An insider’s guide to Palawan: Choosing your island paradise
Regardless of your itinerary, Palawan is a place that you must visit once in your lifetime. Now to start planning that perfect Palawan trip.
Swimming through crystal clear waters. Lazing on a lolling boat deck with lobster tails sizzling on the nearby grill. And scrunching your toes into lily white sand. These are the visions of Palawan, the archipelago in the Philippines that seems almost otherworldly in its beauty. But, if you’re lucky enough to step foot in this azure-tinted paradise, where should you even start? We’ve got the lowdown on the best postcard perfect towns and islands to visit in the Palawan province.
First up, if you’re already made the decision to visit Palawan, you’ve made a cracking choice. Voted the world’s most beautiful island, Palawan is absolutely jam-packed with incredible scenery as you hop from turquoise lakes to underground rivers, thousands of fish fluttering around you.
Visiting this wonderland is best enjoyed if you have at least two weeks to hop from one location to the next, with the best itinerary usually starting from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton, before doing the El Nido to Coron stint. However, if you’re short on time, it’s worth picking your paradise location carefully.
Coron – the captivating island of Busuanga
Perched at the very end of the Palawan stretch, Coron is known for its insanely exquisite landscapes: swimming languidly in the Twin Lagoon, scuba diving to Skeleton Wreck to see a sunken Japanese supply ship and topping up your tan on CYC Beach.
Only really accessible via a flight from Manila or, more conveniently, on the fast ferry from El Nido, Coron is fast becoming a popular place to visit, so travellers better get this bucket list item ticked off soon, before the hordes of tourists arrive.
The best way to see Coron? Off the back of a private boat. With hundreds of boats waiting in the cosy harbour, just 4,000 pesos (about 80 USD) gets you a captain for the day, ready to sail you out to deserted islets like Bulog Dos, or hammock-strewn beaches like Banana Island. Which, incidentally, doesn’t have a banana in sight.
If you’re smart, you can also head to the local market in the morning and bag yourself a lunch of fresh fish and veggies, ably cooked by the boat’s deckhand on the ship’s grill as you lounge in the Colgate-coloured waters waiting to indulge.
Best for: Laidback travellers looking for quieter quarters and epic landscapes.
El Nido – an enigmatic island utopia
The most well-known stop on Palawan, El Nido is the ‘original’ island haven on Palawan and the perfect stop between Puerto Princesa and Coron.
Here too you’ll find pristine beaches, electric blue corals and almost untouched islands, although perhaps missing some of the faraway charm of Coron.
El Nido is also synonymous with boat tours – stops at the small, big and secret lagoon, palm fronds galore at 7 Commando Beach and the untouched sanctuary of Cadlao Lagoon or aptly named Helicopter Island.
El Nido’s edge is that you can visit a number of beaches without stepping foot on a sailboat. Beaches like Nacpan, Las Cababas, Verde Safari and Duli are just a moped ride away, and you can double down with your cocktail and watch a pink and purple-hued sunset to end another day in paradise.
Best for: Those looking for island jaunts but favouring beach time (and less travel time).
Port Barton – pack your bags for this hidden gem
Nestled between El Nido and Puerto Princesa is the often-overlooked coastal town of Port Barton. This slightly sleepy seaside village offers much that El Nido and Coron do, in that there are – you guessed it – more boat tours to do.
Now the landscapes might not be as spectacular as those of Coron, but Port Barton still packs a punch.
You can gasp over brightly-hued starfish at Starfish Sandbar, strap on your snorkel mask for the Twin Reef and Wide Reef or go to the uniquely-named Exotic Beach (spoiler: it’s not that exotic), or swim with gigantic turtles at the Turtle Place sanctuary.
If you are craving a bit of peace and quiet, Port Barton also boasts Inoladoan island, a small island offering plenty of palm trees, white sand beach and turquoise water.
Fun fact: Inoladoan is also known as ‘German Island’ after a German lived there for 20 years and told all his friends back home they had to visit!
Best for: Those wanting a stop between Puerto Princesa and El Nido.
Puerto Princesa – the lively capital of Palawan
The capital city of Palawan, Puerto Princesa is just that: A city. This bustling metropolis is not what you expect when you arrive, your head filled with dreamy thoughts of island bliss; but there is still heaps to do in the city before you head off from Puerto Princesa to El Nido or further afield.
The main attraction is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, which is a national park boasting soaring limestone karsts and an underground river. It’s quite a far stint out of town (90 minutes) but worth every minute as you traverse this 8.2 kilometre underground river, said to be the longest navigable one in the world. You’ll be rewarded with more than 800 plant species, 30 mammals and even eight different types of bat.
If the river doesn’t tickle your travelling fancy, of course Puerto Princesa has island tours (Luli Island and Cowrie Island being the two most renowned), a few beaches like Nagtabon and Talaudyong in easy reach, and more types of water sports than you can imagine. Jetboating, banana boating, parasailing, you name it!
History buffs can find some heritage spots while walking the streets, like the World War II museum, PPC Cathedral or the Heritage Museum.
Best for: Those without much time to explore the province, and keen on visiting the Underground River.
Choosing your Palawan getaway island
Made your choice? Is it eating Pancit in Port Barton, or coral-hopping in Coron? Or perhaps an island-hopping tour to see them all, as you flit from hammock to hull? Regardless of your itinerary, Palawan is a place that you have to visit once in your lifetime. Now to start planning that perfect Palawan trip…