Island Hopping in Coron: how to plan a once in a lifetime trip

Island hopping in Coron is one of the most magical experiences you can have in South-East Asia. We were fully expecting our Palawan highlight to be El Nido but Coron just blew us away. Within an hour and a half, you’ll find coral gardens, epic lakes to swim in, dazzlingly white sand beaches (including our fave in Palawan) and paradise islands where the only thing to do is swing in a hammock or swim in the sea.

What makes this even better is that we know how to avoid the crowds and have that Robinson Crusoe experience. Read on to hear not only where to go, but also how to achieve the real bucket list experience of having a stunning paradise island to yourself (well, for a couple of hours!).

How to oragnise your island hopping trip

Public Tour - know the risks

Public tours in Coron are by far your cheapest option. They are ten a penny in Coron with almost all hotels and tour agents across town selling them. They don’t have the uniform “Tour A, B, C and D” of El Nido but they do tend to go to the same places.

The tours are the best option for a traveller on a really tight budget as your entrance fees, food and boat are all included for a price between 900 - 1,500 pesos (approx US $17 to 29), depending on which route you choose to take.

However, you will have no control of your itinerary and be herded around in a group. Although naturally this is the most social way of island hopping in Coron, unless you put your own group together. The tours seem to follow exactly the same route as each other, arriving at the same places at the same time. You’ll also have a tiny spot on a wooden bench on the boat and be given short time slots at each place.

If you want to just tick off places to see in Coron on the cheap - and don’t mind having hundreds of people around you - then the tours are you best option. We don’t mean to sound down on them, I’m sure they are loads of fun but for us we prefer to travel independently where possible.

If you’re on this website, it’s probably because you too want to have these incredible places to yourself. You can do this by organising a private tour.

Read next: the stunning Tumalog Falls in Cebu and Island Hopping El Nido: avoid the crowds with a private tour

Private Tours - Complete Control

It may cost a bit more and take a lot more organisation, but you’ve worked hard enough to get to Coron, why not make it that once in a lifetime experience?

The only way to get space, control and those pinch yourself moments is by hiring your own boat for the day.

Where to go

Skip the tour agents as most of them don’t have a clue about private tours. We went to four who all had wildly varying prices and three of those said that private tours were fully booked.

The great news is that you can organise your private tour at almost any time of day as the people you’ll need to speak to live on their boats. The key is to head down to the CTBA Boat Pier that is also known as the loading dock (located on the map below). Within seconds of getting to the water you’ll have a boat operator come up to you and start asking what you are looking for.

These guys are the experts and will be able to organise virtually anything you want. After struggling with the tour agents, these guys had a lot of knowledge about what to do and the best ways to do it. After talking to the agents in town we were despairing of getting the experience we were looking for in Coron and it was such a relief to cut out the middle men and speak directly to the boat crew.

Read more: Adventure at Aguinid Falls in Cebu

What to say when organising a private boat tour in Coron

Ask for a private tour “boat only”. This will immediately remove expensive add ons like food, gear (assuming you have your own snorkel, if not buy one in town first, you’ll need it again in El Nido) and other stuff which are a lot more and you can organise yourself for a fraction of the cost yourself.

This won’t include the entrance fees which add up quite quickly as well. In fact they almost double the price so do bear that in mind.

The other thing to stress is you want to avoid the crowds. The boat crew are really familiar with the schedules of the tours, so will known the times to avoid for each spot. For the lakes, this is before 9am. After then you’ll be gambling as we saw plenty of groups arriving just as we were leaving.

Other places like Banul Beach, Malcapuya Island and Ditatayan Island get busier later in the day, so you won’t have to cram everything into sunrise. Check with the crew and make sure they know that your objective is to see these places without the tour groups or crowds. Stress that you want pictures without people in them and they will definitely help you.

Read next: Why we love Siquijor Island

Island hopping tour rates for a private boat in Coron

The CTBA have a huge list of prices on the wall, giving you a starting point. You can see them below.

