Palawan is known in the Philippines by all, both tourists- national and international, as the island which is most perfect and picturesque.
It is the gem of the Philippines, the hot spot destination, the Ph in the Philippines, the icing on the cake and the forefront of every travel photograph displaying the Philippines. Palawan is what Boracay used to be; untouched white beaches, honest locals that wear contagious smiles and stunning landscapes. The island of Palawan is vast and you can easily spend a month there visiting every corner of sand and every twist and turn within the island.
I started my trip in Coron, which is at the tip of the island. Coron Town is a small poky place created for tourists with sun cream shops and swimwear stores, a few restaurants and bars line the streets, although the place is quiet and sleepy, focusing on its natural beauty and underwater splendour to attract tourists. Plenty of tour packages are on offer and almost every shop hires out motorbikes to tourists. Although the options are numerous, a visit to the diverse uniquely shaped rock formations that are a main attraction of Coron, is a must. Large limestone rock formations jut out the sea with trees hanging and living precariously through its many crooks and crannies. These formations dot the horizon sporadically as if when God created the world, he dropped a few of his toy marbles carelessly, which made Coron by splintering in all shapes and sizes. The rock formations vary in size, differing in various sights to appeal to all, either lagoons, lakes, reefs or beaches.
I chose to visit all which I could and booked on to the Ultimate Island Tour with JY Travel and Tours. We started at Siete Pecados, 7 pieces of rock that encircle an area of sea creating a diverse array of colorful coral growing there. Small fishes swam speedily away from my floating white body, terrified of a hidden net as if to catch them to be grilled or fried. The main attraction is the pulsating coral that gasps when swirls of motion cause it to shudder in movement, electric blue sharp coral that zip zag and slot into one another as if lovers, and mushroom shaped coral stands high amongst all the other pieces of nature that surround it.
The next location is Kayangan Lake, a sight so beautiful that for many it is the main reason they visit the Philippines. The sharp pointy rocks raise up to the air as if witches hats and a turquoise lake centers it, filled with pencil shaped fish and strange rock formations. It is a slippery walk to this side of the lake, although the view of the lagoon where the boats anchor is equally as memorizing. Smith beach is next, where white sands and fresh local food is served to you, all deliciously tasting and in abundance (fish, chicken, rice, vegetables and fruit). After a short rest, we headed to Twin Lagoon where we swam past floating Salamanders and dived under tunnels of rock to reach a dark, cool lagoon. Floating on your back you look up to the sheer size and volume of rock before you: its thrilling.
The next stop: Skeleton Wreck, is another reason why so many tourists visit Coron, because of its diverse diving opportunities. Wrecks from WW2 are sunk into the dark depths of the ocean for hundreds of years, with fish that float through the cubby holes and coral grows on its sterns and boat deck. Its beautiful to see life breathing and continuing on whilst living on something so obviously dead and gone. The next stop is Las Islas de Coral, a spot next to CYC beach, where sea urchins dangerously scatter the floor and where I spotted a school of swordfish quickly following the direction of their leader, swinging their bodies dangerously from one side to the other, as if watching a final at Wimbledon. The tour was fantastic and the guide was filled with interesting information and the food was delicious. The price of the tour (excluding the hire of a mask and snorkel for 150 pesos each) is 1,500 pesos for a full day.
Another thing to do in Coron is to rent a bike for the day and zip around the island exploring its beaches. I did this with Swiss Sandra from my hostel (I’m not the most confident driver). Although the roads are bumpy and difficult to drive on, the route is one way-simple and easy to travel along. Cabo beach is filled with shells, but has perfect shelters for a picnic, whilst Bali Beach has soft sand. The view whilst sunbathing is phenomenal, rather than the isolated rocky islands which are further to the east side, in front of you is one large valley of dipping and rising mountains, that take the shape of a jelly cake. Sharing the beach with local children screaming in delight at the ball game they are playing, and dining on a rustic lunch of tinned spiced sardines and rice- although basic, I felt, was definitely one of the best beaches I’ve been to. The quiet lack of tourists made it an even more enjoyable experience.
We headed to the hot springs after, which vary from 35-41 degrees, and well, are really hot. Dipping in salt water baths with the lukewarm temperature of the water of the sea to cool us down, made it difficult for us to concentrate, let alone have a conversation. We stuck to sitting outside the springs and occasionally dipping our toes in, which for 200 pesos, is not worth the price you pay.
Dining in Coron varied tremendously for me depending on the company I had. I ate juicy mangos for 40 Pesos a kilo and Barbecued pig intestines when alone. With Sandra, we ate at Coron Village Lodge– a finely decorated restaurant stocked with European souvenirs and hanging wind chimes. The local food is good and flavoursome, although quite fatty and bony. With my boyfriend who flew out to Palawan to visit, we tried Kaison restaurant, which mixes Chinese and Filipino cuisine together. The food? Horrible. The chicken adobo (one of the most popular dishes here because of its tangy sauce that smothers the meat which falls tenderly off the bone) was the worst I ever had, and although their Pork Lechon crunchy and satisfying, it was not worth the hour wait.
The best restaurant no doubt, was Lobster King. Sit in beach huts, or in the restaurant area next to brave Karaoke singers, and try the Lobster Sizig which is served on a sizzling hot plate with vegetables and a rich creamy sauce, ordering garlic rice on the side. The dish is so good, you will order it twice. Beers here are 40 pesos, however if you want to head somewhere with a bustling and traveller ambiance head to No Name Bar.
Like my dining, my accommodation varied greatly too. At first, I stayed in Coron Backpacker Guest house for a budget room of 500 Pesos. The guest house is placed on wooden stilts, over a sewage filled area of the sea covered in litter which forms a black paste below. The location is in close proximity to a busy neighbourhood meaning you are woken up to all members of the neighbourhood sawing, singing and getting ready for the day at 7am. Although the staff helpful, I could not stay in a hot box of a wooden room, which opened out to the street and where loud noises and strong smells continuously woke me, (especially as I travelled India and never stayed somewhere so close to a sewage contaminated area). I moved to Coron Village Lodge, which offers clean, cool and comfortable rooms with private bathrooms and showers attached for a thousand Pesos. Although quite a dramatic price difference, I really recommend this place if you want to stay somewhere where cleanliness and comfortableness goes hand in hand with customer service and accommodation.
When my boyfriend arrived, I upgraded to a tourist holiday style of accommodation, a room in Coron Weston Resort. Staying in guest houses, hostels and the occasional lodge, a resort was as if a dream for me. A concierge, welcoming staff, free fulfilling breakfast and swimming pools- yes more than one- blew my mind. I was so used to fans that at night, and covered by a duvet, I would still wake up freezing from the cold draft of the AC. Although just a mere backpacker, this hotel is outstanding and although I might appreciate it more than any ordinary tourists, the rooms and services I recommend highly.