Palawan is located in the south-west of the Philippines between the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea. The island of Palawan is a 650 km long stretching island all the way down to Borneo. The capital of the province is Puerto Princesa. Coron is a small island located at the northern tip of Palawan.
Palawan – a must-see
After exploring many popular islands of the Philippines and also some islands off the beaten path (8 islands in total), we can say that Palawan has some of the most stunning beaches and attractions in the entire archipelago. We collected all useful information and a few extra tips about Palawan, so you can perfectly prepare your trip with our 10 Days Palawan Travel Guide!
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When is the best time to visit Palawan?
Palawan is best to visit during the dry months from November to April. At this time, not only the weather is favorable but also the sea is calmer and less wavy, so it makes boat trips and sailing most favorable.
Coron was the first destination of our 8-week trip to the Philippines. We arrived at the airport in Manila and headed down to Coron on the same day. It is the most northern destination of Palawan and is popular for little paradisiac islands. White beaches and crystal clear freshwater lakes surrounded by jaw-dropping limestone formations make it a unique place to visit. Therewith, boat trips of Coron are one of the biggest tourist magnets in the Philippines. In addition, Coron is well known to be one of the best wreck diving spots worldwide! However, the beaches are not quite good on the main island. But in the north of the main island one can find an unexpected attraction: The Calauit National Park with giraffes and zebras!
How to get to Coron
The island of Coron has no airport, so the only way to get there is a ferry. They start either from Manila or from El Nido. It was not quite easy to get a seat and there are a few companies to choose from – we went with 2 Go Ferry and Montenegro. From Manila, the ride takes about 11 hours and goes once a day in the evening. When coming from El Nido it takes only around 3 hours with a speedboat by Montenegro Ferries.
TRAVEL-TIP for Coron
According to the ticket situation, it’s advisable to book your ferry tickets in advance – especially during high season! Therefore plan and book your trip to Coron at least one week ahead.
Where to stay in Coron
The town of Coron is in the southern part of the island and the ferry harbor is located 2km outside the city center. Everything is easy to reach within walking distance as the city is quite small. During the high season, it can be very complicated to find a good place to sleep, because everything is either more expensive or fully booked.
Our 3 favorite accommodations for Coron:
- Best price-performance ratio: Happy Camper Hostel
- Top review score: Hop Hostel
- Cheap private room: Bangles Homestay
HOTEL-TIP for Coron
There are also plenty of accommodations that are not registered on the common online platforms like booking, Agoda or hostelworld, etc.! If you want to find a cheap and basic place to stay, then have a look at L.H.T Backpackers which is run by a lovely woman and her child! We paid 600 PHP for a private room with a fan and a shared bathroom. It is a tiny but clean place with 3 rooms in total and it even has a shared balcony with an awesome sea view, which is especially good for sunsets.
How long to stay in Coron
We recommend planning with (at least) three full days, in order to have enough time for the main attractions. If you want to explore the island to its fullest, you should consider staying one week. There are almost countless activities to do in Coron, especially if you have a big budget.
What to do in Coron
Unfortunately, there are no good beaches on the main island, so everything stands and falls with boat trips. The agencies offer up to six different boat trips for the amazing islands and lakes nearby. Coron is also considered as one of the best places in the world for wreck diving. Scooter rentals are not expensive and the nature of Coron is worth to explore. At the Calauit National Park, you can meet giraffes and zebras. It is a two-hour scooter ride from the city.
Our favorite itinerary for Coron
Do one of the boat trips and enjoy the breathtaking nature on your first day! On the second day rent a scooter and explore the island. Spend the third day either at the Calauit National Park or go wreck diving.
10 Things to know about Coron
1. Arriving in Coron:
A tricycle ride from the port to the city is about 100 PHP, but if you don’t mind you can also walk the 2km as we did.
2. Don’t do:
Don’t book your boat trip at “Dream Travel and Tours”, because we made a really bad experience: they have the biggest boat (takes the most time) and a terrible organization of the trip. On top of that our guides got drunk during the tour and bothered the girls on the boat!
3. Price difference:
Some accommodations are cheaper when you don’t book it online but just walk in.
4. The famous “Altrove Pizzeria”:
Let us tell you: it is completely overcrowded! If you still want to enjoy their famous pizza, then you should go there early around 5 pm or expect a long query. We found another good pizza at “Poco Deli Coron”.
