Located to the west of the Philippine Islands (there are over 7000 in total!) many travellers fly into Palawan’s main city: Puerto Princesa. It’s the gateway to the Underground River but the city offers much more than that.
Puerto Princesa has a local charm with a combination of quality reggae bars and great cheap eats to make sure you enjoy your evenings. It’s a cool city by Philippines standards and it is worth spending a couple of days here on your way to Sabang, El Nido or wherever the road may take you.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa
Backpackers will be pleased to know that there are plenty of budget-friendly options in Puerto Princesa city. Here are a few of the best:
For backpackers looking for accommodation with a good social vibe, Sheebang Hostel is a great choice. You can play beer pong there and the staff do everything they can to get you involved in the social scene. They offer dorm beds starting at $7USD per night and privates with AC cost from $21USD for two people.
Close the city bus station, this hostel is great for backpackers who are only staying in the city for a couple of days and are looking for a convenient base from which to explore. Each dorm bed comes with its own privacy curtain and the WiFi is strong. Dorm beds start at $10USD per night.
Known for its friendly staff and comfortable beds, this is a favourite option for backpackers. It boasts a great chill-out area with hammocks and the WiFi is also rated highly. It is another sociable hostel which would suit solo travellers. There is a mix of dorms and private rooms available, prices start from $11USD.
Things to do in Puerto Princesa
Explore Puerto Princesa Underground River
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is home to the longest navigable underground river in the world. It is one of the Philippines most popular tourist attractions which sees visitors flock there all year round.
Don’t worry too much about the crowds though, there is a strict permit system in place to limit visitor numbers. As well as the famous Underground River, the National Park is worthy of a visit in its own right – keep an eye out for the resident Komodo dragons that roam these lands!
Paint the town red
There is a really cool atmosphere around Puerto Princesa in the evenings. For great food, head to KaLui restaurant. Although this place doesn’t serve meat, it is well known amongst locals and backpackers for serving some of the best sizzling seafood around. Throw in a bit of reggae and San Miguel for a great night!
Go Island Hopping in Honda Bay
Located just 45-minutes of the city proper, this is the main attraction near to Puerto Princesa. It’s a bit of a let down if you’ve just come from El Nido but if you’re arriving from Cebu or Manila and are craving the beach then these islands and the snorkelling are a good option.
Trek to Olangoan Falls
Situated in between Puerto Princesa and Port Barton, this off the beaten track waterfall makes for a beautiful escape from the city. To get there will require a 45 minute drive from Puerto Princesa, followed by a half hour hike from the road.
Watch the fireflies at Iwahig River
Combine this with a bit of stargazing and you have the perfect evening to woo that backpacker you’ve been making eyes at across the bar. Although the number of fireflies that you will see on a night cruise varies depending on the time of year (full moon nights see less generally), the stargazing opportunities are fabulous year round.
Sadly, mosquitos are rife in this area at night so make sure you use a high strength repellent with DEET and wear loose fitting, long sleeves if possible.
Hire a motorbike
There are heaps of places to hire bikes along the main tourist drag. You can even grab a dirt bike and head all the way to El Nido if you dare! The road is rough in parts but if you break the trip over a few days it can be a great way to experience Palawan.
Visit Iwahig Prison
One of the city’s more unusual attractions, this penal colony actually gives visitors the opportunity to meet prisoners. They make handicrafts which they sell to guests and also perform dance routines for visitors. It makes for an eye-opening visit.
Be a kid for the day at Kamia Bay inflatable park
The Kamia Bay Resort is a hub of activity for those backpackers looking to let loose. There is eco-trekking, beachfront massage, underwater activities and even the largest inflatable park in Asia!
Visit Ugong Rock for spelunking and ziplining
Often combined with trips to the Underground River, Ugong Rock is a must for adrenaline junkies! The view is stunning and coupled with a bit of thrill, simply unforgettable.
Trusty Cebu Pacific has flights from Manila-Puerto Princesa, as well as Cebu-Puerto Princesa making it pretty accessible for travellers.
If you prefer the slower transport options, there is a boat running from Iloilo (Panay) to Puerto Princesa, stopping off at the stunning Cuyo island group. We recommend searching for local transport on 12Go.Asia.
From El Nido, you can catch an easy van ride to Puerto taking around 6 hours.
Where to go next?
- Port Barton – an idyllic spot located half hour from the highway along an incredible jungle road. The extra travel time is worth it; this is an extremely laid back, relaxed and beautiful spot.
- El Nido – probably one of the best spots in the Philippines where postcard-perfect beaches and lagoons await. Whatever you do, don’t miss El Nido!