Palawan – Best 20 places to visit [Comprehensive Guide]
This is the fourth and final blog of my four-part series in which I’m recommending alternative places to visit while Boracay is closed down for the next six months, beginning April 26, 2018.
Over the last 3 weeks, I have talked about some alternatives in the Visayas region that include Cebu, Bohol, and Negros. These three locations are all quite close to Boracay and share many of the attributes that make Boracay so beautiful and famous. However, I have left the best alternative to last.
In this week’s blog, we will be looking at Palawan. Palawan is both a province and an island and is located to the central west of the Philippines, and is made up of 1,780 islands. This is approximately one-quarter of all the islands in the total Philippines archipelago.
Palawan, the best island in the Philippines
Palawan has taken the mantle as the Philippines best island and has also been voted the most beautiful island in the world in 2015, by the very reputable travel publication, Condé Nast Traveler. Palawan is split into two major islands, north and south. In the north is the Calamianes Group of Islands consisting of Busuanga Island, Coron Island and Culion Island. Coron “town proper” is actually the capital of Busuanga, with Coron Island itself being the island south of Busuanga.
Coron Island is the major tourist attraction of the northern area. It is laden with beautiful lagoons, lakes, pristine white sand beaches, with abundant coral and marine life. There are also shipwrecks and amazing limestone cliffs and karsts rising high out of the water making it one of the best places in the Philippines.
In the south of Palawan province, you have Palawan Island. The capital of Palawan Island is Puerto Princesa. The main destination for tourists on Palawan Island is Puerto Princesa and El Nido, which like its counterpart Coron in the north, is equally as beautiful and simply defies words.
One of the main highlights of Palawan Island, of many, is the Puerto Princesa subterranean river, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. At 8.2 kilometers in length, it is the longest navigable underground river in the world.
El Nido is probably the most popular place for tourists in the whole province of Palawan. It also is one of the most historical places in the Philippines. With over fifty white sand beaches, extensive marine life, lagoons, and a number of endangered animal species, El Nido is truly one of the most unique places not just in the Philippines, but arguably the world. Palawan is also the only non-volcanic island in the entire Philippines.
So much diversity
There really is so much to see and do in the whole province of Palawan that you really do need several nights, if not more, to really fully explore it. I have absolutely no doubt this is the best of the best Philippines destinations. It is well worth the time to explore as much as you can. There are a number of tour operators in Palawan offering various tour packages in which you get to indulge in scuba diving, snorkeling and island hopping. these also allow you to chill out on some of the beautiful white sand beaches while eating fresh seafood for lunch. there are also sunset cruises, zip lining, and many other activities to indulge in.
With Boracay being closed down for the next 6 months, Palawan is easily the best alternative in the country. It will not be long until Palawan surpasses Boracay as the leading tourist destination in the Philippines. Let’s now take a look at some of the places that I have personally visited in Palawan. With 1,780 islands, there are many more places other than what I have listed below. These can be seen by doing the various set tour packages, or by hiring your own boat in which you can explore even more. I’m sure you’ll be able to find many options by doing your research on the internet. However, my list below will give you a good starting point.
I have broken this article up into places to visit in El Nido and Coron, as each place offers something unique. I hope you enjoy the article and what’s more, I hope you are able to visit Palawan and enjoy the beauty that this incredible place has to offer.
1). Cadlao Island
When you are in Palawan, you simply must try scuba diving. There is no better way to discover Palawan than underwater. If you have never been scuba diving before don’t worry, I had not been scuba diving either until going to Palawan. If you are a scuba diver or even just a beginner, I fully recommend Submariner Diving Center in El Nido town proper. They are very professional and make you feel comfortable from the moment you get on the boat. Their diving instructors are very knowledgeable and highly trained. You will have a great time with the crew.
When you are on the main beach of El Nido town proper (where Submariner Diving Center is located), you look straight out across Bacuit Bay towards Cadlao Island. This looks like a giant limestone rock that has been chiseled by hand and placed on the water. Pasandigan Cove was the first stop we did on Cadlao Island and is the place where I did my introduction to scuba diving. We also did our third and final dive at Paradise Beach on Cadlao Island in which we got to explore some amazing marine life including two giant sea turtles. Cadlao Island is usually the first port of call for scuba divers.
