6 Days Sailing In Northern Palawan With Tao Philippines

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Sailing from Coron to El Nido, Palawan

The Philippines is made up of over 7640 islands with only around 2000 that are  inhabited.  Offering visits to indigenous communities, the chance to see unique animals, some stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites and all the white sand beaches you could find, it can be hard to prioritize things to see and do in the Philippines. Regardless of what else you choose to do, spending a week sailing remote Palawan with Tao Philippines is something you definitely shouldn’t miss.

About Tao Philippines And The Expedition Trip

I found Tao searching for unique adventures to finish our month-long Philippine trip. I had learned that a visit to remote northern Palawan was a must do for ocean lovers like myself, however I had no idea just how big of an impression sailing the remote coastline and islands from Coron to El Nido would leave.  

Tao Philippines offers a range of trips from 3 day Banka adventures through to week long expeditions which split your time between a Banka, a commonly found motorized Filipino boat, and Tao’s traditional Paraw. The trips wander through the limestone cliffs of the northern islands around Coron south to the white sand beaches that start to appear the closer you get to El Nido. 

Days are spent sailing, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking in and around stunning bays, beautiful reefs and uninhabited islands. Evenings sees the boat anchor up in a new bay where you swim or are shuttled to shore to spend the night in your grass hut or cabin. The accommodations are basic, however waking up to a sunrise you can see from your bed is worth the time spent without those little luxuries you really don’t need. 

The Rosa Butana, Tao Philippines Expedition Yacht
The Rosa Butana, Tao Philippines Expedition Yacht

Which Direction Should You Choose?

Tao does trips both ways Coron to El Nido and vice versa however while either way would be amazing, starting in Coron was for us, the best way to go.

Coron is small, there are little restaurants and bars and Brad could eat meat sticks on the road, so a great place to start. When I asked Tao if one way was better than the other their response was

  • Starting in Coron and heading south, the snorkling is fantastic but lessens as you move south. However the beaches get better the closer you get to El Nido and obviously it works in reverse.

I would do the Southerly direction again. When you first get on the boat you are so excited and are rushing off to snorkel everywhere, and take part in every thing that is happening, however as you move on you relax and the beaches to finish is a nice touch.

Coron is supposed to be some of the best diving in the world however none of us are real divers. I’ve had a collapsed lung so can’t dive any longer, Brad has his ticket but almost never uses it and Noah did his first ever dive when we were in Moalboal so I hadn’t booked any real time in Coron. We arrived only the day before the trip started and that was enough for sure. Coron is a cool little town and while its there for the diving, it is only small still which was a great way to start the trip.

Snorkelers and fisherman in northern Palawan.
Snorkelers and fisherman in northern Palawan.

Which Tao Trip Should You Choose for your Palawan sailing adventure?

Sadly Tao no longer offer the longer 6 day Paraw trips however, you can still do their 6 day expeditions which are now a combination of a 3 day Banka trip and then 3 days on the Paraw.

The 6 day 5 night trip includes:

  • 3 days sailing on the Paraw
  • 3 days sailing on one of the Banka (which order depends on which direction you choose)
  • 5 nights accommodation at Tao’s camps
  • Freshly prepared meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks)
  • Beverages (water, coffee, tea)
  • Kayaks and snorkels (no fins)

You can make your choice of a Coron to El Nido trip or the reverse. I would recommend going from Coron to El Nido. The best snorkeling and reefs are closer to Coron, but you start getting the white sand beaches as you get close to El Nido. 

Personally I found that by the time we started seeing the beaches I was really relaxed and ready for some time on the sand. 

If you aren’t a regular snorkeller you might choose the opposite direction as this will allow you to get more comfortable in the water before you get to the best reefs. 
These 6 day trips start at $585 USD in the low season, up to $695 USD in peak season and you can find more info on Tao’s website.

Alternatives To The Six Day Trip

If you don’t have that much time, you can do a 3 day Paraw sail from and back to El Nido. Unlike a lot of other tours, it is 3 full days. You meet the evening before the first day and then spend a full 3 days sailing around Bacuit & Daracuton bay, spending 2 nights at Tao’s camps.

These shorter trips start from $435 USD in the low season to $495 USD in the peak season. 

You can share the boat with up to 24 guests, and while that seems high, the boat and the crew handle it very well. You don’t sleep on the boat so the only real competition you see is some of the younger guests sprinting to get the best huts for each overnight stay. There is no bad hut in my opinion, so don’t feel like you have to get in on that but a few of the couples on our trip had fun with that every night. We even started them off by marking lines on the sand and counting them down. 

Brad sitting on the bow of the Paraw on Tao Sailing trip.
Brad sitting on the bow of the Paraw on Tao Sailing trip.

I personally didn’t feel the need for such a wanton burst of energy at the end of the day, and on at least one occasion we ended up with the best hut simply because we got the hut that nobody actually saw! Sometimes being older and wiser really pays off. 

The boat can have 6-10 crew but they are such a delightful team that it’s hard to imagine that there are 10 in your support team. 

