor. There are three islands on the tour. All of them had some nice beaches, but the reefs weren’t the most interesting. What I liked about the islands though was that they were all so different from each other with a lot to see.
Island #1: Starfish Island
I was initially disappointed in Starfish Island because the water seemed murky and I didn’t really see any starfish. Another weird thing was the creepy tourist vibe I was getting from the decorations on the island. There were some very strange statues that for the life of me I couldn’t understand why they were there.
With the water being kind of chilly at this time of day, I mostly just wandered and looked around. The island was covered in huts and structures for groups of people to gather or eat. Our group claimed a gazebo so we could put our stuff somewhere and the tour guides watched it for us, which was nice.
The last thing I noticed about this island was that food and drink were on hand. There was even a booth with fresh seafood that they would cook for you right on the spot. I had a free buffet waiting for me later though, so I didn’t try anything. Just had a few San Miguels.
We spent about an hour there and then we were off to the next island!
Island #2: Luli Island
I liked Luli Island a bit more. One thing I noticed right away was that there was almost nothing on the island. No trees, not many structures, and it was just flat sand stretching from end to end. Later I found out that Luli Island becomes submerged and then ‘rises’ again from the sea. The name Luli is actually derived from this.
The weather was getting warmer and the water at Luli Island was a bit more clear so I went snorkeling. There wasn’t much of a reef, but the fish were colorful and very bold. I think one actually bit me! Also on offer was a diving board attached to a structure in the water. Mostly the water was shallow, but got much deeper the further out.
Once again, we spent about an hour here and then headed off to the last island.
Island #3: Cowrie Island
Cowrie Island is named for the little gastropod creatures that live in the waters around it, which I didn’t see because it was getting a bit chilly again. The main point of this island is the pavilion/restaurant where they have the buffet. Many of the groups were gathered here already to eat, but the food was plentiful and delicious! The staff was friendly and kept everything running smoothly. Overall, I was very happy with my experience on this island.
Also on offer were massage huts, a trendy outdoor bar, and a lot of gazebos to hang out in. At one point they even set up a volleyball net and people played a few games. I spent most of the time wandering and chatting with a nice couple from another area of the Philippines on vacation.
We spent a little more time on this island than the others. I am guessing we were there about two or three hours, which was the perfect amount of time. I thought about getting a message, but I wasn’t sure about how much time I had. I wound up having my first pina colada of the trip, which had a much stronger pineapple taste than I’m accustomed to. I pretty much became an unofficial pina colada taste tester for the rest of the trip.
The tour had promised we’d be back by 3pm and so around 2:30 we got on the boat to head back. Once on the boat, the crew gave us some little handicrafts made of folded palm leaves. It was a nice touch and they were very lovely. Couples got ones in the shape of a heart and I being single, got a small bird on a string, which might be implying something? It was cute, but didn’t survive the rest of the trip 😦
Overall, the Island Hopping Tour was a nice way to spend a day. It didn’t feel rushed and the islands were close enough to enjoy the boat trip without feeling worn out from traveling. This was a good thing because in a few hours I would be on the notoriously dangerous road to El Nido in a van driven by a maniac.