22 September 2019.
Pristine beaches, gushing waterfalls, wild jungle, world-class diving and dramatic cliff lines make a trip to virtually any of the Philippines’ nearly 8,000 islands an epic adventure. But for anyone looking to sample some of the country’s most beautiful scenery, Palawan is an excellent place to start.
Spend your days paddling across ancient lagoons beneath towering rock formations, clambering through forests to remote waterfalls, lounging on sun-drenched beaches and setting off on island-hopping adventures that this part of the Philippines is so very famous for.
If you’ve read any of my other Philippines posts, you’ll know that the weather was not on my side for this part of the trip, with torrential rain and high seas putting a stop to many of my plans. But bad weather aside, I had a fantastic time here and for anyone hoping to plan a trip of their own, this Palawan itinerary has you covered with all the best things to do.
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Hit the ground running with an early morning flight to Puerto Princesa before beginning your journey north to Sabang, a sleepy seaside town that boasts beautiful remote beaches, a dense tangle of jungle and jagged limestone karsts fed by a brilliant blue river.
Officially called the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (yep, it’s a mouthful), this is the area’s biggest attraction where visitors can explore these cliffs and caves by boat.
The most popular way to visit is on a long day trip from Puerto Princesa or Port Barton, but staying overnight in Sabang allows you to jump on the first boat of the day (well before the crowds of day-trippers arrive) and continue on to your next destination by mid-morning.
So once you arrive, organise your underground river tour for the following morning before turning your attention to the surrounding region.
Spend the afternoon soaking up the sunshine at Sabang Beach, or for something more action-packed, consider the short hike to the waterfalls west of town, a paddleboat tour through the mangroves or a jungle trek toward the entrance of the underground cave.
| Plan Your Trip To Sabang, Palawan |
FLIGHT | Palawan’s main airport in Puerto Princesa receives daily flights from a number of destinations in the Philippines, as well as international connections from Taiwan and South Korea.
FERRY | On a tighter budget? Every Friday, the enormous 2Go ferry sets sail from Manila bound for Palawan, stopping at Coron and Puerto Princesa before making the return journey on Sunday. It’s a 24-hour trip but if you’re on a tight budget it can often work out much cheaper than flights.
BUS + VAN | When you’ve arrived in Puerto Princesa, take a tricycle to the San Jose Bus Station, about 4 km from the airport to catch the bus to Sabang. Choose between the public bus (cheaper) or minivan (more comfortable) which both leave about every 2 hours.
TOUR | If you’d prefer an organised tour to a DIY visit, that’s definitely an option and this is actually the most popular way to visit. It means a long day with many hours spend trundling down bumpy roads but also means you won’t have to worry about transport or accommodation. In this case, you’ll need to spend the full day in Puerto Princesa and organise your tour for the following day.
Begin the day with your visit to the underground river.
You’ll need to arrange a boat to take you a short way up the coast where you’ll transfer into a smaller boat better equipped to navigate the aqua waters and low ceilinged passages of the cave. It’s a 45-minutes journey and best done early to avoid the day-trippers who begin to trickle in around mid-morning.
Back in Sabang, catch a van or bus bound for Puerto Princesa or El Nido and jump out at the major intersection to avoid travelling the whole way back to Puerto Princesa (it’s marked as ‘Salvacio Stopover’ on Maps.Me). Here, you can flag down any bus or van bound for Port Barton which should pass at least every 2 hours.
As scenes of tangled vines and spiky palms recede into the rearview mirror, you’ll emerge to the quiet dusty streets of Port Barton, a place that is as charming and laidback as it is beautiful. Ripe mangoes droop by the roadside, things roll at a delightfully slow pace, shoes are entirely optional and the post-card perfect beaches are wonderfully free of crowds.
After a busy travel morning, take things down a notch with a leisurely stroll around town and a lazy afternoon by the water. When the sunlight begins to fade sending ripples of golden light across the bay, settle in for happy hour at one of the many beachfront cafes and prepare for the best show in town – the sunset.