We were happy to pay the prices listed because we were asking them to leave much earlier than they would normally and give us additional time in each place, but you can haggle and get a lower price. For example we knew we could get the 2,700 peso tour for 2,000 pesos but preferred to pay the price they wanted and hope that would mean that we got the trip we were hoping for.

Prices vary depending on your group size and where you are going. Neighbouring Coron Island (home of the lagoons, beaches and snorkelling) is the cheapest and takes only 15 minutes to reach by boat. It then jumps quite substantially depending on where you go.

To go to places like Malcapuya, Banana Island and Ditatyan Island requires a 1.5 hour journey in each direction which dramatically increases the cost. You can mix areas, but they will charge you the higher fare.

The great news is that the boat is a set fee for the day. If you want to go to more places, you won’t pay anything extra other than the entrance fees. You’ll need to be back before dark, but otherwise you have freedom to pick as many stops in the area you’re going to as you like.

Conversely, if you just want to go to one place then you’ll still have to pay the same price. If you are taking a longer trip out to the further islands they will want you to leave a fair bit earlier than when around Coron Island as the waves get bigger and they don’t want to get caught anywhere near sun down.

Entrance fees for Coron island hopping

Almost every place you visit will have an entrance fee (there are only two stops in Coron which don’t have one and we didn’t visit those) ranging from 150 to 300 pesos ($3-6 USD). You’ll pay this to the boat crew, but will need to organise your tickets to the lakes and lagoons the day before (the boat crew will organise this for you).

Top tip - If you can, organise your trip half a day in advance so that you can leave early. The ticket office for the lakes and lagoons only open at about 7am and closes at 5pm. You can’t go to Kayangan Lake or Barracuda Lake without having the entrance ticket before you leave. We didn’t organise our trip until very late evening and therefore our crew had to scrabble to get the ticket first thing and it did set us back a little.

Top tips for your private island hopping tour

So you’ve organised your trip, but the hard work isn’t over yet! Here are a few things you want to know to make sure it runs smoothly.

You’ll need patience

No matter how hard we tried, our boat NEVER left on the time we agreed! At best it was half an hour late, but the other time it was over an hour. It got really frustrating to turn up at 6.30am, see our boat blocked in by lots of others and see the whole crew sitting down, doing no preparation and waiting for the captain to come back with coastguard confirmation (more on that later).

When you’re in a rush to get to incredibly popular places, it can be really annoying to see nothing happening for a long time, but there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait and go on their time.

Knowing this, you can organise everything 30 minutes earlier than you actually want to go. This way you may actually go at the time you want!

Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan

The ever changing stories about the Coastguard

One of the recurring stories we heard was that nothing happens until the Coastguard has signed off the manifest. We were told (by tour agents in town) that they start at 8am and that it takes over half an hour to get approval to go. This is why we strongly advise you not to book with an agent in town, you will barely beat the tour groups this way which rather negates the point of a private tour.

This turned out to be incorrect, the Coastguard seemed to start somewhere around 7am and clearance takes just a few minutes, not half an hour. Another crew member said that if you are going only to Coron Island that you can get away without Coastguard clearance at all! This turned out to be the case for us as on our Coron Island tour we got away before 7am.

It can be very confusing so our best advice is to ask to leave very early, say 6.30am and then arrive bang on time and put the pressure on to get moving - otherwise it will all be very leisurely and you will leave very late. This all may sound like a bit too much of a military operation for a relaxing island hopping trip but due to the popularity of Coron for us it is the difference between having the trip of a lifetime and an annoying experience surrounded by selfie sticks and loud groups. Save your chill out time for beaches you can visit cheaply and easily like these gorgeous beaches in El Nido.

