We travel for a lot of reasons. For some it can be a short break from reality, an escape from the daily grind. For some its a way to connect with friends and loved ones. But for the chosen few, it can be a way to find ourselves and help us figure out our next move. There are a lot of choices out there, but you want to be different. You don’t like the crowd. You prefer the feeling that you can make your way and just be lost. We may have the place for you.
The province of Palawan in the Philippines has recently been named as one of the most beautiful islands in the world by Conde Nast Travel Magazine for 2014. Rightfully so, this long island stretch in the Philippines is bound to claim its long overdue spotlight and is also being groomed to be the next best thing in Philippine tourism. From the powdery white sand beaches, mesmerizing limestone cliffs, and a nature wonder of an underground river, it is not surprising that tourists and travellers alike are becoming more and more hooked to this tropical paradise.
Palawan is a perfect mix of sun, sand, and sea but far from being a cliche of most travel destinations and just enough to have its own identity. Its an Instagram heaven for those who love taking landscape and nature photos and a personal escape for those who dead tired of destinations with lots of tourists.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to this place at least once a year both for business and vacation since I started working. Whenever my foreign counterparts also ask me where to go in the Philippines, I always recommend this island and it never fails to impress. Whether you travel alone, with your special someone or in a group, this island province has something to offer that can be a unique experience in itself.
Below are few of the personal reasons why I think Palawan and its islands will definitely lure you in to travel.
1. The sunsets are just beyond words
Palawan by far has some of the best landscape I’ve seen for sunset watching anywhere else in the world. The sunset over the islands presents different hues that can change everyday from place to place. Being a photo junkie myself, Palawan is an Instagram-worthy place for taking landscape and sunset shots. Whether you are a pro or an aspiring photographer, it is the perfect spot to practice your snapping abilities and be amazed with the possibilities for your perfect frame.
My best bet would be in a secluded part of El Nido where sun-worshippers converge in the afternoon called Corong-Corong. It is a 10min ride from the town proper of El Nido which is a must-see for travellers. To get there, rent a tricycle (another local form of transport) and just say you want to go to “Las Cabanas”–one of the resorts in the area. The driver will normally ask to wait for you to bring you back after. Just know how to haggle for the price. I normally pay PHP 200 (around USD 4.5) for the whole trip. Just a couple minute walk from the road and you are in for a free visual spectacle.
Corong-Corong has relatively less tourists since not a lot of people know the place which presents a better opportunity to shoot sunset photos with less photobombers. Most of the people here are also foreign backpackers since the resorts in this area are relatively cheaper than in the town proper. I also suggest walking around Corong-Corong to appreciate the place even more. There is also a zipline overhead and you can zip through during sunset from the mainland to an island near the shore and back. I normally go here after my meetings to take shots of the sunset over a nice, cold bottle of beer while engaging in short conversations with other travellers and photographers.
Another perfect sunset option is in Port Barton. I once captured sunset photos here on a kayak in the middle of the bay. For PHP 50/hr (about USD 1) this is the cheapest kayak rental I’ve seen anywhere. There were not a lot of people around and I almost had the bay to myself. The waters in this bay is so calm and peaceful that one can just paddle away and not notice time. The sunset in this part of Palawan can be very personal and you can just forget everything.
To get to Port Barton, you may take a bus from Puerto Princesa in San Jose Terminal. I have to remind you though that the bus only travels once daily (San Isidro Express at 9am), be prepared to ride along with the locals buying all sorts of produce from the city to take back with them to Port Barton. It can be a bit of a chaos when the bus arrives and you will be amazed at how flexible people can get entering the bus windows just to have a seat. I once stood next to newborn twins who, amidst of the heat and people, were sleeping soundly during the trip that took around 3 hours.
Another option is a twice daily jeepney, one each from Puerto Princesa and from Roxas. If you are coming from El Nido, the jeep from Roxas that leaves around lunch time is your only choice. Otherwise, you can still go to Port Barton via motorcycle ride that takes about an hour. Again, know how to haggle with price for this option and you are off to take that perfect social media-worthy sunset shot.
2. There are relatively less tourists
Compared to other travel destinations, Palawan still is off the radar for most tourists who come in hordes. There are no cruise ships making stopovers yet, no direct international flights and not much annoyingly drunk people barfing around. For those who prefer to soak into the culture of the place and make their own itineraries, Palawan presents itself as a destination with flexible options without sacrificing the relaxed vibe.
Most tourist centers like El Nido and Coron can still be quiet at night which makes it appealing for dinner dates by the beach with your special someone. No hard parties here except for Puerto Princesa but even that I still consider tamed compared to Boracay or Manila.
The beach is not at all crowded considering it also boasts of powdery white sand. You can be free to have your alone time by the beach. My alternative suggestion here would be the 14km white sand beach of San Vicente which is 1.5hrs from El Nido. Here you can have the whole beach to your self to bathe in, walk around, or what-have-you.
