This Palawan travel guide provides itinerary and practical information on the most popular and desired tourist destinations in the Philippines, namely El Nido and Coron, home of thrilling hopping islands featuring dreamy white sandy beaches, spectacular limestone formations and coral reefs teeming with underwater life. Moreover, in this guide you will discover two other very special destinations: Puerto Princesa, with the Underground River National Park, one of the New Seven Natural Wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Port Barton, a small village perfect for relaxing, soaking up its local ambiance and swimming with green turtles.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? In order to help and inspire you when preparing for your own trip to the amazing Palawan archipelago, I’ve put together this guide with all the information you’ll need to make the most of your visit.
Palawan Travel Guide
Below is the itinerary for each area. You can add as many days as you wish, but in my opinion with these days it’s enough to get the first impression and enjoy this island.
Puerto Princesa: 3 days
Port Barton: 2 days
El Nido: 3 days
Corón: 2 days
If you are a nature lover, Palawan is definitely the place for you!
Palawan is made up of 1.780 islands and islets of pure nature. From dreamy white sand beaches, spectacular landscape limestone formations, secret coves, underground rivers, mangroves, rainforests, exotic flora and fauna. Surrounded by a huge coral reef teeming with marine life and full of color… You can’t ask for more!
How to get to Palawan
The main entrance airports are located at El Nido, Sandoval, Busuanga, and Cuyo.
Several low-cost airlines operate from Manila to El Nido and Puerto Princesa, while from Cebu you have 4 flights per week.
Low-cost airlines flying to Palawan are Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, or Air Asia.
There are daily ferries that sail from Manila and Mindoro ports and make stops in Puerto Princesa, Coron and Cuyo.
Just to give you an idea, the journey from Manila to Coron is about 12 hours just like the Coron – Puerto Princesa route.
Where to stay in Palawan
In Palawan, you will have no problem finding accommodation, as there is plenty to suit every budget; in order to help you and as a reference, below I show you where we stayed in Puerto Princesa, Port Barton, El Nido and Coron.
We made all our hotel reservations on the go by Booking.com, depending on the weather conditions on the islands, but I highly recommend booking in advance.
What to pack for Palawan
Most often than not, you will need the same items when traveling on the Palawan islands because the weather will be similar and the activities you will do are largely those related to the sea, so that, in order to enjoy them to the fullest, get these essentials with you:
Clothing: lightweight, mostly cotton or linen, and a sweater or fleece for trekking days. Also, bring a raincoat in the rainy season.
Footwear: comfortable sneakers for hiking, and booties or sandals for the beaches because they are sometimes rocky or coral-rich.
Sunscreen and a sun hat: A good sunscreen with a minimum of 50 SPF is essential.
Cotton or silk sleeping bag: I carry it on every trip because it’s lightweight and depending on the quality of the accommodation I appreciate getting into my own sleeping bag.
Mosquito repellent spray: Ben’s repellent and citronella bracelets.
Snorkeling gear: Although you can rent it right there, sometimes it’s defective. Therefore, it’s a good idea to bring your own (tube and mask).
Miscellaneous: sunglasses, reusable water bottle, microfiber towels (which you can use on the beach and hotel) and waterproof bag very useful to protect your belongings from the water during boat trips (Hopping Island). You can also buy these bags at destination, for instance in El Nido or Coron.
See Philippines General Travel Guide for full information.
What to do in Palawan
Below you will find a practical guide with with everything you need to know when traveling to Puerto Princesa, Port Barton, El Nido and Coron.
Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan and, just like the rest of Palawan, is a protected territory that ranks as the cleanest and most ecological city in the Philippines. The population is mainly centered in the Puerto Princesa Bay; however, other parts of the city are quite undeveloped, but it features a spectacular natural scenery: Natural reserves, mountains, underground rivers and, because of its position, its beautiful white sandy coastal beaches.
Best time to visit
During Balayong Festival (March 4) is the best time to visit Puerto Princesa when they celebrate the cherry blossoms.
The most pleasant time to explore Puerto Princesa is during the dry season, between December to May. Between April and May temperatures are high, and the rainy season is between June and November.
How to get to Puerto Princesa
In order to get to Puerto Princesa from Manila or Cebu, you can take a flight with some local airlines like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, or Air Asia. The flight takes about one hour and afterwards to get from the airport to the hotel you can take a tricycle (local transportation).
Another option to get to Puerto Princesa is by the ferry with the company 2GoTravel. It operates twice a week from Manila, on Tuesdays and Fridays at 1 pm. The total journey takes 32 hours.