You need to leave very early

To make a private tour worth the money you do need to leave early, otherwise you will still be at every stop with all the crowds. Most of the lagoons and beaches are tiny so you will really notice the difference. We read loads of Tripadvisor reviews where people hated Kayangan Lake because it was full or hundreds of bobbing orange life jackets. We found the place magical, and I personally swam alone in the lagoon for almost half an hour which has to be one of the best ways I could ever imagine starting a day!

No matter what the truth with the Coastguard is just keep re-iterating that you want to leave early (and maybe hint that you’ll pay a little extra) and the boat crew will eventually agree to go.

It seemed that for Coron Island, that leaving earlier was easier as our crew wanted to leave way before the coastguard could catch them!

For the further away islands, you won’t have to leave quite as early if you prefer as the tours begin to arrive at places like Malcapuya at about 11:00am. Before then there was no one there.

Food for your Coron Island hopping trip

It is definitely worth noting that you should bring all your food and drink with you for the day. You could buy drinks and some crisps at a few of the stops but nothing substantial. If you want to buy food at the market in Coron town your crew will cook it for you at no extra cost. We actually didn’t get our act together with this one and ended up buying a pizza at Altrove Trattoria in town the night before and eating that. For breakfast and lunch…. probably best you head to the market! : )

Read next: Best things to do in Coron you can’t miss

Where to go on your Coron Island Hopping Tour

Now that the bureaucracy is out of the way, it is time to get to the more fun part - where to go!

Top spots on Coron Island

Coron Island is the nearest place to explore and has the lakes and lagoons which should be on everyone’s list. It is only 15 minutes away from Coron Town and is a stunning place to explore.

Kayangan Lake

Top Tip - Arrive when it opens - 7.30am. Tours begin to arrive from 9am. The only drawback is that some of the lake is in shadow, making it not perfect for photos. This was a little disappointing as we love photography but at the end of the day we came to experience the lake in all its glory and that’s exactly what we did.

Kayangan Lake is one of the big draws in Coron and is on virtually every itinerary. It is famous for the viewpoint which is the most photographed in the area as well as the lake itself. Once you see it, you’ll know why it is so popular (it looks even better in the middle of the day).

Kayangan Lake requires the most effort to get to of all the stops, with 360 stairs in total (don’t worry, only half are uphill). Once you’ve done the steps you’re there and have a pretty amazing lake to swim in, flanked by huge limestone cliffs.

Island Hopping in Coron, Palawan. The epic lakes on Coron Island

What you can see is only part of it, as the lake continues around both corners (which we only discovered when viewing the aerial footage). Sadly the owners have roped off a lot of the area, but it is still a pretty big space to swim in. The water is surprisingly warm and incredibly clear, making it really easy to see all the rock formations and odd looking needle fish in the water.

It was so good that our boat crew couldn’t resist and jumped in with us! They said it was their favourite lake in the whole area. When we arrived at 7.30am there were only two other people who weren’t even in the water, making it absolute bliss. Early morning starts don’t get much better.

Top tip two: It is mandatory to wear life jackets at Kayangan Lake but if you arrive early there is no one to enforce the rule. Obviously it goes without saying you must be a reasonable swimmer as there is no point at which you can touch the bottom but if you are then swimming life jacket free will be a joy. Bring it off the boat with you just in case but I swam in every lagoon in Coron life jacket free as it was early.

Essential info about Kayangan Lake

  • Entrance fee - 300 pesos per person ($10 USD)

  • Opening time - Our crew said 7.30 am but we get the feeling you could go earlier.


Barracuda Lake

Top Tip - Barracuda is the least popular of the three lake/lagoons for tour groups and tends to be a second or third stop. You can visit this lake before 10am and still have very few people there. Therefore it works well to visit Kayangan Lake first and Barracuda second.

We loved Barracuda Lake. It felt more open than Kayangan and a lot deeper. Even the entry area for Barracuda Lake is stunning, with a light blue water that looks like it could have been the Maldives.

Your boat will moor on a pier before you walk through a gap between the cliffs which was by far the most epic entrance to a lake we have ever seen!