The crew are well versed in learning very quickly what sort of guest you are and will act accordingly. The second day one of the boys walking past just randomly pushed me off the bow of the boat. While I did let out a little yelp, it was great fun and it was instantly clear that he knew that he could act that way with me, but probably wouldn’t do that to some of the other guests. 

The crew very much adapt to who you are and what you want from the trip so everyone finds them to be perfectly accommodating to your own personal style. Brad and the crew were getting so competitive with somersaults and jumps off the bow that I was a little concerned that I might have to intervene. I never had to because they laughingly put a stop to it after half an hour telling Brad he was too old to keep going. They all had a good laugh, and Brad came back and admitted that they were probably right. 

The limestone cliffs of Northern Palawan
The limestone cliffs of Northern Palawan

About Tao’s Paraw

While Tao offers a variety of trips, we did the week long Expedition from Coron to El Nido. This trip is done with the Paraw “Rosa Busana”. A Paraw (say parah) is a traditional Filipino sailing boat and was built by Tao under the guidance of Gener (say Hen-air) our captain. The Paraw are the vessels that were used by the Filipinos before the Bankas that you see everywhere today were introduced. At the time the Rosa Busana was built, to the best of their knowledge there hadn’t been a Paraw constructed in the Philippines for over 100 years. 

The Rosa Busana is a 72 foot long timber constructed sailing vessel. Her decks are woven from palm fronds and her timber adorned with beautiful local carvings. She is Gener’s pride and joy and you can see why. 

A Typical Day Sailing Northern Palawan

The forest noises and birds typically wake you not long after sunrise and a walk along the sand or a swim puts you in the mood for the first of your incredible meals for the day. 

After breakfast you will head back to the boat, settle yourself onto the beautifully cool deck and just relax while you sail out into the islands and your next port of call is decided. You will find yourself snorkeling amazing reefs, swimming in jellyfish bays, stalking sting rays in the shallow sands and lazing on beaches as you move south. 

The boat stops multiple times a day with the captain choosing the best locations based on the weather and wind. Your involvement is minimal. Sitting on the bow absorbing the scenery or laying on the deck reading your book – the choice is entirely yours. 

Sailing Palawan is hassle free with this amazing trip. You get the perfect combination of time to relax and heaps to do and experience.

Kayaking and snorkelling off northern Palawan
Kayaking and snorkelling off northern Palawan

The Tao Crew

Whether they are encouraging you to do a backflip off the bow, or laughing at you capsizing one of the kayaks, their joy at being there is reflected in how well the boat runs. During our trip we had to haul on a new beam that was going to be the replacement mast and midway through their manual rope pull they had to stop because Bong got the giggles and then they were all laughing heartily. Who knows at what (I don’t think I capsized a kayak that day?) but their joy reflects heartily through their work. 

While the crew all help with everything on the boat as needed, there are some who are trained on the farm especially as cooks for the vessels. Under the watchful eye of “Mama Chef” they spend a few months on the farm learning all the skills they will need in the limited space they have on the boats. After her approval, they start their crew life as cooks and never look back. 

Bong, a crew member hauling in a new beam on the boat.
Bong, a crew member hauling in a new beam on the boat.

Our tour of Tao’s farm was a great way to see the commitment Tao has to the local community and to the ecology of the area, however, Jack’s description of his crew has stayed with me. We were complimenting him on the amazing team that ran the Rosa Butana and his simple reply really described everything that they were. His statement was something like “you would think this is their first trip and you are their first guests”.

This described the entire crew perfectly. Nothing is too much trouble and while they are always joking and laughing around between themselves, they will readily include you in their latest round of mischief. You never feel excluded simply because of a language difference. 

They are also keen to show their skills on shore and I have to admit that despite two nephews who both play and are both over 6” tall, we had our butts handed to us on one of the local basketball courts. I don’t want to think that my involvement might have contributed to that, but honestly I realize it probably did!

The Food On The Boat

Breakfast usually consists of some wonderfully fresh local fruit, pancakes or homemade breads and of course rice.  Rice is commonly referred to as “Filipino Power” by the crew and it is served with every meal. 

Morning or afternoon tea could be anything from sweet biscuits to caramelized bananas. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten one of Tobo’s caramelized bananas. 

Lunch is often amazing vegetable salads with seafood sensations like squid cooked in its own ink, and dinner is similar, usually accompanied by fresh seafood caught that day with, you guessed it, rice!

The Camps Where You Sleep Each Night

You sleep in a different location every night and the camps can’t really be compared. Some are large open dorm style rooms with screened off beds where you all sleep together. Some are thatched huts scattered about the beach and some are huts nestled into the mountainside. They are all different but all have decent bedding, insect screens around your bed and are cool enough to sleep even in the Philippine summer. 

Some of the camps have power, but some don’t. A few have cold showers which can be considerably colder than you think water in the Philippines can be! There are toilets that range from pit toilets to more substantial affairs but ALL of the camps are with stones throw of the sand. Waking up to the sound of the ocean is something that isn’t hard to get used to. 

