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Dubbed the “Best Island in the World” by Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler magazines many times, Palawan is undoubtedly a slice of paradise. Travellers from all around the globe fly across oceans for a taste of this piece of heaven, usually making a beeline for the well-known municipalities of El Nido and Coron. While they truly are stunning, the island has so many other lesser-known gems that make it worthy of its title.
Slowly being discovered by travellers who want to get away from the crowds of El Nido is the fishing village of Port Barton. About three hours north of the Palawan capital, Puerto Princesa, is a less commercialized, more laid-back version of El Nido. Here, power cuts a few hours every day allow visitors to get back in touch with nature. The pristine, untouched beaches are inviting, and the sea is perfect for snorkelling and diving. There are no bars and no crazy nightlife, but the evenings and sunset views are serene. Boatmen can be hired for trips to surrounding islands like German Island, Exotic Island, and Paradise Island, as well as to wonderful snorkelling sites like Aquariums 1 and 2, the Wide and Twin Reefs, and the Sanctuary.
Long Beach, in the municipality of San Vicente, claims to be the country’s longest white beach, stretching 14km. Spacious and off-the-beaten-track, it might seem like you have this beach all to yourself. There are few tourist amenities in the area, but it’s perfect for travellers who enjoy long lengths of nothing but sand, waves, and coconut palms. The best part is that you’ll likely only be sharing this beauty with the locals and a handful of other tourists (if any). While currently peaceful and unspoiled, an airport in the area is also in the works, so it might not be so quiet for much longer.
Contrary to popular belief, there are beautiful places and things to do in and around Puerto Princesa. The capital city of Palawan has many wonders, one of which is Olangoan Falls in Barangay (small district) Binduyan. Just an hour north of the city center, along the main highway, locals leave their cars on the side of the road and trek half an hour into the jungle, across rivers, and up big rocks to reach the beautiful Olangoan Falls. The small waterfall, flowing into a small basin, and the main waterfall, flowing into the bigger pool at the bottom, comprise the main site. Climbing further up will reveal a big shallow pool surrounded by tranquil forests. The hike used to take longer and was much more challenging, but recently constructed trails have made it easier. Nevertheless, alluring waterfalls still reward trekkers at the end.
Another of Palawan’s most beautiful secrets is the island of Araceli. Here, visitors can enjoy the pristine beaches and crystal clear waters people come to Palawan for, but without the crowds. It’s not yet considered a tourist destination, and is surrounded by untouched islands and well-preserved marine life, making it a great place for snorkelling. Visitors can expect close encounters with many sea friends like lobsters and manta rays, which alone are enough to make the two-hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa and four-hour boat ride from Roxas completely worth it.
Way down south of Palawan is the municipality of Balabac. It’s made up of over 30 islands, many of which are privately owned. Because of this, and due also to the area’s remoteness, these islands are a bit trickier to get to. Some require permission from their owners, and most are untouched by commercialization. Visitors should be prepared to live off-the-grid for a while, but they are truly among the most incredible in the province. Patawan, Camiaran, Candaraman, Punta Sebaring, Onuk, and Sicsican are a few of the many stunning, unspoilt islands that make up the municipality. Many of the province’s locals don’t even venture down to this area. Balabac is the ultimate hidden gem of Palawan.
Covering roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef and containing about half of all coral species in the world, with 600 species of fish, 11 species of shark, and 13 species of dolphin and whale, the Tubbataha Reefs in Cagayancillo is a diver’s utopia. A World Heritage Site, Tubbataha is also a national marine park and dive site, and is 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa. Because of its isolation, visitors must stay on a live-aboard boat. The park’s diving season is from mid-March to mid-June, when conditions are at their finest. This place is considered to be one of the most remarkable marine ecosystems on the planet.