Exploring the Stunning Landscapes of Palawan
by Simon Friend.
Comprising the main island of Palawan plus a cluster of smaller islands – including the picturesque Calamianes – a recent two-week trip to Palawan in the Philippines provided the perfect opportunity to spend time hopping from town to town in this beautiful destination. While there are no direct flights to Palawan from Hong Kong, local carriers have regular connections to different parts of the island from Manila, meaning that there’s no need to waste a night of your holiday in transit.
Starting our trip in Puerto Princesa, we discovered that – as with any other Philippine city – Palawan’s capital is loud and busy, with traffic jams and concrete buildings aplenty. However, bustle aside, this is where you should base yourself in order to explore some of the island’s hidden gems. On arrival, we hopped in a tricycle – the Philippines’ own version of the tuk-tuk – and took an hour-long drive down to Honda Bay, home of the Cooper’s Beach Resort. While this simple lodge run by expat scuba divers was by no means luxurious, the rooms were comfortable enough; besides, we were there for the location more than anything.
The following morning, we hired a private boat and explored the islands surrounding Honda Bay. Our boatman knew the area like the back of his hand, happily answering our many questions before dropping us off at a deserted island that we had completely to ourselves. We lingered, soaking up the sunshine on this peaceful paradise and snapping some perfect pictures as mementos.
Our next stop was the popular Subterranean River National Park, recently voted one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature. Located 80 kilometres north of the city centre, the river is said to be the world's longest navigable underground waterway.
The next morning we set off to El Nido on the Roro bus, a vehicle so crowded with both locals and tourists alike that we stood for the first hour or so of the long, winding and extremely bumpy journey.
While there are plenty of great day trips available from El Nido, we instead opted to eat, drink and be merry, taking advantage of some of the fantastic beach bars and enjoying live music with our feet in the sand and a cold drink in hand before tucking into the best pizza in El Nido at the Altrove Restaurant. Renting motorbikes for the day allows for further exploration of the surrounding area, including a great waterfall hike and a ride along a completely deserted beach. Splashing out a little will allow you to and stay in one of El Nido’s fabulous Lagen, Miniloc, Apulit, or Pangulasian resorts; however, after just one night we were ready for our next adventure.
A Tao boat trip is a wonderful way to explore Coron, and while you have the choice of hopping on and off as you please, we opted for a full five-day expedition. Unusually, there was no set itinerary to our tour and – leaving port right after breakfast one morning – we explored some of the many stunning deserted islands en route to our final destination of Coron. Many of these islands are extremely tricky to visit as there are no scheduled sailings from the mainland, so we appreciated the ability to see yet another side of the Philippines.
We arrived in Coron and found our way to our resort where the first task on our to-do list was to book an island-hopping tour. This excursion took us to some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable, including Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon, Barracuda Lake and Smith Beach – each of these must-visit spots magical in its own unique way. Your trip includes the option of snorkelling; remember to ask your boatman to bring equipment to make the most of the pristine waters.
A visit to magical Palawan wouldn’t be complete without a dive. Coron's main draw is wreck diving, and we were lucky enough to explore some of the 12 Japanese shipwrecks sunk in the region during World War II. Divers of all abilities are catered to on these wreck-diving trips, making this a highlight of the entire trip.
With unspoiled beaches, lazy cruises and adventure diving all far from the typical tourist trail, a trip to Palawan has all the ingredients for the perfect getaway.