Once there, you’ll see a small platform where you can jump straight in or use the steps. The water is deep instantly, so if you’re not that confident grab a life jacket to swim with (remember if you visit later in the day this will be enforced, you can either wear it or use it as a float).

Barracuda Lake in Coron, Palawan

We could have stayed there for hours, but after 10am the tour groups started showing up and four other people quickly became 20+ and growing.

It is only five minutes away from Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon.

Top tip for drone users: You can only fly your drone from the boat mooring area not from the lake edge. However fly high enough and you can see the lagoon anyway! Winning! Always ask permission before flying.

Essential info about Barracuda Lake

  • Entrance fee - 200 pesos per person ($7 USD)

  • Opening hours - About 7.30am


Twin Lagoon

Top Tip - Twin Lagoon is up there with Kayangan Lake as being the most popular place for island hopping. Make this an early stop (preferably as close to 7.30am as possible) to make sure you can swim in this stunning place all by yourself. Unlike Kayangan and Barracuda you can enter Twin Lagoon before 7.30am so it’s only a case of getting your boat moving.

It’s easy to see why Twin Lagoon is another big draw for Coron. We made this the first stop on our second boat trip, arriving at 7.45am to an empty mooring. It is another breath-taking place for a swim and if you go early enough you’ll have both lagoons to yourself.

Eagle eyed readers can see Cat swimming in the lagoon!

Twin Lagoons - Coron Palawan

Our boat docked at the lagoon on the eastern side and from there it is a few hundred metres until the stairs to cross to the second lagoon. You can swim, but there is also a tiny bangka which you can borrow if you don’t want to swim all that distance. If you know you will want to use the kayak we’d advise telling your boat crew the day before and they will reserve it for you. As we were the first to turn up we could just hire it from the family there and then but they said we were lucky and this wasn’t common. I personally swam to the second lagoon and absolutely loved it but to get camera equipment through Joe took the kayak.

The western lagoon has a cool rock ledge to climb onto if you want a break and an even bigger area to swim around. Just watch out for the sharp barnacles!

The thing that really blew us away was spotting an incredible circular reef just outside of twin lagoons, only visible using a drone. This was something you couldn’t see from the ground and looked just like the blue hole in Belize.

It’s worth noting that had there been people at the lagoons we wouldn’t have been able to use the drone. We asked our boat crew and the locals for permission before flying at each lagoon. We were given the green light based solely on the time of day, later we were told it would be a no. Fair enough as we never fly over busy areas as we don’t want to spoil the peace for every one else.

Essential info on Twin Lagoon

  • Entrance Fee - 200 pesos per person ($7 USD)

  • Opening time - 7am, but as it is the open sea, you could arrive even earlier if you wanted!


Banul Beach - Postcard paradise

Top Tip - Banul Beach is a favourite lunch stop for most tours, so if you arrive before 11.00am you should have paradise to yourself for a while. Otherwise we have heard every single one of those cute little thatch huts are rammed and the beach is lined with bangkas.

Banul Beach is stunning. It may be small, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in stunning scenery. If you want white sand, stunning clear blue sea and a beach lined by stunning cliffs, then this is the place for you.

This is the paradise postcard scene we came to Coron for and our favourite beach in the whole area.

As soon as we saw Banul Beach we knew we’d love it and we stayed here for a couple of hours taking it all in and yes for those two blissful hours we were the only ones there! The water here is incredibly warm and still, making it the perfect place for a dip. Otherwise you can just laze around in paradise.

The key here is to time your visit before the crowds arrive for lunch. We arrived before 10am and didn’t see anyone else the whole time we were there, showing it is possible to have paradise to yourself!

Essential info on Banul Beach

  • Entrance fee - 150 pesos per person ($4 USD)

  • Distance - Five minutes from the lakes, 15 minutes from Coron town.


