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Palawan Travel Guide: traveling to Puerto Princesa, Coron, & El Nido

palawan travel guide

If you had to choose between Puerto Princesa, Coron, and El Nido, where would you go? This Palawan travel guide will help you decide.

Palawan has been named twice as the world’s best island. It’s also been shelved on my bucket list primarily because traveling this hot tourist destination can get quite expensive. But in 2016, I had the privilege to visit all three of the famous destinations in the island: Puerto Princesa City, Coron, and El Nido. Now I am back putting together a Palawan travel guide.

For you who may be looking to visit Palawan, they commonly encounter the question of which town to visit. Truly, all three are beautiful on their own and have different charms. It now depends on what kind of traveler are you: Do you like island hopping more than city tours? Are you a licensed scuba diver or are you simply a honeymooning couple? If you’re looking to save time and money from all the hotel bookings, flights, and tour packages, you might want to find which suits you.

This Palawan travel guide is an attempt to give you a picture of each town so you can choose where to go:

Palawan travel guide: Puerto Princesa

Home to the Underground River, Puerto Princesa is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and considered a “city in a forest”. It is one of the cleanest and greenest cities in the Philippines and has initially put the country on the map for archaeological treasure that is the Tabon Man.

Puerto Princesa city is an ideal travel destination for families. Typical tourists here are Asian families of Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese origin. The Puerto Princesa tourist spots can be seen via a city tour, island hopping tour of Honda Bay, the Iwahig firefly watching, and of course the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour. These trips have low intensity and can cater to kids and older members of the family.

 

How to get to Puerto Princesa

Located in Palawan, Puerto Princesa is accessible via air, land and sea travel. The Puerto Princesa International Airport can be reached via regular domestic and international flights. From Manila, the flight takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. Other major cities in the Philippines that have flights going here are Davao and Cebu. From Manila, land travel to takes 29 hours and stops at Coron halfway.

Best time to travel to Puerto Princesa

This Palawan travel guide found that Puerto Princesa celebrates many annual beachside festivals:

  • Balayong Festival is held in honor of the pink blossoms of the Palawan Cherry tree symbolizing women’s glory. It is celebrated every 4th of March, which is also the founding anniversary of the city.
  • Baragatan sa Palawan is celebrated every third week of June coinciding with the founding anniversary of Palawan.
  • Karagatan Festival is celebrated on the first week of May, considered the month of the ocean.

Getting around Puerto Princesa

Short trips within the city can be achieved by public transportation such as tricycles, multicabs, jeepneys or mini-buses. Motorcycles and bicycles can also be rented or hired for customized or personal tours. Motorized outrigger boats are recommended for transport to islands and coastal beaches. A shuttle service from Puerto Princesa to El Nido typically takes 6 hours. It is expected to be shortened upon finishing a new road connecting the two destinations. There’s also speculation that there will be mass travel flights to El Nido, which, as of writing this Palawan travel guide is still unverified.

Puerto Princesa Underground River, and more

The most famous tourist destination is the Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site lister and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. At 8.2 kilometer, the Underground River is the longest navigable underground river and is a model for biodiversity crowned with limestone formations. Another destination is Batak Cultural Village, where you can see one of the oldest and smallest indigenous groups in Palawan. For archaeology geeks, visit the Tabon Cave Complex farther south, where the oldest homo sapiens in Southeast Asia was unearthed.

Things to do in Puerto Princesa

An hour away from the city proper is Honda Bay, which features white sands of Luli Island, Cowrie Island, and Starfish Island. These are typical crowded, family beaches. Other less commercial and secluded beaches to enjoy the sunset are Nagtabon, Napsan, Marufinas. Pambato Reef is a great place to snorkel because of its protected area teeming with marine biodiversity. You can also try island hopping at Arena Island, a turtle sanctuary, and Rasa Island, a bird sanctuary.

Where to eat in Puerto Princesa

Have a taste of local delicacy at Kinabuchs Grill and Bar, which serves tamilok (shipworm) and crocodile sisig. For those craving for affordable Filipino-style boodle feast and buffet, eat at Bilao at Palayok. For nightlife and more seafood dishes, which the entire Palawan Island is known for, dine in at Ka Lui Restaurant.