Sunsets in the Philippines are always something special, but the ones I witnessed at Port Barton were among the best I’ve seen.
| Plan Your Trip To Port Barton |
BUS + VAN | Vans and public buses bound for Port Barton depart Puerto Princesa at least every two hours. As of June 2019, there are 7 daily departures at 7:30 a.m. then 9 and 11 a.m., and 1, 2, 4, and 6 p.m from the bus station. From the ‘Salvacio Stopover’ intersection, the trip should take around 2.5 hours.
If you’ve opted for the Underground River Tour from Puerto Princesa instead, you can make your way to Port Barton either in the evening or early the following morning by catching a van or public bus from the San Jose Bus Terminal.
Russell Place | This chilled-out hostel sits a short walk from the centre along the road to White Beach. Beds are enormous and include a light, fan and shelf for each bed. There’s also an open-air common area, basic guest kitchen and they can help you organise tours and transport for the same price as anywhere in town. Check for rates and availability here.
Coco Rico Hostel | Of course, it wouldn’t be a Palawan beach town without a token party hostel and Coco Rico is that place. Set in the heart of town, this hostel offers clean and spacious rooms and has a bar and terrace area where nightly social events are held. Check rates and availability here.
Santa Claus Hilltop | Set a short way back from the beach, this family-run B&B offers up wonderful views of Port Barton and the bay. Rooms are simple but include an excellent breakfast and receive consistently high ratings. Check rates and availability here.
Take to the jungle with a hike to Pamuayan Falls which sits just 5km from Port Barton amongst a lush knot of verdant forest. The waterfall itself is not huge, but it’s a lovely place for a morning walk and offers up a refreshing spot for a swim.
To get there, you can either take a tricycle (around 150₱/€2.50) or walk 3km along the new road before veering right through tall bamboo groves and farmland. When you reach the small registration office, sign into the visitor book and leave a donation (50₱ to 100₱ per person is fine) before setting off along the final and prettiest stretch of the trail that will lead you to the falls. It’s a tranquil spot and the tall trees provide a much-needed respite from the sweltering heat.
Return to town in time for lunch at Mabuti Eat & Chill, which is a perfect spot to, well, eat and chill. Set in a garden with whitewashed wooden furniture and pebbled floors, the food here is also fresh and delicious. Their ethos is all about sustainable living and you’ll find fresh smoothies and plenty of salads on the menu. The mango bowl was my favourite!
When afternoon rolls around, make a beeline for White Beach, a wide swath of fluffy white sand fringed in coconut-laden palms and calm turquoise seas.
Located 4km south of town, it’s possible to arrive on foot or by scooter, but more fun is to hire a kayak and slowly paddle across the bay taking in the palm-fringed shores and pristine beaches along the way. It’s a 45-minute paddle but you can certainly explore further afield and return to White Beach return to relax later on.
You’ll find plenty of hammocks, ample shade and a long sunlit beach to settle in with a good book, podcast or deliciously cold drink. Shallow reef also wraps around the bay making it a great spot for snorkelling.
Head back a short while before sunset when the folds of Palawan shift into silhouette and the water begins to shimmer in tones of gold, orange and midnight blue.
Back on dry land, head to dinner at Reef Cafe on the far side of town. This Port Barton favourite caters mostly to westerners, but the delicious burgers are perfect for anyone in need of a break from yet another plate of sisig.
| Plan Your Trip |
KAYAK | Kayak rental costs 500/700₱ per day (€8.50/12) for a single/double kayak, or you can ask for a discount for half day or hourly rental. I rented mine from El Busero Inn located right on the beachfront, but PaoPao Kayak Rental also has a small stall set up near the Jambalaya Cafe.
Island hopping tours are one of the best things to do in Palawan and what a trip to the Philippines is all about!
Sun-drenched days on deck, postcard-perfect beaches, countless swims and snorkel sessions, cheeky rum coconuts and an enormous, deliciously fresh island feast.
