You’ve heard of it, you’ve dreamt of it, you’ve secretly envied that one friend that made it there before you: setting foot on the heavenly beaches of Palawan has been in everyone’s travel bucket list for what seems like an eternity.
Following its nomination as the ‘Most beautiful island in the world’ by the notorious magazine Travel + Leisure for three years in as of 2017, Palawan has become one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world. The tourism industry is now boosting, with the number of visitors reaching over 700,000 in January 2018, an all-time high for the province, representing a 17% increase compared to the previous year.
If you’re ready to tick Palawan off your list, here’s the go-to guide you’ve been looking for to help you plan your trip and make the most of it.
Best Time to Visit
Given its location near the equator, the climate of Palawan is warm all year round, with an average high temperature of 31 degrees Celsius and a minimum of 26 degrees. There are two main seasons in the island: the rainy season, which lasts from June to October, and the dry season, which runs from November to May. However, the latter usually lasts no longer than five months along the eastern coastline, followed by a lightly pronounced wet season during the remainder of the year.
While it may be cheaper to visit during the low season, it’s worth considering the heavy rainfall, strong winds and the occasional typhoons that affect the area, making it hard to enjoy the beautiful beaches most people go there to see. The period between December and March is the climax of the high season, with accommodation options becoming scarce and expensive and hot-spots getting swarmed by tourists.
Thus whether you’re traveling on a low budget or guided by spontaneity, you should consider booking your stay in advance to avoid any disappointment.
How to Get There
The main point of entry to Palawan is its capital, Puerto Princesa, the final destination of numerous flights and ferries coming from different locations around the Philippines and beyond. Direct flights from Manila are 1.5 hours long and even shorter from other popular destinations in the country like Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao.
A trip from Manila to PP by ferry could last up to 30 hours and it’s considered to be rather dangerous, so if you’re looking to embark in such adventure, it’s best to invest in safety and choose a reputable company to travel with. Alternatively, you can shorten your trip by getting off at El Nido or Coron, two key destinations in the north of the island.
5 Must-See Places in Palawan
Named after the Spanish Princess Asuncion back in 1864 when the city was a settlement of the Spaniards, Puerto Princesa and its surroundings have numerous points of interest able to appeal to anyone’s taste.
Puerto Princesa Underground River — approximately 40 kilometers north west of the capital we find the Puerto Princesa river, which runs for 8 kilometers through a series of million-years-old caves hidden underneath the St Paul Mountain Range. Known as the second largest underground river in the world and one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’, this natural formation will take your breath away, from the moment you arrive in the park and find yourself walking next to curious monkeys, to the moment you enter the cave and let the boat guide you through an otherworldly experience into one of the darkest corners of the world.
The tour will take you on a boat ride up to the 4-kilometer mark, as allowed by the general permit included on the price of the trip. Throughout the ride you are surrounded by nothing but complete darkness, the echoing sound of water droplets falling from the roof, the occasional sound of bats and their flapping wings, and the view of mesmerizing mineral formations illuminated by the headlamp of your boatman. Needless to say, it’s a trip like no other.
Honda Bay — located approximately 45 minutes away north east of the city proper, long stretches of white sand and several little islands surrounded by colorful fish and coral reefs decorate the bay. Most tours consist in island hopping with multiple stops for snorkeling and a bit of downtime on a couple different beaches.
This is probably the most popular destination in Palawan. El Nido, or “the nest” as translated from Spanish, is a sleepy town located in the northern tip of the island and has the power to make you feel like you’re in a different world, and not just due to the weak internet connection and the scarcity of functioning ATMs.
After a 5- to 6-hour long journey on a shuttle bus from Puerto Princesa, you will find yourself on a little beach packed with boats anchored around the bay waiting to take groups of tourists on one of several island-hopping tours around the area.
No matter which tour you choose, you are bound to find yourself staring at little islands made entirely of imposing karst mountains and surrounded by the most crystal clear water you’ve ever seen. Each stop will make you wish you could spend days stranded in any of those isolated little pieces of paradise, especially once you get to explore the island hiding the majestic Blue Lagoon on a kayak by yourself.
If you want to escape the crowds of El Nido, you can head south and find yourself in the small town of San Vincente in just a couple of hours. Though it may not have lots of activities to keep you busy, the location is said to have the longest white sand beach in the Philippines, which you can sometimes enjoy all to yourself due to its little popularity.
If you’re still in need for some under
water fun, you can head over to the nearby village of Port Barton, which is more populated and notorious among low budget travelers. There you can enjoy more island hopping tours for a cheaper price compared to El Nido and with fewer tourists around.
Divers love Coron. With a number of marine attractions including marine parks, lively coral gardens, and even a WWII Japanese shipwreck, Coron is bound to please anyone looking to spend quality time in the water. Situated north of Palawan, this island is surrounded by beautiful smaller formations that hide peaceful lakes, impressive deep lagoons and little stretches of white sand where you can enjoy a bountiful lunch as part of your island hopping tour.
There are two options to get there: a flight into Coron Airport located in Busuanga Island from Manila, Cebu or Boracay, or a slow ferry ride from El Nido that may make you a bit seasick, but will get you there directly from Palawan for a small fee and less hassle compared to a flight.
This group of 31 islands and islets in the southernmost tip of Palawan is what dreams are made of. Pristine beaches, unspoiled turquoise water, quiet and endless blue surroundings and the most diverse fauna you’ll find in the Philippines. If you want to get an idea of what the country looked like dozens of years ago before tourism took away some of its magic, this is the place to go.
As of right now, there are no airports for commercial flights in the vicinity, so the only way to get there is by land. Get on a shuttle bus in Puerto Princesa headed down to Rio Tuba and in about 5 hours you’ll get dropped off near the port, where you can then get on a ferry and begin your 4-hour long journey to Balabac. It may sound like an arduous trip, but it’s safe to say it’s worth the effort.
So whether you’re looking for a wild adventure on land or underwater to disconnect from the virtual world or a relaxing beach town where to spend entire afternoons to forget about your troubles, you can be sure you will find the perfect destination for you somewhere around the exotic beauty that is Palawan.