Palawan, Philippines – Backpacking Travel Guide!

If you are willing to make the journey to Palawan, the unimaginable scenery and countless adventures on offer will surely make this one of your favourite islands in the whole of Southeast Asia!

Don’t believe us? Well, you better, because Palawan was recently voted the best island in Southeast Asia in our Readers Poll!

With amazing diving and snorkelling, trekking and rock climbing opportunities, access to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (the Underground River of Puerto Princesa), the famous Barracuda Lake and the legendary Bacuit Archipelago, which consists of thousands of deserted paradise islands… Palawan has more to offer than most islands…

Palawan Philippines photo by Rhys-Mckay
Palawan Philippines is home to some of the most amazing scenery in the world!

Where to stay in Palawan & Some Great Palawan Hostels!

Palawan actually consists of approximately 1,780 islands, some of which are just tiny uninhabited crags, with Palawan Island itself being the main one. As a backpacker, it’s likely that you’ll have heard of the following places:

Where to stay in Puerto Princesa City:

The capital of Palawan is a fun and bustling city. As mentioned above, it’s the gateway to the Sabang Underground River, which is the main reason that tourists, local and foreign, visit the city in droves.

However, this natural wonder is not the only reason you should check out Puerto Princesa. The city has been voted several times as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines, so it’s worth soaking up this rare characteristic! Plus, the food and nightlife scene is worth sampling.

Truth be told, most travellers tend to use the city merely as a base to explore the rest of Palawan, getting out quick to the backpacker haven of El Nido. However, if you choose to stay here a night or two, you’ll find plenty of lodging ranging from as little as 300 PHP a night for a dorm bed or 800 PHP a night for a private room.

Backpacker favourites in Puerto Princesa include:

Sheebang Hostel – A fun, quirky hostel with a friendly traveller vibe just 20 minutes walk from the beach. The hostel has colourful decor, a good common room, lots of places to hang out, funky outdoor hostel bar, hammocks, decent AC rooms and even ping pong tables.

All in all, a great place to meet other backpackers and have a cheap nights’ stay on the way to somewhere else. Dorm beds cost as little as 300 PHP per night.

Balai Esperanza – Another sociable place for travellers just 2 minutes walk from the beach and 5km from the beautiful Honda Bay. The hostel gets particularly good reviews for the friendly hosts and staff that are there to help you with tours, trips and transport at any time of day. Includes shared hostel kitchen, free breakfast, AC rooms and communal areas for travellers to hang out. Dorm beds start at 400 PHP.

Tree House Inn – If you’re looking for something a little less rustic, and a bit more city, this hostel might be your cup of tea. Really close to the airport and the biggest shopping mall in Palawan, it’s clean, bright and good for the night when you land or just before you fly.

Read our full guide to Puerto Princesa here.

Where to stay in El Nido:

El Nido is one of the most stunning, and therefore, the most popular of places for backpackers to visit in the whole country. With its beautiful white sandy beaches, island hopping, watersports, kayaking, rock climbing and trekking adventure opportunities – we wonder why?

Although recent traveller reports say that the paradise is suffering from too many tourists, it’s not completely ruined yet!

Backpacker favourites in El Nido include:

La Banane Hostel – This budget-friendly hostel attracts a younger crowd with a television area and shaded bean bags along the beach. A bed in a dorm cost around 350P per bed. Rooms can be quite noisy as the hostel is located right on the street, but if you’re looking to meet fellow travellers there’s no better place.

Relucio Travellers Pension – This guesthouse offers basic rooms with a fan and a shared bathroom. Towels are provided by friendly staff as is drinking water. Though the style of this hotel is ‘no frills’, you’ll get your kicks from the amazing view. Just wait and see…

Cliffside Cottages –  This lovely accommodation is snuggled up against a breathtaking marble cliff with luscious gardens all around. Private cottages are around 600P.

Cuna Hotel For flashpackers only! If you’re looking to treat yourself (and why not?), this place gets amazing reviews and surely has one of the best views of any hotel in the world! Complete with infinity swimming pool, bar and restaurant, this hotel is one minute from the beach and is the perfect place to relax.

Read our full guide to El Nido here.

Where to stay in Coron:

Famous for its wreck diving and lake diving, Coron Island, just north of the main island of Palawan, is another must visit place in Palawan province! With its island hopping adventures, snorkelling, hot springs, trekking opportunities and the famous Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes, you won’t want to miss it off your Palawan itinerary!

It will take you at least a week to take in all that Coron has to offer so don’t rush it. There is so much to see here. Catch the ferry from El Nido (which can take anywhere from 4-9 hours) and prepare to get comfy in Coron a while…

Backpacker favourites in Coron include:

Fat Monkey Hostel – It’s cheap (very cheap) and cheerful with friendly staff who will welcome you the way only a Filipino can and help you book transport and tours on the island if you need it. Prices start at 300 PHP for a room in an 8-bed dorm. All in all, a homely place to stay for the budget traveller.