Once in Puerto Princesa, to move around the city, you have these options: rent a scooter, take a tricycle or a jeepney and also rent a minivan for half or full day (you can ask your hotel to make the arrangements for you).
Where to stay
Just like all the reservations we made in the 30 days we were in the Philippines, we booked the hotels as we went along on Booking.com. Depending on weather, we decided which island to visit, so we always booked at the last minute.
In Puerto Princesa we stayed at Golden Pension House, Palawan (54 D. Vicente St, Puerto Princesa). The owners were helpful and assisted us in booking all the excursions and the trip to Port Barton.
Where to eat
- Kauli Restaurant (369 Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa, Puerto Princesa). It had been recommended to us, and we certainly loved the food. Filipino, Asian, and vegetarian cuisine.
- NomNom Comfort Food (Gabinete Road, Puerto Princesa). Restaurant/cafeteria decorated with beautiful art paintings. The food is excellent, Filipino cuisine and also vegetarian options. The staff was friendly and helpful, highly recommended.
Good to know
- Banks and ATMs. Most banks and ATMs in Puerto Princesa are along Rizal Avenue and National Highway.
What to do in Puerto Princesa
Underground River National Park
In my opinion, the most impressive visit to Puerto Princesa is the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park in the coastal town of Sabang 70 km towards north, 2 hour’s drive away.
The National Park is considered one of the New Seven Natural Wonders, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. It is the second longest navigable underground river in the world with its 8.2 kilometers along and stunning karst landscape.
In the attractive town of Sabang, besides the river, mangrove forests and wide white sandy beaches are the predominant landscape.
Underground River Visit
As I mentioned above, the underground river is navigable for over 8.2 km, with stalactite formations, stalagmites and caves, and unique fauna and flora that have inhabited it for centuries. In order to preserve the Park, the Philippine government currently only allows navigation of the first 1.5 km of the river and has also established a quota for travelers, requiring a permit to access the area.
From Sabang beach is where the boats depart to visit this river. Once at the river entrance, travelers are divided into small groups to enter the river in a rowboat. To visit the cave safely, they provide you with a helmet and a life jacket, along with an audio guide in your own language.
Inside the river, tourists only visit the first 1.5 kilometers, since from up there the river becomes narrower and less air arrives.
The route through the cave is spectacular along it we find impressive rocks formations, finally the route leads to an underground lake known as the Cathedral. In the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave we can see various figures: a vegetable market, a scene of the Nativity, Jesus and even a T-Rex. Of course, use your imagination to visualize all these images on the rocks.
The River surroundings
In this place, near the cave there are mangroves and a swamp. To get deep into the mangroves and explore the fauna and the flora of the area, you can book the Sabang Mangrove Paddleboat Tour. An enjoyable 45-minute cruise in a rowing boat where you can soak up the views of the mangroves surrounded by a most peaceful ambiance.
Another fascinating activity is to do an Island Hopping Tour in Honda Bay. This excursion along the east coast includes visiting some white sandy beaches and turquoise waters such as Starfish Island, Cowrie Island, and Luli Island. Snorkeling is guaranteed…
Puerto Princesa City Tour
Besides, if you are short of time and want to make the most of it, the best way to explore the city is by taking this tour that will take you straight to the landmarks. On it, you will discover interesting attractions such as:
* Binuatan Creations Handloom Weaving
This center in Binuatan stands out for its quality handmade products. On it, they show you how they weave their crafts with natural fibers of endemic plants.
* Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm
It is a minimum security prison where the inmates are not prisoners but live with their families and work on agricultural projects within the Penal farm. They also make handicrafts that tourists can buy from them.
* Crocodile Farm
The center is both a tourist and research institution where they study how to preserve endangered crocodile species in the best possible way. They also exhibit a crocodile farm in which a guide gives you information about these reptiles.
Afterwards, the tour involves visiting several enclosures where you can observe adult crocodiles and also a breeding area.
* Baker’s Hill
This spot is fine if you just want to chill out for a while and happen to be in the area. It is a thematic park with Disney figures in the middle of well-kept gardens. It also has a viewpoint from where you can enjoy great panoramic views.
Port Barton is a town that nowadays, being a tourist destination, preserves its local essence and for that reason it’s truly a special place. One attraction of this location lies on the fact you can swim and snorkel in spectacular white sandy beaches without the need to get an Island Hopping Tour.
How to get to Port Barton
To get there, from Puerto Princesa or El Nido, you can either rent a minivan or take a public bus which operate daily routes.
Travel time is 4 hours.
