At the end of 2016, I went on a holiday in Palawan, the most beautiful island in the world, where I spent the Christmas and the New Year’s Eve with two friends.
Located in Southeast Asia in the Pacific Ocean, The Philippines is a country comprised of about 7,100 islands, the largest ones being Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The landscape is mountainous, of volcanic origin, as the country is situated in a region with intense volcanic activity, being included in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The exotic sugar white sandy beaches, the lush vegetation and the diversity of nature has triggered more and more visitors to this country, attracting over 5 million foreign tourists in 2016.
What caught my attention was the province of Palawan, nominated as the most beautiful tourist destination in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine in 2013 and 2015 – a wonderland for the nature lovers.
We left Romania on December 23rd, with Turkish Airlines and we arrived in Manila on December 24th. The next morning we flew to Palawan, with Air Asia. The ticket from Bucharest to Manila costed 950 EUR and the ticket from Manila to Puerto Princesa costed 60 EURO.
Impressive landscapes, exotic beaches with fine white sand, clean waters filled with coral reefs, hundreds of islands, bays, lagoons, waterfalls and caves contribute to this place to make it a treasure of the planet, a tropical paradise that attracts tourists from all over the world.
The famous explorer Jacques Cousteau described the province as having some of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.
The main areas of interest in Palawan are El Nido, Coron and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
HOW TO GET TO PALAWAN
Puerto Princesa International Airport is the main gateway to Palawan. Air Asia, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, AirphilExpress, SEAIR and Zest Air flies from Manila, Davao, Busuanga, Cebu and Clark, to Puerto Princesa. Costs for a flight ticket from Manila are about 50-70 EUR, depending on how far in advance it is purchased. You can take a bus, a private or public van from the airport to El Nido, but be sure to book in advance. We used a private transfer which costed 6000 pesos in total (115 EUR), for a 4:30 hours journey. The costs for a normal ticket are about 550 pesos (10 EUR).
PUERTO PRINCESA SUBTERRANEAN RIVER NATIONAL PARK
If you go from Puerto Princesa to El Nido with a van, you can stop on the way to visit the longest underground river in the world, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which has an underground length of 24 kilometers. It is part of UNESCO’s list of objectives and has an extensive karst landscape, which can be seen by a 4 kilometer boat ride. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the river is that it flows directly into the sea, its lower section is subject to tide, thus creating a unique complete ‘mountain-sea “ecosystem.
El Nido is a region in the north of the island and covers an area of 465.1 square km, bordered by Linapacan Strait in the North, the Sulu Sea in the East and the South China Sea in the West.
El Nido is composed of 45 islands, grouped in the Bacuit Bay, each having its own unique geological formations, all of them drawn with the skillfulness of the best architect in the world – the nature.
The easiest way to see El Nido, is with a traditional Filipino banka boat, which is able to carry about 8-15 people and visit 4 or 5 islands in one day. Boats typically go on set routes, with names from A to D, but can vary depending on tides and weather. A ticket costs around 1200 – 1400 pesos per person, depending on the agency and the travel route. The trip takes one day (from 9:00 to 4:00 p.m.) and normally includes lunch with seafood, fish, chicken, vegetables and fruits.
There are several agencies that organize 4 tours to many beaches and islands in the region, but you can also take two tours in one day. We used www.elnidoparadise.com, which are very prompt and well organized.
Tour A: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret lagoon, Shimizu Island, Seven Commando Beach (1200 pesos)
Tour B: Snake Island, Pinagbuyatan Island, Entalula beach, Cudugnon Cave (1300 pesos)
Tour C: Helicopter Isand, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, Hidden Beach (1400 pesos)
Tour D: Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach (1200 pesos).
We had 2 days to spend in El Nido and we made two tours. First one, on the main island, where we visited Nagkalit-Kalit waterfall, Nacpan beach and Las Cabanas beach (750 pesos per person). In the next day, we chose a tour combination of A and B made in the same day, which costed 9,500 pesos, being a private tour only for 3 of us.
I heard all sorts of opinions related to what would be the most beautiful tour that worth or not. If I would go to Palawan again, I would choose to spend more time in El Nido, to take all possible tours, one per day, because each island has its charm and beauty. However, if you don’t have time, the ones not to be missed are A and B.
The area has somehow been taken by surprise by the wave of tourists which is higher year after year, which makes the number of accommodation units insufficient in high season, from December to February. Some exclusive hotels are fully booked a year before, so reservations must be made at least 3 months before to find affordable accommodation. A hotel that I recommend, with excellent position on the seafront and in town center, is MaryGold Beachfront Inn (Address: Calle Hama, 5313 El Nido, Philippines, Tel: +63 917 624 7722).
