13 July 2019.
Port Barton doesn’t make it onto many people’s Palawan itinerary, but it really should.
For traveller’s seeking the perfect combination of quaint fishing village and empty beach paradise, something that has become increasingly difficult to pin down in the island’s north, this peaceful town on Palawan’s west coast might just be the answer.
Following a memorable, white-knuckled drive marked by scenes of tangled vines and spiky palms that flash by in a blur of startling green, you arrive to quiet dusty roads where ripe mangoes droop by the roadside and the methodical sloshing of the ocean can be heard just a few blocks away.
Despite still feeling like something of a hushed secret along the Philippines backpacker trail, locals are already preparing for this small town to become the next big thing, hoping to cash in on their share of Palawan’s booming tourism industry.
In the past few years alone, guesthouses and hotels have shot up at an alarming rate, roads have begun to be paved and the first trendy cafes have opened their doors in preparation for the crowds that are expected to follow.
But for now, that laidback village charm is still very much alive.
The high rise hotels and throngs of traffic are yet to arrive and instead you’ll find long stretches of empty beach, an endless trail of palm trees, fiery sunsets and jungle-clad hills that are ripe for exploration.
It is inevitable that change will come quickly. But for now, Port Barton still the kind of place where things roll at a slower pace, shoes are entirely optional and you can always find a warm patch of sand away from the crowds.
Sound like your kind of place? These were my favourite things to do in Port Barton.
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
Island hopping tours are what a trip to Palawan is all about!
Sun-drenched days on deck, lazing on postcard-perfect beaches, snorkel sessions, cheeky rum coconuts and a deliciously fresh and enormous island feast.
Much like El Nido and Coron, Port Barton offers several island hopping options that incorporate beaches, snorkelling, fishing villages and waterfalls.
Unfortunately, a spell of wet and windy weather meant we spent more time sheltering from the rain than enjoying the tropical blues, but it was still a fun day out.
It’s probably important to add that while island hopping around Port Barton is a wonderful way to spend the day, if you’ve already visited El Nido and Coron, it’s probably best to temper your expectations. The scenery here is beautiful for sure, but it’s simply not as dramatic as the landscapes further north.
That said, the stops are also less crowded and the lunch on the Port Barton tour was easily the best of the lot – a feast of grilled squid, whole fish, barbecue chicken, salad, grilled eggplants and plenty of fruit – and allowed plenty of time for lounging on the beach rather than feeling overly rushed.
Island Hopping Tours | 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 on the beach while lunch is being prepared.
Tours B, C and D each have slight differences to focus more on snorkelling spots, beautiful beaches, waterfalls or local villages.
I booked my tour through my hostel and, as is usually the case in low season, was put with various groups from other agencies, ending up on the boat ‘Emmanuel 2’ with skipper Allen. Though it was quite basic the boat was in excellent condition, the staff were all very helpful and lunch was absolutely fantastic. For the price, I couldn’t have asked for anything more!
Cost | 1,200₱ (€21) including lunch, snorkel and island fees. I had seen a range of prices listed online but it seems that the cost of tours are now standardised across all agencies. It’s also possible to organise a customised private tour for around 7,000₱ (€121) for the boat.
You’ll also need to pay a 50₱ (€0.80) environmental fee either when you arrive in Port Barton or before leaving for the tour.
Unlike many waterfalls that require you to hire a motorbike to reach, something I was reluctant to do given the monsoon-soaked roads and the number of tourists I’d seen sporting fairly serious biking injuries, Pamuayan Falls is easily accessible on foot.
The falls sit just 5km from Port Barton amongst a lush knot of jungle. Admittedly the waterfall itself is not huge, but it’s a lovely spot for a morning walk through the forest and offers up a refreshing spot for a dip.