Since the town is a small village, you can either walk it or take a tricycle
Where to stay
To be honest, there are few lodging options in Port Barton, and those available are quite basic. Because of the weather, we booked with Booking.com just one day in advance at the Westpoint Inn Hotel (Port Barton Town, St. Vincent), the only one with availability. The staff was helpful, and the hotel was conveniently located a 5-minute walk from the bus station, where the minivan from Puerto Princesa has a stopover.
Where to eat
- Hangout Beach Bar (San Jose Rd, Port Barton Town, San Vicente). Conveniently located right on the beach. The food is great, especially the fish. Also, excellent spot to watch the sunset on the beach.
- Kraken Wok & Roll (Bonifacio St, Port Barton Town, San Vicente). Excellent meat and fish woks. Great service and good value for money.
Good to know
- At Port Barton there is only one ATM that charges a high commission, so it is essential to bring cash.
- On arrival, you have to pay an ecological tax of 50 pesos, which is valid for the entire time you are in Port Barton. You should bring it with you when going to the beach and also for the Island Hopping Tour.
What to do in Port Barton
Another attraction you can do on your own from Port Barton is to cool off at the Pamuayan Falls waterfall. This includes a walk through the jungle… To get there you can walk from Port Barton, by a motorcycle or a tricycle. If you go by tricycle, once at Pamuayan beach, you have a 20 minutes trekking through a lush forest.
A great activity you can do on your own is swimming and snorkeling at Beach White Beach. From the village you can reach it by a local boat (bankga), the trip takes about 10 minutes and costs 300 Php. Once on the beach, you need to pay a 50 Php feed.
Enjoy a breathtaking sunset
Be sure to watch the sunset from the beach, on a terrace, with a drink in your hand… sublime!
One of the most enjoyable activities for a day out and to get to know the surrounding islands is to go on a boat tour or island hopping.
In case you are wondering, the island hopping consists of a 1-day boat excursion that takes you to different points of interest close to the area.
It takes you on a traditional Filipino boat called a bangka and the usual schedule is from 9 am to 4 pm or from 9 am to 5 pm. Food is included in the tour price as well. For this tour we paid 1000 Php.
Port Barton’s Island Hopping
Regarding Port Barton’s Island Hopping tour, we made several stops for snorkeling, coral viewing, swimming with green turtles, and swimming on large white sandy beaches.
We didn’t know what to expect from the food, but I have to say that it surprised us. They offered us an abundant and delicious meal that included fish, shrimp, chicken and pork, rice, salad, and fruit. Everything was delicious.
One highlight of the tour was Starfish Island, a stunning white sandbank overflowing with starfish. When we saw it, it coincided with low tide, and we could see lots of colorful stars on the surface.
You may have heard about the natural wonders hidden in the Bacuit archipelago: mind-blowing landscapes with dizzying cliffs of karst rock surrounding epic beaches and magnificent lagoons … To top it all off, just with a mask and fins you can enjoy the teeming marine wildlife within its turquoise waters. Quite a sight show!
How to get to El Nido
Flights. There are flights to El Nido from Manila, Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, and Coron
Minivan or bus. From Puerto Princesa or Port Barton you can either rent a minivan or take a public bus running daily to El Nido. Travel time is 4 hours. Bus companies: Cherry Bus and Roro Bus.
Fast boat/ferry. There are two companies that sail the route El Nido/Coron: the first one is Montenegro Lines with which you can book online at 12Go.asia. It takes 4 hours long and departure time is at 6 am, maybe a bit early….
The other fast ferry option is with Phimal company. Here, departure time is at 8:20 am.
Tricycle. Their fares are officially regulated. To give you an idea on the prices: the ride from Corong Corong to El Nido Town costs Php 50 and between El Nido Town and Las Cabañas is 150 Php.
Scooter. To get around the island on your own, it’s the best option. The price is 500 Php a day.
Where to stay
Since El Nido is one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, here you will find plenty of options for every budget. However, keep in mind that the value for money is not one of the best in El Nido, so it is advisable to book in advance, especially in high-season.
As our intention was just to do some island hopping and get to know the town, we decided to stay in the main area, at El Nido Town. We booked with Booking.com the Amakan Hotel (Amboy St, Barangay Buena Suerte), located close to the beach with an acceptable value for money.
Where to eat
- Because it is such a popular destination among tourists, in El Nido you will find plenty of options to eat delicious food at a reasonable price. Specifically, in El Nido Town most of the restaurants are concentrated in Hama Street, close to the beach and in the busy Rizal Street.