5. NO internet connection in Coron:
For working travelers, this place can be a nightmare because the WIFI connection is one of the worst in Southeast-Asia. Fortunately, there is no need for internet to explore the island. It doesn’t depend on how much money you spend on your accommodation, it’s the lack of proper infrastructure. We couldn’t find a single place with good WIFI! We got a SIM Card from SMART, which had a bad mobile connection as well, maybe Globe is better!?
6. Mass tourism:
The boat trips can be very overcrowded, especially during the high season of course! 24 people on one boat and 20 boats at one place at a time kind of ruined our trip! We definitely recommend organizing a “shared private tour”, so try to find some nice people who are looking for the same tour! It will be worth the money! Another tip is to start as early as possible to escape the crowds. Please bring a water bottle and don’t leave any trash on the islands!
7. The market in Coron:
There is a huge market directly next to the harbor where the boat trips are starting. It is a good opportunity to get some fresh snacks to go, before going island hopping (please bring your own reusable bag and eventually a knife for fruits, etc.).
8. Diving in Coron:
Diving is affordable (about 3000 – 3700 PHP for a day trip incl. three dives) and the wrecks are awesome. We didn’t have the best visibility but it still was an amazing dive (ask for a long wetsuit, because a shorty was too cold for us). There are also places offering a freediving course, which was a lot cheaper than at any other place in the Philippines!
9. The Calacuit National Park:
To reach the Calauit National Park you need to book a boat trip or make the ride on a scooter and take the water taxi afterwards. We read online, that the boat should be 100 PHP per person, but we were asked for 600 PHP. The entrance fee for the park is about 500 PHP for foreigners (2019). In total the costs were above our budget, hence we decided not to visit the park.
10. The best beach on Coron:
Sadly Coron lacks nice beaches. In our opinion, the Ocam-Ocam Beach in the north is the best (still not like the beaches in El Nido!). The fee is only 10PHP per person, but there was plenty of seaweed everywhere. A more expensive alternative is the Alam Indah beach for 150PHP per person.
The very touristic town in the north of the famous Palawan Island is a great place to stay for adventurous backpackers. It is very touristy and therefore has many restaurants, shops, and a few bars, but there are no clubs to go out at night. During high season, the spot may be very crowded and prices will rise.
How to get to El Nido
El Nido is easier to access than Coron because it is located on the main island of Palawan. You can either take the speed boat, coming from Coron, which will take about 3.5 hours for about 40$. Or you can take a bus from Puerto Princesa. The duration depends on the type of vehicle you choose: jeepney 10h or van 5-6h.
Where to stay in El Nido
Our 3 favorite accommodations for El Nido:
- Best price-performance ratio: Big Mike Hostel
- Top review score: Happiness Hostel
- Cheap private room: Bem Scuba Diving Services
Our hostel experience in El Nido:
There are many accommodations to choose from, however, we did it like in Coron and showed up in person. We found two cheap places where we stayed for a couple of nights. The first one was called “Aliyah’s Hostel”, which was newly built in 2019 and has spacious rooms. The second one was “The Lorax Inn”, which was a bit dirty and had very little rooms. If you are looking for something more tranquil, then the beaches in the north of El Nido are the right place to stay.
How long to stay in El Nido
El Nido itself and the surrounding area have much to offer! Therefore we recommend staying at least 3 full days.
Things to do in El Nido
In our opinion, you should definitely go on an island hopping tour. If you want to escape the mass tourism, make sure to get a private boat and share it with a few other travelers.
If you are a beach lover, then you should definitely check out the beaches in the north of El Nido. Nacpan Beach is the most popular beach, but if you go even further to the north you will find real gems. We relaxed completely alone at Dagmay Beach an entire day: 2km long, clean and fine sand, crystal clear water and not a single person with us for 6 hours. Be aware that there is literally nothing – no shop, where you can buy sunscreen, food or water. So prepare your trip well!
Leave nothing but footprints! Or even better: reuse a plastic bag to collect some trash and take it with you!
10 Things to know about El Nido
The island hopping tours in El Nido are at least as overcrowded as in Coron. There are plenty of beautiful spots, but we recommend doing a private tour (eventually shared with other backpackers to reduce the costs).
2. How to find a cheap place to stay in El Nido:
Accommodations may be cheaper if you show up in person! BUT we recommend booking your hotel in advance during the high season. The closer you are to the beach, the higher the prices will be. There are also a few secluded accommodations in the Northwest as well as on the east coast at Darocotan Bay.
3. The Big Lagoon near El Nido:
To go inside the Big Lagoon you need to rent a kayak for an additional fee – we didn’t do it, but instead, we went snorkeling on our own and found lots of beautiful corals and fish.
