Image courtesy of onlinetravelconsultant.com
Palawan, Philippines: The Complete Travel Guide
Palawan is an island in the Philippines. A gorgeous, tropical island. When you look at a map of the Philippines, you’ll see the main clump of islands in the middle. To the southwest, you will see Palawan jutting off diagonally. This unusual sight on the map is also a must-see destination in person!
What is Palawan?
Palawan Province is an archipelago that consists of 1,700 islands. It is bound on either side by the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. It is also the largest province in the Philippines with a coastline of about 2,000 km. Palawan has been dubbed as “the most exotic place on Earth” because of its pristine beaches, towering mountains, lush rainforests, and impressive limestone forests.
Palawan is made up of 431 barangays (villages or districts) in 23 municipalities and the capital city of Puerto Princesa. It has one of the richest fishing grounds in the country, providing 45% of Manila’s fish supply. It is also the only oil-producing province in the country with natural gas reserves of approximately 30,000 trillion cubic feet.
One thing Palawan is famous for is Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the second longest subterranean river in the world. It’s nearly 5 miles long! The underground river has one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, full of limestone karst landscapes, old-growth forests, and a distinctive array of wildlife. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. In 2014, Palawan claimed the top spot in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards for the world’s best natural wonders.
The People of Palawan
Image courtesy of wikipedia
The population of Palawan, including Puerto Princesa, is about one million based on the 2010 census.
Palawan is the largest province in the Philippines and home to several indigenous ethno-linguistic groups. These are the Kagayanen, Tagbanua, Palawano, Taaw’t Bato, Molbog and the Batak tribes. Most of the members of these groups live in remote villages in the mountains and coastal areas.
In 1962 a team of anthropologists unearthed a set of fossils at Lipuun Point in Quezon town, Palawan. The fossils are believed to be a Homo Sapiens specimen between 22,000 and 24,000 years old! He’s been nicknamed “the Tabon Man”. This and other findings in the area (like burial jars, stone tools, and jade jewelry) have earned Palawan the title “the Cradle of Philippine Civilization.” Researchers think that the Tagbanua and Palawano tribes are possible descendants of the Tabon Caves’ inhabitants.
Fast forward to today, and Palawan is home to migrants from all over the Philippines. Native-born Palaweños dominate the populace, though. Cultural minority groups (like the Tagbanua, Palawano, Batak, and Molbog tribes) also account for 18% of the island’s population.
Palawan is host to a mix of religions. Roman Catholicism has a slim majority among the population, but other Christian denominations like the Baptists and Protestant churches are also present. Some sources say that nearly 50% of the population of Palawan is Muslim (mostly concentrated in the southern part of the province). Palawan also has many Buddhists and some notable Buddhist temples, like Chùa Vạn Pháp (a Vietnamese temple).
There are about 52 languages and dialects spoken in the province. Tagalog is spoken by more than 50% of the population. Other languages spoken include Cuyonon, Hiligaynon, and Palawano.
Clearly, Palawan is a diverse island!
Famous Attractions in Palawan
Conde Nast Traveler is an award-winning US travel magazine. In CNT’s 2015 Reader’s Choice Awards, Palawan was voted the “World’s Best Island.” No wonder! Palawan is famous for its dozens of beautiful beaches, endless natural wonders, and astonishing landscapes packed with diverse flora and fauna. The recognition specifically mentioned the subterranean river in Puerto Princesa, which the magazine hailed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though! Here’s a list of more famous tourist spots in Palawan:
Tubbataha Reef is one of the most famous diving sites in the Philippines. Everyone seems to agree that it’s amazing. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1993, because it’s so rich in marine life and plays a valuable role in the ecosystem. In 2015, the reef was declared the 35th ASEAN Heritage Park by the ASEAN’s Centre for Biodiversity.
Whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays, green sea turtles, coral species, and various types of birds can be found in the area. Tubbataha Reef was discovered in the 1970s, and it’s been recognized as one of the most remarkable coral reefs in the world ever since. The CNN travel website ranks Tubbataha Reef among the top eight dive sites in the world! According to CNN, the reef’s exceptionally clean waters have made the local marine life bigger in size and longer in lifespan. It seems there’s something in the water!