Things to bring

For the Puerto Princesa tour, bring a snorkeling gear in order to save money on gear rentals at the Underground River. Aside from bikinis and swimsuits, it’s best to wear rash guards and aqua shoes for swimming at sea, because you’ll never know what unique marine creatures you’ll encounter. Carry an extra plastic not just to waterproof your gadgets and possessions, but also to keep your trash. You don’t want to litter in such a clean and green city!

Palawan travel guide: Coron

A diver’s paradise, Coron Island has many to offer beneath its waters. This is a great destination for licensed scuba divers, free divers, wreck divers, and snorkelers to explore the rich marine biodiversity of Palawan. The preservation of Coron’s beauty is owed to the fact that it has been heavily guarded by the Tagbanua tribe who supervises most of the tourism activities. This is where you can find the cleanest, richest, and more preserved beauty of Palawan.

How to get to Coron

Located in Palawan, Coron Island is accessible via air, land and sea travel. The Francisco B. Reyes Airport, formerly Busuanga Airport, can be reached via regular domestic and international flights. From Manila, the flight takes an hour. The Port of Coron accommodates ferries and roll-on and roll-off (ro-ro) connections from Manila. From Manila, it takes 12 hours to travel by sea.

Best time to travel

For beach trips and maximum basking under the sun, the best time to travel is during the dry and cool season from December to February. If you want to visit with the heat up a notch, March to May are the sunniest seasons. The months of June to November are the rainy season, which may be ideal for those who can trade off the sun for fewer crowds. Book your Coron hotels in advance to avoid inconvenience. Try The Funny Lion, a boutique hotel.

Getting around Coron

Transportation around Coron Island is usually done on foot or a tricycle, which can be taken anywhere around town. Motorcycle rentals are a popular option for travelers. Expect some rough roads, as the highway may not be paved all the way. Many tourists wonder if it’s possible to go to El Nido straight from Coron. The answer is, from this Palawan travel guide, it’s much more difficult! It’s easier to go between El Nido and Puerto Princesa, but not Coron.

Coron island tour

One of the best ways to kick off a Coron island tour is by hiking the 700 steps of Mt. Tapyas, which affords you an overlooking view of the sunset and hills. After hiking, you can unwind at the saltwater Maquinit Hot Spring. You can also hike to the crystal clear Kayangan Lake. For snorkeling to see hundreds of corals and fish, head over to Siete Pecados. Finally, for a feel of fine, white sands, visit Malcapuya Island, where you can enjoy its quiet beauty.

What to do in Coron

A Coron Island tour means a weekend of wading in the water. There are plenty of activities to do such as diving, kayaking, and snorkeling. Island hopping from the small and undeveloped town in Busuanga Island, Coron Island and the Calamianes Group of Islands in Northern Palawan are the main activities. You may also opt to camp in the islands ala Survivor. Popular diving sites in Coron are Gunter Cave/Cathedral Cave and several Japanese shipwrecks such as Irako, Okikawa Maru, Akitsushima, Kogyo Maru, Olympia Maru, Kyokuzan Maru, Terukaze Maru, Nanshin Maru, Lusong Gunboat wreck, and Skeleton Wreck.

Where to eat in Coron

Being a small and relatively undeveloped islands, food in Coron Island does not offer variety but with the charm of simple provincial life. Winnie’s Restaurant, owned by a Swiss-Filipino couple, is a good place to drink fruit shakes and buy meals for group sharing, served with a complimentary slice of leche flan. For a taste of fresh and grilled Palawanon seafood, try Sinugba sa Balay. Note that it’s best to order in advance since the sleepy town’s establishments close early.

Things to bring

Note that except for Coron hotels, there are a few ATM machines that can also be limited by power outages. It’s best to bring sufficient amount of cash and a fully-charged power bank before flying in  Pack some mosquito repellent too especially if you plan to hike and camp. An underwater camera is a must if you don’t want to miss capturing marine life from the crystal clear waters.

Palawan Travel guide

Palawan travel guide: El Nido

El Nido is the place to enjoy finest and most secluded beaches in the world. Getting there is half the battle, as it entails 6 grueling hours of land travel. But the remoteness adds to its charm.

