If the Philippines will join a beach or island universe competition our main representative should be Palawan. Recently The Best Island In The World in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. Most islands are undeveloped and untouched. Although recently, locals have been telling us that majority of the islands are being bought by private large corporations. Hopefully, capitalism won’t spoil Palawan and its natural resources.
Astonishing seascapes, rock formations, lagoons, powder white beaches, jungles, diverse marine, and wildlife may it be under the sea or in its forest. It is a dream destination to all of us. There’s so much to do and I know that this article won’t be able to do justice, but I will share what I know and my experience of Palawan. Every year I make sure to return because I want to be reminded of that such place do exist. Living in the city can be numbing and will leave you lifeless if you stay too long.
First to See: Puerto Princesa, Palawan: A City Inside a Forest
Puerto Princesa is a coastal city and the capital of Palawan. The main town already has a lot of developments and buildings that lead to congested traffic in most parts of the city. Now, going a bit farther away outside the main town never fails to amaze me. To explore Puerto Princesa you may need to take 4-5 days to really enjoy the place. The Department of Tourism (DOT) has various international promotional campaigns hyping it as the eco-capital of the country. It has a thriving restaurant scene and in its outskirts, there are various outdoor activities that you’d definitely enjoy.
How to go to Puerto Princesa?
On average, there are 13 flights that go in and out of Puerto Princesa by local commercial flights coming from Cebu, Manila, Caticlan, and Davao. Make sure to keep an eye for promo fares as there are plenty to choose from.
Popular and one of the cheapest ways to go around the city is through their unique tricycles or you may take jeepneys.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa?
Every time I’m in Puerto Princesa I always stay in a quaint bed & breakfast called The Green Space. It’s just 5 minutes away from the airport and walking distance to good restaurants around the city. It’s very clean, nice and spacious. They only have 10 rooms and their beds are perfect! They make sure that each linen that they use has 400 and above thread counts. Each room comes with a set breakfast which is fairly reasonable. A room will cost you around 1,900php-2,200php (40USD) that can accommodate up to 3-4 people. I highly recommend this place.
What to do in Puerto Princesa?
Popular for its subterranean river tour in Sabang or underground river tour known by most, it is considered as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. The underground river is flooded with many tourists but you cannot blame the hype because its limestone formations are an incredible sight. However, the actual boat ride through the caves is quite short. The boatmen serve your guide as well. They’d tell you random corny yet quirky jokes during the ride but nevertheless, it was fun.
You’ll go through a forest reserve prior to embarking on your tour boats and there are a lot of monkeys around the island and through the forest. Be vigilant as they tend to steal bags that contain food. This little fellow stole our bag and we actually have all our money and phones inside. Good thing he dropped the backpack.
Cost is 1,000php-1,500php (20-25 USD) depends on the agency or how you can frugally organize this tour.
Logistics and prerequisites: Go to Sabang Port which is 2 hours drive from the city. Make sure to rise up early and book a van or jeep to go to Sabang Port. From the kick-off port, you will ride a boat going to the underground river Park. The average travel time is 45 minutes or so.
Book at least 2-3 weeks advance prior to your flight to Puerto Princesa as I have mentioned that there is a high influx of tourists for this tour. You may opt to coordinate with local tour organizers.
The Sabang Beach is beautiful in the morning as the forest background creates this mist of fog during sunrise.
Island Hopping in Puerto Princesa
The best bet is going to Honda Bay. Made up of numerous smalls islands each is unique and rare.
Starfish Island, Luli Island, Cowrey Island to name a few. You may do snorkeling, go free diving or play beach volley or take as much selfie as you want.
The whole day trip can last the whole day so make sure to plan early and return back to the city before dusk.
Logistics: Boat rentals are normally 1,500php (30 USD) then split it among your group. Don’t forget to tip the boatmen as well.
Explore the City and Eat
6 years ago as a first-time visitor, I asked my tricycle driver if he could bring refer a 1st-time tourist to any of the restaurants in the city that could best represent Puerto Princesa. Confidently he smiled at me and said: “Okay ma’am ako bahala alam ko na po!” (Okay sure, I know where to take you!). He drove me to this Restaurant called Badjao, at first I was reluctant coz’ he was driving through a secluded place to my surprise there’s actually this serene restaurant. A floating restaurant actually built in a mangrove area offering picturesque views of Puerto Princesa’s seascape. Perfect for lunch to mid-afternoon venues. Serves fresh seafood and other local Filipino dishes.
