Dive Sibultan, El Nido | Philippines

Manta rays gliding through the water

Manta Ray Diving in

El Nido

Wingspan
m
Kilos
escape speed
km
islands and islets of el nido

Dive Sibultan: Manta Ray Spotting in the Philippines

No trip to the Philippines is complete without exploring underwater. With world-class diving, the Philippines have epic marine life, thriving coral reefs, and endless shipwrecks to discover. Many of the islands offer scuba-diving experiences, each with something different to see and do. In El Nido, Palawan, Dive Sibaltan are leading mantaray conservationists, with ongoing projects designed to monitor this incredible species and create an environment that encourages them to return to the area. We caught up with the team at Dive Sibaltan to learn more about their efforts and to explore the underwater world off the untouched North-East coast of Palawan.

Arriving at the dive shop we were welcomed by a team of enthusiastic divers who went above and beyond to make us comfortable. Hot drink in hand, we completed the paperwork, got kitted out with top of the range diving equipment, and were introduced to the dive sites for the day.

Dive Sibaltan was started by a group of keen divers, and their energy reflects their passion for the sport. We listened with excitement about the Manta cleaning stations and how the team have been working endlessly to help monitor these beautiful creatures by photographing them and sharing the data with conservationists. With equal importance, the team were eager to share the need to keep our distance and remain still if we were lucky enough to see any Manta, so as to protect them and not deter them from returning. After all, there’s no better way to experience these magnificent creatures than in their own habitat, allowing them to do what comes naturally. It’s all about having fun, exploring, and protecting the natural environment, which make for an epic experience both under and above the water.

dive instructors on boat dive sibaltan el nido philippines
Dive Sibultan instrucors loading the boat
Scuba diving boat in the open waters of the Philippines
Scuba divers observiing the coral in El Nido Philippines
School of tropical fish in the Philippines
wo Scuba divers in El Nido, Philippines

The best thing about Dive Sibaltan is that everyone is welcome, whether you’re new to the sport or have been doing it for years. The group on our boat ranged from discovery divers to advanced divers, and the instructors were brilliant at meeting everyone’s needs. A relaxed yet excitable energy made for ideal pre and post diving conditions. The team helped everyone get kitted up before each dive, with buddy checks all around before we jumped in the water. Each time we surfaced, everyone was eager to share their experiences and hear all about other peoples as hot drinks and sweet treats were passed around the boat.

As we surfaced from the last dive of the day, the sun was starting to dip and the golden hour glow made for the most beautiful ride back to the beach – the perfect time to reflect on what an unforgettable experience the day had been. With huge smiles on our faces, we headed back to the dive centre to dry off and record our dives. The crew insisted on bringing the tanks and equipment back for us, allowing us to maintain the weightless feeling that diving brings. The team at the shop were really excited to hear about our day, which is always the best way to end a day of diving.

If you’re going to the Philippines, you should definitely go scuba diving. And if you’re in El Nido, Dive Sibaltan is the place to go. The enthusiasm of the team reflects just how passionate they are about diving, and about protecting and conserving the incredible sea life and the ocean in which they live. Dive Sibaltan is more than just a dive centre, it’s an inspiring experience that will leave you dreaming in blue.

 

Looking for where to stay in El Nido. Discover Frangipani El Nido Hotel.

Woman scuba diving in the Philippines
Scuba divers counting down before safely returning to the surface
Man walking down the beach in the Philippines
Scuba divers returning to the boat in the Philippines (Dive Sibultan)
Diver exploring the coral in the Philippines

Trekking in Sapa | Vietnam

three ladies in traditional Vietnamese tribal dress carry woven baskets on their backs through the hills in Sapa

Trekking in

Sapa

north of Hanoi
km
people live in Sapa
Phang Xi Pang peak
m
Sapa town
km²

Go Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

Hike through beautiful rice paddies and stay with a local family

There are so many reasons that trekking in Sapa should be on your travel bucket list. The quaint mountain town of Sapa is located in northwest Vietnam, in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains region. The town itself is full of charm, but it’s the hiking trails around it that really stand out. Expansive rice paddies span as far as the eye can see, blanketing the curves of the rolling green hills that create a jaw dropping landscape before you. Trek through the hills with a local guide as you learn all about the culture and traditions of the hill tribes that call this region home. You’ll get to meet local people and even stay in their homes with them, giving you a true feel for life in the mountains and a deep appreciation for the simplicity of it all.

young girl sitting on a fence wearing brightly coloured tribal clothing, seen whilst trekking in Sapa
rice paddies submerged in water, seen whilst trekking in Sapa
mountains covered in green rice paddies, location for trekking in Sapa
two men dry rice in the sun, a common sight when trekking in Sapa

 

 

 

 

Local Culture

Hill tribes such as Hmong, Tay and Dao, make up most of the local population in Sapa. They live in the mountains and farm for a living, leading simple but hard-working lives.

