Cargo Boat to El Nido

Tony on the Josille

After a fantastic time in Coron, we were ready to move on to El Nido, a small coastal village on the neighboring island of Palawan. Our search for transportation, however, left us in a foul mood. Everyone in town was pushing us to make the 6-hour trip in a small wooden bangka, and it was obvious why. The boat ride came with a hefty $50 price tag. This may not sound like much, but fifty bucks is more than a month’s wages for many Filipinos. It’s complete extortion.

Needless to say, we were pissed. But rather than giving into the Mafia-like behavior of the bangka owners, we went out looking for a cheaper alternative, and quickly found one. For less than half the price, we decided to take the overnight cargo boat which stops off in Coron on its way south to unload goods and load up on human cargo. It sounded awful. But, at least, this was a way around the price-fixing scam.

The open-sided, two-deck vessel with the pretty name of Josille was anything but pretty. Beat up with a crumbling coat of paint, the boat laid low in the dark waters while its cargo was slowly being unloaded by a bunch of rough-looking workers. Awkwardly inching our way over the plank onto the boat, we were hit by the smell of fried fish and cigarette smoke. The lower deck was cramped with passengers sitting between crates of San Miguel beer and sacks of cement. We worked our way through the thick cement dust and up to the second deck only to discover more people – a lot more.

Thomas on the Josille

They were all huddled up on ridiculously narrow cots which were lined up in three rows about 20 meters deep. Already completely drenched with sweat, we quickly snatched up the last two corner cots normally reserved for the handicapped. It turned out to be an appropriate choice as we were seriously challenged by the conditions. We proceeded to endure hours of waiting for the boat to embark, stifling heat, kids jumping from cot to cot, and tortuously off-key karaoke music. All WE wanted was to sleep. But that was a luxury not to be had on this cargo boat. After sitting at the dock for eight hours, we finally left Coron at 4 AM. Nearly comatose from a lack of sleep and water, we eventually nodded off.

An alarm sounds. Is it already time to get up? Momentarily roused from deep sleep, images of an older lady standing over me answering her phone. Annoyed, I turn away to face my neighbor’s stubby toes. Minutes or hours later, my eyes open to witness a beautiful sunrise, or was it just another episode in a series of crazy dreams? Lines of people pushing and shoving towards a fragrant seafood buffet – ouch – an elbow suddenly jolts me awake to discover a plate of fried fish heads being placed next to my face. I devour the food and drop back into unconsciousness. Those stubby toes kick me in the back of the head and I protectively roll up into the fetal position. An endless string of desert islands with perfect white-sand beaches. Restless sleep. The boat’s horn rattles me back to consciousness. I prop myself up on my elbows and rub my eyes. Jagged karst formations surround the boat? YES, El Nido is clearly visible in the distance!

Sunrise from the Josille

After a long 9 1/2 hours, we finally stepped off the boat. I thought this trip would never end. Although I felt like crap, I was pleased to have dotched the bangka owners turned mafiosi. And on top of that, we had saved enough money to pay for all of our island hopping trips El Nido is so famous for. I can’t wait.

11 responses to “Cargo Boat to El Nido”

  1. avatar Ralph says:

    I was cringing when i was reading the middle part, glad to know that the end was still beautiful for you guys! Regardless of the in betweens and lack there of, El Nido is indeed one beautiful place!

  2. avatar Glenda says:

    Hi..i can’t stop laughing at your adventures inside the big bangka..i can immagine your face..but that’s how it is in the Philippines..Anyway,thank you for blogging such beautiful places in the Philippines which i never seen yet, like Palawan and the Banaue Rice Terraces..I am from Vigan, another UNESCO heritage site in the Phils..which is approximately 15 hours away from Sagada and Ifugao..but if you just look into the map..only these Mountain ranges set us apart from this upland provinces.. I have never been home for the past 4 years but hoping I could visit Palawan when I”ll go home..anyway..I will follow your travel adventures…

  3. avatar Jeremy says:

    first of all, love your blog! your travels are truly inspiring!

    I’m planning my visit to Palawan for 2 more weeks. I am going to start from Coron, then make my way down to Puerto Pricessa.

    At the moment,looking for the means of transportation to get to El Nido from Coron. Your cargo boat trip sounds like an experience. How did you find it? How much did you pay? How frequent does it run? Whom do I contact?

    Thank you!

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Hi Jeremy,

      When we took the boat, it ran twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The ticket price per cod was 950 pesos and included two rice-and-fried-fish meals. There’s also a 20-peso terminal fee. To find out the latest schedule, take a tricycle to the pier and ask around. First, I would try the staff in the office building on your right as you enter the compound. If there’s nobody there, exit the compound again. There’s a ticket booth on your right along the road, try to get the latest info there. The staff will definitely be able to tell you the day and an approximate time. They told us the boat would either leave at 9 PM or 12 AM, so we showed up at 8 PM. If you read the whole posting, you know we sat at the dock for 8 hours and finally left at 4 AM. By the way, you can’t buy your ticket at that office. You buy it on the cargo boat. Enjoy!

  4. avatar Jeremy says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Thank you very much for the info!

    Now that you have done it, would you personally recommend cargo boat? Was it worth the money?


    • avatar Thomas says:


      It all depends on your budget. If you are willing to spend 2,200 pesos ($50), you can take a 6-hour bangka ride down the coast. If you want to pay less, then the cargo boat would be your choice of transportation. The cargo boat journey was a 17-hour odyssey (including the waiting at the dock), but it was worth for us because we were able to get around the price-fixing scam of the local bangka owners.

  5. avatar Freda says:

    Oh Tony, “Please”
    Have you forgotten our boat trip on the Pearl River with the short Plank sleeping beds,and our heads hanging out the port holes with the smell and the view of yellow bubbly sewage, with only 1 small bowl of rice and 1 bite size of duck fat on bone (mostly bone)
    Once we docked, we then boarded a full day winding bus trip with fully closed windows, pea soup thick smoke filled air, blistering heat and 99% of the passengers coughing and spitting on the bus floor.
    Sweet memories of 1991.


  6. avatar Tony says:

    I remember that, and I can assure you this was FAR worse, mostly because of the extreme heat and the Karaoke music. Plus, we had much more space on that boat in China.

    And that bus trip afterwards was through some of the most beautiful countryside in China 🙂

  7. avatar Puxesaco says:

    Sounds a bit like the “gov’t ferry” in Burma between Mrauk Oo and Sittwe. Except there were no cots, no meals, people were peeing in plastic bags and throwing them overboard….or not. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

  8. avatar Freda says:

    It was?
    Couldn’t see it through the smoke.
    Anyway, I was too busy watching the lady have convulsions.
    You remember the lady that no one would help even though she slid completely out of her seat.
    Supposedly there was some sort of local belief that it was tabu to help such a person with this condition.
    Crazy world we live in.
    But I will have to admit when we arrived at our destination this would be the place where I would fall in love with China.
    I will always remember the beauty of the countryside.
    Did I ever thank you for taking me there.
    Love You

  9. avatar karen says:

    I’m off to Cebu next week, also going to Palawan, El Nido and Bohol. Found this blog by accident. Cant help but laugh at your escapades. Full of envy for you and your travelling friends. One day I hope that will be me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.