Located roughly 400 miles away from Manila, the beautiful province of Palawan is one that you should not miss out on while you are in the Philippines. Whether you are ready for days of urban and rural exploration in Puerto Princesa or would like to spend your holiday island-hopping on El Nido, Palawan’s every nook and cranny is a paradise waiting to be explored. Here, a complete guide to Palawan!
Palawan: Exploring Puerto Princesa
The highly-urbanized capital of Palawan is brimming with activities for travelers that are on-the-go. White-sand beaches and mountains are but a few hours away. One can easily go on a nature day-trip and head back to the main town by dusk. Direct flights to Puerto Princesa are easily available through major local carriers as well as some international airlines, so there is no excuse for you not to head to the city while you are in the Philippines!
Group Tours in Puerto Princesa
One of the most popular ways to get around the city is by signing up for a group tour. These cost around ₱1,000 (about $19) per person, which includes round-trip transportation, your very own tour guide, and it allows you to visit most of Puerto Princesa’s main landmarks. These include the Crocodile Farm, Baywalk, Plaza Cuartel, Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral, and Baker’s Hill. If you are a more DIY traveler, there are some tricycle drivers who can take you on a similar tour of the city for about half the price. You can haggle your way to get the best deal, but keep in mind that tourism is one of the locals’ main source of income. Feel free to haggle but try not to be stingy with the final price of your epic tour!
Visiting Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National
One of the main spots that puts Puerto Princesa on the travel map is its majestic Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most stunning of places in the entire world. You may want to skip the DIY route for this particular place and instead book an underground river tour, as the site is about two hours away from the city. It receives some 2,000 visitors per day. Kill time while waiting for your turn on the underground river tour by opting for a short boat-tour on the Mangrove River or instead take photographs of the free-range monkeys there. Consider yourself warned, however, that these animals are notorious for snatching everything from food to phones to cameras. Be cautious, and do not feed them!
For beach bums, and island-hopping tour of the Honda Bay is a must. Throw on your swimsuits and spend a day frolicking on some of the most beautiful islands around. These include Snake Island, Starfish Island, Bat Island, Pandan Island, Cowrie Island, Lu-Li Island, and Senorita Island. Joiner tours are also available for around ₱1,500 (about $28) per person. You can also do this tour DIY-style by chartering a tricycle for around ₱800 (about $15) for about three people in the city, and it will bring you to Sta. Lourdes Wharf. From there, boats can be rented for that epic island-hopping tour for ₱1,300 (about $24) for a group of about six. Entrance fees into each island vary per island, so be sure to have some extra cash on hand, just in case.
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, then head up north of and go on a hike on Mount Magarwak. Only 301 meters above sea level, this beginner-friendly mountain will give you a nice view of Puerto Princesa Bay and Honda Bay. Getting to the mountain’s jump off point is quite cheap, too! Take a bus going to Barangay Bacungan for only ₱30. Have the driver drop you off at Bantay Gubat Monitoring station. From there, you will be guided by signs on the way. Since it is a pretty easy mountain to hike, you only need to follow the paved road heading to the summit. You don’t even need a tour guide. It is ideal that you start hiking before the break of dawn. The sun can be pretty intense by 10:00 a.m.
Palawan: Exploring El Nido
Off the southern coast of Palawan lies El Nido. It is one of the Philippines’ tropical havens. Known for its limestone boulders, turquoise waters, and island-hopping tours, it is no surprise that this humble town has become a fast-rising tourist destination.
How to Get to El Nido
Direct flights have recently become available for those of you looking forward to saving time and making the most out of your stay in El Nido. If you are looking to go to the town without burning a hole in your pocket, however, a long bus ride from Puerto Princesa airport is a more cost-friendly alternative. Since the town is much smaller than Palawan’s capital, you can go around via tricycle. You can also rent your own scooter for an entire day (be sure to have a driver’s license) for only ₱500-1,000 per day. The main beaches here, including Marimegmeg Beach and Caalan, can be easily accessed no matter what part of town you are in!