2). Dulimucad Island
Located further west of Cadlao Island is Dulimucad Island. This is also known as Helicopter Island and has a glorious golden sandy beach and beautiful turquoise colored water. This is where we stopped for our second dive. I didn’t actually go diving at this spot so I went snorkeling over to the beach and just sat on the sand admiring the beauty of the place, including the towering limestone cliffs at one end of the beach and the beautiful golden sand. There is a small improvised kiosk on the beach selling snacks and drinks including beer. Aside from one small group of tourists, there was nobody there at all. This is a great place to chill out and enjoy the sensational surrounds either on the beach or your boat.
3). Nacpan Beach
Our friends at Submariner Dive Centre advised to go and check out at Nacpan Beach. One of the things that first struck me about Nacpan Beach was the lack of tourists, whether it be local or foreign. The second thing that struck me was the wide-open beach that went on for kilometers. The sand is a golden color and is nice and soft. The third thing that struck me was the consistency of the wave breaks crashing into the shore. As surfing is not usually synonymous with Palawan, I was blown away by the waves that ranged from 1 to 2 meters in height. These waves are certainly suitable for surfing or bodyboarding and came in regularly in very nice sets.
Aside from this, there are a couple of local style restaurants/bars a bit further up the beach, and there was a drink vendor conveniently located on the beach near the entry point. Other than that, there were hardly any developments at all! To top it all off was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen with Nacpan beach basically facing due west. Located only about 20 kilometres north of El Nido town centre, this is a must see place. Please note there is a P50 entrance fee per person.
4). Duli Beach
About 15 kilometres further north of Nacpan Beach is Duli Beach. This is very similar to Nacpan Beach in that it has a wide open beach, powdery golden sand, and beautiful turquoise water. However, the surf here was even better than Nacpan Beach. What made Duli Beach even better is that there were even fewer tourists here than Nacpan Beach.
There is only one resort on the beach which is owned by a lovely Dutch couple, and there are a handful of small restaurants offering food and drinks. There was also an open fronted small massage shop about midway along the beach. This allows you to get a relaxing massage with the sounds of the waves crashing in. Other than that, the entire beach is basically deserted. You are able to hire surfboards there if you are keen to tackle the waves. Aside from that, it is a perfect chill place. Please note there is a P50 entrance fee per person.
5). Lio Beach
Lio Beach is an Ayala development and is only a few hundred meters away from El Nido airport. This is a real lifestyle resort which has retail shops, restaurants, and accommodation. This is a world class development that offers a number of different activities to suit everyone. There is everything from water activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding through to beach volleyball and soccer. The beach has beautiful powdery white sand and facing west, you catch some unbelievable sunsets. The jetty is one of the main features and allows you to step out over the water and enjoy the sunset. This development is set to really help put El Nido on the map.
6). Papaya Beach
Aside from scuba diving and underwater adventures, the best way to see El Nido is by boat. With so many islands around the place, a visit by water is a must. So during our stay in El Nido, we did a party boat tour. This is something I would fully recommend. There are a number of standardized tours that follow a set route (Tour A, B, C D) however, we did the Mellow Yellow Tour Z, which for P1500, is great value (plus P500 for unlimited drinks).
Our first stop was at Papaya Beach which is located just around the other side from El Nido town proper. Featuring towering limestone cliffs, the beautiful pristine white sand was glowing in the sun. Then, of course, there was the beautiful turquoise blue water surrounding this beach. You are allowed to jump off the boat and swim in the water and even do snorkeling at this stop off.
7). Pinagbuyutan Island
Our second stop was Pinagbuyutan Island. This is a postcard perfect island beautiful white sand palm trees and limestone cliffs. Just like Papaya Beach, the water surrounding this island was pristine. We didn’t actually go on to the beach but we were permitted to swim in the water near the boat. This didn’t matter as I was quite happy to chill out on the roof deck of the boat and enjoy the magnificent view.