A campsite you stay at on Tao Philippines northern Palawan sailing trip
A campsite you stay at on Tao Philippines northern Palawan sailing trip

About Tao’s Sustainability Principles

Tao started with two friends, Jack and Eddie who met in university in the UK. They came to Palawan, found an old Banka which they bought on their limited budget, fixed her up and spent three months sailing around northern Palawan. By the end of their trip they were constantly talking about how to make this type of trip available to other like minded travelers. Their talk turned to action and Tao Philippines was born.

Tao in Tagalog (the Filipino language) means human and in my opinion, a more fitting name would be difficult to find. From the very start of their enterprise Tao has created and implemented enviable principles into their every day operations. Principles that are based around supporting the local people and protecting the environment they operate in. 

Tao have their own place on the islands which is referred to as “the farm” and it’s from here that so much of the supplies that feed you over the duration of your trip are grown. The fresh fruits and vegetables are accompanied by seafood caught off the boat either on hand lines or dived for by the crew. Sustainability is at the forefront of their entire operation. 

The farm also grows pigs, coconuts and even has a worm farm that is fed by the toilet paper that comes off the boats. Tao has involved the local community heavily in their processes which has enabled the local communities to thrive. Piglets are given to local farmers to grow and are then purchased back by the farm when fully grown. This gives those farmers who have some land a reliable income all year around. 

The campsite at Tao Farm, northern Palawan.
The campsite at Tao Farm, northern Palawan.

Coconut is processed manually by the local women into hand cream and hair products and is sold to guests when they visit the farm. Tao has also created a foundation from which they run these operations. Tao sell the coconuts to the foundation at a very reasonable price, the foundation then teaches a few local women to process the fruit into the lotions and creams they sell. 

Once the foundation has a good supply, Tao buys the end products off the foundation and sells them from the farm. They also control supply and demand so that there are never too many items produced. It’s a super smart system and I am sure by now they have ventured into other lines as well. 

The added benefit is that while the creators make a decent living, Tao are very careful not to encourage such a large production that the traditional skills are lost. Everything is still handmade or if a mechanical item is involved it is what has always been traditionally used. The women don’t earn enough to purchase an electric compactor for example. They still have to process the oil from the coconut by hand. 

Most of all though, Tao’s amazing crews are sourced from the young local people, their interview consisting of a brief chat, a coconut tree and a flag at the top that has to be retrieved. Thank goodness I’m never going to interview!

Getting to and From Coron or El Nido

If you are leaving from Coron, it is best to fly, especially if you are coming from Manila. While there are ferry’s that do the Manila to Coron route they aren’t the most reliable. If you choose to do the ferry make sure you have at least 48 hours between your ferry arrival time and your pre-departure meeting with Tao. We were going to do the ferry but on advice from a local we flew instead. Those who took the ferry missed the pre-departure meeting completely and just made the boat. 

Coron airport is called Busuanga Airport and most of the Philippine airlines fly into Coron. From Manila there are daily flights with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Sunlight Air. 

The airport is around 45 mins from the center of town, however there are shuttles running frequently and they are currently priced at 150 PHP per person for the trip. 

If you are coming from El Nido to Coron there are flights once per day with Air Swift but they fill up quickly so you will need to book early.

Kayaking with Momo the yacht dog!
Kayaking with Momo the yacht dog!

Getting to Puerto Princesa From El Nido

If you end in El Nido, buses south to Puerto Princesa run multiple times per day. Cherry Bus offers 3 different levels of service, Standard Non AC, Regular & Elite. Their buses do range in comfort level, however check the description to see if they have bathrooms. Bathrooms are called comfort rooms in the Philippines and often have just “CR” on the door. Check that the bus you are booking says “w/CR” or be prepared for at least 3 hours in between restrooms.  They do stop but only once between El Nido and Puerto Princesa. 

Seats on Cherry Bus are 650 PHP for the El Nido to Puerto Princesa trip. 

The buses take around 6 hours and there is also a minivan option that takes about 45 mins less than that. If you have a few people, a mini van would be the best option as you can ask for more comfort stops if you need them. The best place to pre-book a minivan is the Philippines BusTerminal website. 

Sailing with Tao Around the Palawan Archipelago: Is this the best Philippines sailing trip?

After 5 days in the islands in the company of the amazing crew and having learnt of Tao’s incredible philosophies and principles, we get to El Nido and you have to get off. No one wants to though. Literally – I’m not kidding.

The boys unload the kayaks and bring the first one round to the outrigger and no-one moves. The crew yell out that we need 3 people on this one. Still no-one moves. ​That my friends is the sign that it wasn’t just me that felt so moved by this trip. It was everyone on the boat.

While the style of the trip is considered grass roots, the experience is far from it. Being able to see the very best that this stunning location has to offer with a company that is so invested in the local community is quite unique. Priced well and available to all guests over 14, I cannot recommend Tao Philippines Expedition highly enough. I rarely repeat adventures but both Brad and I talk about not if, but when we head back to Palawan to again sail with Tao. 

Thank you Tao – we will be back. There is no doubt in my mind.

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Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She’s always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.