The island of Palawan is a tropical paradise on the western edge of the Philippines. It’s white sandy beaches, spectacular limestone cliffs, miles of coral reef and crystal clear waters make it the perfect destination for an adventure-filled diving vacation. The island also has delicious local food and beer, excellent resorts and a relaxed capital city to explore, so unwinding after a day’s diving in Palawan is guaranteed to be a rich and rewarding experience. Got your flippers ready?
But first…in order to make the most of your time in this unspoiled, rugged ‘heaven on earth’, it’s best to plan ahead. To help you make the biggest and best splash possible, here’s our list of recommendations for what to do during your stay in Palawan; don’t forget to record the activities that most appeal to you in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Explore the Coral Reefs at Tubbataha With some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, Tubbataha is a wonderful diving location where you can record mental photographs of the hugely diverse marine life that lives in the near-transparent waters. As the Philippines first National Marine Park and a UNESCO world heritage site, this one deserves the spot on the top of our (and your) list.
Go Wreck Diving at Coron Bay Named by Forbes magazine as one of the ten best dive sites in the world, while Coron Bay has lots of stunning coral reefs and rock formations it’s best known for its spectacular wreck diving. Coron Bay is littered with sunken WW11 Japanese warships and with underwater visibility stretching for up to 20 meters, exploring their eerie cadavers is bound to be a particularly memorable experience.
Sail into the Abyss at Paul’s Subterranean River The Subterranean River National Park is the world’s longest underground river. Canoe and paddle boat tours take you deep into this alien world with bats flying over your head as you take in its strange and beautiful limestone formations. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has recently been nominated as one of the world’s New7Wonders of Nature.
Experience the Adrenaline Rush of Cliff Jumping in El Nido Let local experts show you the best cliff jumping locations that Palawan has to offer. Leaping from limestone cliffs into the turquoise depths below will get your heart racing and blood pumping; if you have an adventurous spirit, go for it! Jumps range from 8m to 20m and all will require a climb. (Be warned: some climbs are fairly difficult and will require some climbing skills/experience.) A day spent cliff jumping with friendly local Palawanians is a day you’ll never forget.
Go Island Hopping at Honda Bay Honda Bay is 45 mins from Puerto Princesa and is home to many pristine virgin islands including Pandan Island, Starfish Island, Cowrie Island, and Luli Island. You can either take a boat tour or rent your own boat to travel between islands at your leisure. The water is beautifully clear and the reefs below are teeming with exotic sea life. Pandan is the busiest island, with lots of water sports and activities.
Stroll around Palawan’s Beautiful Capital City, Puerto Princesa Despite its relatively intimidating nickname, “The City of the Living God” is a friendly and laid-back place with a lovely, gentle vibe. Guided tours are a good way to make sure that you tick off all of the fun attractions that this city has to offer (tip: don’t miss the immensely pretty Immaculate Conception Cathedral). For culture vultures, Plaza Cuartel, a historic square where Filipino and American soldiers were massacred during the war, is a site of great historical importance. Puerto Princesa also has some excellent restaurants and bars as well as a creepy and cool Crocodile Farm.
Swim with Whale Sharks The ocean that laps against the shores of Puerto Princesa is one of the world’s best locations to find and dive with a whale shark. This gentle giant is the largest fish in the world and can grow up to 12m in length and weigh 20 tons! They’re enormous but also totally harmless filter feeders who survive on plankton and tiny fish. Local dive companies offer tours to try to find these sometimes elusive creatures. Another option is to go out with a local guide, often a fisherman, in a traditional bangka outrigger canoe.
Take a trip into the past at the Palawan Museum This interesting little museum has knowledgeable and friendly guides who will be happy to educate you on the fascinating history of this gorgeous island.
High-end El Nido Resorts Pangulasian Island is an eco-luxury island resort in Bacuit Bay, set between a picture-perfect beach and a tropical forest. It has a fine selection of luxury villas designed in a contemporary Filipino style as well as an excellent restaurant and sumptuous spa.