4. Bring warm clothes on the boat trips:
The best idea is to bring a rain jacket on a boat trip, even if it is sunny and hot! Because the water splashes and it is very windy, it might get cold on your way back!
5. The best bakery of El Nido:
There is a bakery in El Nido called “Midtown Bakery” (on Google Maps) with delicious pastries.
6. The price difference between tourist bars and local restaurants:
Restaurants and cafes in the main tourist streets charge at least twice as much as the local restaurants one street behind.
7. WiFi is really bad – everywhere in El Nido!
When it comes to the internet connection the Palawan was one of the worst during our travels in Southeast Asia, except Puerto Princesa.
8. The market of El Nido:
The market is directly next to the bus station and offers a great variety of vegetables and fruits! It takes about 15-20 minutes by foot to get there from the city center.
9. Where to enjoy the sunset in El Nido:
Corong-Corong Beach is definitely not a world-class beach but the best spot near El Nido to watch the sunset (we didn’t find a public entrance to the beach, so we just walked through a hotel garden)!
10. Good scooter rental in El Nido:
We rented our scooter at our second hostel “The Lorax Inn”. It was cheap and everything was fine, but always make sure to get a helmet and to check the lights and the brake.
How to get to Port Barton
There are two ways to reach Port Barton. Both, from Puerto Princesa and from El Nido, take about three hours by van (a jeepney may take twice as long, but is cheaper). Depending on the company, the trips cost around 500-600PHP. Port Barton is a small town and everything can be reached on foot, so there is no need to take a tricycle.
Where to stay in Port Barton
Our 3 favorite accommodations in Port Barton:
- Best price-performance ratio: Russell Place
- Tranquil and excellent review score: Beso Hilltop Retreat
- Excellent location and friendly staff: Westpoint Inn
Our experience without booking an accommodation in advance at Port Barton:
Like in Coron and El Nido we were looking for an accommodation after we arrived. That wasn’t easy at all, because the hotels were either fully booked, they were overpriced or they were totally grubby. In the end, we asked at 20 hotels for a room and found only one (!), which was not perfect but okay. It was a basic four-bed dorm at Princesa Michaella’s Guesthouse.
How long to stay & what to do in Port Barton
We recommend staying in Port Barton for at least two days. On one day you HAVE to do a boat trip because it is not as crowded as El Nido and Coron but shows amazing places. There were 5-12 people on one boat and 2-5 boats per spot. One more argument for Port Barton is the communication among the skippers to avoid overcrowding. We loved Port Barton because it has a very chilled and relaxed atmosphere. If you have one or two days left, you should ask for a private boat tour to check out the beaches in the south of Port Barton which are not part of the official tours!
10 Things to know about Port Barton
1. There was no ATM in Port Barton (2019)!
Make sure to bring enough cash, because otherwise, you will have to do a long scooter trip or pay huge fees. In case you run out of money, you can change Dollars or go to the restaurant “La petite table”. At this place, you can get money via a PayPal transaction. BUT: the minimum is 5000 PHP, they charge 10% and on top of that PayPal has a really bad exchange rate.
2. At the turtle spot:
Don’t follow the crowds to chase after a single turtle! Instead, we had a look somewhere else and found our “own” turtle. It’s better for you and better for the turtles. Normally there are a few of them swimming around this place.
3. Price difference beachfront and second-row accommodation in Port Barton:
The beachfront apartments are more or less double the price compared to the ones in the second or third row, so make sure to compare the prices before you book.
4. Pay attention to your meals and drinking water:
Don’t drink the tap water, because many people get sick (it is the same for El Nido and Coron). Be aware that the locals drink different “drinking water” than what is advisable for tourists, so make sure to get safe water.
5. Cheap food at Port Barton:
Port Barton has a good and cheap restaurant called “Gacayan” (you can hardly miss it, with its colorful painted building), but don’t order their pizza (it’s a flop!). We had a tasty veggie burger (without fries) and some delicious local meals.
6. Enjoy the sunset at the beach of Port Barton:
After exploring Port Barton, you can enjoy live music and cheap drinks during happy hour right at the beach at “Reggae Bar” every evening!
7. Environmental fee in Port Barton:
When you arrive in Port Barton, you have to pay an environmental fee. Keep the ticket, because they check it again for the boat trips sometimes!
8. Different boat trips at Port Barton:
There are four options for boat trips, but you can also mix the tours just as you like.
9. Port Barton has NO Market:
There is no market in town, but you will find a few shops selling fruits and vegetables.
10. Go on a boat trip in Port Barton:
The boat trip is really worth it! We think it’s the best one in Palawan! 😉
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