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Aerial view of Palawan beach
Aerial view of Palawan beach

The Ultimate Guide To Palawan, Philippines

Picture of Katrina Escalona
Updated: 25 January 2018

If you’re constantly on the look out for new travel destinations, then you’ve surely heard of Palawan. One of over 7,000 islands comprising the Philippine archipelago, many will describe this place as paradise. This comprehensive Culture Trip guide will show you every what, where, and how you need to know to make the most of your Palawan trip.

How to get there

Although the airport of Puerto Princesa (Palawan’s capital) is now considered an international airport, currently only very few flights fly in from abroad. So the best way to reach Palawan would still be to first fly into a bigger airport in the Philippines – most likely through Metro Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport – and then take a domestic flight to Palawan.

Most domestic flights are affordable, however prices do hike up significantly during peak seasons such as Holy Week, Christmas, and over the summer. If your trip happens to fall on peak season, make sure to book your flight to Palawan as early as possible (it doesn’t help that Palawan is currently one of the top tourist destinations in the country).

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Cebu Pacific Airline | © Masakatsu Ukon / Flickr

Keep an eye out for promo fares on airline websites, even months in advance to score the best deals. Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, and Philippine Airlines are perhaps the most popular picks, with the first two being the most budget friendly. Traveller Tip: Flight delays are notoriously common in the Philippines, so try to book flights earlier in the day to avoid delays caused by turnaround time buildup.

What to pack

First, there’s the obvious: Pack light and cool clothes, swimwear, and sturdy flip-flops since most of your trip will probably be spent on the beach. Take a light sweater along for possible cool nights and sarongs that will come in handy for sunbathing and drying up. Sunscreen and insect repellent are a must, which you can also buy once you get to Puerto Princesa.

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Beach essentials | © Shélin Graziela / Flickr

Another thing you’ll have to stock up on, at least before venturing out of Puerto Princesa, is cash. ATMs are harder to come by in the more rural municipalities of Palawan, and credit cards aren’t widely accepted either outside large establishments and resorts so always keep enough cash on hand.

For gadget junkies, a portable power bank might just be a lifesaver — especially if you decide to rough it out on the islands. Some towns and lower-end accommodations outside Puerto Princesa don’t have power all day, so if you want to be sure you’re gadgets are always charged up, take a portable charger along.

Relaxing by the sea in El Nido | © Allan Ascaño / Flickr

For the ladies, it’s vital to know that tampons are also quite difficult to come by in the Philippines and impossible in the more rural provinces. And a beach holiday is probably the worst time to have any crimson wave dilemmas. So make sure to scour through supermarket shelves in the big city for an emergency stash.

Where to go

Puerto Princesa

When visiting Palawan, many people fly into the capital, Puerto Princesa City (there are smaller airports in El Nido and Busuanga), and journey north toward El Nido by land. Two to three days should be ample to enjoy this little city. Get around the city proper via tricycle, a cheap and easy mode of local transport. Make it a point to visit the shops, the best place to do your shopping, be it for beach necessities you’ll be needing throughout your trip or for local souvenirs like pearls and handicrafts.

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Tricycle driver in Puerto Princesa | © Carrie Kellenberger / Flickr

Perhaps the most famous tourist spot in the city (though about a half-hour drive from the city proper) is the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Sabang. It was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2012 and has been largely responsible for the surge in tourism since then. This, along with Sabang Beach, make for a good day’s worth of adventure.

Sabang Beach, Palawan | © Göran Höglund / Flickr

Back in the city proper, treat yourself to delicious local cuisine at longtime favorites like Kalui and Kinabuch’s or sample local beers at the island’s only microbrewery, Palaweño Brewery. From the city, you can arrange private transport to your next Palawan destination, or rent a motorbike to take the more adventurous route, or take a bus.

Port Barton

Compared to the tourist hotspots of El Nido and Coron, Port Barton is still quite the hidden gem. If you’re not a fan of crowds, which have become difficult to avoid in Palawan’s more famous destinations, Port Barton might just be the place for you. Island-hop through beaches of solitude, snorkel above turtles, kayak to nearby islets you’ll have all to yourself — this serenity is Port Barton.

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Kayaking in Port Barton | © Dan Merino / Flickr

El Nido

Famous El Nido — despite the lengths it takes to get here and the number of fellow travellers you might have to share it with, you’ll quickly be assured upon arrival that it’s all very much worth it. For affordable accommodations that have both the coziness of a boutique hotel and the open and social environment of a hostel, check out Spin Designer Hostel.

It’s easy to get around El Nido’s most famous spots since four tours (simply called Tours A, B, C, and D) are generally recognized among travel agencies, guides and boat men. El Nido’s top sights are distributed among these tours, of which tours A and C are most popular. Any adjustments to the tours can also be arranged with your guide. Towering limestone rock formations, pristine beaches, and crystalline blue waters — El Nido is, in every sense of the word, breathtaking.

Entalula Island, El Nido | © Fabio Achilli / Flickr

Coron

The municipality of Coron on the island of Busuanga can be reached by either flying into the island’s airport or by ferry from the ports of Manila, Puerto Princesa, or El Nido. Coron, as is El Nido, is naturally stunning. Landscapes are adorned by distant mountains, karst limestone formations, and cerulean waters. It’s become most famous for Kayangan Lake, said to be the cleanest in the country, and its numerous reefs and WWII shipwrecks which make for astonishing dives. There are also enough dazzling white-sand beaches to pack an itinerary.

Kayangan Lake, Coron | © John Galeos Sy / Flickr

For a one-of-a-kind experience that makes the journey just as magical as the destination, traverse the seas between El Nido and Coron aboard a massive traditional sailboat with Tao Philippines. Here, travellers are given a chance to divert from the typical tourist path and bask in Palawan’s raw, natural beauty.

Aboard the Tao Philippines Paraw | © Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) / Flickr

Balabac

Finally, there are the Balabac group of islands in Southern Palawan. Made up of some 30 islands and islets, this area is home to the province’s untouched tropical gems. Because many of these islands are privately owned, prior arrangements are best off made with their owners or local guides. And because the area’s tourism industry is not all that developed yet, tourists might have a difficult time personally organizing their own trip. For a fuss-free trip, get in touch with a travel agency to arrange a tour.

Balabac is quite the distance to be travelled from Puerto Princesa, but its covert, unscathed charm is alluring to travellers partial to undiscovered destinations.