There are a lot of restaurants and eateries to choose from so make sure to talk and ask the locals which ones are their recommendations. Below are some of my other recommendations;
- Captain Ribs (Continental)
- Kalaui Restaurant (Southeast, Asian, Filipino_
- La Terrasse (Filipino, Asian)
- Kinabuch Grill & Bar (Asian)
- Ka Inato (Filipino, BBQ, Inasal House)
- The Gypsy’s Lair Art Cafe (Continental)
- City Baywalk (Dampa, Paluto Style)
Puerto Princesa has a lot of activities to offer although it could get crowded with tourists, it does not yet tarnish the experience and enjoyment of the place. You’ll get the convenience of the city and nature that co-exist well together as one.
Second to See: El Nido, Ageless Towering Limestones to Sugary Beaches
8 years ago it was a sleepy fisherman’s village. Electrical power comes only after 5 pm until it will get interrupted again at 9 am the next day because it was just run by a generator. As tourism boosted and the majority of the visitors are coming from European countries you could see that foreigners outnumber the local tourist. Main streets are cramped with tour agencies, souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and mini convenience stores. In any case, it added convenience and livelihood to the community and its visitors. These small proprietorships didn’t tarnish the beauty of the town but even complimented the place. Electricity now runs 2/47 with fewer interruptions.
I normally stay for four to 5 days whenever I’m in El Nido. The town center is so easy to get around with because it’s quite small and everything that you will need is within a block’s worth of walk. Locals are very friendly as they greet and smile at you as you pass by them. Most restaurants are owned by the French and Swedish folks who loved the town so much that they decided to make it a home.
El Nido is a gateway to bacquit archipelagos. Limestone verticals, cliffs, bays, secret beaches that you have to go thru underneath a limestone to get to the other side
How to go to El Nido
Once you leave the Airport in Puerto Princesa, you will see the shuttle vans waiting outside. They will take you to El Nido for P500 (10USD) within 3-5 hours. Don’t expect too much leg room though but these vans can take you to El Nido pretty fast. If you’d like more room and are not pressed for time you may opt to take the bus which will cost you roughly 350php (7 USD). Chartered flights are available for the few discriminating travelers.
Where to stay in El Nido?
A lot of accommodation of options for those who are frugal travelers like me. There are air-conditioned rooms with decent toilet & bath for as low as 500php-650php (12USD).
I normally stay at Ricgem Place (click here for rates/availability) it’s reasonable and the accommodation is better than the most budget alternatives. Moreover, the owners are pretty flexible when it comes to checking in earlier and checking out a later time. I recommend this place for travelers on a budget yet would still want privacy and AC in their rooms. It’s simple, basic and clean. Consider renting rooms in town will let you be close to restaurants and beachside bars, but also closer to the everyday sights and sounds.
If you want some cash to splash consider getting an accommodation in the archipelago itself. There are pretty plenty to choose from. To name a few that’s pretty popular are:
It’s very easy to book accommodations and plenty to choose from it will be just a matter of budget allocation and availability of the place. Research, compare and read POV of travelers who stayed at your chosen place.
What to Do in El Nido?
Normally they subdivided normal tours from Tours A, B, C, and D. You may book ahead through agencies or book directly when you arrive in El Nido as there are quite a number of local tour agencies that you could talk to and will arrange everything. Tours can range from a low as 900php (20USD) to 1,200php (25USD). All packages come with a guided tour, safety equipment, buffet lunch, and boat transfers. All boats are manned by a ship captain, lifeguard, and 1-2 ship caddies. Island hoping starts at 9 AM and ends at 5 PM.
Tour A is one of the best and most popular because of the variety of areas that you could go to in one day. During the day, you will discover beautiful lagoons, beaches and snorkeling spots. I suggest you start your Day 1 with Tour A as this is more physically demanding.
- Small Lagoon
- Big Lagoon
- Secret Lagoon
- Shimizu Island
- 7 Commando
- Snake Island (intertwining sandbar)
- Pinagbuyutan Island
- Other snorkeling sites
**Quick Tip: Make sure to bring lots of cash as ATMs are limited
- Helicopter Island
- Matinloc Shrine
- Secret Beach
- Star Beach
- Hidden Beach
- Cadlao Lagoon
- Ipil Beach
- Paradise Beach
- Pasandigan Beach
- Natnat Beach
- Bukal Beach
The restaurant scene in El Nido is pretty strong. I recommend trying the following places:
- Trattoria Altrove (one of the best brick oven pizza!)
- Art Cafe
- Bella Vita El Nido
If you enjoy going out a night there are lots of sunset sessions that happens beachfront playing loud music from dub, house to reggae from bars offering happy hours.
