Picturesque Palawan- Puerta Princessa

Puerto Princesa is a good place to create a base for yourself whilst exploring neighbouring areas of Palawan by bike, or a good stopover for a flight. There are little attractions in the city itself- the tourist information center recommends a souvenir shop as a tourist attraction. It is however, the cleanest, greenest and safest city in the Philippines, voted by the public and looked after by the government. Try spend most of your time exploring the unspoilt beaches, the surrounding natural sights and the friendly island vibe Palawan has to offer.

Puerta Princesa

Port Barton is known for its white sandy beaches, pristine and perfect, untouched by tourists- so head here for a calm atmosphere and comfortable spot of tanning. Whilst in Puerto Princessa, you must visit the underground river in Sabang, which has recently acquired the new title of one of the “new 7 wonders of the world”. It has grown in popularity over the last two years, with 9 flights a day to Puerto Princesa now reaching 25, as well as mass cruise ships stopping over for international tourists to visit Sabang.

Puerta Princesa

Although seemingly shuttled like cattle two and fro from the site, it is worth the visit. Tourists flock from all over the world to see the diverse wildlife, beautiful white sand beaches and unspoiled natural beauty that makes this the Philippines premier eco-tourism destination. The park is a protected area and is filled with intrinsic natural elements which led by the river, have shaped the inner makings of the cave over time. Stalagmites and stalactites hang from the weathered rocks resembling sacred profiles and phallic symbols which amuse and entertain visitors, whilst bats swoop dangerously low. Swallows rest in their humble nests and water snakes and eels slide through the water as you float along the river. The complex cave system is of a spectacular karst limestone landscape and new discoveries of minerals have been made throughout the caves which add even further to its scientific value.

Puerta Princesa

Boats are restricted in their accessibility, just reaching up to 4.3 km, which makes the underground river the longest navigable underground river in the world. Reaching 4.3 km, visitor’s experience one of the largest cave rooms in the world, illustrating the natural phenomenon and beauty to all whom visit here. The trip is short and leaves you wanting more. The park has a vibrant eco system and is a habitat for biodiversity conversation. An abundance of wildlife lives here; with over 165 species of bird visiting the park, as well as 30 mammal species- such as the Palawan stink badger and the sea cow. Visitors can further immerse themselves with nature by trekking to the Sabang River, rewarding their triumphs with outstanding personal experiences with nature and an athletic jungle adventure.   If wanting to experience more of the forestry that surrounds the river through a cultural viewpoint, a community based sustainable eco-tourism project of a mangrove forest tour is readily available for visitors. The tour allows visitors to observe the ancient sight of a mangrove forest and evaluate the existence of an eco-system with no human intervention, as well as planting personal mangrove trees to aid the project and growth of the forest. The standard price for this tour is 1,500 Pesos- including a buffet for lunch and the journey to and from Puerto.

Puerta Princesa

Other recommended things to do around Puerto are, taking a day out to Honda Bay to see the beautiful beach and relax, as well as take the opportunity to see thousands of fire fly’s due to the clean and unpolluted environment which Palawan has.

Puerta Princesa

Places to eat in Puerto are: Itoys Coffee Shop, which has a number of options for coffee lovers to replenish your thirst, as well as this, they serve western and Filipino dishes at affordable prices. Opposite is Balinsasayaws (a mouthful I know), which is a restaurant popular with the locals because of its cheap specials and tasty dishes. I recommend the Pork Liempo.

Throughout my time in Puerto, (as my stay was much longer than anticipated here), I stayed in JLC Hostel. Walking distance from the main street, Rizal Avenue, made this an easy choice for me, although when I was here- no one was at the hostel. Known for being a quiet basic hostel, fan rooms are 400 pesos and are standard backpacker fitting for your needs. (A bit of a down grade from the resorts I had been staying in Palawan, but back to reality now!)

A word of advice, if wanting to book long distance ferries, do a fair way in advance and in person. Boats to Manila via 2GO go once a week on a Sunday, whilst Marguisa Shipping Company go more often, but head to Iliolio and do not travel on a Saturday. I initially wanted to take the 55 hour ferry to Boracay for 1,300 pesos, however the ferry I wanted on the particular date only had economy tickets left, which is getting a bed in the basement of the ship with no fan and with 230 other people. I did think about it for a moment, and then I thought of sleeper class trains in India and staying on one of those for more than 2 days. I booked an expensive flight.

Picturesque Palawan- El Nido

El Nido is the star attraction of Palawan and has received much attention because of its magnificent beauty.

