I wrote many short articles and stories about Palawan (most of them in Romanian), without really giving you the big picture about the island and it’s surroundings, places to visit, customs and above all, my idea of a guide about the best way to visit the island.
Palawan is the biggest island province in the Philippines and it’s capital is Puerto Princesa. It lies between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea, and it measures 450 km long and 50 km wide.
Palawan has over 2.000 km of coastline and more than 1.780 islands, caves, lagoons, white sand beaches, crystal clear water, tropical forests. The highest mountain is a little over 2.000 m high. I truly believe it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth!
The most interesting, visited and populated part of the island is the northern part, where you can find the little town of El Nido. From here, there is an 8-hour ferry ride to Coron (photo via Steli).
The distance between El Nido and Puerto Princesa is 230 km, a trip that takes 5-6 hours with the RoRo Bus. Halfway through, there’s a town called Roxas, where you can take the bus to Port Barton (at San Jose Junction). Other interesting small towns and villages along the way are Taytay and San Vicente.
I feel like now is the time to add a map!
Not many tourists venture in the southern part of the island, though. Here lies the province of Balabac, another paradise with major development potential, but for now you need to get a permit to visit some of the islands in the province, because they are private property. Meanwhile, we managed to get some contacts of people who can help with these permits and I can give them to you in private.
You can get from Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba in 5-6 hours. From there, you need to take a boat to Balabac. It’s not the easiest of journeys and there aren’t many accommodation options nor places to eat once you get there. The area is almost completely not touristic, locals still rely on fishing to make a living.
Now that you have the big picture, let me tell you how I would visit the area next time and how I recommend you to do it as well!
I would fly from Manila to Coron and spend a few days on this island. I heard only good things about it, and it’s easier to fly directly there instead of going back and forth between Coron and El Nido (the ferry ride is 8 hours long and it costs 1.400 pesos one way).
After 4 or 5 days in Coron, I would take the ferry to El Nido, where I would stay another 4-5 days. In El Nido I would definitely do the overnight island hopping tour and see the nearby waterfalls. Then I would jump on a rented motorbike and ride towards Puerto Princesa, spending one night in each of the villages along the way (which I think have a lot of potential) and a few days in Port Barton, which became more popular in the last few years.)
The island hopping tours in Puerto Princesa are not really worth it!
Here I would spend a few days to explore the nearby beaches, but I wouldn’t do the tour again!
Compared to the breathtaking islands and beaches in El Nido, the tours in Puerto Princesa are simply not worth it, the whole experience is very touristy and lacks quality. For example, 3 years ago you would eat lunch on the boat, which gave the experience a very authentic feeling, now you stop on one of the islands and eat lunch at a buffet style restaurant along with dozens if not hundreds of other people. Don’t get me wrong, the food is good, it’s just not the same feeling!
The same goes for all the other islands in the tour, they’re packed with tourists.
El Nido has the same kind of problems, though. There was a freaking queue at the entrance of the „Secret Lagoon” (not so secret anymore!). What next? Waiting lists? But also, you know what they say: you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic!
Puerto Princesa still has some things to offer, but I think it’s the least interesting when it comes to island hopping tours.
Ok, so after Puerto Princesa I would spend a whole day travelling, just to get to Balabac. After I had contacted the authorities and made a plan and a route together, of course. I don’t think the south is necessarily dangerous, but I think it’s more difficult to manage on your own. The further south you get from Puerto Princesa, less and less people speak English.
I hope this article helps you a bit to discover Palawan. If you want to see a short recap of our 3 weeks here, watch this video (has short parts of romanian, but you can just skip them).
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