Known as the Philippines’ Last Frontier, Palawan is an astoundingly beautiful paradise located on the western side of the country. It is the largest province in the Philippines, made of 1780 islands and islets off the coast of the main island. Recent efforts to promote the province’s beauty have brought it to the world’s attention, luring in thousands of tourists every year.
Although Palawan is now considered a premier destination in the Philippine islands, it has remained largely pristine. Its charm lies in its sugar-fine white sand beaches, challenging nature trails, breathtaking sunsets and countless natural wonders. The people of Palawan are also very welcoming, staying true to the Filipino brand of world-class hospitality.
If time is a luxury that you have, traveling by sea is also a good idea. The province is accessible by boat from Mindoro (San Jose), Panay Island, and Manila. Travel time takes about 24 hours though so be prepared to get bored along the way. The long journey can also be a good time to try go get as much sleep as you can. You’ll be up to your neck in adventures once you arrive and chances are you would not be getting a lot of sleep during your stay.
The fastest and easiest way to get around Palawan is by hopping on a plane. But this can be quite expensive so if you’re planning to spend more on adventures than transportation, better consider alternatives.
Boat travel is an option especially for those headed to the coastal towns and offshore islands. There are two ferries that travel up and down Palawan: SuperFerry and Atienza Shipping Lines. Also, there are bangkas (boats) for hire that can take you through shorter distances along the coast. Bangkas can also be hired for island hopping tours.
Traveling by land is also possible around Palawan but one has to understand that it can be exhausting and time consuming. On the brighter side, overland travel allows you to see more of the island and if you hired a private jeepney or van, you’d have all the chances to photograph the attractive scenery. There are a lot of vans and jeepneys for hire in major towns and motorcycles can take you through shorter distances.
Almost all of Palawan is picturesque but there are several parts of the province that stand out from the rest. Palawan is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and beach lovers. A month is not nearly enough to explore the whole province so it is important to plan your itinerary around the most interesting points. Here’s a list of the most popular towns and/or attractions in Palawan:
Puerto Princesa is an independent city which also serves as the provincial capital of Palawan. The city is located at the heart of mainland Palawan, sandwiched by the South China Sea to its west and the Sulu Sea to its east. The city in itself is an attraction, being known as a highly-urbanized city within a forest. Puerto Princesa is teeming with natural and manmade attractions that never fail to impress every visitor.
As recently as April 2012, it was placed in the limelight as the home of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park which was declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Thousands (if not millions) of local and international tourists come to the city to marvel at the astounding beauty of the river that runs to the sea. The formations under the limestone caverns are also a sight to behold.
Another prominent attraction in Puerto Princesa is Honda Bay and its islands. It is located off the city’s mid-eastern coast and boasts of a number of islands that can be explored on an island-hopping tour. There are plenty of white sand beaches where you can swim, snorkel, scuba dive or simply sunbathe. Spectacular underwater wonders are abundant within the bay, including reef sharks, tropical fishes and different coral species.
Coron is a town in the Calamian Group of Islands located in northern Palawan. It is an extremely popular destination for wreck divers due to a good number of Japanese warships sunk during WWII. In fact, the wreck just off the coast of Coron Island were named as one of the 10 best scuba diving spots in the world by Forbes Traveler Magazine. There are no beaches in the town itself but it is an excellent base for island hoppers looking for a peaceful sand strip.
Coron is home to seven lakes, two of which are open to the public: Kayangan and Barracuda. You will also see towering limestone cliffs jutting out of picturesque lagoons. Coron is a Philippine marine reserve so expect to see multi-colored fishes and other endemic marine creatures once you take the plunge. There are plenty accommodations available in the main island but outdoor lovers prefer camping for the sheer pleasure of waking up to a stunning paradise on all corners.
Located just off Busuanga Island, Calauit Island is home to hundreds of wild animals of varied species that thrive within the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. African gazelles, bushbacks, waterbucks, impalas, zebra and giraffes live together with Palawan endemic species like mouse deers, Calamian deers, bear cats and Palawan peacock pheasants. These animals live in a natural environment with as little human intervention as possible. There are allowed to hunt, mate and survive within a vast expanse of open spaces, forests and water forms. Visitors to the wildlife sanctuary are toured around the extensive property on board a tall bus. On some days feeding the giraffes is allowed.
El Nido is another one of the most-visited towns in Palawan. It is located on the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan and is considered as the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago. This piece of paradise features some of the most stunning beaches in the world, along with mysterious lagoons, majestic limestone formations and abundant marine life. El Nido is a favorite destination of the wealthy due to its world-class resorts but it is also a backpacker’s haven; there are a lot of budget accommodations scattered all over town. There is also no shortage of adventures in El Nido: island hopping, scuba diving, underwater photography, fish feeding, spelunking, wind surfing, cliff climbing and camping among others.
When you get tired of all the physical activities, you can take a break at any one of the spas that offer ultimate relaxation for the weary mind, body and spirit. El Nido is also home to a lot of restaurants that serve the best culinary delights that Palawan has to offer.
The Tubbataha Reefs is perhaps every diver’s ultimate destination due to its amazing abundance of marine creatures, rippling underwater currents and multi-colored corals. It is one of world’s largest marine reserves, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is essentially a long reef exposed when the tides are low, characterized by sandbars and islets where birds and sea turtles take refuge. These sandbars however, are off limits to humans but they can be viewed aboard boats on your way to the dive spots. The best time to explore the reefs is during the months of April through June as this is when the waters are at its calmest.
Palawan is teeming with natural wonders but it is also important to understand that this piece of paradise is also facing threats to its environment. Being a land so rich in resources in both the mountains and the seas, Palawan is susceptible to commercialism and destructive development. At the present time, the province is facing environmental destruction due to mining and kaingin (slash and burn farming). Advocacy groups are lobbying to stop these activities in order to preserve the natural beauty of Palawan and it is equally important for visitors to understand these efforts. Tourists are also encouraged to take part through simple gestures like not throwing trash anywhere and paying environmental fees.
There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of reasons why tourists from all over the world are enamored by the mysterious beauty of Palawan. It may be the miles of white sand beaches, the secret coves, the picturesque lagoons or the famous underground river. It can also be the limestone cliffs, the busy underwater world or the lush forests. It might be the rustic beauty of the towns, the wonderful food or the warmth of the people. It can be all of these and more. Palawan is indeed a paradise like no other.