Once I discovered the Tao Expedition, I knew it was an adventure I really wanted to experience. I enthusiastically booked the trip and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded already high expectations.
You can choose between two routes depending on what best fits your travel route through the Philippines. You can sail from El Nido to Coron, or Coron to El Nido. It’s approximately 150 miles each way. I did the latter direction, flying from Manila to Busuanga Island the day before we would leave from the pier in Coron Town.
A short 45-minute van ride from the Busuanga airport got me to Coron Town. I didn’t have a room reserved but Coron is smaller than El Nido so walking around to find a place isn’t difficult. I visited two hostels before finding vacancy at the third. There was a pre-departure meeting at the Tao office that afternoon so I took a quick nap before making my way to meet those who I would be spending the next five days with. I knew it was a full boat because I had been told that I was the last one to reserve my spot when I booked three weeks before.
THE TAO TRIP
Basically it’s five days of visiting remote islands with pristine coral reefs and empty white sand beaches lined with coconut palms. Fresh seafood and tropical fruit for just about every meal, sleeping under the stars in comfortable beach huts, and sharing laughs and plenty of rum-infused jungle juice with like-minded travelers from all over the world.
Our beach camp on the first night was situated adjacent to a small fishing village on a small sandbar. Our tents were so close to the water that if there had been a typhoon, we would have been totally washed away. But luckily the weather was perfect. That night we went night swimming and were treated to magical phosphorescent plankton that glowed in the dark when you agitated the water with your arms or legs. Above was a sky full of stars while the air was warm and free of bugs.
The next day, after a terrific breakfast highlighted by cinnamon banana fritters and great coffee, we set out for our next beach camp. At these stops, which had the benefit of breaking up any long sailing distances, there was easily the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. Not only was the water was crystal clear, but being away from civilization meant the coral reefs were both healthy and extensive, and the fish were just as plentiful. One of my hopes for my time in the Philippines was to see clown fish living in their natural environment and I ended up seeing so many that they almost seemed common.
Our second beach camp was memorable for the karaoke party that night. I won’t lie, I normally feel extremely uncomfortable singing but had a great time regardless. The karaoke really seemed to bring our group closer together and for the next three days it felt like everyone had known each other far longer than was actually the case. By the end of the night, I even attempted to sing a song in tagalog with one of the crew members.
The eight-person crew deserves a lot of credit for setting the tone on this trip. Sometimes it felt like they were having more fun than the travelers. It made relaxing and enjoying oneself super easy and natural. At the same time, they made sure everyone was being safe and nobody got hurt the entire trip despite a constant possibility of doing so. Sunburn and a couple minor scrapes turned out to be the only real damage done. Impressive considering there were 22 foreigners on a boat, out of their element and drinking alcohol liberally.
Day 3 and Day 4 were much of the same. Beautiful scenery, delicious meals, bonding with new friends, and first-class beach camps. “First Class” is a relative term. Each of the beach camps reminded me of paradise. We had these places to ourselves. But understand that they were rustic. No running water and only one of the camps had electrical outlets to recharge cell phones or cameras.
DOES IT HAVE TO END?
The final night we roasted a pig on the beach that we had slaughtered earlier that day on the boat, another exciting – but bloody – moment that added to the “expedition” ideal. We visited a couple spots on the final day near El Nido that many of the day trips also reach. Seeing a bunch of people at these places wasn’t nearly as enjoyable after having the island hopping experience all to ourselves.
As we docked in El Nido late that afternoon, our crew leader Jem gave a heart-felt farewell saying that at Tao, “we don’t say good-bye, only see you next time.”
HOW TO DO THE TRIP YOURSELF
Here’s a description of the Tao Expedition from the company’s website where you can book directly with them:
In 2006 Tao began taking handfuls of travelers to explore the remote islands and experience island life hosted by local families. The trips didn’t need advertising, news of these extraordinary expeditions spread fast through word of mouth. Over the years we have been through a lot with the islanders. We grew stronger as a community, working together to keep on improving as a sustainable micro-economy offering a unique journey to experience the raw beauty of life in the Philippines’ last frontier. The highest concentration of islands in the Philippines are in Northern Palawan, with Bacuit Bay, Linapacan group, Culion and Busuanga. A paradise archipelago of more than 500 islands. Our 200 km journey explores coves, bays and group of islands between El Nido and Coron.