Just one of the fun things you can do in Palawan…
To most tourists, including many Singaporeans, when they hear about a beach holiday in the Philippines, they’d only think of Boracay. While I must admit that having been to Boracay, it is pretty nice and the embodiment of what a tropical beach paradise should look like, there are plenty of other islands in the Philippines that offer the same thing but without the crowds of tourists.
One of these islands is Palawan Island which is located in southwest Philippines. It’s the fifth largest island in the Philippines archipelago and has been voted “The Most Beautiful Island in the World” by both Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure magazines. Recently, National Geographic Traveler rated Palawan as the best island destination in Southeast Asia. So it’s a wonder that with such accolades, Palawan still remains off the radar for most travelers.
The main attraction on Palawan is of course the Puerto Princesa Underground River which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and recently designated one of the new Natural 7 Wonders of the World. I’ve covered visiting the underground river in a previous blog post. So this post is all about getting to Palawan and what to do here.
Getting to Palawan island for most travelers involves transiting at Manila Airport to a domestic flight. For myself, I took a Cebu Pacific flight from Singapore to Manila and then another Cebu Pacific domestic flight to Puerto Princesa. This seems to be one of the better connection options as both flights land and take off from the same terminal. Otherwise, transferring between different terminals would be a real hassle. Even then, I was still looking at a total travel time of around 7 hours from Singapore to Puerto Princesa, including a layover of 2 hours. I guess this alone would deter a lot of people from thinking about coming here for a long weekend. The only direct international flights to Puerto Princesa are Eastar Jet which flies direct to Seoul, and Tigerair which flies direct to Taipei. And this probably explains the large numbers of Korean and Taiwanese tourists here.
While Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan Island, I did not stay long here as I was here for a working trip, and I had to move over to Sabang which is around 80km away from Puerto Princesa. Sabang is also where the Underground River is located and a better place to stay if you want to be away from the city crowds. However, Puerto Princesa being the capital of Palawan has many tourist class hotels, restaurants, a shopping mall and other amenities located in it. Which makes it the de facto base to stay for most visitors.
This is more of a village that supports tourism from the Puerto Princesa Underground River. The boats that ferry visitors to the Underground River start from the wharf here. There are a couple of international standard hotels here that cater to the more affluent visitors, and several guesthouses that cater to the backpacker crowd. To get to Sabang from Puerto Princesa, you can take the public buses, shuttle vans or jeepneys from San Jose Terminal. They leave every hour or so. Here is a website that gives you detailed information on how to take the shuttle buses and vans. Or if you are staying at one of the 2 international class hotels in Sabang, they can arrange a pickup service for a fee.
Sabang itself is really small and most visitors who stay here just visit the Underground River for convenience sake, and hang out on the beach doing nothing.
So besides Sabang and the Underground River, there are other activities nearby which are more for the adventurous traveler. There is the Sabang Zipline which is just walking distance from the village or a short tricycle ride. This is also often offered together with the Underground River tours since it’s just nearby. Otherwise, you can just walk over to their office in Sabang and book yourself a zipline ride for 550 pesos. This includes the jeepney transfer from Sabang to the zipline location.
This is a slightly more adventurous activity where you need to do some spelunking up the inside of a limestone mountain, followed by a zipline down to the ground below. I booked this tour through my hotel in Sabang, although tours also leave from Puerto Princesa. Ugong rock is located quite some distance from Sabang and the tours all include transportation to and from Ugong Rock.
Ugong Rock is a solitary limestone mountain that forms part of the karst landscape of Palawan. The word Ugong refers to a Filipino musical instrument, and the place gets this name because when you knock on some of the stalagmites and stalagmites, you can hear a hollow metallic noise like a musical instrument. And the mountain itself is hollow with a series of caves and crevices which you can climb to the top.
This is where most tourists in Puerto Princesa go to when they arrive. Only 45 minutes out of the city, this is where you can book boat tours for island hopping and snorkeling. With names like Starfish Island and Cowrie Island, you know you are going to see lots of corals and marine life here. Tours can be booked from Puerto Princesa hotels and tour agencies. Many of the islands are privately owned and you do have to pay entrance fees to land there. I have not gone to Honda Bay for lack of time, but it’s definitely on my to-do list for my next trip.
The premier beach destination in Palawan is El Nido, and where all sun worshippers head to, It’s 5-6 hours by car or bus from Puerto Princesa though, The easiest way is a domestic flight from Manila to El Nido but costs more. I’ve heard that it’s pretty crowded and touristy nowadays, but it’s still worth a visit if you want beautiful beaches and islands.