My Tao Expedition Experience | Exploring Remote Islands of the Philippines
Updated: Dec 5, 2018
During my time in the Philippines I joined a Tao Expedition for 5 days/4 nights to take me between Coron and El Nido and explore the remote islands of Culion, Linapacan and North El Nido along the way. The Tao trip was unlike anything I have done before and hands down one of my favourite travel experiences to date.
When researching my Philippines trip 'Tao expeditions' kept popping up along with really great online reviews about their Palawan island boat expeditions. The more I read more into Tao the more I resonated with the socially-conscious company which offered a rare opportunity to journey through remote/deserted islands and villages between Coron and El Nido.
"Tao is perhaps the highlight of any trip to Palawan… Such a trip offers a rare opportunity to experience and interact with people and communities in the area, unmediated by the mass tourism industry." - Lonely Planet
I joined a group of 20 others and begun my Tao expedition in Coron which we boarded a traditional 'banka' converted fishing boat:
The Tao expeditions work off a basis of not having a plan or set itinerary - each day the captain chose where we went based off factors such as the weather and the feeling of the group. This way no single Tao expedition is the same.
We visited many snorkelling spots and pristine beaches with insanely crystal clear water. We went caving and explored secret beaches. Tao has access to many private islands, beaches and snorkelling spots along the way and what I liked about the trip the most was during our whole trip we saw no other tourists - there were no other boatloads of tourists in life jackets and no selfie sticks! The islands were in their natural state and not affected by tourism which is so rare even in countries like the Philippines with a tourism industry that it still developing.
In each island base camp we visited we stayed in bamboo huts which were basic but comfortable. We got a thin mattress, mosquito net, sheets and a pillow. I had some of the best sleeps in a long time - listening to the sound of the ocean as I fell asleep.
None of the islands had wifi and only on one we had access to electricity for a couple of hours.I really enjoyed disconnecting from the world - I honestly can't even think of the last time I was without an internet connection or my phone for more than 24 hours.
Most of the camps had minimal water for showers - we were in the ocean most of the day anyway so a bucket shower was fine to rinse off in though I definitely appreciated a hot proper shower once I got back to El Nido!
The food and exceeded every expectation I had before starting this trip. Our onboard chef 'Mike' had an incredible ability to whip up insanely good food in the small kitchen on the boat with produce sourced from the local islands. We got 3 meals per day and snacks in-between.
Breakfast was usually fresh fruit with an omelette or some kind of eggs. My favourite breakfast was fruit and porridge served in a fresh coconut bowl. For lunch and dinner the crew would catch fresh fish and squid out the back of the boat (I don't eat seafood but it looked delicious) and serve it with rice and some sort of veggie curry and fresh salad. Everyday the food was different and I loved having the opportunity to try such amazing vegetarian Filipino food. The highlight for me was the veggie curries the chef made with fresh coconut milk and cooked fresh jackfruit. I never had banana so many ways - for snacks our chef made us banana heart, banana spring rolls, banana chips and caramelised banana. They also served ' Jungle Juice' every night which was a cocktail of local rum, pineapple juice and calamansi (local lime) - yum!
On our last day the crew bought a pig and brought it on board. They told us: 'don't make friends with the pig' as we were having a spit roast for our last dinner. For me as a vegetarian this was slightly traumatic but they explained their ethical way of killing the pig and how they use up every part of the animal in some way.
We had 7 crew on board to look after us 21 guests including the boat's captain, our tour guide, a chef and sous chef, and 3 other deck hands/assistants. The crew were so knowledgeable and energetic which definitely contributed to what made the trip so great.
I somehow managed to get some sort of vomiting bug for 24 hours during the trip and the crew were so wonderful in looking after me when I was sick. The chef made me a mug of his 'Magic medicine' - turmeric and honey tea to make me feel better.
The 5 day/4 night trip cost $700 and in my opinion, was worth every single cent. Whilst this may seem expensive on a backpackers budget, everything was included (except for soft drinks and alcohol which I spent less than $20 on). I feel like the trip was incredible value for money and I felt good knowing that my money was helping to support the Tao Kalahi foundation which helps support local communities.