Taking a 7 hour ferry or expensive and lengthy flight from Coron via Manila, you will see why. Instead of isolated pointy rock formations in the sea like in Coron, here islands are dotted artistically in swirls and waves around the coast of El Nido forming the Bacuit archipelago, which can only be compared in stunning beauty to Halong Bay, in Vietnam.

El Nido El nido

Coron is famous for its snorkelling, diving and beautiful snapshots, but here the stunning landscapes are an influential part of the life and psyche of El Nido, not a distant sight but are close enough to reach out and swim to. Tours are split into 4 different options: Tour A, B, C and D. Each explore different areas of the archipelago, different islands and different sights: whether it be, secret beaches, caves, coves, lagoons and shrines. Each vary in price but range from 1,300-1,500 Pesos. If this is out of your price range, simply hire a kayak and paddle over the rising blue waves and shallow waters to a nearby island, allowing yourself to explore an island on your own personal schedule and adhere to your own individual flexibility.

El nido

I also recommend hiring a moped for the day and driving around El Nido to some of its many beaches; such as the stunning Napcan Beach, the popular Las Cabanas beach, or head to its many waterfalls or hot springs. Routes around El Nido are easy to follow, however the roads are treacherously bumpy and if the weather is not in your favour, then they could easily cause accidents. The weather when we were there was temperamental, blue sky and sun shining in the morning would quickly switch to thunderstorms and torrential rain in the afternoon. Do your research before organizing anything, be prepared for whatever the weather, and keep in mind mornings are normally much warmer than afternoons. El Nido has many places to explore and if daring enough, one can ride a motorbike from here to Puerta Princesa or Port Barton- or anywhere else in Palawan easily. Taking a Tawah hike is also a fun activity whilst in El Nido. After a 1/2 hour hike uphill, it is worth the journey to see the entire view of El Nido, town, port and vast ocean: beautifully breathtaking.

El nido El nido

El Nido being larger than Coron, means the town is a much more happening place with many unique restaurants that serve tasty food. In the day, every other building is open and selling essential items for tourists, whilst at night most are boarded up and a few restaurants and bars are scattered around for those to visit. Squidos restaurant, although having a good reputation, did not have tasty food and the quality of it is poor and a disappointment. I recommend eating at a local place rather than here, its not worth the time or money. Arts Cafe, which we also tried, has a funky feel and ambiance, as well as interesting décor with attentive staff and a wide selection of food. However, the best restaurant we tried, hands down, is Mezzanine, an Italian restaurant hid away from the main street with views of the harbour and the starry nights sky. White comfortable chairs and stylish décor makes this restaurant seem to be more fitting in St.Tropez rather than El Nido, although I am incredibly happy it is there anyhow. The pizzas are cooked by a wood fire oven and the pasta is as tasty as my experiences in Naples and Rome. The staff are really helpful (even putting a candle and birthday wishes on my boyfriend’s desert last minute) and accommodating, which makes the experience much nicer. Try the Mango Daiquiri and Don Papa rum- both too good to say no to.

The best and only bar you should head to in El Nido is Angle Bar. Situated in between Corong Corong Beach and on the edge of town, this bar is a perfect meeting point for a night cap- or three. It is owned by two genuine and interesting guys who have only opened the place 3 months ago. The theme of “reuse and recycle” is thoroughly fitting for environmental conscious El Nido. Seats are made out of tyres, bar stalls out of beer crates, the bar top out of a ship and even drink stirrers from pieces of wood. The place has a great location, ambiance, staff and drinks- a number of flavoured beers are on offer. I couldn’t recommend this place any more.

El nido El nido

We stayed in Stunning Vistas beach Resort which does not deserve the high remarks and ratings it has on Trip Advisor or other booking websites. Not wanting to stay in the noisy center of El Nido Town, Corong Corong Beach offers an ample place to stay with a quiet beach and breathtaking sunsets. Options are limited with expensive resorts, beach shacks or hit and miss middle range places. Stunning Vistas Beach Resort, although a good location and tasty food, the room is dirty and of a poor quality, showers weak and ineffective (not what you expect from the amount you have paid and more of a similar standard to that of a hostel), and the staff forgetful and rude. I was disappointed we had to stay here, and being unable to receive any amount if I were to refund from the amount I paid whilst booking, meant there was no escape.

Please note, there are no ATM’s in El Nido, only places that charge you a high surcharge to withdraw money through them. Some restaurants take card, but once again charge a high amount. Plan ahead and take out as much money as you think you will need.

Picturesque Palawan- Coron

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.

Coron

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.

Coron Coron

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.

Coron

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.

Coron Coron Coron

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.

Coron Coron

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.

Coron

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.