To get there, you can either walk the 3km along the new road before entering the forest or take a tricycle (around 150₱/€2.50). For walkers, start at the beach and walk to the far end where you’ll emerge at the road. Turn right and shortly you’ll see a rocky track leading off to the left. You can either stick to the main road or follow this dirt track which is more direct and will lead you past a cemetery before linking back to the main road.
From here, it’s just 1km downhill along the newly built road where eventually you’ll see an obvious dirt road veering right which you’ll need to take.
The road winds through tall bamboo groves and farmland and receives very little traffic. When you reach the small registration office, sign into the visitor book and leave a donation (50P to 100P per person is fine) before setting off along the small trail through the forest.
This last section is the prettiest and follows the river before emerging at the pool and Pamuayan Falls. It’s a tranquil spot and the tall trees provide a much-needed respite from the sweltering heat.
You’ll find a basic little shelter on either side of the pool and a fairly unkempt bucket flush toilet.
If you are travelling by bike, or tricycle, there’s another waterfall further north that you could visit in the same outing. Bigaho Falls sits 9km north of Port Barton and is a short 700m walk off the road.
| The waterfall area may be wonderfully cool, but the same can’t be said for the road there which has very little shade. Make use of the cooler temperatures in the early morning or afternoon, bring proper sun protection – hat, shirt and suncream – and plenty of water.
| The entire route is marked on Maps.Me which is a useful guide in case you get lost. As the main road is only new, it is still labelled as just a walking track but you’ll get the idea.
| If you’re short on time, both Pamuayan and Bihago Falls can be visited as part of the island hopping tours.
As daylight fades and the water begins to ripple in tones of gold, orange and midnight blue, it’s time to amble down to the shoreline, pick up a drink at one of the many beachside stalls and settle in for the best show in town – the sunset.
Sunsets in the Philippines are something special, but the ones at Port Barton were definitely among the best I’ve seen.
Many of the beachfront cafes also have happy hour deals so really, there’s no excuse not to get down here and enjoy.
Wandering the dusty streets of Port Barton, I saw dozens of the usual tourist posters advertising nearby snorkelling spots and beautiful beaches, but it was the faded image of a tiny dinghy bobbing beneath the jagged mouth of a cave that continually caught my eye.
As I discovered, the cave itself, part of the recently renamed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (yep, it’s a mouthful), is actually found near Sabang, a sleepy seaside town that boasts beautiful beaches and is surrounded by dense jungle and jagged limestone karsts fed by a brilliant blue river.
While I didn’t actually make it here – my curiosity got the better of me far too late in my visit – I met a number of others who did and the consensus seemed to be that while it was an awfully long day trip, even the short time spent in the cave was awesome, a unique experience and absolutely worth it.
The most popular way to visit is on a day trip from Puerto Princesa or Port Barton which involves 4 hours in a van trundling down a bumpy road and tackling the crowds for a 45 minute trip through the actual cave. Staying overnight in Sabang instead seems to lend to a far better experience and allows you to jump on the first boat of the day (before the day trippers arrive) and continue on to your next destination by early afternoon. For more information on Sabang and visiting the cave, see this guide.
If you’ve been searching for a wide swathe of fluffy white sand fringed in coconut-laden palms and calm turquoise seas, then this is it!
A bumpy track now separates postcard-perfect White Beach and its neighbour Coconut Beach from Port Barton giving you the option to arrive by either land or sea.
I paddled out one afternoon beneath a blanket of grey sky that hinted at the storm to come and, despite the decidedly unbeachy weather, was pleasantly surprised with just how beautiful this place was.
Rows of rattan hammocks hung between the trees, tall palms provide ample shade – just watch out for the coconuts – and at low tide, the steep shoreline offers up plenty of space 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.
There is a resort here, though it’s fairly low-key and well camouflaged between the trees, and with just a couple of boats bobbing on the water, it simply makes a much prettier spot to while away an afternoon than the beach in Port Barton. Technically, there is a 50₱ (€0.90) entrance fee, but as I visited quite late in the day, no one came to collect.
