Palawan is an island province of the Philippines. It is an archipelago consisting of 1780 islands. Its provincial capital is Puerto Princesa. In terms of land area it is the largest province of the Philippines. Palawan lies between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. It is home to some of the best beaches in the Philippines. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located there.
We were very impressed with our visit to Palawan! I have to say that it is arguably the best tourist attraction in the Philippines. When asked what I thought of Palawan the first word that comes to mind is “CLEAN”. It may not be the most impressive word, but if you’re familiar with other tourist sites in the Philippines you will have an appreciation for what I mean. Compared to the toxic filth that surrounds Manila, and for the most part most of Central Luzon, the nation’s main island, Palawan is extremely clean.
Another thing that impressed me is the locals’ respect for the land and environment. It’s said that this chain of islands is the Philippines’ last ecological frontier. The local population takes pride in their role as guardians of their home’s natural wonders. From tour guides and drivers to the folks on the street they take their guardianship very seriously. This point was driven home on the litter free streets of Puerto Princesa. My uncle had carelessly tossed his cigarette butt on the sidewalk, a couple walking by very respectfully asked him to pick up the butt and throw it in the nearest trash bin. We were told should a policeman see us littering we would be fined. I was so impressed by their dedication to keeping their city clean that I wanted to hug them!
My husband tested our guide during our island hopping tour when he saw huge clam shells along the coast. He was told he could look, touch, and photograph, but he could not take one home. He asked her how much she’d take to allow him to take one (he wasn’t serious) and she told him that no amount of money was worth the depletion of their island’s natural beauty. Very impressive in a place where just about anything is for sale for the right price!
There are many beautiful places to visit in Palawan. Most tourist opt to stay at the El Nido Resorts located on the northern end of Palawan. It’s a haven for avid divers and anyone wanting to get away from it all, but it’s not that easy to get to. Getting to El Nido can be challenging and expensive.
You can take a direct flight from either Manila or Cebu on PAL, Cebu Pacific Air, and a few other commercial airlines, or you can take a charter plane, but it’s the most expensive way to go. A less expensive way may be to fly into Coron, one of Palawan’s municipalities, and take a boat to El Nido, but this trip takes about 8 hours. The most economical way to get there would be flying into Puerto Princesa, PAL offers a reasonably priced ticket from Manila, then taking a bus or car the rest of the way, the ride is about 4 hours.
We we opted to take a flight to Puerto Princesa and stay there instead of continuing on to El Nido. It was the most practical way since my mother refused to ride the smaller planes bound for El Nido, and my elderly father would not have been able to stand a 4 hour drive.
We arrived at the Puerto Princesa International Airport, such a grand name for a tiny airport, in the late afternoon. The flight from Manila was about an hour long.
The hotel’s van was there to meet us and drive us to our hotel 15 minutes away.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
There are many hotels in Puerto Princesa. They range from one star to 4-5 star accommodations.
We chose Niko’s Cabanas, a small hotel with just 9 rooms. We booked 3 Junior Suites, each about $65 per night for double occupancy, and included a cooked to order breakfast.
The suites are air conditioned and have private baths with hot and cold showers. The rooms are clean and comfortable. There’s cable TV in all the rooms and free wi-fi in the restaurant.
The hotel is situated in what looks like a residential part of town, but it’s easily accessible by tricycle or car. In fact the hotel shuttle will happily take you to town and back again for free, just ask!
The hotel boasts a pool, a restaurant, and gazebo. The property is nicely landscaped with tropical trees and plants. I know it’s not ocean front, far from it, but it worked out well for us given that my mother insisted she needed to be close to town. Not to mention there were so many of us and booking multiple rooms at an ocean front hotel was not exactly budget friendly when we had to pay air fair, hotel, and more for most of the folks in our party.
We enjoyed our stay at Niko’s Cabanas. My mom and dad loved the restaurant! I think mostly because the staff were very friendly and pretty much cooked what my mother wanted even though it wasn’t on the menu![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The gazebo located in the center of the property was the perfect place to hang out after a long day. The staff made sure we were supplied with ice cold San Miguel beers, sodas, and snacks.
While we were there we were the only hotel guests. Lucky for us because we got exceptional service!
But we didn’t go to Palawan to hang out at the hotel. We wanted to explore and experience the sights and activities the island offers. And that we did starting the very next morning![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Our first destination was the famed Underground River. I had hired a van with driver and a tour guide for the duration of our stay. They picked us up at Niko’s early in the morning for the 2 hour drive to Sabang. Sabang is a small town that serves as the gateway to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.
On the road to Sabang we passed a viewpoint where according to our guide we were able to view the South China Sea on one side and the Sulu Sea on another. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Then we continued on to the Sabang boat harbor to catch the banca (motorized canoe) that would take us to the Underground River.