8). Sand Bar
The next stop was a sandbar located somewhere between Pinagbuyutan Island and Lagen Island. This sandbar didn’t have a name but it didn’t really matter. Everyone got off here and went over to the sandbar for some fun and relaxation. There was a volleyball net set up on the sandbar and just about everyone took part in a game of volleyball. Those who didn’t participate in the volleyball just chilled out in the water, while some others chose to do some kayaking nearby. This was truly an amazing experience and we had so much fun.
9). Lagen Island
Our final stop of the party boat tour was at Lagen Island. This was yet another island with the tallest limestone cliffs you can imagine and a deserted white sand beach. Most of the people got off the boat for a swim, with some swimming over to the beach. Compared to Pinagbuyutan Island, Lagen island wasn’t quite as beautiful, however, it is still a sensational place with clear waters and beautiful scenery. I could certainly handle being stranded here!
10). Canopy Walk (Taraw Cliff)
Located less than one km from El Nido town center is the Canopy Walk. This offers breathtaking views of Bacuit Bay from Taraw Cliff. The jagged limestone cliffs are a feature of this and it offers a totally different perspective of El Nido compared to that of which you get from the water by boat. There are a number of walking bridges and steps to climb as part of this and you are required to wear a helmet and safety harness. This can make the trek very hot and uncomfortable. You are also required to take a guide. Not far from the canopy walk is Corong Corong Beach which apparently offers magical views of the sunset and is meant to be a key feature of the area and well worth a visit.
How to get to El Nido:
There are two options for getting to El Nido from Manila.
The best way to get to El Nido is to fly with Air Swift, which has 5 flights daily direct to El Nido from Manila. From El Nido airport, you can take a tricycle to the town centre which takes about 15-20 mins and costs less than P100.
Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa. Philippine Airlines (PAL) have two flights there daily. The flight is approximately 50 minutes. From Puerto Princesa Airport, it is about a 230km drive to El Nido, which takes 4-5 hours. You can take a van from the airport which will cost around P700 or you can take a bus which will cost about P500. There are also hire cars available.
In El Nido, there is a P200 Eco-Tourism Development Fee that you will pay when taking part in any island hopping activities. This is actually valid for ten days, regardless of how many tours you do. So make sure you keep your receipt and present it each time you book and pay for any sort of boat tour.
1). Kayangan Lagoon
Usually, when you see a photo of Palawan, more notably Coron, there is a classic image that stands out of a beautiful lagoon, surrounded by limestone cliffs. It’s an iconic image that one automatically associates with Palawan. This is known as Kayangan Lagoon. For those who may not know the exact definition, a lagoon is a shallow body of water that is separated from a larger body of water by reefs or barrier islands. So in a way, it’s like a saltwater lake. Cruising into Kayangan Lagoon is an amazing experience as you weave your way through the limestone mounds towards the lagoon. Kayangan Lagoon is renowned as one of the most picturesque locations in the country. It has become the focal point for many photographs depicting the beauty of the Philippines.
2). Kayangan Lake
Immediately behind you from the lookout point of Kayangan Lagoon, is Kayangan Lake. As there is no direct link to the ocean or sea, the lake is a freshwater lake with some of the clearest water I have ever seen. After the relatively short hike it takes to get there from Kayangan Lagoon, it is so refreshing to swim in this lake. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, this really is a spectacular lake and a great place to relax and is a very popular place for tourists along with Kayangan Lagoon.
3). Siete Pecados Marine Park
Siete Pecados Marine Park is a marine sanctuary and offers some of the most diverse marine life in Coron. It is located only a short boat ride from Coron town proper and is a place full of mystery and intrigue. This also offers the nearest snorkeling opportunity to Coron town proper. Siete means seven in Spanish, and this is the number of small limestone islands in the area. The name comes from a local legend in which seven daughters apparently drowned after disobeying their mothers request not to swim there. Either way, the marine life here is amazing and it’s a great place for snorkeling.
4). Beach 91
Although the name of this beach does not sound overly inviting, this really is a sensational beach. Like most of the islands in Palawan, it is blessed with beautiful powdery white sand and beautiful turquoise blue water that is crystal clear. During our boat tour in Coron, we stopped here for lunch in which we had fresh seafood and local fruit. Afterward, we did some kayaking and got to explore some of the limestone rock formations nearby. This really is a sensational little place to relax with a number of nipa hits lining the shore.
