The website for TAO expeditions declares this:
“Explorers wanted…Escape away to a nomad neverland…Experience our way of life. Our home, our Livelihood, our culture”
I had one question, how do I sign up?
TAO (which means human) is a foundation set up by Filipino and English friends who started running sailing trips and establishing networks with the local families and fishermen. Over the last 10 years or so their empire has grown and is now (in my opinion) one of the best things you can do in the Philippines.
They currently run a number of different trips and experiences (head over to their website for more details: https://www.taophilippines.com/). Unfortunately, their sailing experience was fully booked 3-4 months in advance so I opted for my second choice, the 5 day/4 night expedition on a Banka (outrigger canoe boat) from Coron to El Nido. Costing 26,900 PHP (circa £420) the trip was not cheap but it was the most INCREDIBLE experience!
The expeditions start on a Monday morning, with a team briefing (and sampling of the ‘jungle juice’ aka rum and fruit juice) the night before. On my trip there was a mix of 24 people of all ages, from all over the world with support from the crew or ‘lost boys’. Over the 5 days / 4 nights, we island hopped from Coron to El Nido, with different stops along the way to visit powder white beaches (the sand was like flour!) or snorkel WWII shipwrecks and reefs.
Each day is slightly different and the stops are dictated to by the weather / tide etc so every trip follows its own little path. A typical day is like this:
Morning – you wake up in your private beach hut to the sound of the ocean (and a few roosters!!) eat breakfast and spend the morning on the island (you can snorkel, play volleyball, swim, make jewellery from shells, help the crew or simply relax!) before kayaking back to the main boat and heading to your next stop.
Daytime – during the day you will visit a number of different islands. Some will be TAO base camps with basic facilities (usually a toilet basin that you manually flush with bucket or water) but most are totally remote and without any infrastructure. You are encouraged to engage with the locals (not just gawp and take photos) and they seem to genuinely appreciate the time you spend with them (in part I think due to the foundation and support for them set up by TAO – more on this below!) – I chatted to families and played basketball with the children.
Lunch is prepared and either served on the main boat or on the island. The food was absolutely delicious with a mixture of local vegetables, salad and fish with a large serving of Filipino power (aka rice!)
Evening – you will normally reach your base camp before sunset and the crew will set up your bed before serving the evening meal. Each base camp is unique which really adds to the experience. After dinner there’s plenty of time for cards, campfires and anything you fancy doing!
TAO have a large base camp on Culion Island, which you visit as part of the trip. From there they run a non-profit foundation which includes the TAO academy (educating island children) and the TAO women’s association (creating work opportunities for the women by teaching them how to give massages, sew and make organic coconut products). They are also teaching the islanders about responsible and sustainable farming.
What to expect
TAO expeditions are not about 5* luxury and drinking cocktails in your private infinity pool. They are about people and the natural beauty of the Philippines. You sleep in bamboo huts on the beach, wash with a bucket in a hut and there is most definitely no wifi. However, that’s what really makes this a trip of a lifetime!
What to bring
Very little! Your main backpack or suitcase will be stored safely on the boat and you can access this during the day so all you need is a dry bag (they are sold everywhere in Coron and El Nido) with a few essentials – towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, basic toiletries, swimwear, a hat, sarong, shorts, t-shirt, re-usable water bottle and camera. You really do not need much more than this.
During the camp briefing you are given a bracelet which you load with money to pay for any drinks (water and coffee/ginger tea is free, with a few jungle juices in the evening) or additional purchases at the main base camp (coconut shampoo/oil or additional massages) so you don’t even need any cash on the trip.
Reflecting back, the TAO expedition was one of the highlights of my entire 5 month trip – I did a few other island hopping day trips around the Philippines and they made me realise how special it was. It’s just not the same when you are surrounded by 100+ tourists all trying to get the perfect selfie with drones buzzing around in the sky. Island life was paradise.
If you are heading over to the Philippines I would highly recommend an expedition with TAO. Step out of your confirm zone and see a different side to the Philippines!
Here’s a selections of images from my trip – everything from the base camps, the food and the wonderful people!