Less visited than other parts of South East Asia, the Philippines offers intrepid backpackers a sense of rugged adventure that can be missing in some of the more well trodden destinations. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and diverse destinations in the country, is the thin tropical slither of green land located in on the archipelago’s westernmost point, known as Palawan. (Part of the region of Luzon.)
With over 2,000 kilometres of coastline, 1,700 islands containing thousands of pristine beaches, towering limestone karsts, tropical rainforest, amazing wildlife and a chilled out burgeoning backpacker scene – Palawan is a paradisiacal adventure playground waiting to be discovered! And, the best thing about it is it’s not crowded with too many tourists YET!
One way to search for good hotel deals in Palawan is through booking sites like Traveloka, where you can easily compare prices and even get cheap promo deals.
10 Things in Palawan not to be missed!
1. Puerto Princesa Underground River
Located 80km north of Puerto Princesa, the Subterranean River located within a National Park was voted one of the 7 New Wonders of the World in 2011, along with Iguazu Falls, Table Mountain and Halong Bay. The entrance to the river is a short walk or boat trip from the town of Sabang, where you can arrange tours inside the cave for around 3,000 PHP.
Palawan is famous for its diving, (snorkelling if you’re not a diver!) and there are so many dive sites, unspoilt deserted islands and pristine coral reefs to explore! If you think the dramatic cliffs of El Nido are impressive just wait until you submerge under that turquoise clear water! If you’re into wreck diving, Coron Bay is the place to go, with incredible WWII wrecks in such a small area. With warm waters and so much marine life, Palawan is a diver’s dream.
3. El Nido Marine Reserve
Spanish for ‘the nest’, El Nido is the gateway to the stunning Bacuit Archipelago, which makes up 45 islands and islets. The landscape here is unlike any other part of the Philippines (having once been attached to Southern China thousands of years ago) with towering limestone cliffs plunging into turquoise lagoons, reminiscent of Guillin or Halong Bay.
Palawan is teeming with nature and there are many species which are endemic to the island, such as the Palawan bearded pig and the interesting Philippine Pangolin (often called a scaly anteater!). You can spot monitor lizards, crocodiles, flying squirrels, leopard cats, bearcats, giant geckos and over 279 different bird species.
5. Deserted islands
Ever wanted to find your own deserted castaway island? Palawan is the place for you! With 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines, and over 1,700 of them in Palawan, you can find your own slice of paradise. Choose a luxury resort and treat yourself with the island all to yourself or go Robinson Crusoe and set up camp like this traveller did!
6. Port Barton
A small village on the north west coast of Palawan, Port Barton is a smaller, less frequented El Nido. Fast becoming a popular choice amongst backpackers due to cheaper accommodation than El Nido. If you’re looking for a laid-back, relaxed beachside village with nearby rainforest, good snorkeling and natural beauty, then this place is for you!
7. Coron Island
The separate island of Coron (just a 20 minute Bangka ride from Coron town) is a must visit destination in Palawan. With a jungle-glad rugged terrain, cliffs and lagoons, it’s dramatic scenery begs to be photographed. Don’t miss the amazing Lake Kayangan with its crystal clear waters and dramatic views and the beautiful Twin Lagoon, which is perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
8. Lake Barracuda (Coron)
Also part of Coron island, the unique Lake Barracuda deserves a special mention. On the surface of the lake, the water is cold and fresh, yet as you go deeper (around 14 metres), the water is salty and warm, reaching up to 38 degree celcius at a depth of 30 metres. You can actually see the layers of hot and cold water, known as ‘thermoclines’. A short climb over some jagged rocks will bring you to a rocky wall where you can climb down to the lake.
9. Island Hopping Honda Bay
Clean white sands, shallow warm waters and loads of tropical fish and starfish, Honda Bay, near Puerto Princesa, is a wonderful place to go island hopping for the day away from the city. With many small islets to explore, a great way to get around is by Bangka, a traditional Filipino fishing boat.
10. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Another one for divers and snorkelers, the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park in the middle of the Sulu Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This marine and bird sanctuary has an incredible diversity of marine life to explore.
Palawan: The Basics
Getting to Palawan is easy. The main airports are El Nido, Puerto Princesa, Taytay and Busuanga and the Philippines has several low cost airlines, such as Zest Air, Cebu Pacific, Philippines Airlines, Air Philippines and even Air Asia. From the capital, Manila, it’s 1 hour 15 minutes to Puerto Princesa, just a short flight to paradise!
Getting around the island is easy and the roads have improved in recent years. In some places, such as El Nido, it’s best to travel by jeep as the roads are quite bad. From Puerto Princesa to El Nido it takes 6 hours by road. You can also hop on a boat to take you to different beauty spots. For the adventurous amongst you, you can also hire a scooter / motorbike in main tourist hubs such as Puerto Princesa and El Nido and explore the island’s back roads yourself.
There’s an increasing number of luxury and budget accommodation options popping up in Palawan, whether you want your own luxury private island resort, basic beach bungalow or lively backpacker dorm. You can get a double room for as little as $10-15 USD. Dorm rooms (such as La Banane Backpacker in El Nido) are from 350 PHP. On the outlying islands there are some much fancier options if you’re looking to treat yourself.