Skeleton Wreck - Shipwreck snorkelling

Top Tip - Don’t worry too much about timings for this one as the thing to see is below the water. It is always popular, but as it is just snorkelling you can make this slot any time that suits. In an ideal world you’d want it crowd free but as you can’t visit everything first thing we prioritised the lagoons and beach.

We were really excited to be able to snorkel a shipwreck, but what we saw was a little underwhelming. The wreck is pretty small and deep, meaning you can snorkel it, but not really see it too clearly.

It is also a really popular area, meaning you’ll be there with quite a few other people in a smallish space. Add to this all the boats that congregate around the area and the not so clear water and you have somewhere that isn’t bad, but for us didn’t live up to the hype.

You can add it on if you’re visiting Coron island, just don’t prioritise it over everything else. We actually only spent 20 minutes here so it is easy to squeeze into your itinerary.

Essential info on Skeleton Wreck

  • Entrance fee - 150 pesos per person ($4 USD)

  • Distance - 10 minutes from the lakes, 20 minutes from Coron Town.


Coral Reef Garden - Coral & Turtles

Top Tip - Not as many people seemed to visit the Coral Reef Garden so you can visit at any time. We came here directly from the busy ship wreck and were the only ones there. We may have got lucky but it’s a very large space so you shouldn’t experience crowds.

The Coral Reef Garden is renowned for beautiful coral and the chance of seeing a couple of turtles. It is a really cool place to snorkel, but sadly it suffers from every tourist boat that goes by.

Whilst you can see some incredible coral - including some bright blue spikey ones - it was pretty hard to really enjoy it when you are thrown in all directions by the huge waves.

The wakes from the boats also disturbed the fish below, making them retreat into the coral most of the time.

If snorkelling is your thing and you visited early in the morning before the majority of the boats are around it would be a different story. The chance of seeing a turtle here is quite high and though we missed it our crew saw a huge one.

Essential info on Smith Coral Garden

  • Entrance Fee - 150 pesos per person ($3 USD)

  • Distance - 15 minutes from Coron, five minutes from any of the lakes.


Further afield

We visited these islands on our second boat trip, they are not anywhere near the above spots around Coron Island.

Malcapuya Island - white sand paradise

Top Tip - Malcapuya is one of the most popular places to visit outside of Coron Island, so arrive here first. We got here just after 10.00am and had the place to ourselves. By 11.30am it was manic! We mean truly manic, as we were heading back to the boat I counted 89 people heading up the path (yes sometimes we actually count people for this blog 😂).

Malcapuya Island is stunning. A beautiful, tropical island that has a huge white sand beach and a couple of wild and rugged spots at either end. The whole place is covered in palm trees and looks even better from above when you can clearly see the reef!

Our boat crew were more interested in the rustic basketball court on the island, but we found it hard to look past the stunning beach.

It is a popular place for tours and within minutes it went from us being the only ones there to over 80 others!

Essential information about Malcapuya Island

  • Entrance fee - 150 Pesos per person ($3 USD)

  • Distance from Coron - At least 1.5 hours by boat from Coron Town (more if the waves are huge).


Ditaytayan Island - An epic sandbar

Top Tip - Ditaytayan is a favourite lunch break for tour groups and they begin to turn up at midday. Don’t worry too much about that though as many seemed to go to the far end to eat in the shade! The beauty of a private tour is that you can wait them out.

For something truly special visit this huge sandbar on the side of a small island in the middle of the sea! Either side of the sandbar is stunning blue water that is pure bliss to swim in.

There’s not much else to do at Ditatayan other than take in the view and enjoy the beautiful water. But still, with a view like that it was pretty hard to leave! I was a bit worried about shade at first when visiting the sand bar but there is plenty so you can alternate between the sand bar and tree lined beach.

Top tip two: You are more likely to see Bulog Dos Island on the regular Coron itineraries than Ditaytayan but we had it on great authority from our crew that this was the place to go. Having visited we are so glad we listened to their advice and made the swap, Ditatayan is about as magical a spot as you could possibly hope for!

