Atienza Cargo Ferry from El Nido to Coron: Not for the Faint of Heart

On June 21st, I took a cargo ferry from El Nido to Coron Town. I took this ferry the last time I left El Nido, and while it was full of random cargo and lots of people, it wasn’t a disaster. This time, however, it was far less pleasant.

Misadventures on the Atienza Cargo Ferry from El Nido to Coron

Cast of Characters:

1) The Captains. I wish I were kidding, but I am not.
2) The paradise I left behind.

cargo ferry from el nido to coron town

3) The dried fish that made the boat smell oh-so-delicious as they were dumped into the cargo hold.
4) The tanks of live fish in what used to be the first floor sleepers – because of how much cargo was aboard, we were all crammed onto the top deck instead.

cargo ferry from el nido to coron town

5) The passengers, stacked atop each other like….
6) Water buffalo. There were 41 of them aboard this ship, in addition to the other cargo (fish, dried fish, many many cabinets and mirrors) and the roosters.

water buffalo on cargo ferry from el nido to coron town

7) More water buffalo outside, being hosed down perpetually. They came from Liminacong and were bound for Manila. They weren’t aloud to smoke, either.
8) And finally, the REALLY unlucky water buffalo that were housed in the sub-cargo hold, squished in with the dried fish.

water buffalo on cargo ferry from el nido to coron town water buffalo on cargo ferry from el nido to coron town

8) Katrien, Julie and me: in la merde together. And the boat really did smell just like crap – with all the buffaloes defecating below, and the dried fish smell wafting up to our cots, it was quite an olfactory adventure.
9) Sunrise as we approached Busuanga.

sunrise on the ferry from el nido to coron

Atienza cargo ferry ride

The boat was actually scheduled to leave on Friday, June 19th at midnight. And by “scheduled” I mean “not at all set in stone” because – as I learnt the hard way – Atienza’s schedules are not fixed. All of El Nido knew there were a swath of tourists on the cargo boat and every single one of them thought it was hilarious that we were pulling our hair out trying to figure out when it would get here. When the agent for Atienza tells you “it will get here when it gets here” you know you are in trouble.

The boat docked in El Nido on Friday afternoon, bound for Liminacong. It would then pick up more cargo and unload the cargo from Manila, finally turning around to pick up new cargo and passengers in El Nido. Seeing as how the boat was already in the harbour, I asked the agent when it was scheduled to come back. He didn’t know. The guards at the pier didn’t know. The terminal agent in the ferry terminal didn’t know. So I finally asked the security guards if I could speak to the captain himself, a request that was met with dumbfounded silence. They finally agreed, and off I went, with the entire harbour in tow. On the way to the ferry, coast guards called out to have my visit their boat instead because “ours goes FASTER, Ma’am!”. I asked them for a ride to Coron but they didn’t oblige. The ferry terminal guard presented me to the captain and, once he got over the fact that I was standing in his quarters asking for a timeline, he said they would be back by midnight tomorrow to pick us up. We would thus be only 24 hours late, which meant that most of us could make our flights to Manila.

Except that we weren’t. The boat finally came back on June 21st at noon, and only left at 1pm, meaning we only got to Coron at 11pm the next day. Unlike the last trip, this boat was full of carabao (water buffalo) – 41 of them. Some were sick, and the smell was overpoweringly awful. The boat was also full of dried fish, and it had no fans. It was therefore unbearably hot, pungent and a fairly disgusting ride. That’s what paying 950 pesos to Coron will get you.

The lesson: if you’re going to take the cargo ferry (less than 1/2 the price of the 2,200 banca boat) to Coron, bring along the following:
– earplugs.
– a sleep sheet to put on your sticky vinyl cot.
– something
that smells good that you can randomly sniff to help the buffalo poo and dried fish smell dissipate.
– clothes to use as a pillow when draped over your pack.
– water.
– a bag of candies to share with the kids aboard….and with the captains.
– snacks, especially if you don’t like fried sardines for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
– patience – lots of it.


4 thoughts on “Atienza Cargo Ferry from El Nido to Coron: Not for the Faint of Heart”

  1. I haven't tried traveling by boat with carabaos (water buffaloes)on board. But during my 10-month stint in Calauit Island, Palawan I regularly rode a jeepney with 3-5 pigs on board. They stayed on the roof, tied-up but still smelling awful all the way! Oh, and of course, we always had roosters, too.

    I wrote an entire post on my blog regarding your backpacking experience here in my country. Hope you get to visit it sometime. :D

  2. Yikes. But awesome also. The water version of public transport is always more interesting than the land version. I had similar, although in some ways different, experiences with a slow, overloaded boat in Mali. If interested, you can read about it here: . It was crazy. But there was nothing close to 41 water buffalo and while it smelled awful, there was no smell approximating buffalo shit+dried fish. These trips are great though. Not just because they provide a good story, but because under these conditions human interaction becomes so much more spontaneous and free. Cheers to public water transport!! – Phil

    1. Wow, that’s quite the ride! Thanks for linking to it – great read. I’ve sent it around to some friends and they’ve confessed to no work at all today because they spent the morning reading your archives :) Nice work!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top