Admittedly the scenery around Port Barton is not quite as impressive as those you’ll find in El Nido and Coron, but it’s still a fun way to spend the day on the water.
| Plan Your Trip |
Tour A is the most popular option and includes six stops – Twin Reef, Wide Reef, Inoladoan or German Island, Turtle Place, Exotic Beach and Starfish Sandbar. Most stops are around 40 minutes except for Inoladoan where you’ll be given a few hours to relax while lunch is being prepared.
Tours B, C and D each have slight differences that focus more on snorkelling, beautiful beaches, waterfalls or local villages.
Tour prices are standardised across town costing 1,200₱ (€21) which includes lunch, snorkel gear and island fees, plus a 50₱ (€0.80) environmental fee which you can either pay on arrival in Port Barton or when leaving for the tour. It’s also possible to organise a customised private tour for around 7,000₱ (€121) for the boat.
The winding road toward Palawan’s northern tip will have you careening around tight corners as brilliant bursts of green vegetation flash by. If you’re prone to motion sickness or have had one too many happy hour cocktails the night before, I’d recommend taking precautions for this ride!
I arrived at El Nido in a torrential downpour which didn’t let up for days. With its distant limestone islands swaddled in angry clouds, the place bore a far closer resemblance to the windswept Faroe Islands than the tropical island paradise I’d been expecting.
Moody weather aside, there’s no denying El Nido is an incredibly beautiful place.
Take the afternoon in El Nido to get your bearings and recuperate before a jam-packed day tomorrow. Take a walk along the waterfront and around the bend to Calaan Beach before returning to enjoy a magnificent sunset over Cadlao Island from one of the many beach bars.
As one of the Philippines tourist hotspots, restaurants in El Nido were among the most expensive I encountered and were often underwhelming. One super low-key and affordable place that I loved was El Nido Veggie Burger, a very literal hole-in-the-wall, one-man-band establishment where you’ll find tasty vegan and veggie burgers, balls and curries. Owner Paul does everything here so the wait can be slow if it’s busy, but best is to put your order in, go for a walk and take your food away to enjoy by the water.
| Plan Your Trip To El Nido, Palawan |
GET THERE | There are just 3 services each day from Port Barton to El Nido leaving at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. with Recaro Transport. Tickets cost 600₱ (€10.50) from the terminal, though I booked through my hostel for the same price and also received a free tricycle transfer.
GO PLASTIC FREE | El Nido has introduced a ban on all single-use plastics as a way to combat the alarming increase in trash that began washing up on its beaches. This means no plastic bags, bottles, cups, straws, utensils, take away containers and (for the most part) cigarettes are allowed to be used around town or on boat tours. Even the men selling coconuts out on the water must provide bamboo straws for guests to use.
Compared to places like Indonesia and Malaysia where piles of trash are all too common, the difference here is stark, and while it’s not a perfect system, it’s an excellent start and fantastic to see a small community like this taking action.
As visitors, we can and should all do our part to help out by avoiding unnessesary plastic waste at every opportunity. If you’re given a single-use plastic, always ask for an alternative, like a paper bag or straw instead of a plastic one, or none at all. Cigarette butts are also banned within town so be sure to dispose of them responsibly.
All around El Nido, dramatic limestone peaks pierce the horizon with stark rugged cliffs climbing above the clear aquamarine, and the best way to experience its magnificent beauty is on an island-hopping tour
After two days of rain, a brief break in the clouds was all the encouragement I needed to get out and start exploring.
I went with Tour A which brings you to Big or Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Seven Commandos Beach and Shimizu Island for snorkelling. The spectacular limestone cliffs, impossibly blue water and good company made for a wonderful day of exploration, but the real highlight was paddling between the towering cliffs of the Big Lagoon which is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Palawan. Be sure to put this on your itinerary!
| Plan Your Trip |
There are four options for island hopping in El Nido, each bringing you to a different mix of locations. Along with Tour A, C is generally considered to be the best of the bunch and is therefore also the most popular.
