Ever heard about the Last Frontier in the Philippines? The island is called Palawan and is one of the only remaining real paradises on Earth. This small island is home to stunning exotic wildlife, coastal scenery and the best beaches you will ever see in your life. From diving between old Japanese shipwrecks in Coron or taking an underground river cruise in Puerto Princesa, Palawan has many unique sights definitely worth seeing.
Arriving in Puerto Princesa
The best way to get to Palawan is to take a 90-minute flight from Manila. Your arrival destination, Puerto Princesa, is the island’s capital and is a great starting point for your further exploration of Palawan.
During my week on Palawan, I was planning to go around the Northern part of Palawan including a few days in Puerto Princesa and a trip to El Nido. The most common way of transport in Palawan is a MultiCab or tricycles and are widely available. However, tricycles can be fairly limited to certain areas and may not be able to go very long distances, best to ask before boarding.
Since adventure was calling me and I didn’t want to be depending on a driver, a 150cc Honda dirt bike was rented in one of the many rental stores near the Puerto Princesa Airport. Although Google Maps says otherwise, traffic in Palawan can be very heavy and drives took often the double of what Google implied. The 450 km drive to El Nido took me around 2 days in the most intense monsoon rain I’ve ever encountered and over many, many bumpy roads.
The most beautiful destination on Palawan lies in the most Northern part of the Island which is called El Nido. El Nido until recently, has been relatively unknown to foreign tourists. Lonely beaches, crystal clear waters, jungle, steep limestone cliffs make El Nido a place with one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world. El Nido also has a great nightlife, cozy restaurants and bars on the seashore will definitely set you up for a relaxing night out.
The waters around El Nido are full of exotic marine wildlife and is the place for scuba diving. There are over 30 dive sites which have beautiful corals, colorful sea life and are suitable for a great variety of scuba divers. In the city itself, plenty of, PADI-certified diving shops can be found which can (depending on your experience) take you on a day trip to one or more of these diving sites.
With over 100 beaches in the immediate vicinity of El Nido, there is a lot of beaches to choose from. However, the best beach which I visited is around 20 kilometers outside El Nido and is called Nacpan beach. This remote beach with outstanding scenery, Crystalline waters, and silky sand beaches are reason enough for me to call it one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. There is a great atmosphere and besides swimming, you can enjoy fresh grilled fish with a local Red Horse beer (highly recommended!).
The road to the beach isn’t fully developed yet and after a few kilometers of paved roads, you will eventually continue the drive on the good old dirt road, full of potholes and mud. Although I was riding on a dirt bike it took me about on hour to get there.
Tip!: If you don’t bring a dirt bike like I did, then it is possible to hire a tricycle driver or to rent a scooter in El Nido. Be sure to bring a map when you’re going on your own!
Below an impression of this little paradise!
Tip!: Close to the beach is a small mountain which gives you a great view over the beach, although many visitors won’t climb the mountain it is definitely recommended to complete your experience!
After my bike trip to El Nido, I also stayed a few days around Puerto Princesa and used it as my starting point for several day trips. As said before is Puerto Princesa the capital of Palawan, the city has been acclaimed several times as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines. Around the city, there is a wide range of attractions ranging from beaches to wildlife reserves.
Some must-do activities around Puerto Princesa are:
The Underground River
Recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park offers a 45-minute canoe tour of the Underground River. The tour gives visitors a peek into the first 1.5 kilometers of the cave. Endemic wildlife species can also be seen around the area.
Aside from the beach, Puerto Princesa also has lush forests and mountains where tourists can continue to explore nature. Ugong Rock Adventures offers activities like zip lining, spelunking, and trekking all for around 450 pesos per person.
A highlight in Puerto Princesa for me was the day trip to Honda Bay. Honda Bay is home to various virgin islands like Pandan Island, Starfish Island, Cowrie Island, and Luli Island. It is a very good place to go to for swimming, snorkeling as well as beach and island hopping. Most hostels can arrange the day trip to Honda bay, costs are around 1000 pesos which include food. If you want to snorkel you can hire these at a shop near the Honda Bay Wharf harbor where you will drop off.
Although I’ve only been there a week, Palawan has been an extraordinary experience and I will definitely go back. Compared to the more famous paradises in Thailand and Indonesia, Palawan is relatively untrodden by the backpacker tide, so visit now before they all discover it!
Already been to Palawan, share your experiences? Leave us a comment!