Way of Life

Many hill tribe people making a living growing rice, hence the abundance of rice paddies in the area. Family homes are typically very basic, often made from wood and with no running water or electricity. Homecooked meals are a big part of family life. The day’s activities are scheduled by the rise and fall of the sun, beginning early and turning in for bed as the sun goes down. It’s a simple, humble way of living.

Hmong People

Sapa is home to approximately one million Hmong people. The Hmong are members of an ethnic group who live in southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. Hmong women are easily identified by their traditional dress – black skirts and leg warmers, accented by silver jewellery.

Trekking in Sapa

Go on a multi-day hike

Although it is possible to do single day hikes around Sapa, you’ll definitely get the best experience by embarking on a multi-day trek. These tours will take you further into the mountains through tiny villages and countless rice paddies, and also give you the opportunity to experience the culture here by staying at a local homestays. To make the most out of your trip, we recommend doing at least a 3 day/2 night tour.

Choosing your guide

Although you can book a tour when you arrive in Sapa, we recommend booking it in advance. Most tour operators will offer a pick-up service from the train station as you arrive, making the journey easier and more efficient. There are plenty of options to choose from, so do your research and choose a tour guide that’s socially conscious and truly supports the local community. 

Sapa Sisters

Sapa Sisters are an all female group of Hmong people who know the region well and are passionate about sharing it with visitors. Sapa Sisters are well known for offering good pay and workers rights, which sadly isn’t always the case. Some of the guides offer homestays in their homes, and it feels more like hiking with a friend than a guide. You can find out more here.

Best Time to Go Trekking in Sapa

The best time to go to Sapa is from March to May, or September to mid-December, based on weather conditions.
 
March – May: weather is warm and dry, making it perfect for trekking
June – September: heavy rain, difficult walking conditions, and also crowded with Vietnamese tourists
Late September – mid December: weather is cool and dry, making it perfect for trekking and taking photos
Mid December – February: cold winters with harsh conditions (yes, it snows here!) Pack extra warm clothes if you choose to visit during winter.

What to Pack

Leave your main bag at your hotel or hostel and take only a small backpack with you on the trek. The following essentials will go a long way:

Good hiking boots that are waterproof and have good grip
Waterproof poncho for inevitable downpours
A warm jacket and pair of leggings/trousers – the temperatures drop at night even in warmer months
Hat and sunscreen. These are particularly important in mountains as the UV levels are higher.
Insect repellent – the rice paddies attract a lot of insects and mosquitos
Small torch. Power-cuts are not uncommon in the villages, and most homestays will not have electricity. 

How Do I Get to Sapa?

Sapa is in the northwest of Vietnam, around 350 kilometres north of Hanoi. There are three options for travelling to Sapa – by train, bus or car.

Taking the train to Sapa

The overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa takes around 8 hours. It departs Hanoi at 9.30pm and arriving at Lao Cai station at 5.30am. From here, it’s a 45 minute bus or van ride to get to Sapa town. The trains are reasonably comfortable, with 4 beds to a cabin. Tickets start from  £17, making this an affordable and safe way to travel. Bonus: there’s also a ‘luxury train’ if you’re looking for additional comfort.

Travelling to Sapa by bus 

For the more adventurous (or perhaps those on a tighter budget) there are buses that run between Hanoi and Sapa. Most buses offer lie-down seats, and will make one or two rest stops along the way. The buses tend to leave Hanoi in the afternoon, arriving in Sapa around 6 hours later in the early hours of the morning. Tickets start at £9. A word of caution – the roads into the mountains are very winding, so a bus is probably not the best choice if you suffer from travel sickness.

