Palawan Destination Guide
The most well preserved of island groups in the Philippines, Palawan is also the largest province in terms of land area. Its best assets include beaches, caves, lagoons, mangroves, the rain forest, coral reefs and clear blue waters. One has to visit all the islands of Palawan to understand how hard the local people and government have worked to preserve the place.
With a 2000-kilometre coastline and as many as 1,700 islands and islets, Palawan has one of the most beautiful seascapes. Tucked beneath the seas are approximately 11,000 square kilometres of coral reefs. In 1967, this group of islands was proclaimed a fish and wildlife sanctuary. To this day, Palawan is one of the most protected provinces in the whole of the Philippines.
Palawan is a tropical paradise; it is densely populated, lush and lacks the negative effects of tourism. In fact, Palawan is the last frontier for those looking to get away from their day-to-day lives and enjoy a few days of serenity, tranquillity, and communing with nature.
This Palawan Destination Guide tells you all the wonderful things there are to see and do on a Palawan holiday. A great way of exploring all that Palawan has to offer and getting a taste of the local culture and history is taking a tour in Palawan. If you are looking for more information on the Philippines in general, our Philippines Country Guide will give you all the information you need.
Thought of as the second longest navigable underground river in the world, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River enchants the traveller with its majestic stalagmite and stalactite formations. It is also a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire river spans a length of 8.2 kilometres long. The area surrounding the underground river is a rich landscape that serves as a home to many exotic plant and animal wildlife.
One can only enter the underground river through an organized tour, as the waters are quite deep and deemed unsafe for swimming. Through a paddleboat, you will be taken on a guided tour to about 5 kilometres into the cave where you will see striking tunnels and stalagmite and stalactite formations that play with your imagination with the many things they resemble.
A large limestone karst landscape with an underground river is the most prominent feature of this park. It is also an important habitat for biodiversity conservation. Its ecosystem makes it one of the most important in Asia, as it also has a mountain-to-sea landscape.
Located in Northern Palawan, near Coron town, Coron Reefs attracts hundreds of nature lovers to its seven lakes surrounded by craggy limestone cliffs. For diving enthusiasts, the jump-off point is Busuanga Island, whose main town is Coron. The major diving sites include 12 World War II Japanese shipwrecks, sunk on September 24, 1944, by the US Navy. In terms of depth, they range from the surface to 40 metres. These sites also offer exciting opportunities for wreck exploration to all enthusiasts from amateur and recreational divers, and snorkellers to experienced TEC divers.
Tour operators offer a variety of options, which include day diving and snorkelling trips, and overnight dive safaris. Besides this, there are charter boats that offer a variety of diving options. What’s more, the Forbes Traveller Magazine lists the views from the sunken warships off Coron Island among the top 10 scuba sites in the world.
El Nido got its name from bird's nests, in reference to the swiftlet's nests which is the main ingredient to the Chinese delicacy, bird's nest soup. The birds' nests are found on the many limestone cliffs around the region.
El Nido has significant historical and cultural legacies. Humans have inhabited the area as far back as 2680 BC, as fossils, burial sites, and other archaeological evidences prove. Because of the bird's nest, Chinese traders have frequented the region and it has also been mentioned in Chinese records that date as far back as 1225 BC. Only by the early 1980's did tourism begin to grow in El Nido, because of its remoteness from the more developed and inhabited areas of the Philippines.
There are no pulsating bars or clubs to be found here, but rather a peace and serenity one acquires through communing with nature. It is a place where artists come to seek inspiration, soul-seekers for meditation and silence, honeymooners for the most romantic tropical getaway, and backpackers for the rustic charm and adventure that its varied landscapes and seascapes provide.
El Nido is famously known for its sparkling emerald green lagoons and secluded white sand beaches. There are not many words in the English language that can describe their beauty...Magical, spectacular, and breathtaking do not seem to do justice to what it really is!
The area is also rich in biodiversity, as it is home to many endemic (only found in the area and nowhere else in the world) creatures. Here you can find colourful flowers and plants, mystical animals and fish of all shapes and sizes.
One of the best diving sites in the Philippines, El Nido is surrounded by as many as 50 islands and innumerable snorkelling and diving sites. It is possible to book a trip directly with a local boatman, or at the Art Café. The prices are fixed and so are the routes. In fact, you could also hire a boat with the boatman and go wherever you like. If, however, you decide to follow the usual rides and routes, then you have several choices and routes to follow. The resorts are active in both island and reef conservation. Whatever you do, don't forget to visit the El Nido Marine Reserve Park.
Honda Bay is a popular destination in Palawan because of the scenery that each of its numerous small islands provide. Here, you won't find luxurious hotels, shopping malls, or shops, but rather secluded white sand beaches, simple cosy cottages, clear waters teeming with exotic marine life, and a simple tropical life by those who inhabit the area.
Some of the islands you can find here include Starfish Island, aptly named so because of the many starfish you can find beautiful starfish residing in the white sand beaches and clear waters. Lu-li Island is a tiny islet that is only visible during low tide. The stunning Snake Island forms a long narrow patch of white sand that resembles a snake, hence its name. Other islands here are Cannon or Cowrie Island, Bat Island, and Meana Marina Island.
Honda Bay is just 30 minutes from Puerto Pincesa. The best thing to do here is to hire a boat and visit the dozens of beaches on the islets around the bay for a perfect day of island hopping. One can swim, dive, snorkel, or just relax on the smooth sand and stare at the clear waters. The spectacular view is bound to leave a lasting impression on the tourist.
The Malampaya Sound Land and Seascape Protected Area is one of the six protected areas in Palawan. Located in northern Palawan, its diverse topography includes coastal and marine areas as well as terrestrial. The diversity and assortment of marine life has given it the nickname "Fishbowl of the Philippines", while an intermingling of eco-systems reside in its mangroves, beaches, and tropical lowland forests. It is also home to the Irrawady and bottle-nosed dolphins.