THE BEST WAY TO GET FROM EL NIDO TO CORON
There aren’t too many options to reach Coron from El Nido; you can choose a ferryboat, or take a tour for several days with a traditional Filipino boat. We chose this last option, which made it the highlight of our holiday in Palawan: The Ultimate Adventure Tour. A 5 days and 4 nights trip, where we visited dozens of uninhabited islands and slept in the tent, with minimal conditions of comfort, costs 400 EUR per person.
This tour was a one of a kind experience, unique and unforgettable, where we visited the islands of El Nido, Linapacan, Culion and Coron.
We sailed the sea for 5 days in two boats, each boat having 10 tourists and 5 crew members. During daytime we used to visit all sorts of islands and beaches, and during nighttime we slept in tents. We were having the opportunity to wake up every morning in a different place, having another, different exotic painting in front of the eyes, every time. On the first night we slept on a little white sandy beach, bordered by limestone cliffs rising just behind the tent.
On the second day we didn’t arrived on land before sunset and, because of the big waves and the stormy sea, we had quite an adventure to get to the island where we slept. The crew members had to improvise in order to safely bring us on the shore, so they used a kayak and a kind of floating wooden box, on which they were usually carrying luggage. The crew told us to take care and to jump on land only when they said so, because otherwise we would risk being injured by big waves that could break our legs. I would like to point out that only small luggages were carried on the islands, and the large suitcases always remained on the boat. On that night, some tourists chose to sleep on the boats, but me and my friends went on the island, where we had a stormy night. I remember it was such a strong wind, that trying to sleep in the tent gave me the feeling of being in a kite and we could take flight at any moment.
Every day was a new adventure and the evenings began with a tasty dinner, and then continued the fun with a glass of rum and cola or beer and dancing around the campfire. This trip was for me as staging as the famous television show Survivor, which was filmed right in this area.
We had the opportunity to visit in the Linapacan islands a village populated by Tagbanua people, and the chance to get in touch with their culture and their way of life.
I must therefore say that this type of trip is not for everyone, as the conditions are minimal. In those 5 days, we did not take a shower, we had no phone signal and no electricity. But at least we had delicious food, prepared by Armando, a very charismatic and talented Filipino, who took care of us with three meals per day and some snacks, seafood, fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, fruits and pancakes.
After 5 days of adventure on the sea, we arrived in Busuanga, where we had the chance to see a wonderful sunset from the hotel terrace Ekhaya Busuanga Island Palawan (address: Barangay Concepcion, Busuanga Island, Palawan, 5317 Concepcion, Philippines ).
Busuanga Island is the largest island of the Calamian archipelago, located in the north of the province of Palawan. You can reach the island either coming from Manila by plane or ferry, or coming from El Nido by sea. Francisco B. Reyes Airport (IATA: USU) is 40 minutes away from the town of Coron.
Busuanga island’s main attractions are his nearby islands: Coron, Siete Pecados, Cyc, Smith, Tangat Malcapuya, Black Island.
The waters around the island are very popular especially for diving enthusiasts, with 8 Japanese ships sunk in Coron Bay in 1944 after an US army aerial attack. Most of the wrecks in the area are at depths between 18 and 43 meters, some of which can be seen even from land, due to the clear water around.
Coron is the name of the largest city on Busuanga, a starting point to other attractions in the area, but also the name of a nearby island, the main attraction for tourists.
Coron is one of the most stunning islands in the world, with a picturesque relief, consisting of steep limestone cliffs surrounding the 7 freshwater lakes, the largest being Kayangan and Barracuda, as a matter of fact, the only to be visited.
Located in a volcanic crater, Barracuda Lake is the most spectacular of all, its landscape seems to be from another world, full of mysteries. A dive in this lake is a unique and fascinating sensorial experience, thanks to the mix of fresh and salt water that can manage to coexist in an amazing way. From 16 m below, you can see the dramatic change in temperature and salinity of the water by a line of division, suddenly passing from a 28 degrees Celsius fresh water, to a 39 degrees Celsius salted water.
Kayangan Lake is also an oasis of tranquility, renowned for having the clearest water in Asia.
Another interesting thing is that the island is inhabited by the indigenous tribe Tagbanua, one of the oldest ethnic groups in The Philippines. In 1998, Coron island and its surrounding waters were declared ancestral domain, thus Tagbanua people gained the right to administer the island. Therefore, only certain areas of the island can be visited, the rest of them being considered sacred. The islanders live in simple houses built on the beach, do not use electricity and their main activity is fishing.
Coron tropical island beaches are purely exotic, generally small, with sugar white sandy beaches, surrounded by limestone cliffs rising proudly behind them.
After 10 days in El Nido and Busuanga, I reached the following conclusions:
Well, the two regions are different and each have an unique beauty. I can say that I was impressed more by Busuanga and Coron island; maybe because I saw fewer tourists and that somehow gave me a sense of an exquisite atmosphere there, or perhaps because there I admired the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I invite you to see my photo gallery taken in Palawan, an exotic paradise to be seen at least once in life.
Travel To Happiness!