Since we had hired a tour guide she obtained the boat tickets as well as the entrance tickets to the Underground River, they were included in the price, as well as a barbecue lunch at a Sabang resort upon our return. The cost was about $250 for 7 people. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Because there were 7 people in our party we had the banca to ourselves. Once loaded on we were off to the entrance beach to the Underground River!
The boat ride along the island’s coast wasn’t very long. We sailed by some interesting rock formations along the coastline. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
When the banca reaches the entrance beach he tries to get as close to dry land as possible. You hop off on the beach so no matter what your feet will get wet![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
From the beach it’s a short walk to the park entrance. You can’t miss it! It’s right past the big sign![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The path takes you thru the rain forest where you’ll see long tailed Macaques and large monitor lizards.
The Macaques, the only primates in the area, are easy to spot. They’re everywhere! Watch out though they do bite and will snatch bags if there’s food in it.
The lizards are harder to spot. They’re very well camouflaged.
At the end of the path you’ll find the que for the boat ride into the cave.[spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]
Before hopping on to another banca you must don a life vest and hard hat. Again because we were a large group we had our own banca.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Once we were all seated the boatman paddled us thru brackish water to the cave entrance.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It’s basically the 8.2 Km section of the Cabayugan River that passes thru the St. Pauls Underground River Cave which is more than 24 km. long. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The cave is very dark inside. The boatmen shine spotlights on certain rock formations during the 45 minute ride.
Inside the cave you navigate past stalactites and stalagmites. And as expected you’ll see lots of bat guano as well as the bats themselves. There are nine species of bats that call the cave home. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
After the short boat ride in the cave we returned to our awaiting banca on the beach and headed back to Sabang for lunch.
The boat harbor is a short walk from the resorts that line the coast. My dad had a hard time walking so we hired a carabao pulled wagon to transport him, my mom, and sister to the resort. The rest of us walked on the beautiful white sand beach to get there. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Lunch was served on the beach under a thatched umbrella. There was certainly plenty of food and drink. After a pleasant lunch it was time for the 2 hour drive back to our hotel. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
We were back at the hotel by mid afternoon. Plenty of time for a shower and drinks in our little gazebo before we headed into town for dinner.
Mom, dad, and sister opted to dine at the hotel’s restaurant. The rest of us piled into a couple of tricycles and headed out to one of Puerto Princesa’s restaurants. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The next day we went island hopping around Honda Bay. Our trusty guide picked us up in the morning and took us to the local docks where we boarded our private banca. My husband wanted to go fishing (it’s allowed as long as you’re some distance from the islands) so he purchased a pole and bait from the vendors on the docks.
Our first stop was Pandan Island, so named for the abundance of Pandan trees that grow there. It’s a private island so there is an entrance fee which is collected on the docks before you set off. In our case all fees and lunch were included in the tour.
It’s a beautiful little island surrounded by white sand beaches and crystal clear water filled with colorful fish. For extra fees you can rent umbrellas, cabins, volleyballs, paddle boards, and other beach toys.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
My favorite part of this island was the fresh seafood for sale. As I hopped off the banca I was met by a couple of local girls holding a lobster trap. They claimed to have caught the rock lobsters and crabs just that morning. I bought all they had for roughly about $15. That netted me about a dozen crabs and half a dozen lobsters. They cooked it for me and threw in 6 bottles of beer. What a deal!
My seafood platter was delivered to our beach front cabana just in time for lunch. It was delicious!
Aside from my yummy lunch we explored the island. The shores of one side of the island was home to huge clams. It was amazing![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The rest of our time there was spent splashing in the water while my husband and uncle went fishing. They had a great time!
The boatmen baited the hooks and took off the fish they caught. All they did was hold the pole in the water and drink beer. Fishing will never be the same!
They were all happy; they caught about a dozen fish which they sent home with the boatmen.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Our next stop was Cowrie Island. It’s less developed than the larger Pandan Island, but is perfect for snorkeling. There are a few vendors on the island selling cold drinks and souvenirs. It’s much less crowded than the more popular Pandan Island.
Our last stop was Starfish Island, so called because it’s surrounded by starfish. Amazing!
There are no cabanas or vendors on this island. In fact when we went we were the only people there! If you’re looking for some serious alone time this island is perfect!
After 3 islands it was time to head back. We were back at the pier by mid afternoon and at our hotel a few minutes after.
That night was our last in Palawan so we packed in to several tricycles for the short ride to town where we dined at Balinsasayaw Restaurants.
According to my dad it was a famous local restaurant and he really wanted to go there. I found it unremarkable with very poor service.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and hung out at our little cabana. It was a great way to spend our last evening on this island paradise.