Sibaltan Tour – Finding Your Secret Paradise in Palawan, Philippines
Once you go on the Sibaltan Tour, you’ll be ruined for all other tours on Palawan. El Nido’s Alphabet Tours (A, B, C, and D) will be disappointing after experiencing a tour without the crowds, without the Disney World-like lines, without the snorkeling traffic jams, without the dead coral, without someone trying to sell you fake pearls, without the extra fees for kayaks or sea shoes, without the environmental fee, and without the fishless reefs. The Sibaltan Tour is one that will give you your own deserted beach and corals filled with gobs of colorful fish.
Palawan is one of my favorite destinations in the Philippines. Find out what the rest of them are in my list of top 15 places to visit in this beautiful country.
Plus: Check out my itinerary guide for El Nido where you’ll find out what else to do there besides this Sibaltan tour.
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How to book the Sibaltan Tour
At the time of publication, there is only one business from El Nido that conducts a tour of Sibaltan from El Nido, and that is the Happiness Hostel on Serena Street. It’s pretty easy to spot: look for the Happiness Bar (they’re often giving out free falafel to passersby) and go up the steep stairs to the noisy reception area. When I was there tours were running Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. And the word was getting out about how amazingly good the tours were, so book early!
Sibaltan Tour: Just the Facts
HOW MUCH: 1,950 pesos (US$40)
WHAT’S INCLUDED: simple breakfast, fabulous lunch, all transportation, snorkeling gear, kayak, inner tube, water, beer
WHERE TO PURCHASE THE TOUR: Happiness Hostel on Serena Street in El Nido on the island of Palawan
WHEN: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
WHAT TO BRING: bring your own water bottle (BUT not a plastic water bottle as they’re not allowed on the islands), dry bag, waterproof phone case, water shoes, flip flops, swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, change of clothes for walking around the village of Pical and for the drive back. Feel free to bring your own snorkeling gear, but they’ll provide it as well.
PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I've used for short-term travel. When I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They're very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.
Departure Point: Happiness Hostel
We were met in the reception area of the Happiness Hostel (upstairs from the Happiness Café) at 8:00 am by our tour guide Vren. After calling our names off a list and making sure everyone was there, we walked down to the end of Serena Street (across from the dock) to 2 vans waiting for us. There were 15 people on the tour, 1 photographer, and Vren. We didn’t leave El Nido until 8:30 am.
More articles about traveling in the Philippines
Stop 1: Breakfast
For our first stop on the Sibaltan Tour, we drove for 30 minutes around the tip of Palawan to the east coast of the island to a lookout point over the sea.
Here the tour served us a simple breakfast of buns with peanut butter, nutella, and jam. There was tea but no coffee. We remained at the lookout eating and taking photos of the bay for around 30 minutes.
Stop 2: Sibaltan Village
Thirty minutes later, our next stop on our tour was at the port and village of Sibaltan, a simple village like all other villages I’ve seen in Palawan. This port is the same departure point for those doing the 3- or 5-day sailing trips to Coron.
We had to walk through the water to our boat as the water is very shallow. I’d suggest taking off your shorts or pants and walking to the boat in your swimsuit because the water went up to my thighs. We got into a small boat that then took us to our tour boat. If you’ve been on any other tours in Palawan you’ll be familiar with this boat. The only difference was that on this boat you could sit in the sun on top of the main cabin.
Happiness Hostel is a party hostel, so of course, beer was provided free of charge. The alternative to beer was water. Bring your own water bottle, but if you don’t have one, the boat will provide you with a cup.
PRO TIP: When you arrive in the Philippines, you can buy a SIM card at the airport. There are 2 companies used throughout the Philippines: Globe and Smart. Each of them gives you 10 or 12 GB of memory for 30 days for 1,000 pesos (US$20). I used 2 GB in 30 days.
If you have to "add load" (add minutes or data) for some reason, you can do it at a convenience store around the Philippines. Tell them you want to "add load". You need to give the clerk your phone # to complete the transaction (I usually store my SIM card # in my Contact,s List).
BUT that's not it. You then need to register your phone. If you have Globe, dial *143#. I usually have the store clerk or someone at my hostel or hotel help me complete the registration. If you don't register after every time you add data to your phone, the minutes and data disappear.
Stop 3: Reef off of Maosonon Island
After around 30 or 45 minutes, we made our first fun stop of the day–a reef off of Maosonon island. We could see the small uninhabited island with its white sandy beach in distance, but we couldn’t land on it as it’s a private island. Vren told us that it was bought not long before we arrived, so we couldn’t set foot on the island.
Happiness Hostel provides snorkeling gear, kayaks, and inner tubes. For those less confident swimmers like me, the hostel provides life jackets.
I highly suggest getting a full face snorkel mask. They completely changed by snorkeling experience. Before using one, I wasn’t confident snorkeling and would have to come to the surface too often to get air. But after using a full face mask, I could snorkel easily and comfortably.
So many times I was disappointed snorkeling on the island hopping tours around El Nido. The coral was dead, so the chances of seeing many fish were rare. But on the Sibaltan Tour, I saw lots of colorful coral and colorful tropical fish including the Finding Nemo fish (Clown Fish), the yellow and black fish (Moorish Idol fish), lots of parrot fish of various colors, and what I never knew existed before, blue starfish. I didn’t take the above photos as I didn’t have an underwater camera like a GoPro. If I had to plan my trip over again to the Philippines, I would have splurged on buying an underwater camera.
I didn’t see any jellyfish, but I heard that the group who went a few days later saw a lot. And a group that went the previous week couldn’t snorkel because the water was so rough.
PRO TIP: Here's a list of essential items to pack for all of your island-hopping tours while in the Philippines:
- Dry bag - You're going to get wet while in the boat and your things will get wet if you don't have a dry bag. Leave your backpack at your hotel.
- Waterproof bag or pouch for your cell phone especially for your visit to such places as the Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon in El Nido.
- Water shoes - It's important to have a pair because sometimes you'll need to be walking on rocks to get to your destination. You'll thank me later for bringing them.
- Sunscreen - Make sure to put it on 30 minutes before being in the sun and/or water. Banana Boat worked the best for me. You can buy it in the Philippines, too, but it's pricey (500 - 700 pesos depending on the store--shop around!)
- Mask and snorkel - OPTIONAL - Most tour companies provide you with a mask and snorkel, but if you want to bring your own, I highly recommend the full face mask and snorkel. It's ideal for those who aren't confident swimmers.
Stop 4: Magransing Island / Little Maosanon Island
The next stop was a visit to a small deserted island, Magransing Island, with a long white sand bar. Actually, there was one other tour boat on the island, so it wasn’t completely deserted, but they left soon after we arrived.
Our guide said that this island was called Magransing, but according to Google, it’s called Little Maosanon Island.
We had to either swim or take a kayak from the boat to the island. The crew put our bags in a boat to bring to the island. I’d suggest getting water shoes because the water near the shore is a bit rocky.
When we arrived, we got some time to walk around and explore this tropical paradise while the crew got lunch ready.
The beach was stunning—almost as beautiful as Pamuayan Beach in Port Barton (you can read about the beach in my Port Barton itinerary article). A long sand bar snaked out from the island into the sea.
The water was so warm and so clear. It was if you’re looking at a glass of water. The sand was so soft and fine that it was like walking on powder. And no one else around. Just you and your small group of tour mates.
Our lunch was several steps up in quality from the typical Alphabet tours (every dish was covered to prevent flies from pooping on them). We had so many different dishes: noodles, fish, two chicken dishes, eggplant, another vegetable dish, pineapple, and yellow watermelon.
After lunch we got more time to explore the other side of the island.
I think we were all pretty disappointed when Vren told us to swim back to the boat.
Stop 5: Pical Island
The last stop on our Sibaltan Tour was a short-distance from Magransing Island / Little Maosanon —Pical Island, a traditional fishing village. Here we toured a school and drank some coconut juice. No beaches.
We had to also swim or go in a kayak to the island. Again wearing water shoes was helpful. Because we were walking around the village, we couldn’t walk around in our swimsuit, so we had to put on shorts and a shirt over our swimsuits and wear shoes.
It was a Sunday, so the school was closed, but we got to tour the empty classrooms. Then we stopped at a house for some coconuts. Then back to the boat.
PRO TIP: Download these apps onto your phone for your trip to any country in Asia. They will make your life so much easier!
- Grab: - Grab is the ride-sharing service that people use in Southeast Asia. It's a must-have for getting around Manila, Hanoi, Singapore etc. It's not so necessary on the smaller islands.
- Klook - Klook is a tour-booking website used by lots of travelers in Asia. You're more likely to book with an honest tour company through Klook than through anyone else.
- WhatsApp: What's App is the best service to use for getting in touch with other travelers, tour guides, and businesses in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
- Booking.com: I think Booking.com is the best website to use for booking accommodations in Asia.
- MAPS.ME & Google Maps: I have both of these apps on my phone. Sometimes MAPS.ME works better than Google Maps and vice versa. Make sure to download your maps to your phone before you start your adventure so you can view them offline. If you switch SIM cards, you might lose your downloaded maps.
End of the Sibaltan Tour
The sun was setting over the shore of the main island of Palawan as we headed back to Sibaltan Village.
It’s very shallow, so we had to walk quite a ways through the water back to the beach. The water went up to our waist at times.
The vans drove us back to Sibaltan, arriving at 8:00 pm.
What to Pack for Your Sibaltan Tour
This Sibaltan tour was the best island hopping tour I took while in the Philippines. If you’re not going to do a 3-day or 5-day island hopping trip from El Nido to Coron or vice versa, then I highly suggest taking this tour. It was so much more enjoyable than the alphabet tours I took in El Nido. Those were too crowded and you couldn’t see many fish while snorkeling.
If you have any questions or comments about the tour, leave them in the comment section below!
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More Info on the Philippines:
- Learn how to take public transportation and a Grab and taxi around Manila - First-Timers Guide to Getting Around Manila
- Manila Itinerary: 2 Days Exploring the Culture and History of Manila - In this guide, you'll get a detailed step-by-step itinerary for seeing the sights in Manila.
- Port Barton Itinerary: What to do for 3 Days in Port Barton - Find out how to discover the most beautiful beach in the Philippines.
- One of my favorite experiences in the Philippines was an island-hopping tour of Sibaltan. Get the details here: Sibaltan Tour: Finding Your Secret Paradise in Palawan, Philippines
- El Nido Itinerary: An Adventure of a Lifetime - Learn where to go, what to eat, where to see, and of course, what to do in El Nido.
- Bohol Travel Guide: Exploring the Natural Wonder of the Philippines will tell you exactly what to see and do in Bohol, how to get there, where to stay, and much, much more!
- Siquijor Itinerary: Exploring the Island of Fire will give you the skinny on everything you need to know to travel to Siquijor.
- Malapascua Itinerary: Plan Now! Go Later! will help you plan your trip to Malapascua and Kalanggaman Islands.
- Find out what my 15 favorite places to visit in the Philippines are.
- Solo Travel Guide for the Philippines will give you some pointers on how to best travel solo in the Philippines cheaply and safely and still have a kick-ass time!