In reality, most of the tourists in El Nido are composed of Westerners. This may be owed to the fact that raw and untarnished beaches are a charm to many Europeans. Or, that Western tourists are the ones who can better afford the tours. Whatever it is, El Nido is the place to find a younger crowd, clad in bikinis and getting sun-tanned. It’s rare to find Asians, families, kids, and older people here.

Read LiveTravelTeach’s article on El Nido, as he Turned 30 in Paradise.

How to get to El Nido

Located in Palawan, El Nido is not directly accessible via mass air travel. The El Nido Airport cannot be reached via regular mass flights but can accept chartered planes coming from Manila or Cebu that are much more expensive. Flying via Coron or Puerto Princesa are the alternatives. From Coron, transporting tourists via big outrigger boats takes 8 hours. This is the discouraged route. The more recommended is a transfer from Puerto Princesa, where land travel via buses and vans takes 5-6 hours.

Best time to travel

The best season to book El Nido resorts from the months of December to March, where the air is cool but dry. The summer months of the Philippines, which are April and May, can be good travel dates for those who want sunnier weather. This can affect the visibility during snorkeling, island hopping, and swimming activities.

Getting around El Nido

Its remote location makes it less accessible but also more exclusive. The main mode of transportation from one island to another is via outrigger boats which can be availed from the local government’s packaged El Nido tour offers. Within the town, there are tricycles and motorcycle for rent.

El Nido tour

Local tourism cooperative manages El Nido tour, which covers the five spots within Bacuit Archipelago.

  • Tour A takes you to Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Simizu Island, Secret Lagoon and 7 Commandos Beach.
  • Tour B goes to Entalula Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Snake Island, Cudugnon Cave and Cathedral Cave.
  • Tour C avails you of Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach.
  • Tour D is for Bukal Island, Ipil Beach, Nat-Nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon and Paradise Beach.
  • Tour E is a land tour including Nacpan Twin Beaches and Marimegmeg Beach.

I made a guide on how to choose between El Nido Tour A or C, the most popular among them. Try booking at Northern Hope Tours for your adventure.

What to do in El Nido

An El Nido tour features white sand beaches and limestone-made islands surrounded pristine water teeming with marine life. What’s best is that you can enjoy most of them in peace because of fewer crowds. It comes with their unique island hopping, snorkeling, and kayaking charms. A new attraction is the El Nido land tour comprised of Canopy Walk via Ferrata which allows you to enjoy the view of El Nido bay.

Where to eat in El Nido

There are many quaint and homegrown street joints, where meat and vegetable dishes with rice are served.  For a festive night market feel, try Calle Abdulla where you can order grilled food and alcoholic beverages. For dinner by the beach, an awesome sunset view and good live music, try Republica Sunset Bar. If you want to eat Palawanon seafood, head over to Artcafe, which is a popular post-island hopping hangout.

Things to bring

Electricity and running water in El Nido has improved in the recent years, but Internet connectivity remains a problem. Be sure to pack your own WiFi source and a power bank to fully charge your gadgets. Make sure you also bring money in cash, because ATMs might allow only several withdrawals before going offline. And as a typical Palawan travel guide tip, doDn’t forget your underwater or action cameras!

 

See for yourself if you think Palawan is the world’s best island. It offers something for everybody. Puerto Princesa is the home of the Underground River and many family-friendly attractions. Coron is the diver’s paradise. El Nido is the affluent youth’s tropical dream. Keep this Palawan travel guide handy for your next adventure!

 

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Carmela Francel
    January 25, 2017 at 10:46 PM

    I already visited Puerto Prinsesa and El Nido, haven’t been to Coron but I’m dreaming to go there. I never knew what’s the difference among the three tourist destinations, all I know is that Palawan deserves its title as the world’s best island because it really is! I hope they continue to love and take care Palawan, it’s the only place I can truly feel relaxed and enjoy every thing it offers.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 28, 2017 at 11:32 AM

      I agree! I’m thankful that Palawan is being protected by both the local government and also the local tribes. I hope it gets preserved in pristine conditions for the next generation.

  • Reply
    ASKSonnie
    January 13, 2017 at 6:51 AM

    I’ve been to Puerto Princesa twice, in both instances, I gave a talk for a conference. In order of priority, if given a chance, I would like to check first Coron, then El Nido. Thanks for an informative post.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 13, 2017 at 7:55 PM

      Great choice, Sir Sonnie. El Nido is kind of expensive which is why it makes sense to see it last. Plus, as they say, the beaches are so beautiful that you may never get satisfied in seeing other beaches afterwards.

  • Reply
    pinkpepperparadise
    January 12, 2017 at 11:50 PM

    Oh, I’m sitting in my room in Austria, outside is -17 degrees and I’m wondering…. I wish I could be there! It’s such a beautiful place! And your travel guide is enjoyable and useful. I love that you are writing about “the best time to travel” because it’s one of the most important information.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 13, 2017 at 7:52 PM

      I agree. Typhoon weather can be discouraging to some tourists (and fun for others). But if your itinerary is snorkeling, it really does make a difference. Well, I have never experienced that kind of cold and snow before!

  • Reply
    KT Nielsen
    January 11, 2017 at 2:48 PM

    If you would let me choose between Coron, Puerto Princesa or El Nido, I would choose Coron again and again. I really enjoyed my trip there way back in 2011 and that’s where I travelled for the very first time with my now husband. So yes, you could say that the island has a special meaning for me. But of course, the wonderful snorkelling sites, well-preserved and maintained tourist spots are something one should not miss when travelling there. I can’t wait to go back and when I do, I’ll bring our little ones as well. Thank you for sharing this blog post.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 11, 2017 at 6:37 PM

      Glad to hear your story Ms. Kessa! Coron is also special for me because it was my first assignment for MB. I really hope I can scuba dive when I return. I feel like I missed a lot just because I wasn’t able to, and that’s what Coron is famous for. 🙂

  • Reply
    Veronica
    January 11, 2017 at 12:56 AM

    How is it possible to get to Coron by land? From where?
    I really had to remove Coron from my itinerary because it was not easily accessible.
    I found it to be too dangerous to travel from El Nido be sea. And by air there was only one company with direct flights but they never returned my calls and emails, or through Manila … and I found that not the best option.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 11, 2017 at 1:03 AM

      Hi Veronica! Nice of you to drop by. Getting to Coron is a lot trickier. Usually you can book flights from Manila to Busuanga. You can also take a ship. But traveling between Coron and El Nido is much harder. The more common itinerary is Puerto Princesa and El Nido. Coron is a different trip all together, unless you’re going to negotiate with boatmen to take you there, which to me may not be the best method. Good luck. I hope this helps.

  • Reply
    Orana Velarde
    January 10, 2017 at 7:18 PM

    Palawan is one of those destinations that getots of coverage on instagram becauase it is so beautiful. You are lucky to have gone to all three locations! Did you find that it was kept clean or was there a bit of a mess in some places?

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 10, 2017 at 11:19 PM

      Hi Orana! Great questions. Coron and El Nido are very well kept. Coron is tribe-owned, and it took them some time to open their domains to the public, which is why it’s very well preserved in the first place. El Nido is just breathtaking. Among the three I like Puerto Princesa beaches least. They’re a lot more crowded.

  • Reply
    Andre
    January 10, 2017 at 6:14 AM

    I am actually just about to book a trip to the Philippines. Until now I wanted to go to Cebu, but after reading this post, I am not that sure anymore whether Cebu or Palawan is the right choice. Both options sound amazing and I can’t wait to explore those islands of paradise.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 10, 2017 at 11:16 PM

      Hi Andre! You’re right, both are great for backpacking. Cebu offers a lot of adventure like canyoneering, whale shark watching, and more. Palawan is best for scuba diving (Coron) and El Nido has the best beach views I’ve ever seen (and I’m from a tropical island!). Whichever you choose, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the Philippines 🙂

  • Reply
    MsCrystalline
    January 10, 2017 at 1:07 AM

    I like this blog post and your writing style. It’s very extensive and well researched. Palawan is one of the places on my bucket list. I always said I wanted to go to El Nido on a romantic honeymoon getaway, maybe in the future. Great post! 🙂

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 11, 2017 at 12:13 AM

      Thanks so much! Hope you’ll find yourself back on my blog should you finally go to Palawan 🙂

  • Reply
    ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily
    January 10, 2017 at 12:10 AM

    Some of the most beautiful places on earth is right there, Palawan. For the longest time, we have heard how beautiful it is. Ang hindi ko lang napuntahan is El Nido. Pero Coron I have been there several times and dove all the wrecks there. It is really beautiful.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 10, 2017 at 11:09 PM

      Sir Robert, it must be really great to scuba dive in Coron. I haven’t done that because I haven’t finished training. I guess mas worthy talaga pumunta dun once I can scuba esp the wrecks.

  • Reply
    Maria
    January 9, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    Looks like a little bit of paradise! Thanks for a great post with sound and well structured information and beautiful inspiring photos. Makes one want to go to Philippines!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 9, 2017 at 7:48 PM

      Hope I gave you enough reasons and that you’ll find yourself here someday, Maria!!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Tom
    January 3, 2017 at 4:42 AM

    I really loved Palawan when I was in the Philippines. There’s a lot of diversity and beauty on this island! Not many places have underground rivers and incredible beaches!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 5, 2017 at 6:15 PM

      True, Tom! It’s surprising to find all these in just one island. What’s best is that most of it is even undiscovered yet, owed to the fact that it’s closely guarded by local tribes 🙂

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    January 3, 2017 at 3:42 AM

    I was seriously about to book a month on Palawan about two days ago until my plans completely changed and now I’ll be in Europe instead. I’m a little heartbroken, especially after reading about all the amazing things to do there!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      January 4, 2017 at 9:24 PM

      Haha! Europe has its own beauty, but dare I say you should put Palawan on your list again. A month in the island would be enough. Maybe next time Stephanie 🙂

  • Reply
    Ruby Caberte
    December 29, 2016 at 8:57 PM

    I haven’t been able to visit all those cities. Yes, I dream of visiting Puerto Princesa but never had the time to go there. But this 2016, I was able to visit places I haven’t been before. So, I guess there is hope for me. That is why, I thank you for making this Palawan Travel Guide. It would make it easier people like me to explore the island without experience too much problem along the way. I hope to follow my road again next year!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 30, 2016 at 8:10 PM

      Hi Ruby! Good luck on your future trip. Palawan indeed was just a dream years before. I didn’t even plan on going, but the Universe seem to want me to see it 🙂

  • Reply
    Johna
    December 28, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    Love this post! And I love Palawan! Although I’ve actually only been Coron so far. Planning on going to the other two in the next couple of years. Then I can decide which one I love more hehe. Excited to see the other places 😀

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 30, 2016 at 8:14 PM

      Thanks Johna! When you visit all three, hope you can share which one was your favorite 🙂

  • Reply
    Jackie
    December 27, 2016 at 9:13 PM

    Great post! I’ve never really known what the difference was between those cities. My brother-in-law went to Coron and told us that it was better than Puerto Prinsesa. But my husband and I really enjoyed our stay in Puerto Prinsesa. I realized now that it was a matter of perspective. My husband doesn’t really like to swim, so though Coron would have been a beautiful choice Puerto Prinsesa might have been the more practical for him and me. Thank you for sharing, and I hope to see or even experience El Nido (after I win the lottery, probably, lol)

  • Reply
    momi berlin
    December 27, 2016 at 5:13 PM

    Palawan is one of those places I was fortunate to visit and see for myself. I particularly love Puerto Princesa and El Nido. I also appreciate the people and locals of Puerto Princesa. Most of them are amiable and accommodating. The place as well is clean and I find the people disciplined. Your photos show you really had a great time.

  • Reply
    Agnes Dela Cruz
    December 27, 2016 at 4:44 PM

    A couple of years ago we explored the beautiful Miniloc Island in El Nido and I fell in love!
    Beside from getting the travel free I was able to commune with nature in purest state of it.
    Truly a place were you can enjoy the Philippines! I wish to go back soon 🙂

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 30, 2016 at 7:59 PM

      Wow, how were you able to get there for free? Haha

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