Prices for the most popular tours start at around 1,400₱ (€25) which includes an enormous buffet lunch, snorkel gear and all entrance fees. You’ll also have the option to rent a kayak to explore the Big Lagoon for 300₱ (€5.50) which you can share between two, and reef shoes for 100₱ (€2) which are helpful for visiting Secret Lagoon where the seabed is littered with sharp rocks.
TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP |
| In order to manage tourist numbers, local authorities limit the number of visitors at each attraction, particularly the most popular spots like Big Lagoon and Secret Lagoon. This may affect the order of your tour but should help disperse the crowds.
| Many tour agencies aim to have a full boat and so groups are often mixed together. I actually quite enjoyed this as it meant there were plenty of people to chat to on board, but if you’d prefer a smaller group, consider a private tour or a more expensive operator.
| Check whether the entrance fees, kayaks and snorkel gear are already included. This is often the biggest factor in price differences.
| Be sure to leave all single-use plastics (including water bottles) behind as these are not allowed on the tour boats. Smoking is also prohibited.
Island hopping may be the highlight of any visit to El Nido, but there’s also plenty to keep you occupied on land with a number of beautiful beaches, some epic viewpoints and a buzzing local market nearby.
Start the day with a spectacular view over El Nido and its islands with the Taraw Cliff Walk which takes you on a via-ferrata style experience through the tree canopy emerging high on the cliffs overlooking the endless blue of El Nido Bay. The walk opens at 8 a.m. when you can catch the morning light washing across the islands and the village bustling to life.
More adventurous folk may like to tackle Taraw Peak, El Nido’s highest point which involves a very rough scramble up jagged rocks. A guide and proper footwear are essential and this hike should only be attempted in dry weather.
Next, visit the local market before heading north to Nacpan Beach, a firm favourite in El Nido, to while away the rest of the morning sprawled in the sunshine on this glorious stretch of sandy coastline.
For sunset, make your way south to Corong Corong Beach for a lazy evening stroll, or head straight to Las Cabanas to catch the sun sinking behind the islands that fill the horizon.
Unfortunately, tricycles in El Nido are wildly overpriced for foreigners and drivers simply won’t take you for anywhere near the local price. Instead, consider renting a scooter or negotiate with a driver for a multi-stop tour across the day.
Psst… got an extra day up your sleeve? Consider tackling Tour C, kayaking the spectacular bays of Cadlao Island or enjoying the many beautiful beaches in the area.
Taking the ferry from El Nido to Coron and Busuanga Island will mean a very early start.
Unfortunately, the low-pressure system sweeping across the north of the archipelago during my visit brought with it larger swell than I would have liked turning what could have been a beautiful ferry crossing into a rather unpleasant journey.
Still, the early departure time means you’ll arrive in Coron by mid-morning allowing enough time to recover from the trip before heading out to explore a few sights around town.
For lunch, head to Lolo Nonoy on the main road, a large no-fuss and good value local eatery. The barbecue sets on the menu are made to order and are the best value, though they do also have a pre-prepared section. On the street, be sure to stop by one of the many buko stands for your choice of coconut drink, either pure coconut water or a delicious shake.
Similar to El Nido, options for eating out in Coron are rather thin on the ground and while there are a few nicer restaurants for dinner, most are fairly expensive.
Climbing behind the narrow chaotic streets of Coron Town lies the vivid green slopes of Mt Tapyas. Honestly, having ‘mountain’ in the name is a slight exaggeration, it’s just a hill, but in the humidity and searing heat so synonymous with this part of the world, the 721 stair climb up will have you drenched in sweat.
From the top, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views over the bay peppered with the strings of rugged islands for which Coron is famous and a new perspective across the verdant foothills that roll away beyond the city limits. The Hollywood-esque Coron sign is also a favourite selfie spot.
This view is best enjoyed at sunset when shadows creep across the islands and dusk stains the bay in burnt orange. Head up around two hours before sunset to ensure you have enough time to make the hike and explore the trails that fall away on the far side of the hill. Just stick to the ridgeline and turn back before you get too far.
After the leg-burning climb up Mt Tapyas, soothe your muscles at Maquinit Hot Springs located 4km outside of town.
