My love affair with Palawan started late. Before I stepped on what is considered as the Philippines’ last frontier, I was frisking on the beaches of the more famous islands in Asia and the Caribbean. I was practically ignoring a spectacular island right at home that could easily trump all the other islands in the world with its diverse natural beauty, underwater and above water. In 2011, I finally visited one of Palawan’s famous destinations, Coron Island, and I could vividly remember tears in my eyes as the plane was about to land at Busuanga airport as I was overwhelmed seeing a stunning display of nature from above. After that I became resolute on visiting more of the numerous jaw-dropping sites in one of the world’s most breathtaking islands. After Coron, I then visited El Nido, San Vicente, Honday Bay, Sabang Beach and the Underground River. I have always wanted to go back and explore more.
Travel + Leisure readers voted Palawan as the best island in 2013 (click here). In the following year, Conde Nast Traveler readers voted Palawan as the top island in the world (click here). The island, located on the western part of the Philippines, is truly getting international attention lately and I am torn between sad and joyous. Sad because the island’s current popularity could bring in throngs of visitors that could possibly lead to environmental decay of the area if utmost care is not given; joyous because my country is in the spotlight and tourism would boom which is good for the economy. Oh yes, the Philippines probably need more tourists as it is still getting less than 5 million visitors each year, a pathetic figure compared with that of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
With everything said, I am presenting this article to showcase the best I have seen (and to be seen) in the island of Palawan arranged below based on geographical area.
1. TUBBATAHA REEF
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reef has a higher density of marine species than any other place on earth. It is the undisputed jewel of the spectacular Coral Triangle with its unbelievable biodiversity. The reef provides shelter for more than 25% of all known marine species including 7,000 species of fish and 400 species of coral. This is a must visit for scuba divers. Please click here to read one of the blogs on Tubbataha Reef. Photo c/o http://www.jajajajamby.com
Situated between the Coron and El Nido, Linapacan is the least known of the three destinations but its remote location and pure state earned it the world’s clearest waters. Please click here for more details.
3. CORON & OUTLYING ISLANDS
Coron is known for its stunning underwater sceneries especially its scuba and wreck diving sites. And that is not all, Coron is blessed with islands boasting of world-class white sand beaches, lagoons and lakes. Somebody wrote: “Ominous walls of jungle-covered black karst erupt from the surrounding turquoise seas. Jagged and spectacular, Coron Island is the ultimate karst showpiece. As mountainous as Yangshuo, as labyrinthine as the Stone Forest, mid-ocean like Halong or Pang Nga, and as razor-edged as the spiky tsingy of Madagascar, Coron trumps them all. The place is pure magic.”
Malcapuya Island – For me this island has the best beach in the Philippines for now. It can be reached via a 2-hour boat ride from Coron town. It is pristine, lovely, unadulterated, tranquil. The underwater scenery is also spectacular. One of the reasons why it maintains its natural beauty is that no boats are allowed to dock on its shores. The docking area is located at a rocky area at the back of the island a few minutes walk to the main beach.
Huma Island – One of the newer private-island resorts to open in Palawan is Huma Island Resort occupying the entire island. With over the water villas each with private jacuzzi, the resort offers a Maldives-like atmosphere. Photo c/o Huma Island Resort.
Kayangan Lake – Reputed to be the cleanest lake in Asia, Kayangan Lake has clear waters with visibility several meters deep. A short climb to the top of the mountain brings you to a picturesque view that is uniquely depicting Coron. That usual photo (not shown here) is actually not Kayangan Lake (shown above) yet but just the waterway one will be passing on the way to Kayangan Lake’s entrance.
Ariara Island – Ariara Island is a private-island retreat for the high-spirited individuals accommodating up to 18 guests of the same group on the island at any given time. It was #1 in a Vogue UK list of top holiday destinations for being the most decadent for group holidays. Please check here for the article. Visit http://www.ariaraisland.com.
Lake Barracuda – Lake Barracuda is one of Coron’s primary attractions. It is of more interest to divers for its unique layers of fresh, salt and brackish water and dramatic temperature shifts, which can reach as high as 38°C. It’s accessible by a short but tricky 25m climb over a jagged rocky wall that ends directly in the water.
Bulog Dos Island – This is a neighboring island of Malcapuya. The tiny castaway island became easily an option for me as a location of an intimate beach wedding and so I thought. The emerald waters surrounding it caught my attention.
Banana Island – Just next to Bulog Dos and across Malcapuya Island is Banana Island which is usually more crowded as there are a number of lodging options in the island.
Banol Beach – This is a popular stop for island tours during lunch. With spectacular limestone formation and crystal clear waters this is one of the paradise islands nearer to Coron town.
Black Island – A long boat ride from Coron town will bring you to an island that has almost everything you want in a beach destination – wide stretch of shimmering white sand, crystal clear waters, coral reefs, ship wrecks, limestone cliffs, and even a cave that has a natural pool.
Calauit Island – If you want an African safari experience in the Philippines then visit Calauit Island Safari Park. In the 1970s around a hundred of eight species of African animals were brought to this island and they have thrived since then and have been the main attraction of the eco-tourism destination. It is a 4-hour land and sea travel from Coron town to this island.
Maquinit Hot Spring – Located in the main island of Coron the unique saltwater hot spring is a familiar stop for the city tour. With water temperature going as high as 42 degrees C, it is always indeed a therapeutic immersion in the hot waters of the spring that is emptied through to the seas from the man-made pool enclosure.
Dimakya Island (Club Paradise) – One of the older and exclusive places to stay near Coron is Club Paradise. Aside from the luxurious resort, there are plenty of options for island hopping destinations. It is also near Calauit Island which is a 2-hour boat ride away.