- Here you will find many amazing places to taste local and international cuisine. Here are the ones I liked the most:
- El Nido Boutique ArtCafé (Serena St, Barangay Buena Suerte). This place is not only a restaurant but also a travel agency. International food, with a wide menu. I found the seafood pasta delicious, as well as their fruit smoothies.
- Jarace Grill (Rizal St, Barangay Buena Suerte). On the seafront, their main dish it is the grilled fish. You choose the fish yourself and pay for it by weight. We ordered several dishes, and they were delicious.
- Angel Wish. The food was delicious; we really liked the fish, seafood and pasta with a Filipino touch, and the value for money was great.
- El Nido Bakery. On our way to book the island hopping, we saw many locals queued to buy fresh baked pastries. Out of curiosity, we tried some of them and keep buying them during our stay. Besides, they were also very cheap, between 10 – 20 Php each.
Good to know:
- Tourists must pay an Eco Tourism Development Fee to access the beaches. You can buy the card at the Municipal Tourism Office at the Transportation Terminal.
- It is important to be careful with the water you drink in El Nido, always bottled because it is not drinkable.
* EL NIDO TOWN:
.- BPI ATM en Calle Real, Barangay Buena Suerte
.- METROBANK ATM en Seashell Hotel, Calle Real, Brgy Buena SuerteRCBC ATM en EL NIDO .- MUNICIPAL HALL, Brgy Buena Suerte
.- BPI ATM en One El Nido Suite, Lot 2, Brgy Corong-Corong, Sitio Lugadia
* LIO TOURISM ESTATE:
.- BPI ATM en Kalye Artisano, Al lado Kalikha/Kaingud Crafts
.- BPI ATM en Lio Beach Shops, Edificio D (debajo La Salangane)
What to do in El Nido
Island Hopping Tours
As you may know, the most popular activity in this place is the island hopping, and take at least 2 tours while you are here it’s a must.
Through the island hopping you will discover the islands surrounding El Nido and enjoy its different activities: diving, snorkeling, beaches, lagoons, rock formations… There are 4 tours that are the best known: Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D. Within these 4, the most popular are Tour A and Tour C. Below I give you the information for each of them.
- Tour A:
Islands: Big Lagoon (+200 Php), Shimizu Island, Payong-Payong, Secret Lagoon, Seven Commando. Price: 1.200 Php
- Tour B:
Islands: Pangulasian Island, Cudognon Cage, Cathedral Cave, Snake Island, Pinagbuyuttan Island. Price: 1.300 Php
- Tour C:
Islands: Secret Beach, Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Tapiutan Island, Helicopter Island.
Price: 1.400 Php
- Tour D:
Islands: Small Lagoon (+ 200 Php), Nat-nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Cove, Paradise Beach, Ipil Beach. Price: 1.200 Php.
All tours include picnic lunch, purified water and a tour guide who informs you about the marine wildlife found in each area, the corals, the karst formations, etc, roundtrip hotel pick up and boat fee.
Nacpan Beach and Lio Beach
Other than enjoying the island of waterfalls, El Nido has great beaches where you can spend a relaxing day. For instance, towards the north, Nacpan beach ranks as one of the best in the world. It is a wide beach, with coconut trees, crystal clear turquoise waters, with the plus of not being overcrowded.
To get there you just have to take a scooter or a tricycle, in this case you have to agree with the driver on the time of return.
Regarding Lio Beach, it is also very cute, similar to Nacpan. Very wide, with crystal clear waters and area of trees to shelter from the sun. You can get there by a tricycle or a scooter. Another plus: the sunsets from this beach are breathtaking.
Coron is an island of limestone cliffs and it is here where you will find those perfect pictures of idyllic scenery composed of huge formations of dark rock rising to the sky in the middle of lagoons with waters of contrasting shades of blue. Among other wonders of Coron, it counts with seven lakes, one of which is ranked as the cleanest in the whole Philippines and also, its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters are among the most beautiful in the world. So, your mission in this paradisiacal island will be to discover and enjoy its lagoons, lakes, and beaches.
If you love diving, another additional reason to come to the island is that Coron is among the best diving destinations in the world and you will dive among sunken ships from the World War II.
How to get to Coron
If you are visiting Palawan, you can arrive from El Nido by the ferry. It takes approximately 4 hours, depending on the weather conditions. This route is in high demand, so it is advisable to book in advance. Also, for your information, the tickets price is the same whether you buy it right at the port or at a travel agency, i.e. the earliest you book it, the better.
There are 3 companies that operate daily on this route:
- Montenegro Lines with departure time at 6 am, its price is 1,760 Php. You can book online at the website 12Go.asia.