3. Fresh food and lots of it
Philippine cuisine in general is a hodge-podge of different cultures and Palawan does not disappoint the foodie traveller. Food options for both the gastronomically adventurous and sensitive are widely available in the province. Keep in mind though that there are two distinct flavors in Philippine food: sweet and/or salty. Most of the food options play within these distinct flavors.
Upon arriving, you can have a light rice noodle soup called Chaolong (available in Beef, Pork, or Chicken) in Puerto Princesa which was brought in by Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnam War. The soup is very similar to Pho but was adjusted to suit the local flavors. This is best paired with Garlic Bread which is close to a French Bread topped with fresh Garlic and Cheese.
For those who have adventurous palates, crocodile meat is a delicacy which is best served as a sizzling beer match (Crocodile Sisig) which I normally order in El Nido.
Another cringe-worthy delicacy is the Tamilok or Woodworm which is served over vinegar, sashimi style. This one is captured in mangrove forests and is similar to a long Oyster in appearance. It has a slimy texture and is an acquired taste. I only tried this once but is worth the try, for those who are willing.
For those who love seafood, Palawan is also a perfect place to eat just that. Seafood is everywhere from shrimps, crabs, sea urchins, and tuna. You can practically order fresh seafood anywhere on the island. Most buffet joints also have their own staples in their lunch and dinner offerings which can be a pretty good deal.
4. Next Level Island Hopping
Honda Bay in Puerto Princesa and El Nido are destinations where you can do the best island hopping trips and have some of the islands for yourself if you’re lucky. Snorkelling gear and lunch are normally included in the boat rentals and have standardized rates. The tours here are at a small crowd of 10-15 which is not bad if you do not want so many people travelling with you.
Tao Philippines also offer a week-long island hopping tour from El Nido to Coron on a medium-sized outrigger boat. They make stops in some isolated islands in between and offers a personalized island hopping tour that is comparable to none. It can be a unique experience if you have time to explore the islands away from the normal touristy spots.
Scott Sporleder of the Matador Network recently made a cool video about this unique island hopping trip. You may check the video below.
5. Nature Trip on Steroids
The province gained international fame recently for its Underground River in Sabang, Puerto Princesa which was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Its a beautiful river under a limestone cave which is worth experiencing except for those with problems with closed spaces. You may need to secure a local permit before you go.
In Coron, you can also have a piece of the African safari via the Calauit Nature Reserve. Animals from Africa (giraffes, zebras, and elephants to name a few) were donated as gifts in the 70s that can roam freely to graze around the reserve. It is a different kind of zoo and is worth experiencing.
Likewise, it is not surprising that Palawan is also home to some of the Philippines’ remaining virgin forests. If you are the type who loves nature, you will definitely enjoy your time here. The lush forest vegetation is evident as you make your way to any of your destination. Although it also has its fare share of problems on the side, the local government is making its best efforts to make this heaven on earth sustainable.
6. The Journey is Worth It
There are direct commercial flights to Puerto Princesa, Busuanga (Coron), and El Nido. The last one, though, is more often used for chartered flights and can be expensive. For the budget traveller, going to Puerto Princesa from Manila or Cebu is the cheapest option. Several commercial domestic flights are available daily. If you are coming in from anywhere else outside of the Philippines, you will have to make transfers in Manila airport.
The airport in Puerto Princesa is now undergoing a massive facelift to cater international flights starting with Taipei-Taoyuan in 2015 while a new terminal will be available by 2017. If you have more time, sea travel options are also available from Manila going to Coron and Puerto Princesa and take a day and a half.
From Puerto Princesa, all main destinations like El Nido and the Underground River in Sabang are accessible by land travel via vans, jeepneys, and buses. The average travel time from Puerto Princesa to El Nido takes about 5 hours, 1.5 hours to Sabang and 3 hours to Port Barton. This option presents a perfect opportunity to know other travellers, appreciate the view, and for my case- to sleep. I personally prefer a day trip though in going to El Nido while prefer the earliest trip at 4am to get back to Puerto Princesa for my return flight.
Jumping from one destination to another is a different story. I’ve had a business trip once to Port Barton and have to get to El Nido the next day. This is where I experienced riding on top of a jeepney from Port Barton (there are only two jeepney routes going in and out a day) going to the main road then I took a bus to El Nido. If you are a not a “sensitive” traveller, you’ll be just fine and can easily make your own travel itinerary based on these options.
As a summary, there are not enough words to describe Palawan. I’ve been here a lot of times but there is always that something that makes each trip there unique. Travelling there helped me figure out a lot of things and appreciate the things around me more. Whatever your reason for travelling may be, whoever you may travel with, it sure will leave you spellbound. Fullfilled.
It’s crazy but I’m telling you that Palawan is best experienced than read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JR is a business developer based in Manila who travels extensively around the Philippines and abroad for work. He considers photography as a hobby and as an escape from the pressures of his job. He is an avid music lover and normally takes long walks with his earphones on while travelling. He life is all about finding happiness in the things we do. For more information on his photos and travels, you may access his Instagram account @jrlomugdang and Twitter.
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