Essential information about Ditaytayan Island

  • Entrance fee - 150 Pesos ($3 USD)

  • Distance - 10 minutes from Malcapuya Island.


Banana Island - Hammock bliss

Top Tip - Walk to the far end of the beach to snag a hammock. If there isn’t one free you’ll only need to wait ten minutes or so, they are pretty popular, but people tend to come and go.

Banana Island is another popular spot and when you arrive you can see why! This island is blessed with white sand, palm trees and - the best part - hammocks! It’s not as spectacular as Ditatayan or Malcapuya but if you’re a hammock fiend then this is the place for you - I will admit to visiting this spot for the hammocks alone! At first I was a bit disappointed because my hammock was miniature and I kept feeling like I was going to fall out, but I realised they were all different sizes so you can easily upgrade!

There’s no better place to chill at the end of a long day island hopping! Note that this spot is wildly busy until around 2pm after which point we were literally the only ones on the island!

Essential Information about Banana Island

  • Entrance Price - 250 pesos ($5 USD)

  • Distance - 10 minutes from Ditatayan Island,


What you need to organise before you private trip

Kayangan and Barracuda Lake Entrance Ticket

This is the most annoying part. The tickets for Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes need to be purchased the day before. The office that sells these closes at 5pm so you’ll need to organise your trip the day before if you want to go early. Otherwise you run the risk of only being able to leave once the office opens again which will set you back a bit.

Snorkelling gear

Some trips include snorkelling gear, others don’t. Check in advance, but they may charge quite a lot for a naff mask! We brought our own but some hotels or tour operators will hire them to you or you can buy one in town.

Other gear

It is really important to bring suncream as the Filipino sun is relentless and the reflection off the sea makes it even more intense. We also found that even though our boat had a big shade on top at some points it didn’t provide any coverage.

A dry bag is also useful as most things on deck get wet from the spray of the waves! You wouldn’t want your camera getting soaked. Disembarking from the boat in all places we visited except for Kayangan and Barracuda Lake meant wading through the water, sometimes it was above our hips which is another good reason to bring a dry bag.

You’ll also want to bring flip flops or some reef shoes to walk around in when you are off the boat on the islands or at the lakes.

A GoPro is a great option for the snorkelling and the lakes, especially if you don’t want to risk getting your camera wet.

Then you’ll need obvious stuff like swimwear, towel and extra money for entrance fees, food or anything else you want to buy along the way.

Where to stay in Coron

Finding a good hotel can be hard, so check out our guide about where to stay in Coron if you want a detailed look at the options. Otherwise, you check out the best below.

Mid-Range: Charms Hotel

Finding decent accommodation in Coron is tricky, but Charms balances a good location with comfort. It is overpriced (like everything in Coron), but once you get past that you’ll find it a great place to rest up after a day’s island hopping.

It is a new hotel and the rooms are immaculately clean with air conditioning and hot water. It is a five minute (15 peso) tricylce ride from town, making it easy to get to the loading dock and restaurants in town.

Midrange - The Funny Lion, Coron Town

Almost everyone we met seemed to be staying here and judging by the reviews it looked like they were on to something! We also noticed they were building one in El Nido too so it should be a good choice.

The rooms look good and the views look exceptional. When we tried to check it out it was fully booked so it is one to book early.

Luxury - Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa, Bulalacao

This is the place that everyone was talking about in the luxury bracket. The rooms are individual bungalows which look fabulous and the beach and resort views look amazing. This is likely what you’ve been dreaming of when you’ve been thinking about visiting Palawan not the dusty town.

However, one thing to consider is that you are a boat ride and then drive away from the town, this means you will likely be taking all of your boat tours directly from the hotel itself which probably means they will be a lot more expensive than in town. It might be best to check in advance to make sure it doesn’t turn into a very expensive surprise.

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Are you planning a trip to Coron? Where would you love to go island hopping? Let us know in the comments below!

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