Kayangan Lake in Coron Island
Coron island is located in northern end of Palawan. It is the ancestral domain of the Tagbanua tribe. Today it’s an idyllic scene of limestone cliffs, white sand beaches, and crystal-clear lakes and lagoons. The waters around the island are full of super popular dive spots known for the many World War II shipwrecks scattered about.
Kayangan Lake is one of Coron’s primary attractions. The lake is made up of 70% freshwater and 30% salt water. It is considered to be the cleanest lake in the Philippines. It’s found very near Barracuda Lake, and it’s a perfect destination for swimming and snorkeling.
Kayangan Lake is nestled within mountain walls. It can be reached by climbing a steep hill for 10-15 minutes. In the middle of this climb, take a break at the deck overlooking the picturesque view of the lagoon. Palawan is heaven on earth!
Sunken Japanese Wrecks at World-Famous Dive Sites
Coron Bay is a favourite destinations for scuba divers because of the many Japanese ships sunk there by American forces during World War II. There are about 24 Japanese shipwrecks, 11 of which are located within scuba diving depths. The ships are mostly in good condition. They vary in length from 25 meters to a massive 180 meters! Most of the shipwrecks are concentrated in the vicinity of Sangat Island. Coron made our own Mad Monkey list of the Top Dive Sites in the Philippines.
If you’re not a scuba diver, you don’t have to miss out! Skeleton Wreck is a popular wreck for tourists and non-divers to visit. It’s the shallowest shipwreck in Coron Bay. If you are a diver (or you decide to become one while you’re in the area), don’t miss the other popular wrecks listed below. Some have grown massive coral reefs which are now home to abundant marine life.
Popular diving sites in Coron Bay:
- Irako wreck
- Okikawa Maru wreck
- Akitsushima wreck
- Kogyo Maru wreck
- Olympia Maru wreck
- Kyokuzan Maru wreck
- East Tangat gunboat wreck
- Nanshin Maru wreck
- Lusong Gunboat wreck.
Tabon Caves – Site of the Prehistoric Man
If you like history, you won’t want to miss this one! Located on the west coast of Palawan are some 200 caves with limestone formations. They’re collectively known as the Tabon Caves. This is the site where the Tabon Man was discovered. Haven’t heard of the Tabon Man? He’s only the most celebrated archaeological find in the Philippines! At 16,500 years old this is one of the oldest known human skeletal remains in the Philippines. Another incredible thing recovered from Tabon Cave is the oldest human fossil: it’s 47,000 years old. Woah.
The cave complex also produced an astonishing wealth of cultural materials that shed light on over 50,000 years of Philippine prehistory. There were artifacts like flakes tools, burial jars, porcelain, and stoneware from the Late Pleistocene period through to the Metal Age. Some of these finds taught us that the Philippines had trade relations with China during the Song and Yuan Dynasties.
In 1972, the Philippine government declared the cave complex a ‘site museum.’ This is meant to ensure the protection and preservation of the caves. To date, only 29 caves have been explored and only 7 are accessible and open to the public. How’s that for adventure?
Calauit Safari Park – African Wildlife Sanctuary
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Calauit Safari Park is a 3,700 hectare island dedicated as a wildlife sanctuary. It’s located off the coast of Palawan. The game reserve was created by former President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s. It has a substantial population of African animals that all roam freely, including giraffes, zebras, and antelopes.
How did an island in Palawan, Philippines end up with such a large African wildlife sanctuary? In 1977, 104 feral African animals were brough to the secluded Calauit Island by ship. These included bushbucks, elands, gazelles, giraffes, impalas, waterbucks, antelopes, and zebras. After 5 years, the population of animals had increased to 201 due to the absence of natural predators. By 2005 the population of animals had ballooned to 481 specimens. The impalas dominate the population. Of all the animals in the park, the Grevy’s zebras are considered the most endangered.
There is also lots of indigenous wildlife in the park, like Palawan porcupines, Palawan peacock pheasants, sea eagles, wildcats, scaly anteaters, and pythons. Endangered local species found here include the Calamian deer, mouse deer, Palawan bearcats, crocodiles, and wild pigs.
Image courtesy of agoda.com
El Nido is a first class municipality and protected area north-east of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. With its unique flora and fauna and pristine geologic formations, El Nido has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. It’s often referred to as the “Philippines’ Last Frontier.”