5). CYC Beach
CYC Beach (Coron Youth Club) is yet another beautiful white sand beach surrounded by turquoise blue water. When we were there, there was apparently a large number of sea urchins in the water. Our boat captain cautioned about entering the water. Therefore, I can’t write too much more about CYC Beach so below are some photos.
6). Twin Lagoons
Not far from CYC Beach is Twin Lagoons. This offers some of the most spectacular scenery you ever likely to encounter. The jagged limestone and rock formations and cliffs look like they have been carved with a chisel into the mountainside. The first lagoon that you enter has amazing views. As we pulled in I noticed there were some other a number of other boats sitting near the cliffs. It was then that our boat captain told us that there was a small tunnel at the bottom of the cliff wall which connected one lagoon to the other. Luckily the tide was out and I was I able to actually swim from one lagoon to the other passing through the wall that separated each lagoon.
The water in the second lagoon was like nothing I had ever experienced. The combination of freshwater and saltwater produced an amazing sensation where the water was changing in temperature from warm to cold and back to warm. This really is an amazing phenomenon you need to experience.
7). Isla Bulog
Isla Bulog, also known as Bulog Dos, is a sandbar located on the tip of Bulalucao Island, which is home to one of Palawan’s most exclusive resorts, Two Seasons Coron Island Resort and Spa. This amazing white sandbar snakes its way out into the sea and is surrounded by some of the bluest water I have ever seen. The water changes from a deep blue colour to a turquoise color as it approaches the beach. There isn’t much to say or do aside from taking in the natural beauty of the place while walking along the sandbar admiring the amazing rock formations, blue water and powdery white sand.
8). Banana Island
A short boat ride away from Isla Bulog is Banana Island, a small island just to the west of Bulalucao Island. This is an island in which there was some development beginning at the time I was there. There is actually some accommodation on this island. However, we just stopped there to have a fresh seafood lunch and relax in the shade of the palm trees and the hammocks that were there. This island isn’t adorned with the limestone cliffs that are synonymous with the rest of Palawan but has beautiful powdery white sand, tons of palms trees, clean blue water and a very nice afternoon sea breeze to keep things cool.
9). Malcapuya Island
Just to the northwest of Banana Island is Malcapuya Island. This is yet another palm tree laden white sand beach that is virtually uninhabited. One of the highlights from our visit there was that we were able to go snorkeling whilst holding onto the outriggers of the boat. This really allowed you to cover lots of underwater activity in a relatively short period of time. Although some of the coral and marine life isn’t quite as spectacular as some other parts of Palawan, it is still an enjoyable experience with lots of different fish in the area.
10) Club Paradise
Club Paradise is an exclusive island resort which is located off the coast of north-central coast of Busuanga island. We were very lucky to be able to obtain a heavily discounted rate at Club Paradise. Thererfore, we were fortunate enough to spend two nights there. As we pulled up to the island, I was absolutely astonished at what I saw. The white sand glowing in the sunshine, the beautiful palm trees swaying in the breeze and the traditional, native looking restaurant and reception area that greeted us were amazing. Club Paradise is certainly not an exaggerated name for this place. It really is paradise. There are plenty of activities to do there including snorkeling and diving, water sports, hiking and island hopping. Then, of course, there is a swimming pool or you can just choose to chill out on the beach. And the sunsets – absolutely amazing! Either way, from a destination perspective, I fully recommend Club Paradise.
How to get to Coron:
Philippine Airlines (PAL) fly to Busuanga from Manila two times daily. From Busuanga Airport, it is about a 20km drive to Coron Town Proper, which can take about 45 minutes. If you don’t have any pre-arranged transport, you are able to get a van/taxi from the airport. The fare should be no more than P200.
As mentioned in my introduction there are many places to visit in Palawan. I may sound like a broken record talking about all the limestone cliffs and white sand beaches that are synonymous with Palawan however, every island and beach is different. For me, I really love these types of places and could spend my whole time enjoying these islands. Some people prefer more adventure. Some people prefer to chill out and do nothing. It doesn’t really matter because Palawan really does offer everything.
Please leave share your comments and experiences about Palawan below and share this article with friends and family!