Coron Island Expedition: An Off-The-Tourist-Path in Philippines
January 1, 1970
by Jonai Republica
Palawan is one of the top must-see destinations in the Philippines along with Cebu and Boracay. However, once you get to Palawan, you’ll realize that even 2 weeks is not enough to see all that it has to offer. In Palawan, there is Sabang, Balabac, Port Barton, San Vicente, El Nido and Coron. Each of these municipalities has its own features, but for this particular post, I will focus on an off-the-beaten adventure in Coron.
Joining a 4D3N Coron Expedition
I have no itineraries planned for my third visit to Coron, Philippines. I didn’t want to join yet another group island hopping tour like I did during my first 2 visits. However, the day before my arrival, I stumbled upon an online post about a 4D3N expedition conducted by Red Carabao Coron, a startup that caters to Philippine visitors looking to experience the country the non-touristy way. I have never done an expedition in the Philippines before, which aims to hop to lagoons, lakes, coral gardens, wrecks, and to sleep in different island campsites each night. I knew though that such package has long been offered in Coron and El Nido by Tao Expeditions but for a very expensive amount. This one by Red Carabao Coron, however, is a lot more affordable and only caters to a small group of tourists. I’m fortunate that I was still allowed to join, being the sixth member of the group. Our nice little catamaran-type boat was run by a crew of one tour guide and two boatmen.
Exploring Around Calamian Group of Islands
Coron Island is actually just a part of the bigger Calamianes Islands, which also includes Busuanga Island (where Coron Town Proper and the Airport are located), Culion Island, Calauit Island, and a number of smaller Islands. In this one-of-a-kind Philippine expedition, we were fortunate to visit 11 destinations, only one of which have I visited in the past. Coron expeditions generally don’t have fixed destinations and itinerary. The route is flexible and may change according to the weather, new discoveries and other factors. So while I am writing down the places we’ve been to, I suggest you expect that yours, should you join one, may have a different set of destinations.
Upon getting clearance from the coast guard, our Coron expedition started the journey at around 1 pm with the Big Lagoon as the first stop. We were overjoyed to be the only human beings around this lagoon that is partially enclosed by towering karst plateau. The clear blue-green seawater is beautiful on the surface and even magical down under with corals and weeds. The six of us jumped right on and snorkeled to our hearts’ content.
It was an easy afternoon for day 1 as we headed straight to our first beach: Camp Carabao, a private white beach with the calm ocean as the foreground and tall limestones as the background. The beach is still unheard of by most tourists as it is still currently being developed. We just walked and explored the shoreline and waited for the sunset spectacle. After a well-prepared meal, my expedition-mates settled at their nipa hut accommodation equipped with a soft mattress, mosquito net, and open-wall ventilation, while I peacefully slept in my hammock.
Twin Lagoon, Barracuda Lake
The morning of day 2 was packed with the top tourist destinations in Northern Coron Island. These destinations are usually part of the “Alphabet Tours” in Coron so we expected that we might not be the only ones when we visit. However, their beauty is still worth our time and effort. It was high tide when we reached Twin Lagoon; so, instead of kayaking under the limestone opening that serves as the pathway between the two lagoons, we dived underneath it! It was exhilarating for me as I am not an expert diver. We also enjoyed watching the scuba divers down to the bottom of Barracuda Lake.
Our next stop was the interesting island of Culion, being the Philippines’ former leprosarium island. Yes, it used to be an island where people infected with leprosy were isolated until a hundred years ago. Right now, it is a humble town with a dramatic past. I was actually intending to visit this place and I’m so happy that it was a stopover of the expedition. Our boatmen resupplied the boat with food bought from Culion before we headed to our next stop.
This is probably the group’s most favorite part of the expedition! Coron is known to be the Japanese Shipwreck capital of the Philippines, as there are a lot of Japanese wrecks that now serves as exciting dive sites in Palawan. However, the Gunboat Wreck, to our surprise, was just right beneath our boat! We didn’t have to dive deep just to see it up close and personal. Colorful corals and marine life have made this wreck as their habitat.
Just a few minutes from this shipwreck is the pristine Coral Garden of Lusong. It is incredibly wide and long that no matter how long we’ve been snorkeling in one direction, the corals just doesn’t stop! We’ve seen incredible creatures here such as lovely seaturtles, the scary-looking lionfish, titan triggerfish, angelfish and clownfish among many others. Oh how we snorkeled until the sun set!
We made our way to our second campsite, the good-vibe island of Pass, where my newfound friends pitched their tents while I hanged my hammock. We so loved the island that we regretted arriving there in the dark. It is well maintained, clean and with proper toilets. No unlimited freshwater though so we had to make do of the little supply that we have. The guide also deemed that it’s better to spend the third night here in case the rain pours, since there are cottages that can roof our tents.
On our third day, we were hoping to spot some seacows aka dugongs around Pamalican Island. Upon getting there, the caretaker of the island said that the creature showed up the previous day, however, we didn’t see any. We were not unfortunate though since we saw beautiful corals while trying to find a dugong, and we chilled at the golden beach of Pamalican. We so enjoyed this place that we left late in the afternoon.
I had high hopes for this particular place as I heard that it houses the last frontier of Coron, having the most pristine coral reef. Indeed, it didn’t fail my expectations. A long stretch of coral reef surrounds Camp Paradise. We were already snorkeling way too far from our boat and yet we were not even close to the edge! Despite its beauty though is the horror of seeing a lot of Crown Of Thorns starfishes which kill corals with its venomous tentacles. I can only hope a COT clean up will be done by the owners of the island to preserve the marine life that surrounds it.
Our last stop for this expedition before returning to Coron town on day 4 is the magical mangrove hot spring of Sangat. We made our way through the mangrove roots until we reached the little yet lovely saltwater hot spring. What a warm ending to a rather cold day because of the rain showers!