There is a reason why Palawan is the country’s Last Frontier. It is one Philippine jewel that showcases the best that the country has to offer. From impressive landscapes that boast of jagged limestone formations to pristine beaches that make the best playground for beach worshipers, Palawan should be on everyone’s must-go-to list in this lifetime. The Palawan experience comes with a bonus that is hard to turn down: the hospitality extended to every guest who sets foot in this island province makes you want to think the happiest people on earth live here.
To get around Palawan is not easy. If you want to experience all the amazing things that have been said about the islands that comprise Palawan, you have to endure long hours on the road and an even longer time traveling by water. But really, this is too little a sacrifice for the kind of beguiling life that waits for you in Palawan. Take inspiration from our week-long trip around the country’s Last Frontier and know why every traveler who has set foot in this island province comes back sooner than they hope to.
Day 1. March 18.
One of my dearest friends D invited me to travel with her entire family from Coron, to El Nido, and Puerto Princesa. D’s relatives from the States went home for a grand family reunion and the week-long trip to Palawan was certainly a much-deserved family quality time. My role in the gathering was easy: take photographs of our travel, choreograph a dance number, help D with the group’s itineraries.
We were eighteen in our group, most of whom will be traveling around Palawan for the first time. When I got to the airport, I found out D has not made any reservations yet in Coron or in any of our destinations, I got it right away that this was going to be a very spontaneous trip. The good thing about having an spontaneous trip is that you do not get easily upset when your flight is delayed for close to an hour for some unknown reasons. We were supposed to leave Manila for Busuanga Island at 1:50pm but we got to Coron town past 4:00pm.
We found a place near the reclaimed area which offered a good view of Coron Island. We planned to climb Mt. Tapyas in time for the sunset but since we were too hungry already, we decided to skip that part and headed to Kawayanan Grill Station for a hearty early dinner. We met Kuya Jun (+639205531710), one of the most-experienced tour guides in Coron, and sealed a very good island-hopping deal with him. After our dinner, our group proceeded to Maquinit Hot Spring, some 20 minutes ride from town. Maquinit, which is Cuyunon for mainit or hot, is very unique since it is the only known saltwater hot spring in the country. Our group headed home before 10:00pm and was surprised to find out that Coron has been experiencing some power failure lately. The lack of electricity around town was not enough to dampen our spirit, we were all eager to go on the island-hopping tour the next day.
Day 2. March 19.
I got up really early since I wanted to have a view of Coron’s sunrise from Mt. Tapyas. It was a good idea our group did not climb the mountain the day before since getting to the top is a test of endurance, something that I think our group was not really up to yesterday. The trail to the top of Mt. Tapyas, where a huge cross made of steel is built, requires one to go through some 700 plus steps (other records claim there are 1,500 steps!). You could tell I was huffing and puffing when I got to the top and though sunrise that day was not exceptional (the sun showed up really late that day), I had a breathtaking view of the nearby islands.
The highlight of the day was of course the island-hopping tour that took us to some of Coron’s stunning lakes and pristine beaches. Looking at Coron’s rugged formation from afar reminded me of El Nido, but Coron exudes a different vibe that contrasts El Nido’s laidback atmosphere. We went snorkeling around Skeleton Wreck where we went crazy feeding the different fishes in the area.
While D went on a dive, I swam to the nearby beach and met a Tagbanua couple who let me in on their life in the island. The Tagbanua people are believed to be one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Many of the Tagbanuas still live on the beaches in Coron. I was surprised at the simplicity of their lives, relying mainly on fish that abound around them and on rootcrops up in the mountains when the weather gets horrible. Our conversation provided me with a deeper understanding of Palawan.
I asked one of the Tagbanuas, Kagawad Diokno Felix, to paddle me around Coron Island and he brought me to this breathtaking lagoon that is not part of the usual island-hopping tour. He told me not a lot of tourists have been to this part of Coron, I wanted to hug Mang Diokno instantly.
Coron’s clear water is divine.
And its lagoons are short of being heavenly.
What I really like about Coron’s islands and beaches is the fact that the Tagbanuas still inhabit the place so you see some nipa huts and stilt houses in many of the beaches. You get a view of these all throughout Coron Island and I really find them attracting. For generations and generations of them to have survived and lived life at its most basic sense is just inspiring. We ended our tour at 6:00pm and I could tell that everybody had a great time exploring Coron. Kuya Jun’s group really took care of us. I have been to so many island-hopping tours already and Kuya Jun’s group is definitely the best among those guides who have taken me around the Philippines. The boat captain, Kuya Tuting, was the most generous “photographer” I have ever met, he even offered to take my camera inside the Twin Lagoon by wearing two vests and holding my camera up in the air during the entire time we were swimming in the lagoon. (More posts on Coron soon!)
Day 3. March 20.
I woke up really early again to catch the sunrise from Mt. Tapyas. I kind of regretted that I did not bring my running shoes with me because the town of Coron, especially the part to get to Mt. Tapyas, looks ideal for some cardio exercise. For the second time, I climbed Mt. Tapyas’ 700 plus steps but sunrise was still very elusive.
I was joined by other travelers who were also waiting for the sunrise. What we got instead was this resplendent view of Coron Island at 5:30am.
I decided to walk around town before we left Coron for El Nido. I was surprised to find Coron as a bustling center of commerce. I found a store that sells cashew nuts just in front of La Sirenetta restaurant. We were told cashew nuts are sold cheaper in Coron than in Puerto Princesa, so D and I decided to hoard a good number of them. A small pack of cashew nuts can be had for PhP50, and if my taste buds are accurate, the cashew nuts sold here indeed tasted better than the ones in the city.
Our group was supposed to leave Coron at 8:30am via the passenger boat M/V Overcomer but we were stopped by coast guard officials some ten minutes after we left the mini-port just outside Sea Divers Resort. We learned that the boat was overloaded and we were requested to transfer to a bigger passenger boat. After some time waiting for the other boat to arrive, we finally left Coron at 10am. The boat was actually quite big enough for some stretching when the trip became unbearable. Filipino passengers pay PhP1,500 as fare while foreign travelers pay PhP2,000; fare includes lunch.
The trip from Coron to El Nido was long and tiring. It should just take us six hours to get to El Nido had we not transferred from the smaller vessel to the bigger one. The trip though allowed us to see one island after another, and provided us with some glimpses of the simple island life. There must have been around one hundred islands and islets between Coron and El Nido. When we got to the part of the trip where we were already in the middle of the open sea, like in what appeared to us as some parts of the South China Sea, and the waves were unbelievably rougher and dizzier, I decided to put an end to my island-counting and took a nap instead.
After an hour or so, I woke to the sight of Cadlao Island from afar. There was a sense of excitement on the boat, everyone must have gotten tired already of the long trip. My seatmate, an American traveler, couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief when he saw El Nido’s jagged mountains.
From this point, it was still one hour to get to the town of El Nido but the imposing view of Cadlao Island got everybody on their feet. It was nearing 7:00pm when we finally got to El Nido but nobody seemed to complain with the abundance of nature’s beauty surrounding us. Even when we haven’t found any place yet to spend the night at, I threw all my worries away and just marveled at the amazing beauty that is El Nido. I sensed the same excitement that I felt when I first laid my eyes on El Nido two years ago, and once again, I was lost in its beauty.
- To be continued.
- All photographs taken with a Canon 550d.