Met with surprisingly mild temperatures during my visit, the water was deliciously warm with a cool breeze rippling through the surrounding mangrove forests. A very short boardwalk beyond the main pool takes you through the trees to a lovely outlook across the bay.
To get here, tricycles charge a set price of 500₱ (€8.50) return which is rather expensive if you’re travelling solo, so try to get a group together if you can. If you’re not going in the evening, it’s also possible to take the 1-hour walk along the dirt road which leads through quaint villages with waterside views. This was what I did and managed to get a ride back with another group for just 50₱ (€0.80).
Entrance to the hotsprings is 200₱ (€3.50) and it’s open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. though bathers may stay until 10 p.m.
| Plan Your Trip To Coron, Palawan |
FERRY | Contradictory to everything I had read online, there was just one daily ferry from El Nido to Coron that departs at 6 a.m. Tickets are 1,760₱ (€30.50), plus a 20₱ (€0.35) terminal fee which must be paid at the port before departure. In bad weather, the crossing can be fairly rough so take precautions if you get seasick, the airconditioning is freezing so bring a jacket and be sure to book your tickets in advance as they do sell out, especially in high season.
TOUR | If you want to avoid the hassle of organising transport within Coron, it’s also possible to join a very affordable afternoon Coron City Tour which takes you to Mt Tapyas, the local market, a few town attractions and the cashew factory which is a key part of the local economy, before ending the evening at the hot springs. Book a Coron Town Half-Day Tour here.
Dayon Hostel | A decent budget choice offering small rooms and a large rooftop terrace that makes a lovely place to chill out and meet other travellers. As with much of the Philippines and especially in Coron, wifi here isn’t great. See rates and availability here.
Bay Area Coron | This charming guesthouse in the centre of town receives excellent reviews from guests who love the delicious breakfast, the helpful staff and the hominess of the rooms. See rates and availability here.
For all other accommodation options in Coron, search here.
If you’re a keen diver, Coron and the armada of world-class wrecks concealed within its depths are most likely the thing you’ve been holding out for.
Smattered across the narrow channel between Busuanga and Culion Islands lies nearly a dozen shipwrecks that, much like the Solomon Islands, are the result of sustained WWll conflict between the Japanese and US military forces. Narrow swim-throughs and tight passages make these sites fun to explore, though they are more suited to advanced divers.
Barracuda Lake is another fascination spot and despite having very little in the way of marine life, is well worth a visit. The craggy cliffs you see above the water plunge into the eerie depths of the lake and as you drop down, passing through the thermo and haloclines where the water temperatures soar to 37 degrees, you’ll discover a curious mirage-like surface shimmering before your eyes where the salt and freshwater layers collide.
It’s a dive that’s all about fun and dive guides usually allow plenty of time to play with the fine bed sediment and practise your moonwalk – the Neil Armstrong kind, not the Michael Jackson, a distinction that had me well confused before seeing it in action as I imagined us attempting to do the MJ slide in flippers across the sharp rocks.
| Plan Your Trip |
DIVE | I went with Corto Divers and would happily recommend them. Despite our wreck dives being cancelled several days in a row due to the stormy weather, they kept me in the loop and always offered an alternative trip. Boats were spacious and well set up for diving, lunch was great and a cheeky post-dive beer is always a nice touch.
Seasonal rates here are competitive and they organise a standard dive package which includes stops at Barracuda Lake and two wreck sites giving you the best of both worlds.
BEST TIME | Technically you can dive here all year round, but as I learnt, the occassionally violent weather of the rainy season can very quickly put an end to your dive plans. As the main channel is exposed to the ocean, the coast guard is at liberty to ground all boats if large swell rolls in. November through May is the best time to visit, while December to March has the best visibility.
When it comes to island hopping in the Philippines, everyone has their opinion of who does it better – El Nido or Coron.
While El Nido is the one that often sneaks into the lead, for me Coron was the absolute winner.
Jagged cliff lines and iridescent lagoons cast a dramatic setting to explore, while the lack of crowds and long leisurely swim stops made an already epic day even more enjoyable. The bottle of rum being passed around may have also had something to do with it.