Take a taxi

A taxi from Hanoi to Sapa will take around 5 hours and cost around £115. 

road winds through rice paddies in Sapa, seen from above
group of people carry woven baskets on the backs as they go trekking in Sapa
toddler wearing bright green and pink traditional dress, seen whilst trekking in Sapa Vietnam

Tips for Trekking in Sapa

1. For the best all round travel experience we recommend taking the train from Hanoi to Sapa. The views are great, it’s nice to arrive early in the morning, and it saves time by travelling overnight. It’s also the safest way to travel, avoiding the winding roads and potential wet weather conditions.
2. It is possible to travel to Sapa and explore the area without a guide. However, for a more complete experience we definitely recommend booking a tour to go trekking in Sapa with a local guide. 
3. Groups of local women will probably walk with you at some point along your hike. They may help you navigate difficult terrain and make gifts from the flowers. After walking with you for several kilometres the women will ask you to buy crafts from then as a way of saying thank you. If you don’t want to buy anything from them, it’s kinder to tell them ‘no thank you’ straight away.
4. Similarly, children may try to sell bracelets and small gifts along the trails. Although tempting, it’s best not to buy from them as this actually encourages children to be kept out of school to help earn money instead. It’s best to buy souvenirs in the town.

Item #1

Island Hopping in Coron | Philippines

bright blue sky and clear turquoise water with 2 big rock formations in Coron, Philippines

Island hopping in

Coron

islands
+
largest archipelago in the world
nd
languages spoken throughout
LGBTQ political party in the world
st

Island Hopping in Coron

With countless islands, unbeatable clear blue water, and endless natural marvels to explore, it’s no wonder Coron has fast become one of the most desirable destinations in the Philippines. Though the island’s town is small and humble, rural Coron offers an incredible experience of real Filipino life whilst providing the perfect gateway to explore the surrounding islands. As a result, island hopping tours are the number one thing to do in Coron.

Island Hopping in Coron – Top Tips

Island hopping in Coron is an unforgettable experience and should definitely be on your bucket list. It’s the number one thing to do in Coron, but that means tour boats can get very busy and popular sites are often crowded. Here’s the best way to avoid the crowds and experience Coron’s beauty spots in all of their natural glory.

1. Choose a private boat over an organised tour

It will cost a little bit more, but it’s 100% worth it. Nothing compares to arriving at a beauty spot with no one else around (as opposed to being ushered along in a crowd of orange lifejackets!) Better yet, there’s no one calling you back to the boat after 10 minutes of being there – the day moves along at your pace, so take your time and enjoy each site, then let your guide know when you’re ready to explore the next hidden treasure.

turquoise water surrounded by karst rock islands, view from the steps to Kayangan Lake on an island hopping tour in Coron
boats in the water around an island in coron
man sits on the front of a blue wooden boat, with bright turquoise water in Coron
drone shot of a turquoise lagoon in Coron, with wooden boats and coral reefs
lady stands on a step between the Twin Lagoons in Coron
blue, white and red wooden boat on the water in Coron, Philippines

2. Find a fun and knowledgeable guide to take you around the islands

It goes without saying, but a great guide can make all the difference to your experience. The right guide will be able to share information about the history and natural environments that will make your adventure much more worthwhile.

3. Set off really early in the morning

We’re talking 7am, if you can. This might sound less than ideal, but as soon as you stop at the first destination and realise you have it to yourself, you won’t give your bed a second thought. Arrange a boat the night before, and get to bed early.

4. Take everything you need for the day

Although some of the more popular spots sometimes have little stalls selling drinks and snacks, we’d recommend that you take all the water and food you need for the day. Whereas organised tours typically provide lunch, private boats will not. However, it is still possible to enjoy a freshly caught island meal – simply ask your guide to take you to a local restaurant. Just keep in mind that these are likely to be a boat ride away, rather than being next to any of the attractions.

6 Best Things to do in Coron

There are several locations around the Coron islands that you should definitely visit during your island hopping tour. Some spots have become really well known due to social media, but they are still worth seeing for yourself. 

1. Kayangan Lake

Kayangan Lake is the most popular tourist destination in Coron. Accessible only by boat, visitors walk up a set of stairs to a viewpoint (which is definitely worth stopping at) then down the other side to reach the actual lake. Countless mystical-looking stalagmites below the water make this a great spot for snorkelling. If you arrive at Kayangan Lake before the crowds you’ll get to experience the serene and almost spiritual ambiance.

2. Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake is a stunning sight with incredible limestone rock formations above and below the water. Crystal clear, still water and magical rock formations create ideal conditions for photographers, making this a popular spot to capture half above/half below photos. Interestingly, Barracuda Lake is both fresh and salt water, which creates a thermocline and halocline at depths of around 45ft that attract scuba divers from all over the world. 

3. Skeleton Wreck

Skeleton Wreck is a 25m long Japanese supply ship that was hit by a US airstrike during WWII. The wreck is now covered in colourful coral and plentiful fish. The highest point sits just 5m below the surface, with the deepest part at 22m. This makes it a great spot for snorkelling, free-diving and scuba diving.

a man treads water in turquoise water surrounded by karst rocks, island hopping in coron

4. Twin Lagoons

A must-see place during an island hopping tour in Coron. The Twin Lagoons are simply magical. Surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs, these two bright turquoise lagoons are separated by a low point in the rocks. There are two ways t go between the Twin Lagoons – climb a short ladder and go over the rocks, or swim below the arch that’s formed below the surface. It’s an eerily peaceful place if visited first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon when you might be able to experience the Twin Lagoons in solitude.

5. Banul Beach

Banul Beach is a picturesque white sand beach with incredibly bright blue water around it. A few wooden beach huts have been built against the rocks, making this an ideal place to stop for lunch. Lost Tribe Tip: Book your private island hopping tour with Casa Fidelis and they can take you here for a freshly cooked BBQ on the beach!

6. Black Island

Black Island is further away from Coron, but that’s one of the reasons it should be on your bucket list. It costs a little more to get there compared to other destinations around Coron, so spend a whole day there, and maybe consider asking around to find other people who want to visit the island too so that you can share the cost. It’s a picture perfect island with white sand, turquoise water and hardly any visitors. A real hidden gem in Coron!

Learn more about what to expect in Coron town and island hopping tours.

tropical island with wooden beach huts in Coron, Philippines
lady wearing a bikini walks through clear turquoise water in Coron
shipwreck covered in coral underwater in Coron, Philippines
turquoise lagoon surrounded by karst rocks, seen on an island hopping tour in coron

Featured Host & Tour Operator

Casa Fidelis

Casa Fidelis is an all inclusive sustainable rainforest lodge with private and customisable tours as a part of your stay. A welcoming and knowledgeable local guide will meet you on arrival to Coron and take care of you until the moment you leave. 

Not only will you get to experience the very best island hopping tour in Coron, but you can choose exactly which sites you’d like to visit. This gives you complete control of your schedule, without any of the hassle of making arrangements as the team at Casa Fidelis will sort everything out for you.

Elephant Hills | Thailand

Asian elephant eating a large leaf with mountains behind, at Elephant Hills Thailand

Elephant Hills

Thailand

luxury tented camps
Animal welfare rating
%
National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Awards
sustainable
%
food an elephant eats per day
kg

Elephant Hills 3-Day Jungle Safari

A Complete Guide

Nestled deep in the heart of Khao Sok National Park is Elephant Hills Thailand, the country’s first luxury tented camp. Elephant Hills offers a unique once in a lifetime experience by combining luxurious glamping accommodations with unforgettable nature and adventure tours. 

Elephant Hills Thailand is built on a passion for sustainability and conservation. Every aspect of the experience and project has been carefully considered to ensure that local people, animals and the environment are protected and supported in every way possible.

Guide at Elephant Hills Thailand throws a bucket of water over an elephant
lady stands face to face with Asian elephants, touching her hands to the elephant's trunk at Elephant Hills Thailand
group kayak down a river through the rainforest during an adventure with Elephant Hills Thailand

Adventures & Activities at Elephant Hills

Elephant Hills offers a wide range of immersive experiences that take you beyond the elephant sanctuary and into the natural habitat of Khao Sok National Park. Start by paddling a canoe down the winding jungle river, looking out for monkeys in the trees above. Next, trek deep into the jungle and learn about the local flora and fauna. Start the next day with a boat trip through the beautiful mangrove forests that play a vital role in supporting the planet’s biodiversity. You can even spend a day and/or night at the floating lodges on the lake. Here you can kayak around the magnificent limestone rocks that are unique to this special part of the world.