4. EL NIDO & BACUIT BAY
If Coron boasts of world-class underwater sceneries, El Nido presents a spectacular over the water views with its endless and majestic limestone formations and gorgeous beaches. The number of islands with their own amazing little beaches rivals that of Coron and I find them better too because they are not too spread out and can be easily reached in less than an hour from each other. Even the mainland has kilometers of pristine beaches. Please click here for one of my blogs on El Nido for more details on traveling to the paradise destination. For a set of pictures during my second visit, you can click here.
Big and Small Lagoons – You get off the boat unto the clear waters around the Small Lagoon and you swim inside the lagoon that leads to an exciting cave. The Big Lagoon (pictured) is more spectacular as the shallow clear waters are always inviting but no one is allowed to get off the boat.
Entalula Island – The white sand beaches on this island are probably the best that I have seen in El Nido. Some areas are for private use by El Nido Resorts and some can be used by the public.
Pangulasian Island – The private island has been named by Travel + Leisure as one of the best places to travel in 2014 (click here for the article). The flagship property of El Nido Resorts is in Pangulasian Island. It is easily the most luxurious resort in El Nido. Other El Nido Resorts properties are in Miniloc and Lagen islands. Please visit http://www.elnidoresorts.com/elnido/
Snake Island – One of the most unique topographies in El Nido is Snake Island’s white sand beach that crawls and sways from one island to another depending on the tide. I have seen sand bars that go right from the island out into the open seas. This one connects an island to the mainland.
Secret Beach – This is said to be the inspiration of Alex Garland’s book, The Beach, which was made into a movie and was shot in Thailand with Leonardo Decaprio as the lead star. Alex visited El Nido years ago and was captivated by the “secret” beach. Indeed, it would have been a secret until after some locals found the beach by entering the small opening beneath the towering limestone formations in this part of Matinloc Island. The small opening can be hazardous during monsoon season as the waves could pound you to the sides of sharp rocks.
Helicopter Island – There are finer and whiter sand that I could find somewhere else but this beach has a certain alluring character that I could not explain. One reason could be the wide shore the beach has. Probably another reason could be the clear celurian waters surrounding the island. Another reason is the stunning view of Bacuit Bay especially the rugged topography of its neigboring Cadlao Island.
Corong-Corong Beach – This beach in the mainland is probably the best place to watch sunset in El Nido.
Pinagbuyutan Island – Towering over Bacuit Bay, Pinagbuyutan Island is easily the most recognizable structure in the area. This was the site of Survivor Israel during my first visit to El Nido and it was off limits to visitors. The second time I was in El Nido, it was not occupied anymore and I had a grand time enjoying its beaches which some parts were rocky and some parts were just soft, white sand.
Nacpan Beach – I just recently discovered Nacpan Beach during my recent trip to El Nido and it was a beach-y revelation after traveling on rough roads for several miles from El Nido town. A pristine, long beach with very few beach resorts, I easily fell in love with this beach in the mainland. We owned it for a few hours!
Matinloc Island Shrine View – This island actually contains three famous El Nido sites: Secret Beach (presented earlier), Talisay Beach and Matinloc Shrine. Above the shrine, a steep cemented stairs led up to a vantage point that has incredible views of the bay and the neighboring islands.
5. HONDA BAY & AREFFERCI ISLAND
Arefferci Island is one of the beautiful islands scattered on Honda Bay and the only one having a resort. It is where the private Dos Palmas Resort is located. You can visit the resort’s website here or you can browse through my photos here. Another notable attraction in Honda Bay is Snake Island with its amazing sandbar but it has gone private and it is not open to the public anymore.
6. UNDERGROUND RIVER & SABANG BEACH
The Puerto Princesa Underground River has been voted as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is the world’s longest navigable underground river. Lately, a fossil of the 20 million year old Sirenia, commonly know today as the Sea cow or Dugong, of the Miocene period is plastered on one of its limestone walls. We were blessed to have our Palawan-based friends to arrange for us to go beyond the normal tourist route and we were able to see up close the 20 million years old fossil. You can click here for my Underground River article. I have also created a photo collection here of the 7 New Wonders of Nature that I have visited and that includes the Underground River.
Sabang Beach is the gateway to the Underground River. It is the perfect place to base for a few days before or after a visit to the Underground River. With two major resorts and more than a dozen small lodging, there is no shortage of rooms along the gorgeous beach. For a quick preview of a Sabang Beach experience, you can click here.
7. SAN VICENTE
This is one of the most remote places that I have visited in the Philippines, probably second only to Palaui Island in Cagayan province. No electricity and no hotels and we had to go through kilometers of rough road traveling from Puerto Princesa. The town is located between Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa and El Nido. We took a 4-hour trip to the town of Taytay and then a one and a half ride to the town of San Vicente. There are few places that offer home stay. San Vicente’s gem is Long Beach, a 14-km stretch of virgin beach considered the country’s longest. The area is so pure that we encountered dragonflies and dolphins along the beach when we were hiking half of its length. The nearby Capari Resort, less than an hour by motorcycle, is indeed an option if you want contemporary lodging. For photos of San Vicente, you can click here.
8. PAMALICAN ISLAND (AMANPULO)
A part of the Aman resorts chain, the high-end Amanpulo is the sole occupant in the island of Pamalican in Cuyo Archipelago. Having its own air strip, it is only accessible by turbo-prop from Manila. With its 40 private villas spread out, some having its own private access to its own beach, the resort atmosphere is indeed tranquil and secluded. You might find yourself in the company of British royalty and Hollywood celebrities having a grand time. The island of Pamalican is surrounded by soft, white sand beaches and unspoiled coral reefs. You can check out a blog on Amanpulo by clicking here.
Did I miss your favorite destinations in Palawan? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Map of Palawan, Philippines