There are numerous options for island hopping tours in Coron taking in a variety of snorkel spots, beaches and lagoons.
Depending how much time you’ve got you can visit all the main sites over several days and explore at a slower pace, but for this particular Palawan itinerary, I’d suggest cramming it all into one action-packed day. Longtime readers of The Sandy Feet will know that I thrive on slow travel and that the former option would normally be my first choice, but with days of dreary weather on the horizon, the latter simply made more sense at the time and so I headed out on an Ultimate Island Tour.
Despite the many stops (there were 7 in total!) and the incredibly long day, it was a fantastic day out and never felt overly rushed or like I was missing out on anything. Whichever tour you choose, know that Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon are the absolute highlights and should not be missed!
| Plan Your Trip |
Ultimate Island Tour | While a more laidback pace would normally be more my style, I actually really loved this tour. It’s a long jam-packed day that includes stops at Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon, Siete Pescados and Skeleton Wreck for snorkelling, CYC and Smith Beaches for swimming and an optional stop at Barracuda Lake, and is also excellent value when compared with taking two separate tours. Best of all was saving Kayangan Lake until last when there were just two other boats in the area rather than the dozens which swarm this place during the day. Of course, if you do have more time and better weather, I wouldn’t hesitate to split this trip across two days.
Of the other tours, A and B stop at the more scenic and dramatic locations, while C and D are a little more offbeat and offer the opportunity to escape to Coron’s lesser-known hideaways.
Tour A | Kayangan Lake, CYC Beach and snorkelling at Coral Garden.
Tour B | Barracuda Lake, Banol Beach, Skeleton Wreck, Twin Lagoon
Tour C | Enjoy snorkelling and pristine beaches at Malcapuya Island and Bulog Dos Island
Tour D | Snorkelling at Lusong Gunboat, a WWll shipwreck, beaches and viewpoint on Pass Island,
Many agencies, group bookings together so as to fill their boats, though it’s also possible to book a private tour if you’d prefer. As always, be sure to read reviews before making a booking.
So you’ve had a pretty good taste of Palawan, but where to next? It’s possible to depart Coron via plane or boat depending on your next destination.
FLIGHT | Busuanga Airport sits around 30 minutes from Coron Town and is easily reached via van transfer with hotel pickup. Book your transfer here for just 200₱ (€3.50).
There are daily direct flights from Busuanga to several locations in the Philippines, including Manila, Puerto Princesa, Cebu and Caticlan (for Boracay). I’d suggest always booking on the morning flights as afternoon departures are far more likely to be delayed or cancelled.
FERRY | Every Friday, the enormous 2Go ferry sets sail from Manila bound for Palawan, stopping at Coron and Puerto Princesa before making the return journey on Sunday. It’s a 24-hour trip but if you’re on a tight budget it can often work out much cheaper than flights.
LIVEABOARD | Love diving? Then continue the adventure with a Liveaboard dive trip beginning in Coron and sailing across the spectacular Apo Reef to Busuanga. If you were doing this Palawan itinerary in reverse, there are actually many more options for Liveaboard trips travelling the opposite direction.
Alternatively, make your way back to Puerto Princesa in time for a fantastic trip to Tubbataha Reef, the Philippines’ and one of the world’s best dive spots, which is only accessible via liveaboard between March and June.
Choose Your Direction
This trip begins in Puerto Princesa and traces the beach towns of Palawan toward Coron, but you could just as easily do it in reverse. Something to bear in mind though is that the impressive clifflines of both El Nido and Coron are a far more imressive than the landscapes further south and make a wonderful high note to end your trip on.
Palawan Weather + The Best Time To Visit
As you may have guessed, I had absolutely dreadful weather for virtually my entire Palawan trip with torrential rain, wild wind and big swell that seriously disrupted my plans. I arrived in late June which is the beginning of the rainy season, and while I was assured that it generally only rains for an hour or so and the rest of the time is good weather, this was certainly not my experience.
