Once you reach the Philippines and start your island hopping journey it is easy to see why some tourists spend months in the country (or never actually leave). Whether you’ve got an infinite amount of time or you’re on a strict itinerary, it is more than possible to see some world-renowned wonders within this tropical archipelago. Take Palawan for instance: an island to the South West of the country which has repeatedly regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. You will no doubt have seen the turquoise waters and white beaches of this paradise pop up unwaveringly on your Instagram feed. You’ll have most likely gazed longingly at the image and then scrolled past, trying to mask your jealousy. This island is probably already on your travel bucket list so when you finally do get there, you’ll want to do it right. You could easily spend a long time island hopping and bathing in the Palawan heat but if time is not in your favour, do not fear! Here is your ultimate guide to spending a week in Palawan.
First Stop: Puerto Princesa
How to Get ThereThe easiest way to reach Palawan is by flying into its capital city. I flew directly from Manila to Puerto Princesa (on a very reasonably priced flight) and used this city as a jumping off point for my Palawan itinerary.
Where to StayAs I stayed in this city both at the start and at the end of my trip to Palawan I sampled a couple of different hostels. If you’re on a budget, then you’ve got nothing to worry about; the city is full of backpacker hostels. Both of the places I stayed were cheap and in a great location (Tropic Dahlia Hostel and Le Mon Hostel). As long as you’re near Rizal Avenue then you will be within walking distance of most café’s, shops and malls. This street is only about a 45-minute walk or 10-minute trike ride from the airport which is also ideal.
How Long to StayEven though Puerto Princesa is small and hasn’t quite caught up with the island’s demand for tourism, don’t rush away too quickly! The city has a few gems of its own to offer so at least a two night stop over would be ideal.
What to DoThe unquestionable highlight of visiting Puerto Princesa is the Subterranean River. It is easy to find a tour every day from the city to this UNESCO world heritage site and 100% worth your time while here. If you’re keen on starting island hopping early you could also visit Honda Bay. Although there will be plenty more opportunities to see incredible islands further up the coast.
What to Eat/DrinkMy favourite café in the city was a quaint place called Café Ole. The café/bakery created an understated Parisian vibe which (although it sounds it) did not feel out of place in the city. For a larger meal try Ima’s Vegetarian Restaurant. I can only personally vouch for vegetarian food (please excuse the lack of Filipino pork adobo tips!) but the food here was tasty and fresh. The restaurant is just off Rizal Avenue and is the relaxed kind of place where you could spend an afternoon sipping on refreshing mango shakes. When the evening draws in however and you fancy something a bit stronger, visit Palaweño Brewery. This small pub proudly holds the titles of ‘the first craft beer brewery in Palawan’, and ‘the first female-run craft beer brewery in the Philippines’. If you fancy a delicious pint and some interesting conversation, it’s not one to miss!
Second Stop: Port Barton
How to Get ThereIt is easy enough to jump on a minibus from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton. Most hostels will be able to call and organise it for you, or you can book yourself online (at a slightly higher price). The bus will pick you up directly from your accommodation which is a bonus.
Where to StayDuring my time at Port Barton, the accommodation was one of the highlights. I stayed at Jungle Bar, a lodge a few miles outside of the town in (you guessed it) the jungle. More of a ‘glamping’ experience, you will stay in a small wooden hut near a larger structure where you can get delicious food, cheap beer, and extraordinary views!
How Long to Stay3 nights should be enough for Port Barton. Although you really could stay and chill on a hammock in the jungle indefinitely.
What to DoThe island hopping tour is not to be missed. Cheaper than rival tours in its more touristic neighbour, El Nido, the Port Barton tour is perfect if you’re on a tight budget (it should cost between 700 and 800 Pesos). Ask your accommodation to call up a tour guide and you’ll be picked up on a boat from either White Beach or Port Barton beach. You will stop at a few fantastic snorkelling spots (snorkel equipment is provided) and some less-trodden areas of wonder such as the aptly named Paradise Beach. If you love waterfalls and jungle walks as much as I do, then check out Papawyan Falls on your next day at Port Barton. The trek takes about an hour from the town and isn’t too demanding. When you plunge into the pool at the foot of the falls then you’ll know it was worth your while. For a more relaxing day, simply chill out at White Beach. You’ll have to pay 20 pesos to enter, but the long stretch of almost abandoned beach paired with the view of the lagoon is priceless.
What to Eat/ DrinkThe food at Jungle bar was delicious and catered for vegetarian, pescatarian and meat-eaters alike. There are also plenty of small eateries in the town such as Reef Café. The dinner which is included in the island hopping tour was perhaps the culinary highlight. Fresh veg, fruit, rice, and fish are all included in the tour package.
Third Stop: El Nido
How to Get ThereYou can catch a minibus from Port Barton (I booked in advance online as there are only two trips per day, but you can also book through your accommodation). The journey takes about 3 to 4 hours. It is also possible to get a larger bus straight from Puerto Princesa or fly directly to El Nido Airport.
Where to Stay
Accommodation prices seemed to jump up a bit when you reach this more touristic spot. Nevertheless, there are still many backpacker hostels which are basic but will do the job for a brief stay. The town is so small that you really can’t go wrong with the location.