I often get asked what is there to do in the Philippines and the answer is always the same. If you’re going to the Philippines for at least 2 weeks then in my opinion you should use that time to explore the province of Palawan!
Known as the last frontier of the Philippines, Palawan boasts some of the country’s best islands, beaches and snorkelling/diving opportunities. It’s also home to two UNESCO world heritage sites the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (aka the Underground River).
To give you an idea of what you can see and do in Palawan, I’ve put together this sample 2 week itinerary based on a similar trip I did in April 2015, where I absolutely fell in love with the place.
The general route is as follows: Manila > Puerto Princesa > Honda Bay > Sabang > Port Barton > El Nido > Coron > Manila.
Fly from Manila to the administrative capital of Palawan, Puerto Princesa. Depending on what time you arrive you can walk around the city and check out the Cathedral and other local sights such as Baywalk, and/or visit the nearby Iwahig Penal Colony or the Crocodile Farm (both 35 minutes from the city centre).
It’s also recommended to visit the serene Nagtabon Beach about 1 hour away. It’s possible to stay overnight there in a little cottage or camp. However if you run out of time for this on Day 1, it’s possible to do it at the end of Day 2.
On Day 2 head out for some island hopping adventures around Honda Bay where you can swim, snorkel and relax. From the centre of Puerto Princesa, head to Sta. Lourdes wharf (25 minutes away) to book a day-trip direct with the boatmen (around PHP1300/boat or AU$40), or you can arrange a package at your hotel. Most islands charge a small entrance fee (around PHP100 or AU$3 per person).
Day 3 should be spent in the small village of Sabang, visiting the (very touristy) Underground River, the beautiful beaches and the jungle. You will need a permit before you go to the Underground River, so best to arrange this the day before in Puerto Princesa either through your hotel or a local travel agent. The 50kms from Puerto Princesa to Sabang takes about 2-3 hours so best to leave early.
There’s a handful of accommodation options in Sabang, but undeniably the most beautiful place to stay is the Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa.
Relax to the max in Port Barton – a quiet and chilled out little village north of Sabang. This is a beautiful place and a personal favourite. The beach is picturesque and calm, there is plenty of cheap accommodation, and excellent island hopping options. The village isn’t very developed which adds to its appeal.
It’s easy to get to Port Barton from Sabang via van/bus, although you may need to change at Roxas – just ask around. It’s also possible to get there via boat.
Note there aren’t ATMs in Port Barton and electricity is intermittent. Aside from relaxing and visiting the nearby islands (make sure you stop at Exotic Island!) you can rent kayaks, hike to nearby waterfalls, or take a boat to the nearby village of San Vincente.
Give your camera a workout at the stunning El Nido. About 5 hours by minivan from Port Barton is the famous El Nido. The town itself is quite touristy; it has everything you need and a range of accommodation options and restaurants. It’s set in a little bay surrounded by impressive limestone karst mountains similar to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or Krabi in Thailand.
Although the beach in El Nido town proper isn’t the best, there are some very pretty beaches within a 10 minute motorbike ride where you can chill out and enjoy a coconut (such as Marimegmeg (Las Cabanas) Beach).
There are plenty of activities in El Nido. Make sure you do at least one or two island hopping full-day tours. The most popular tours are A and C, or you can do a combination tour which takes in the best sites in one full-day tour.
- Tour A: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Simizu Beach, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commandos Beach
- Tour B: Pangulasian Island, Snake Island, Cudognon Cave, Cathedral Cave, Pinagbuyutan Island
- Tour C: Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Star Beach, Secret Beach
- Tour D: Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Beach, Paradise Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach
From El Nido you can also do a day or half-day trip to Nacpan-Calitang twin beach about 1 hour away. It’s one of my favourite beaches in the Philippines and was also voted the 10th best beach in the world (see post: The BEST beach in the Philippines: Nacpan Beach near El Nido). It’s very easy to hire a scooter and get there yourself – you could even ride the scooter on the sand and cruise up and down the long quiet shoreline!
Another activity you should do in El Nido (if you’re up for it) is hire a guide and climb up Mt Taraw (see post: Climbing Mt Taraw in El Nido (plus tips on how to stay safe)). The view over the bay is incredible especially if you climb early for sunrise! The climb takes about an hour and is pretty hard going, very steep in places over some very sharp limestone rocks. So wear good sturdy shoes, watch your footing and bring lots of water.
Make your way to Coron for even more island hopping, beautiful diving and impressive sights. The ferry from El Nido to Coron takes 7-9 hours but delays are frequent – pretty much plan to spend most of Day 11 on a boat – bring a good book and some movies on the laptop. The boats are pretty big so you’ll have space to move around. The price is around 1800 PHP which includes lunch.
Like El Nido Town, Coron Town isn’t anything exciting. There are good accommodation options and restaurants but in terms of a beach there isn’t one. For that you’ll need to do an island hopping tour. Depending on your interests you could spend the next two days doing a couple of island hopping full-day tours, or one day doing a combination full-day tour.
Another option is you speak to a boat captain and arrange to do a tour, but request to spend a night at Banana Island. Banana Island has one of my favourite beaches in the Philippines (see post: Top 5 beaches in the Philippines). The sand is so white and powdery, and it’s possible to stay in a cute little cottage on the beach for around 800 PHP (as at April 2015). The boat captain would be able to pick you up the next day and take you back to Coron, or continue with another island hopping tour.
If you feel like indulging a little, you could stay on Bulalacao Island at the ridiculously beautiful Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa.
Some other things you can do in Coron:
- Maquinit Hot Springs – not far from Coron Town;
- Mt Tapyas – a nice little hike up 700 stairs with beautiful views over Coron Town;
- Calauit Safari Park – an African game reserve created by former President Marcos in the 1970s – a few hours travel from Coron Town;
- Mountain bike tours; and
- Jungle treks.
From Coron, it’s easy to get back to Manila either by plane or overnight ferry (from 1000 PHP). There are a number of ferry companies, most you can just book when in Coron, but the most popular is probably 2GO Travel.
Planning a trip to Palawan? What are you looking forward to the most? Let us know in the comments section below!