Medium Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Puerto Princesa is only 7 kilometers from Puerto Princesa Airport and lies on the white sand shores of Emerald Beach. This hotel has beautiful waterfront views, a swimming pool, restaurant and lots of watersports on offer and when you want to relax you can be sure that your room will be cool, clean and comfortable.
Budget Dallas Hostel, Puerto Princesa provides relaxed and friendly budget accommodation in central Puerto Princesa, only a short walk from all local amenities. The friendly local staff are very helpful in organizing tours to many of Palawan’s main attractions.
Infused with Asian and Spanish influences, Filipino food is hearty and delicious. Tasty pork-based dishes are on most menus and the country’s national dish is Lechon, a suckling pig roasted over charcoal. Deep fried pig’s trotters, known as Crispy Pata, are also very popular. For the bold, Kaldereta is a savory stew of mutton, liver, cheese, capsicum and chillis in a tomato-based sauce.
Chao Long noodles is an element of Vietnamese cuisine brought to the Philippines by the refugees who migrated here during the Communist occupation of South Vietnam…steeped in history and are super tasty!
You can get uber-fresh seafood (often plucked from the turquoise ocean just minutes before serving) everywhere on Palawan.
Sugar fiends rejoice, as there are also plenty of treats available for the more sweet-toothed visitor. Baker’s Hill in Puerto Princesa is an area that has an abundance of delicious bakeries serving buns, cakes, sweets and breads.
You won’t have to go far to enjoy authentic cooking, as most resorts have good restaurants that serve decent Filipino and international cuisine.
KaLui is the most popular restaurant in Puerto Princesa and is famous for its delicious fresh seafood dishes.
If you feel like a detox from fried food and noodles, La Terrasse is an organic food restaurant in Puerto Princesa that serves clean, green, eco-friendly local food.
Drinks and Nightlife
Although Palawan is not a party island, Puerto Princesa has some nice, low-key bars and nightclubs. Elsewhere on the island, entertainment is supplied by the resorts and hotels.
Palawan Wit is the local craft beer, a sweet, refreshing wheat beer that’s perfect for sipping by the beach on a warm Palaweno evening.
Tips and Culture
Palawan is considerably busier at peak season (October – May). Low season (June – September) is also typhoon season and gets (unsurprisingly) very wet; it is not recommended to visit during these months.
Travel around the island is quite easy, with frequent buses and shuttles running between the main attractions and resorts. Taxicabs are not common but motorcycle taxis and tricycle rickshaws are fairly ubiquitous and easily hailed in any reasonably busy area.
Due to the island’s extreme natural beauty, hiring a car and driving around at your leisure can be a very enjoyable experience.
Spend a Few Days in Beautiful Boracay The quintessential paradise island, Boracay has been voted the ‘Best Beach in the World on more than one occasion. This world-famous resort island has some of the most pristine white sand beaches and tropical scenery that you’ll ever see and is only a short plane ride from Palawan. Water sports such as banana boat riding, snorkeling, kayaking, diving and windsurfing are all popular here. Boracay has a vibrant night-time party scene with lots of exciting restaurants, bars, live music and dancing. There are hundreds of hotels and resorts on Boracay and accommodation here ranges from backpacking hostels to luxury resorts. Getting to Boracay from Palawan takes a few hours but it is well worth the effort. The easiest route is to fly from Puerto Princesa City to Caticlan and then take a 15-minute ferry ride to the island of Boracay. During peak time (November to April), it’s best to book seats early as it’s a very popular route.
Palawan, Philippines is an island of incredible natural beauty and the diving has to be experienced to be believed. It is a bucket list-topper for anyone with a passion for diving and incredible scenery. Copy your favorite recommendations into your BUCKiTDREAM planner and while you explore the coral reefs and shipwrecks, why not share your experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?