El Nido by its true nature is an eclectic town from its people, commerce, and archipelagos. Make sure to do your research ask other tourist and guides. Wrapping it as schizophrenic travel spot and to those who are fickle and who’d like to have options. This place is for the adventurous. Stunningly presented in its entirety as you leave this place it will keep calling you back because you will never run out of things to do.
Third and Last Place to See: Coron, Ultra Blue Waters
Coron is the last place to see in Palawan as each destination will definitely overpower the other if not followed by ranking. The beauty of Coron in its truest nature will overpower Puerto Princesa and El Nido. They are both beautiful, but not in equilibrium as this place is.
This place is a tropical heaven on earth. It’s not difficult to understand why the Forbes Traveler Magazine listed Coron as the top beach destination in the world. Located in the Calamian Islands in the northern part of Palawan. Remarkable marine live, sunken WWII Japanese shipwrecks, stunning lagoons, limestones, nature reserves, marine gardens, turtles, white perfectly white powder sand beaches.
How to go to Coron?
Coron has a functioning airport for commercial flights so it’s relatively easier to travel here than in El Nido. From the airport you book a van taking you to the town or to your nearest booked accommodation. Check our local commercial flights that’ll take you to Busuanga Airport.
Where to stay in Coron?
When I went there with my friends we decided to rent a local’s house thru Airnb as we’d rather cook our own meals by ourselves so to save some money and also seize the opportunity of getting fresh seafood and produce from Coron. We were able to get a whole bungalow house with good AC, a functioning kitchen, and a wonderful front porch for just 4,000php (80USD) splitting the cost to amongst us in the group. It’s a good way to live like the locals and a great way to save a few bucks especially if you’re traveling in a group. Get 1,000php/20 USD worth of credits free when you sign up in Airbnb CLICK HERE.
Just like in El Nido you have options to stay inland or to one of the island resorts let know that staying in a private resort will cost you roughly 20,000php-50,000php (500-1000USD).
Here are the TOP 10 CORON updated list of accommodations/hotels that can fit any budget.
What to Do in Coron?
To go around and to go island hopping, of course, you’ll need to hire a boat within the Coron Bay that’s on the near opposite side of the public market. A boat will cost you 1,500php-2,000php (30-40 USD). Boat fee will exclude island entrance fee. Prepare 50php-100php (1-2USD) bills as each islands does have an entrance fee.
You may do these tours:
- The Coron Island Tour (beach, snorkeling)
- The Malcapuya Loop (beach, snorkeling)
- The Culion Tour (historical tour)
The tour of Coron is very relaxed and more calming as compared to El Nido’s erratic activity options. Coron is the best place to go scuba diving and snorkel as there are plenty of fish, corals and live shells. There are also a lot of sunken Japanese was ships due to the bombing of the US in WWII.
Lakes and its lagoons
Stunning formations erupting from the sea waters of Coron. Hidden among these cliffs are 13 mysterious lakes, the two (2) most famous ones are the Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake. The rest of the other lakes are protected sites not available for tourist activities.
A short but exhausting trek across a steep rainforest will take you to Kayangan Lake, covered limestone hills, the crystal clear lake is so enchanting that you could spend hours swimming in its preserve. Perfect temperature for swimming.
The water is interesting as it’s mix of salt and spring water but make sure to wear a life vest for safety reasons as it could get really deep.
White Sand Beaches.
Imagine ideal postcard beaches with electric blue water as it meets the perfect powder white sand. Everything marries well together in symphony.
Beautiful white-sand beach and ultra-turquoise waters, which serve as a sanctuary to Dugongs and sea turtles.
Time is not in a hurry in a place like Coron. Ask your boatman to park the boat and take an afternoon nap amongst the Talisay trees while splashes of sea water sing you to your slumber. When you wake up from your nap you’d see the perfect blue sky with stunning seascape, wanting never to return. A vacation so ideal that you will dream about it for months to come.
**Quick Tip: Make sure to bring lots of cash as ATMs are limited
There are other activities available to do in Coron like trekking, hot springs, exploring coral gardens, scuba diving and visiting Calauit Safari. These are optional activities. You have to explore the islands and lakes before anything else and then if you have more time do the other activities.
For perceptive travelers who are willing to go great distances for the rewards of clear waters and pristine white beaches. Palawan is unpredictable regardless of how many times you’ll visit the place.
See another perspective of Palawan by The Full Frame Narrative
The Full Frame Narrative
In conclusion, I am not recommending you to choose one from the other but rather see all three places in succession.
Go forth and wander. Experience and tell its story when you return home.
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