- Phimal Fast Ferry, departure time 8:20 am, costs 1,760 Php. With this company, you can not book online.
- Jomalia Shipping, departure time 12 am. The ticket costs Php 1,830 and can be booked online.
- If you like to get around on your own, the best option is to rent a scooter. The price is 500 Php per day.
- The other option is to hire a tricycle to take you to visit the landmarks of the island, it costs about 300 Php.
Where to stay
We found accommodation on Booking.com at Macky’s Hidden Inn (Coron Town Proper), considering that we booked on the go, and the inexpensive rate included breakfast and that the room was clean, I thought it was reasonable.
Where to eat
- Hermanos Tapas and Wine Bar (Busuanga Rd, Coron Town Proper). Spanish tapas’ restaurant, with a terrace, the service highly professional and the music was good. Delicious food, we tried meatballs, croquettes, patatas bravas, vegetable pisto, all very tasty.
- Get Real Bar & Restaurant (Real St, Coron Town Proper). Mexican and Filipino food restaurant. It’s reasonably priced with helpful staff and the servings are plentiful. I liked the nachos, the pesto pasta, the tuna tacos, and the margaritas.
- Sunburn Rooftop Lounge (180 National Highway, Coron Town Proper). Rooftop bar at the 4.13 Suites with the best views of Coron, but for that, you need to walk up 7 floors. The perfect place to watch the sunset with a cocktail or beer.
Good to know
- Coron Town is the city base for the island hopping on the island of Coron, but it is of no interest and neither is it beautiful. What’s spectacular finds on Coron Island, which you visit with the island hopping.
- Although there are some ATMs and exchange offices in Coron, it is convenient to bring cash as ATMs may not work.
- During the rainy season, cancellations of boats and planes are common. Count on it if you travel during this season….
- Remember that tap water in the Philippines is not drinkable, although you will find water dispensers to refill your bottle in most establishments (hotels, restaurants).
What to do in Coron
In the same way as in El Nido, the island hopping is a must while visiting Coron’s landmarks such as Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon and Barracuda Lake.
Most agencies in Coron offer the same tours, the most popular is the Ultimate Tour (Php 1,500) and the Super Ultimate Tour (Php 1,700). Included in the price is the entrance and boat fees, hotel pickup, a tour guide and picnic lunch. Hours are from 9 am to 5 pm.
Below, I detail the key points of interest that you visit with the island hopping Super Ultimate Tour:
Super Ultimate Tour
- Kayandan Lake, one of Coron’s most popular and photographed spots, combines a lush landscape and its sparkling waters composed of 70% fresh water and 30% salt water. To take the perfect photo up from the top, in the first place, you need to climb over 300 step steps, however the breathtaking views from up there are worth it. The crystal clear water of the lagoon and the pleasant temperature invites to take a dip.
- Twin Lagoon is named after the limestone wall that divides the water into two lagoons. Not only by the imposing cliffs with their marine fauna bordering the rocks, but also the wall separates the lagoon into two “twin” lagoons and can be crossed by swimming at low tide. And also, by a ladder, you can access a hidden lagoon on the other side.
- Siete Pecados, a set of 7 islets perfect for snorkeling. You can spot a wide variety of colorful fish, starfish, squid and corals.
- Skeleton Wreck. Another spot to snorkel and see the remains of a sunken ship. The ship is 25 meters long and the highest part is only 5 meters from the surface. It can be explored by diving.
- Las Isla de Coral . Another perfect place to snorkel and see corals of many colors and types.
- Barrakuda Lake. A lake that presents a contrast of sea currents and fresh water, just like Kayandan Lake. It is interesting to feel how the crystal clear water becomes very dense at the points where the waters and temperatures are mixed.
Maquinit Hot Springs
If you feel like ending the day with a relaxing hot bath, a great option is to visit the Maquinit Hot Springs saltwater pools. Its waters emerge from an inactive volcano at 40ºC. To get there you can take a tricycle for 300 Php round trip. Admission fee is 200 Php.
A wonderful way to round off a day of island hopping is to climb Mt. Tapyas at sunset to enjoy great panoramic views over Coron bay. However, be sure to bring water with you because you have to climb over 700 steps and the long hike together with the high humidity becomes overwhelming. But certainly it’s worth the effort…
Palawan Travel Guide, my thoughts
By way of conclusion, I hope this guide to Palawan will inspire and help you for preparing your trip to the Philippines. As you have just discovered, you can expect cool adventures in El Nido, Coron, Port Barton and Puerto Princesa…
This post is part of a series of articles on travel to the Philippines that may interest you: