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: 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.
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!