How To Get To White Beach |
White Beach sits less than 4km from Port Barton and can be reached by motorbike, kayak, boat or on foot. If you decide to go by road you could easily tack this on to a full day of exploring after visiting the waterfalls to the north, but I think it’s actually a beautiful spot to arrive at from the water.
However you choose to get there, try and time your return with sunset when vibrant amber tones shimmer across the bay – an incredible way to end the day.
Kayak | It takes around 40 minutes to paddle across to White Beach, though expect to make a few photo stops along the way. If you’re making it a whole day adventure, there are also a number of other nooks you could visit further afield. Kayak rental costs around 500/700₱ per day (€8.50/12) for 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.
Boat | Boat prices are set across town and you can either visit White Beach as a standalone outing or add it onto a longer beach hopping trip. At the time of writing, boat trips to White Beach cost 150/300₱ (€2.60/5.20) one-way/return per person. Customised itineraries can be negotiated with the captain.
Walk + Bike | From the town centre, take the quiet street heading east of town, past Michaella’s Guesthouse and Russell Place. It’s 4km each way with a few small bungalows set beside the water. Scooters can be rented for around 600₱ (€10.50) per day in town.
Despite its small size, accommodation is springing up all over Port Barton in anticipation for the growing numbers of tourists. While many accommodation options are still fairly basic, there are a few charming guesthouses with a beautiful location.
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.
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.
My Green Hostel | This new addition to Port Barton’s hostel scene is located a short walk from the centre of town. Guests love the comfortable beds, chill vibes and friendly hosts. No wifi here.
V.Villas | This collection of bungalows set around a lush garden receives great reviews. You’ll find hot showers here – a rarity in Port Barton.
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 receives consistently high ratings.
Port Barton has some great places to eat and no doubt there’ll be many more on the way.
Reef Cafe | Located on the far side of town, Reef Cafe is a Port Barton favourite catering mostly to westerners. Delicious burgers are the big drawcard here, perfect for those in need of a break from another plate of sisig.
Mabuti Eat & Chill | Set in a tranquil garden with whitewashed wooden furniture and pebbled floors, the place instantly sets the vibe to chill, but the food 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.
For self caterers, there are a few small markets scattered around town but the selection is no where near as good as you’ll find in El Nido or Puerto Princesa. Stock up before arriving if you can.
Get To Puerto Princesa
Flight | Palawan’s main airport in Puerto Princesa has daily flights between a number of destinations in the Philippines, as well as international flights from Taiwan and South Korea. Try to book as far in advance as possible as prices increase dramatically the closer you get.
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. Seas can get rather rough, especially during rainy season once you leave the shelter of the islands.
Puerto Princesa to Port Barton
Unlike the rest of the Philippines where getting just about anywhere requires half a dozen transport changes, Palawan has a well-organised network of tourist vans which make life a whole lot easier.
Recaro Transport operates all vans travelling to and from Port Barton. When you leave the airport, there are dozens of vans out front so just ask at the information or security counter if you’re unsure where to go.
Cost | 450₱ (€7.80). Initially I was charged 500₱ but after showing written confirmation that my hostel said it should only cost 450₱, the attendant quickly backtracked.
Duration | 3 hours
Schedule | As of June 2019, there were 7 departures each day starting at 7:30 a.m. then 9 and 11 a.m., and 1, 2, 4, and 6 p.m.
Public Transport | Ordinarily, I’d always opt to take the local transport, but you’ll quickly realise that everything in Palawan is far more expensive than elsewhere in the Philippines. Given the price of the van comes out more or less the same as the tricycle and public bus option but is much faster, it just made a whole lot more sense to take this route.
Port Barton To El Nido
There are just 3 services each day between Port Barton and El Nido leaving at 8 a.m., and 1 and 5 p.m. again using Recaro Transport. I booked through my hostel for the same price as tickets sell for at the bus station and also received a free tricycle transfer to the terminal.
Cost | 600₱ (€10.50)