Weatherwise, the best time to visit is between October and May which is the dry season. However, as Palawan sees a drastic increase in tourists from December to February, it’s a good idea to visit outside of this period for the best combination of good weather and thinner crowds.
When To Book Your Palawan Accommodation
Despite being one the Philippines’ tourist hotspots, Palawan’s towns are actually quite small. While the number of accommodation is growing fast, it is still essential to book ahead if you’re travelling during peak season when foreign and local tourists alike arrive in full force.
It’s Far More expensive than elsewhere in the Philippines
As soon as you land in Palawan, expect prices on just about everything to increase. I guess that’s the price you pay for visiting the world’s most beautiful island.
The Internet Is Awful, Everywhere
I repeat, awful! Internet in the Philippines was never great, but Palawan seemed to have it even worse. On the plus side, it did help me kick my Netflix addiction but if I ever needed to look up any kind of information, it was often too slow to actually use. I’d highly recommend doing the bulk of your planning, research and booking in advance so that you really don’t need to worry about it when you arrive.
Choose The Van
Elsewhere in the Philippines, it’s almost always a longwinded process trying to get around, often involving far too many hours and convoluted routes which numerous transport changes. Not so in Palawan! Something they do really well is the van system. Sure it’s just for the tourists but it means you can get from A to B quickly and easily and often for around the same price as local transportation. So, do yourself a favour and take the van when you can!
Most tours are standardised
Island hopping is an essential part of any Palawan itinerary and thankfully, many of the tours are now standardised across the board offering the same itinerary at the same price. Of course, there are variations for private tours or more luxurious boats, but it definitely makes picking the right tour for you a whole lot easier.
Waterproof camera | With so many water-based activities, you’ll want a decent waterproof camera to capture all the action. I use the Olympus Tough TG-6 which is super durable and waterproof up to 15m, so perfect for snorkelling and visiting all the lagoons. For the wreck dives, simply pair it with this underwater housing which extends its depth capabilities to 45m.
Light rain jacket | A rain jacket may not be the first thing that comes to mind for a beach holiday, but in the Philippines, it’s an absolute essential in case of any sudden tropical downpours (which I experienced plenty of)! I love my Patagonia Torrentshell which is lightweight and packs down small when you’re not using it.
Reef safe sunscreen | If you’re here to see the reef, you wouldn’t want the chemicals in your sunscreen to destroy it. Honestly, I’m still trying to find a brand of sunscreen that I love, but these are a few that come recommended: Stream2Sea, Sun Bum Mineral, Tropical Sands and Blue Lizard.
Sun protection | The sun in the Philippines is blazing hot and you can definitely get horribly sunburnt, even if there’s a light layer of cloud. Along with your reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, polarised sunglasses and a light, long-sleeved shirt are a good idea for any outing.
Reusable Essentials | As a single-use plastic-free zone, you’ll want to come prepared with a few reusable essentials, like a tote bag for any shopping and water bottle (I use this one) that you can refill as needed.
A dry bag | After three weeks in the Philippines, I finally caved and got myself a dry bag and it was probably the best thing I’ve bought in a long time. Onboard the small banca boats, where people are clambering in and out of the water, the decks get absolutely soaked, but having a dry bag like this one means you can still bring your electronics without them being destroyed.
Reef shoes | I rented these for my El Nido Island Hopping Tour, but if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the Philippines, you might consider buying a pair in advance as they’ll certainly come in handy.
Seasick medication | Strong winds and big swell are rather common in the exposed parts of the archipelago, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season when wind and waves pick up. Instead of spending your time onboard feeling dreadful, take precautions instead.
Rehydration salts | High-intensity days, blazing temperatures and the chance of an upset stomach mean you’re likely to get dehydrated at some point. I always travel with a pack of rehydration salts just in case.
Insect repellent | Given the cooler climate and constant rain, I didn’t have a huge problem with mosquitoes, but I met plenty of travellers who did. Always have some repellent with you just in case, though try to use a natural variety rather than the chemical-heavy DEET products if you’re going to be using at the beach.