El Nido is spoiled with imposing marble cliffs, dreamy lagoons, long white beaches, lush jungles, mangrove forests, prehistoric caves and splashing waterfalls. It’s easy to see why the National Geographic Traveler magazine chose El Nido as one of the best travel destinations in the world in 2007. In 2012, CNNGo (the CNN travel news website) declared El Nido the Philippines’ Best Beach and Island destination.
In 2007, El Nido was the site for all 10 episodes of the 7th edition of Les Aventuriers de Koh-Lanta. This is the extremely popular French version of the American reality TV show Survivor.
How to Get to Palawan
Palawan’s main airport is in Puerto Princesa. The island also has 2 other smaller airports. YKR Airport on Busuanga Island serves those traveling to Coron town, the resorts of the Calamian Archipelago, and El Nido. Lio Airport is a small, privately-owned airstrip which caters to guests of offshore luxury resorts.
Flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa takes about 1 hour and 5 minutes. You can can select from three different airlines: AirAsia Zest, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (PAL). Each offers several daily flights.
Keep in mind that flight and ferry schedules are subject to change and delays. Check their websites for updated rates and schedules.
Getting Around Palawan from Puerto Princesa
Once you get to Puerto Princesa airport, there are numerous transportation options available to take you around the island. Vans, public jeepneys, buses, and rental cars all travel to Palawan’s numerous popular destinations.
For convenience and safety, most travelers prefer tourist vans. Rates depend on your destination. Check out the Puerto Princesa City Tourism Office at the airport for guidance.
Where to Stay in Palawan
Image courtesy of remotelands.com
At the Puerto Princesa airport you will be bombarded with flyers and leaflets for hotels, hostels, and pension houses. Palawan offers numerous types of accommodation. You can choose between everything from rustic homestays, to lively hostels, to world-class hotel resorts. Below we’ve listed some accommodation options in Puerto Princesa, Coron and El Nido (the 3 major destinations in Palawan).
Accommodations in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan and the gateway to the rest of the province. It is also home to the famous Underground River. Most travelers will spend at least some time here during their visit to Palawan, so we’ve hunted down some great accommodation options for you.
Puerto, 5300 Puerto Princesa
Image courtesy of Palawan Homestays Facebook page
Palawan Homestays is an aptly-named accommodation located at Wescom Road in Puerto Princesa. It’s a 10-15 minute drive from the airport. There are 2 houses on the property that can accommodate 5 persons each. If this looks familiar, that may be because it’s also listed on Airbnb. This place is ideal for business travelers, backpackers or tourists. The apartments have two bedrooms each and one toilet and bath. They can be rented as a whole or by the room. They are complete with a full kitchen, a dining area, a relaxation area and a laundry area. Services like breakfast, laundry, and in-home massage are available on request. This is a very convenient home base for your stay in Palawan!
South National Highway, Tiniguiban, Puerto Princesa, 5300 Palawan
Citystate Asturias Hotel is located in a quiet part of Puerto Princesa but it’s still very accessible by public transportation. It is only 10 minutes away from the airport and commercial districts.
The hotel has 62 well-appointed rooms. Each is equipped with air conditioning, cable television, telephones set up for national and international calls, Wi-Fi, minibar, refrigerator, and an electronic door lock system. The rooms each have a toilet, a bathtub, and shower with hot and cold water. Outside the rooms you can make use of a swimming pool with jacuzzi, children’s wading pool, table tennis, souvenir shop, lobby lounge, and plenty of parking.
Accommodations include free buffet breakfast, complimentary newspaper, safety deposit box, and a mini-bar. Services include room service (from 6am to 12am), laundry and pressing services, massage (by appointment), airport-to-hotel shuttles, flight booking and confirmation, car hire, mail and courier services, and 24 hour security. Other services can also be arranged, like tours (city tour, Honda Bay island hopping, the Underground River) and sports outings (golf, scuba diving, tennis, firing).
San Pedro National Highway, Puerto Princesa City 5300
Image courtesy of hotelcentro.ph
Hotel Centro is one of the newest hotels in Puerto Princesa. It’s set on a sprawling 1.2 hectares right at the heart of Puerto Princesa City, just 15 minutes from the airport and 5 minutes from Robinsons Place Palawan shopping mall. It’s also near Mendoza Park and Hartman Beach.