Safari Tour Options

There are several adventure tour packages to choose from. The tours range from 2 to 4 days in duration. Each package combines a selection of well organised and executed activities including kayaking, hiking and everything in between. Of course, every safari tour at Elephant Hills includes an unforgettable elephant encounter.

group kayak down a river through the rainforest during an adventure with Elephant Hills Thailand
two monkeys sat on a rock in Khao Sok National Park, Elephant Hills Thailand
Carp swim near the surface at Elephant Hills Lake camp
Asian elephant walks into the rainforest at Elephant Hills Thaialnd

Elephant Encounters

Ethical, educational, and so much fun

The elephant encounter at Elephant Hills is safe for the animals and allows you to assist in bathing them and providing lunch for them. Don’t expect to ride the elephants, as the animals here are respected rather than exploited. An elephant encounter experienced in this ethical way is definitely worth adding to the top of your bucket list during a trip to Thailand.

The elephants are loved and cared for in a responsible way. In fact, the staff work for the elephants, and not the other way around. When you look into the eyes of the elephants here you can see that they are happy, at peace, and well looked after. You can sense the wisdom, the charm and the cheekiness.

The Elephant Hills experience

During your elephant encounter at Elephant Hills you’ll come face to face with the magnificent creatures. You will learn about the history of Elephants in Thailand, and what we can all do to help protect them. After a friendly introduction, sit back and relax as your new friends have the time of their lives playing in their natural muddy swimming pool.

Getting Involved

Let’s get messy

After watching the elephants enjoying the water it’s time to get hands on. The elephants love to put dry dirt on their heads and backs to keep them cool under the sun. Add muddy water to the mix and you’ve got one mucky elephant! Help them get clean with a shower and a coconut husk scrub – getting wet is all part of the fun! The elephants will let you know when they’ve had enough of bath time as they wander back into the field. It’s times like this that you start to see the personalities of these beautiful creatures.

Time for lunch

Now that they’re clean, the elephants are ready for their lunch. Help to prepare a selection of healthy foods and snacks for the elephants before dispersing them among the hungry crowd. Watch out for the cheeky ones! They’ll have their trunks in your banana basket if you’re not careful. Unsurprisingly, the elephants absolutely love lunch time, and we can guarantee that you will too. Engaging with such playful and gentle creatures is a life changing experience that you won’t soon forget.

Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park is one of the oldest rainforests in the world. This protected nature reserve spans an impressive 739 square kilometres and is home to around 400 species of animals. The wildlife is so diverse. Everything from tiny ants to spectacular leopards live within the region. The land comprises of towering limestone karsts and luscious greenery, in addition to waterfalls, rivers, and a mystical lake that are all waiting to be explored.

An adventure tour with Elephant Hills gives you the opportunity to explore these epic landscapes. It’s also a great opportunity to get a feel for life in the region as you visit local markets, lakes and other points of interest.

Ethical & Sustainable Tourism

An experience at Elephant Hills is incredibly fun, but also highly educational. The team are keen to share the history of Asian elephants and their unique place in Thai history and culture. Informing and educating guests is a critical component in helping people understand the importance of conservation and environmental protection. Hopefully this will allow future generations to enjoy the biodiversity in this corner of the planet.

Elephant Hills support several projects in the local area, with education remaining at the heart of everything they do. Current projects include funding schools, providing jobs, and protecting and conserving wildlife. These values are based on the belief that people will want to do more to protect the planet when they have the knowledge to see why it is so important to do so.

Featured Host

Elephant Hills Camp

Sustainable Practices

Everything at Elephant Hills is environmentally friendly. Firstly, the camp is completely plastic-free. One way they achieve this is by offering guests a reusable bottle at the start of their stay. Further to this, rainwater catchment systems and solar-power systems are in place helping to reduce the camp’s carbon footprint. Moreover, the camp is made from locally and ethically sourced materials and has been built in harmony with the beautiful natural surroundings. As a result, as much as possible of the native plant life is maintained and can be enjoyed by all.

Luxury Tents

The tents are cleverly designed to provide all the comforts of a hotel room whilst being under canvas in the middle of the jungle. Indeed, all the wonders of camping from the fresh air to the sounds of cicadas and birds, are enjoyed from a comfortable king sized bed. The rooms include electric fans for hot nights, and en-suite bathrooms with hot water for those who like their home comforts. Complimentary bathing products made with natural ingredients ensure the surrounding eco-system is unharmed. Furthermore, the rainwater supply helps to preserve the earth’s most vital resource.