Dayon Hostel – This newer hostel has a much more modern, stylish feel if you’re into that. Clean, bright with excellent facilities, smart dorm rooms, comfy beds (with privacy curtains), an outdoor sun terrace and bar, plus free continental breakfast, this hostel is rated fabulous on Prices are more expensive at 700 PHP for a dorm bed.

Hop Hostel– Another brand new hostel that follows the trend in the rise of boutique hostels across the country. Hop Hostel is in a great location with all the top-notch facilities you’d expect; comfy beds with privacy curtains, WIFI, free breakfast etc. However, the unique selling point of the hostel is the awesome view of the bay from the rooftop!

Read our full guide to Coron here.

Not-To-Be-Missed Things to do in Palawan

While there are too many things to do in Palawan than can be listed in this guide, the following Palawan points of interest are ones that you won’t want to miss!

Visit the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River:

Voted as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world, the Sabang subterranean river has attracted thousands of tourists every year as it is the longest underground river in the world. You will need to book ahead of time to get a permit to enter. Book this tour here!

The Underground River of Puerto Princesa, Palawan
The Underground River of Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Take an Island Hopping Tour in El Nido:

In El Nido, there are a set of standard tours ranging from 1200-1600 PHP per person which includes the best meal you will eat in El Nido and transportation for the whole day! Tours are helpfully distinguished by the letters A,B,C and D. In case you don’t know where to start when it comes to choosing an island hopping tour, check out this post for the lowdown! 

Some of the places visited include Small Lagoon (accessible only by swimming one at a time through a narrow gap in the rocks), Hidden Lagoon (must visit during low tide for it reveals a hole in the rocks that you must crawl through to enter), Snake Island, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach and many other destinations with mysterious names! 

Beware that there are hidden fees when taking a tour like the environmental fee which is 200 PHP, and snorkelling gear which is around 150 PHP. We recommend Corazon Travel and Tours for El Nido Island Hopping tours. They offer backpackers a great experience and actually include the environmental fee in their price. Book your El Nido Island Hopping tour with them here!

Tip: Make friends with your boat captain for he can offer activities not available at all tour offices!

Go Kayaking in El Nido:

Kayaking and boat trips in El Nido Palawan Philippines
Kayaking adventures in El Nido, Philippines.

Eat a good breakfast, pack a picnic and rent a kayak to explore the nearby islands and beaches. You get to enjoy crystal clear water at a relaxing pace. But look out for fog for it becomes quite disorienting as islands keep appearing and disappearing out of the mist!

Visit the Hot Springs in Coron:

Take a break from the beach and rent a motorbike or hire a tricycle driver to take you inland to the hot springs or waterfall. A quick drive and a scenic hike will land you in pools of freshwater that will have you convinced that you were a water nymph in a past life.

Find your own Castaway Island & Camp out!

Hire a boat to take you on an overnight adventure to deserted beaches where you have nothing to distract you from the beauty of nature and the beauty of your friends. Take a night swim and watch the water come alive with millions of bioluminescent plankton putting on a light show that will make you feel like Pandora from Avatar!

Read our article: Surviving on a deserted paradise island in the Philippines.

Castaway Island, Philippines
Find a deserted island all to yourself in Palawan – there are so many to choose from!

Read more things to do in Palawan in our article: 10 unmissable places to visit in Palawan.

How to get to Palawan?

From Manila You can get to Palawan by taking a short flight from Manila to the capital, Puerto Princesa. From there, many backpackers take a daily bus or private van to El Nido. Be warned that the van is overly air-conditioned so take a sweater for the 5 hours + journey!

Where to go next?

Coron: Many tour offices offer a three-day expedition to Coron that will take you to local fishing villages.

Baguio City: At the end of your trip in El Nido, you may be a little “beached” out so head to Baguio City to enjoy hiking through misty rice terraces and enjoy the fresh mountain air.

12 thoughts on “Palawan, Philippines – Backpacking Travel Guide!”

  1. Best place we ever been in S.E.A these last years!
    El Nido is a must, stunning lagoons! Make a boat trip with Wolfgang, owner of pura vida guesthouse on the main street, simply the best, forgot the busy tour A B C D !

  2. Richard Bourne

    We are here now and will be in the El Nido as tomorrow at Corong Corong. Port Barton on the way back. Good luck with the travels as we end our tour in 12 days.

  3. Alli Murdoch

    Palawan is amazing! was there in January this year. In my opinions El Nido is quite touristy and they don’t really have the appropriate infrastructure to support the boom, but if you get out of El Nido there is a lot of remote, amazing islands and beaches to be seen! Take the Tao Expedition if you can.

  4. dang! now, sitting in an office – makes me feel like screaming, ‘PALAWAN!!! I want to GO!’

  5. Michael Beltoft

    Palawan is great. Drop by kweba bar in pourto princesa gand say hi from me. The staff there is really nice and helpfull,

  6. Yes great island-beautifull and rough, wild nature in the rural parts as well. Loved to be there…

  7. Marisa Tovar

    IT IS AMAZING! Go to El Nido, take a boat tour out to the surrounding islands. Not as commercialized, and breathtaking!

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