This huge non-smoking hotel has 111 rooms and a 3.5-star rating. Inside there are 2 restaurants that specialize in international cuisine and a bar overlooking the outdoor pool. The rooms are air-conditioned with a private bathroom. The bathrooms have hot and cold water, a hairdryer, free toiletries, and a bidet. The rooms also include a desk, a safety deposit box, a minibar, a coffee maker, and LCD TV with cable channels and a DVD player. Free bottled water is also provided. Your stay will include a free buffet breakfast, WiFi, and local phone calls.
Guests at Hotel Centro can enjoy an outdoor pool, a children’s pool, and a jacuzzi. There is also free WiFi in public areas and free parking. Additional amenities include conference space, a fitness center, business center, and coffee/tea in the lobby. Services include free airport shuttles, 24-hour front desk service, and assistance with tours or tickets.
Accommodations in Coron, Palawan
Coron is a small town on the eastern half of Busuanga Island, Palawan. This is where most people stay when they visit the Calamianes group of islands in northern Palawan. The town is a jumping point for various tourist spots in Coron Bay and around Coron Island.
Coron is all about diving, snorkeling, island hopping, and dugong (sea cow)-watching. Some interesting sites in Coron include the Calauit Wildlife Safari, WWII Japanese Shipwrecks, the coral gardens in Twin Peak Reef, Decalve Marine Park, Marile Coral Garden, Bogor Marine Park, Siete Pecados, and the Maquinit Hot Spring for a warm swim.
Most hotels and resorts can arrange a tour in any of these spots. Below are some places to stay in Coron. We’ve rounded up options ranging from the cheapest to the most expensive accommodations so you can choose depending on your budget.
Kokosnuss Garden Resort
National Road, Barangay 6, Coron – Busuanga Rd, Coron, 5316 Palawan
Image courtesy Youtube
KokosNuss Resort is an ideal starting point for island hopping and scuba diving in Coron. It is a small, friendly family resort with 18 cottages and designer rooms that are all individually equipped.
The resort is set amidst a luscious garden only a 20 minutes walk or a 5 minute tricycle ride from the town. Rooms range from simple, fan-cooled bamboo structures to air-conditioned, colourful modern cottages. All rooms have private bathroom and shower facilities.
The amenities here include family rooms, non-smoking spaces, a beautiful garden, a terrace, free wifi in public areas, a restaurant that serves local and international dishes, and on-site barbecue facilities. Services provided for guests include laundry, currency exchange, room service, a tour desk, car hire, and shuttle service with surcharge.
Coron Westown Resort
Busuanga Rd, Coron, Palawan
Coron Westown Resort is a 4-storey resort hotel with 80 guest rooms that blend Filipino design with modern amenities. It is the biggest accommodation on Palawan.
Each room is equipped with premium spring beds, a seating area, an air-conditioning unit, and a flat screen TV with satellite channels. You can make use of WiFi internet access, a safety deposit box, a telephone, a mini-bar, a refrigerator, and an electric kettle. Bathrooms include a walk-in shower and bathroom amenities. All rooms have free bottled water.
Outside the rooms, Coron Westown Resort features 3 large outdoor swimming pools, a jacuzzi, barbecue pits, a karaoke machine, a cafe serving local and international dishes, free WiFi access in all public areas, and a lovely garden. They happily provide guests with a 24-hour front desk, shuttle services (with a surcharge), a tour desk, room service, a medical doctor on call for first aid, housekeeping, laundry and pressing.
Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa
Malaroyroy, Coron, Palawan
Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa is a 5-star, eco-friendly, secluded paradise 22 km south of Coron Town in Palawan. The resort combines fine luxury and raw nature. High-ceiling bungalows with contemporary Filipino tropical design are set amidst lush gardens, dreamy beaches, and thick mangroves. The island is connected to an islet by a sandbar. It also serves as a turtle and giant clam sanctuary.
One thing we love about Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa is that it is a 100% self-sustaining island resort. It converts seawater to potable water through a liquid filtering process that can produce 80 cubic meter of fresh water daily. It also has its own sewage treatment plant that produces clear and clean liquid to be diverted back to the bathrooms for flushing. Solid waste is converted to fertilizer and solar panels are used to power water heaters.