El Nido has a vast selection of day-long island-hopping tours for every type of traveler. Each tour showcases the best of El Nido. Many have buffet lunch meals and guides that are willing to take your photo if you are exploring the Philippines solo. Whether you are exploring the land or the sea, all of the tours can be easily booked with travel agencies or at hostels all over town. The cost is usually about ₱1,200-1,500 per person.
If you want a basic, no-frill island-hopping tour, then Tour A is going to be your best bet. This tour is friendly for those of you who aren’t big fans of swimming, as well. It features El Nido’s Small and Big Lagoons. You can kayak and go snorkeling. The tour usually concludes at Seven Commandos Beach, which is where you can get refreshing, local beers from the small bar on the beautiful stretch of sand.
For those of you who would like to explore beaches, sandbars, and caves all in one tour, then Tour B is the package to book. One of the highlights includes visiting Snake Island, one of the most unique sights in town. It received its name because of its long sandbar that is reminiscent of a snake. Cadugnon Cave is another top site that was used as a hiding spot during World War II.
Tour A and Tour C
The most recommended tours by locals are Tour A and Tour C. Some of the top destinations on the tours include Helicopter Island and Matinloc Shrine. This abandoned site used to host a convent and private school. It is rumored to be haunted. Other destinations for the tour include Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, and Star Beach.
If you want to have some peace and quiet and just want to enjoy the beach, Tour D is for you. Relax and frolic all you want on the beautiful beaches that this tour takes you to, including Bacuit archipelago’s biggest island: Cadlao.
Unique Destinations in El Nido
If you are not a fan of joining group tours, El Nido has many off-the-beaten destinations which can be easily accessed on a scooter. The long drive down the bumpy road in the town’s innermost nooks and crannies will bring you to the most remote of destinations that are just as beautiful as the island’s main attractions, yet away from the touristic crowds.
If you are an adrenaline junkie, you may opt to go rock climbing at Taraw Cliff. This is El Nido town’s highest limestone boulder. From here, you will have 360-degree views of Palawan. Tour agencies charge around ₱300 (about $6) per person. This price includes a tour guide.
You can also drive down south, trek through muddy terrain, and have a refreshing dip at Nagkalit-Kalit Falls. The 45-minute walk from its jump-off point is an easily accessible stroll through El Nido’s beautiful forests and rivers. A practical way to get here would be to book Tour E (El Nido in-land tour). This tour normally includes a comfy, round-trip van ride and a buffet lunch. If you are looking to do this tour without booking through an agency or hostel, you can rent a motorbike and have a local tour guide assist you for about ₱250 (about $5).
Lastly, cap off your stay in El Nido by visiting the district of Nacpan. The twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang provide visitors with four-kilometers of fine sand. It is one of the best places to take refuge away from the crowds. Sunbathe on the sand, get a tan, and enjoy the lovely weather all the while taking in the breathtaking views. Nacpan is also part of Tour E package. For the best experience, however, we suggest that you rent a scooter and book a night or two at Mad Monkey Hostel Nacpan Beach. Beds start at ₱270 (about $5) per person. Make the most out of your stay and save some money at this socially responsible hostel!
In a nutshell
If you are a bonafide urban-dweller who us up for nature day-trips and easy access to the comforts of the city, Puerto Princesa is your best bet. If you want a tropical experience in order to temporarily forget the hustle and bustle of the city, El Nido is the place to stay. Whatever floats your boat, the best thing to do now is to book your tickets, pack your bags, and head now to one of the world’s most beautiful islands!
More Information About Puerto Princesa and El Nido
Did you love this article about the Philippines? Do you want even more information about this incredible country? Then check out these articles that we have rounded-up to kick-start your amazing trip.
- The Ultimate Guide to El Nido, Palawan Philippines by Adam for Getting Stamped
- Top 10 Things to do in El Nido, Philipines by Emily Cass for Just Globe Trotting
- 10 Things to Do in Puerto Princesa, Palawan for Travel Up