The Inner and Outer Sounds form the two main divisions of the area. In between them are 13 islands. Because of its extremely fertile waters, the Sound is ideal for shellfish propagation and natural marine parks, which also makes it a significant location for tourism, ecology, and livelihood. There are over 150 species of fish that inhabit the Sound, and these types of fishes have high demand in commercialisation.
Port Barton belongs to the San Vicente municipality of Palawan, between El Nido and Palawan. It is a charming fishing village and a popular stopover for backpackers. Here you can find idyllic white sand beaches and many other natural attractions. The accommodation, restaurants, laid-back atmosphere and excellent island hopping, diving and snorkelling options make it an ideal holiday destination. The Port Barton sandbar, which is only visible during low-tide, is a fantastic place to just lie back and take some sun.
Discover Pamoayan Falls, a majestic waterfall which drops to around 17 meters. Its waters provide a refreshing break amidst the tropical heat in a setting where pretty palm trees sway in the background, and butterflies and dragonflies can be seen around.
A small boat in Port Barton can also take you to Tugdunan and Darapiton Rivers, which form a mangrove reserve area. They are home to exciting animals such as monitor lizards, birds, mangrove snakes, and other animals which are a delight to come across!
A beautiful beach village, Sabang is the nearest settlement to the Underground River. Fringed by palm trees, the beach is picture perfect. While the village is rather small, there is enough to keep one happy and occupied for at least three to four days. Sabang Beach is also ideal for camping, but don't forget to bring your own camping equipment.
Apart from the famous Underground River, you can also spend your days swimming at the beach and doing picnics. Another popular attraction here is the mangrove forest. You can take a tour which starts at about 8 am, and will lead you to a mystical mangrove while the tour guide will provide you with interesting bits of information about the place.
The rich greens that surround the higher elevated areas in Sabang provide exciting areas for jungle trekking. Simply ask the locals for information where you can begin your trek and encounters with lush fauna and wildlife that inhabit the area.
There are a number of quaint accommodations and restaurants, all of which boast of good service, charming native decor, and stunning views of Sabang beach at very affordable prices. The nearby restaurants are also frequented by locals and provide a different experience altogether.
This game reserve and wildlife sanctuary houses not just exotic African animals but also endangered animals native to Palawan. Located in the Calauit Island, in Busuanga, the sanctuary in the northern Calamianes islands has a vast variety of animals roaming free in its lush green hills and plains. Palawan is the home of the Palawan bear cat, Palawan peacock, Palawan monkey, Palawan parrot, scaly ant eater, mongoose, mouse deer and porcupine.
Apart from the Palawan animals, you will also find African animals that live harmoniously with the others. These include the giraffe, zebra, and waterbuck, among others. Delightful marine animals also reside in the nearby beaches, such as the giant clam, sea turtles, and dugong.
Calauit, being a game preserve and wildlife sanctuary, provides a natural environment that enables both plants and animals to live harmoniously with each other with minimal human interference. Hence, strict visitor conduct standards have been set for all visitors.
For a really unique tour, take a look at our Overnight Kayak & Calauit Safari Adventure
Located in southern Palawan, Tabon Cave is known as the ‘Cradle of Civilisation' of the Philippines. Tucked within the mountainous cape of Lipuan Island, this group of 29 caves is a treasure trove of archaeological artefacts and fossilised bones of Tabon men. In fact, a 22,000-year-old fossilised skull cap of a Palawan native was found in Tabon, making it the oldest known habitation site in the whole of Southeast Asia.
Apart from being used as habitats, the caves were also used as burial sites for its early inhabitants. The Tabon Caves resemble a very important piece of Philippine archaeology. In order to preserve this, it has been proclaimed a Museum Reservation Site, and only 3 out of the 29 caves are open to visitors.
Visiting the caves is a fun and exciting adventure, with all of its slopes and rugged landscape. The trek begins at Liyang Cave, which was used as a home and a burial site during the Neolithic Period, where you are guided with signage's that explain the significance of the Tabon Cave and other interesting facts.
From there you will be lead into the main cave, Tabon Cave. You may even be able to see some forms of wildlife in the Tabon Cave, such as bats, monitor lizards, and the macaque primate. Some rare but possible sightings include the wild pig, Palawan porcupine, squirrels and bear cats.
The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering 332 kilometres, including the north and south reefs, the park is a unique example of an atoll reef with a high density of marine species; the north islet is a nesting ground for marine turtles and birds. The site is also an excellent example of a coral reef with a spectacular 100 metre wall, two coral islands and extensive lagoons. In fact, Tubbataha Reef and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park are nominated among the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’.
The magnificent colorful marine life of all shapes and sizes make it a must-see for divers from all over the world. Whether you are an amatueur or veteran diver, visiting Tubbataha will still give you a one-of-a-kind experience with the best that marine life has to offer. Surely you will not be disappointed, as Tubbataha Reef is home to over 500 species of fish, almost 400 species of corals, 11 types of sharks, and 12 kinds of dolphins and whales.
However, because the sea conditions in the area are too rough for most of the year, it is only accessible from mid-March to mid-June. From Puerto Princesa City, it takes about 10 hours on a boat ride to reach the Tubbataha Reefs in Sulu Sea.
Located near the Municipality of Brooke's Point in southern Palawan, this bird sanctuary and game refuge is a migratory and wintering ground for seabirds and shorebirds.
This is where the Vietnamese refugees once stayed – most of the houses are empty now as the refugees have moved to the United States. Culturally, there isn't much to see here, but the restaurant is definitely worth a visit.