All bungalows in Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa are equipped with LCD TVs with satellite channels, DVD players, safes, mini-bar and coffee/tea facilities, iPod docking stations, hair dryers, spacious bathrooms with rainfall showers, and solar water heaters. The resort has 42 bungalows, 2 beaches, spa, a water sports center, a restaurant and a bar, adult and kiddie pools, free wireless Internet access in selected areas, a fitness center, a conference room, a children’s playroom, a souvenir shop, pool and foosball tables, a karaoke room, a library, computer stations, a DVD library, a game room, and 24-hour front desk services and security.
Accommodations in El Nido
The name “El Nido” is Spanish for “the nest,” and El Nido is indeed a place that travelers love to nest up in. This is the major tourist destination in Palawan and the gateway to Bacuit Archipelago. The coastal settlement is made up of 45 islands and islets characterized by their limestone cliffs, pure white beaches, clear waters, overgrown jungles, and picturesque seascapes.
Island hopping and snorkeling are the most popular activities in El Nido. Under the sea you’ll have a chance to spot hawksbill turtles, dugong (sea cows), whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins and even some stingrays. Here are our picks for where to stay while you’re in El Nido, Palawan.
Makulay Lodge and Villas
Caalan Beach, El Nido, Palawan
Makulay Lodge and Villas is a 2-star hotel in a convenient location that provides easy access to El Nido’s attractions. The hotel provides simply furnished rooms and villas with a view of the sea. This is the setting you have in mind when you’re dreaming of Palawan.
This family-owned, 3-story lodging is located on Calaan Beach in El Nido, just a few minutes away from the town itself. The rooms are spacious and give you instant access to the beach. Their villas sit up on a hill with a magnificent view of Bacuit Bay. These accommodations can fit a family or a group of 5+ people. Hammocks are also provided near the beach for lazing around.
Between naps you can take advantage of Internet access, a restaurant and cafe, a bar, a garden, a family room, a shared lounge and TV area, WiFi in the public areas, barbecue facilities, smoking areas, luggage storage, recreational facilities for water sport activities, boats, diving, fishing, and bicycle rentals. The staff will be happy to help you out with airport transfers (for a surcharge), shuttle service (also for a surcharge), arranging tours, exchanging currency, laundry service, massage service, and daily housekeeping.
El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island
Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan
Image courtesy of El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island
El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island is a luxurious, private, eco-friendly island resort in Bacuit Bay, El Nido. The resort sits between its own private 750m stretch of white sand beach and a dense tropical forest. It’s also known as the “Island of the Sun” for its scenic views of both the sunrise and sunset – a rarity, even on Palawan.
The resort has its own marine sanctuary and its own private sandbar and deserted island. The produce served in its restaurant is organically grown in the island’s gardens. This is the height of luxury and exclusivity.
Pangulasian Island offers 42 deluxe accommodations designed in contemporary Filipino style using natural materials. There are 8 villas perched on the hills surrounded by the forest, 24 villas strung along the beach, and 6 villas in the pool area. Each villa has a floor area of 65 square metres and a 15 square metre private balcony. Amenities in the villas include air conditioning, WiFi access, satellite TV, an iPod dock, a mini-bar, and an electric kettle for coffee and tea.
The resort provides private sunset cruises, romantic dinners by the beach, and a spa for relaxation. It serves up free breakfast and complimentary WiFi access. You can also help yourself to the restaurant and beach bar, outdoor pool, fitness center, beach cabanas, garden, library, and meeting room. Services include childcare and laundry.
Helpful articles and blog posts on Palawan
We only recommend writers and blogs that we read regularly and believe will deliver substantial value to our readers. The following are our top picks for articles we think are worth reading for more information on budget travel in Palawan:
- The Great Escape: living a simple life in Coron Palawan, Philippines By Maria Feist
- Coron Island: A Mesmerizing Paradise By jackinetic
- The Search for Tabon Cave Palawan, Cradle of Philippine Civilization By Marcos Detourist
- El Nido, Palawan: Travel Guide by The Pinay Solo Backpacker
- Dolphins of Puerto Princesa, Palawan April 2016 By mypuertoprincesa.net
For even more advice on how to best enjoy Palawan, why not check out our Backpackers Guide to the Philippines? It’s full of useful information, hints, and tips for backpacking around the Philippines.
Do you have an awesome link to a relevant, well-written article that should be included here? If so, hit us up on Twitter by following and messaging us the link.
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About the Author
Stephanie Mayo is from Manila, Philippines. When she isn’t writing awesome articles for Mad Monkey Hostels, she enjoys traveling, photography, and movies.