Palawan Revisited: One Week in Paradise
I have fond memories of Palawan from visiting Coron and El Nido for the first time in 2012.
From the white sandy beaches of the little islands, the towering limestone formations above the lagoons, to the ever bewildering coral reefs underwater.
It was no question to revisit these favourite places when I went back to my homeland, The Philippines. To be stunned, again and again.
Coron, Busuanga Island
Our first day in Coron was spent exploring the township, which has expanded since. There are now more hotels and restaurants lining the main road. E-tricycles out and about, ready to take the next visitor to their next destination.
Tourists have been flocking to these islands with its growing popularity. The places that once seemed remote and deserted are now filled almost to the brim.
My favourite back then was Malcapuya Island, which was the most pristine island I have ever set my eyes on. Waters so clear, rock formations so astounding. It was the perfect picture of serenity. We spent the whole day there and felt like we had the whole island to ourselves.
This time, it was a quick stopover—it's still a beauty to behold but the one I had imprinted on my memory was by far the best. The halo-halo served there was heavenly! Very generous servings of all the best halo-halo ingredients.
Among the islands we visited, Ditaytayan Island was the most memorable with its long white serene sandbar. This has just been recently opened to the public and is a lot quieter than the popular spots like Kayangan Lake.
The clarity of water in Palawan is astonishing. Diving or snorkeling in the lagoons allows you to see right through the water and be in awe of the limestone formations underneath.
If you’re staying in town, The Funny Lion is a boutique hotel/resort with modern amenities and a rooftop deck with an amazing view—and you do not have to climb Mt. Tapyas for that! There’s spa pools in the Pride Rock deck as well which makes for a good spot for viewing the sunset, cocktail in hand. Try the Calaui Coolers while you’re there. The property is a good 10 minutes away from town proper by tricycle and is situated in a secluded hillside area. The Hunt Restaurant serves modern Filipino dishes—the Salted Egg Cream Pasta is delish.
If you want to get away from town, Two Seasons Coron Island and Resort Spa is a quick boat ride away and is located in the Malaroyroy Peninsula of Bulalacao Island. This beautiful property has a sandbar that connects to an islet and there is plenty of sand and beach to roam around. Stay in the Sandbar Bungalow if you’re feeling fancy. It has the nicest view and closest proximity to Bulog Dos Sandbar. Paradise found.
There are plenty of activities to do in Coron. You can hike Mt. Tapyas and a lookout to the view of Coron Town and the surrounding islands and then relax at Maquinit Hot Springs early in the evening. Snorkeling is a great way to explore the islands and the lagoons. Prepare to be mesmerised by the limestone rock formations in Kayangan Lake or the Twin Lagoon. Bring your own snorkeling gear, although these are usually included in the tours. When we were there in 2012, there used to be one tour operator which was Corong Galeri. Now, tour operators are in abundance. While you may be saving money joining the group tours, it’s better to book a boat privately for your own use. You’ll get more out of your time and even go to destinations that aren’t originally part of the itinerary. Siete Picados is a marine sanctuary—you can snorkel for hours here. If you’re a diver, there’s plenty of dive sites too!
Bring a waterproof bag for all your essentials, especially if you’re bringing gadgets with you. And always, please be mindful of plastic waste. Love the ocean.
El Nido is another township in Palawan, which can be reached by small aircraft from Manila or a four-hour ferry ride from Coron. Similar to Coron, there have been recent developments around El Nido, with more accomodations, restaurants and bars in the town proper. It was October when we visited, the weather was balmy. We explored the recently opened Lio Beach Resort, an up-and-coming resort estate with an array of hotels, independent boutiques, and diverse restaurants. The property is owned by Ayala Land and you’ll see little hints of that come through to the design and planning of the area. The beach is wide and vast—there’s 3.4km of it! This are is great for sports activities too—there was a volleyball competition while we were there.
In the first evening, we headed to Maremegmeg Beach as the sun was beginning to set in hopes of reaching The Birdhouse just before dusk. The walk along the beach during sunset was mesmerising and I would consider staying in this part of the town on the next visit. The Birdhouse is a quaint restaurant resting on a hilltop right at the end of the beach. There are no signs and the locals will gladly give you directions (keep going until you see the mango tree, they’ll say). It’s nice relaxing walk through the mini-forest and then there’s the climb through bamboo staircase. The view up there is stunning.
There was an impending storm on our second to last day, but we were able to go out to sea and visit some stunning beaches in the nearby Cadlao Island, which is the largest in El Nido. Sunset Beach and Paradise Beach were among my favourites. Just thinking about them makes we want to go back. For views, nothing beats Helicopter Island. There are numerous beaches and islands to visit in El Nido, you can never really go wrong with any of them.
I remember Commando Beach had the most flour-like sand I’ve ever stepped on. It’s so soft and powdery that you sink just a little bit as you walk on the beach. Snake Island is a sandbar that connects two different islets. It’s stunning. There is also the Hidden Beach and the Secret Beach—the names aren’t really helpful at this point. You can snorkel at Shimizu Island as well—with lots and lots of zebra fishes.
Glamp at The Birdhouse at Maremegmeg Beach. The sunsets here are so dreamy and there are independent food establishments in one part of the beach. Plus, up on the hill, you’ll be greeted with the amazing view every morning when you wake up. They have meditation and yoga workshops and you’ll get to meet the lovely resident cats and dogs. In the evenings, they put out a fire, some cookies and marshmallows. They invite you to make your S’mores.
If you want to stay in town, Cuna Hotel is a great choice. It’s quite new and features sleek rooms. The hotel has a rooftop swimming pool as well as a restaurant and a bar with scenic views. Happy hour is ‘buy one, take one’. You get two glasses of Mango Margarita (my fave!) for the cost of one.
El Nido is abound with remote luxury resorts. Pangulasian Island in Bacuit Bay is El Nido Resorts Group’s eco-luxury resort and is on my wishlist!
Eat & Drink
Cafes and restaurants in El Nido are a bit more hip and diverse than those in Coron. Most are situated along the beach front and on the street behind the beach front. It’s quite a small town and it’s easy to walk along the street to pick and choose what your heart wishes. Happiness Beach Bar serves Mediterranean food and they have this amazing Okra Shakshuka. They make amazing hummus too. If you’re craving pizza, go to Trattoria Altrove Pizza. For power bowls, your best bet is Shaka Bowl in Lio Beach. There is a free shuttle service that goes to Lio Beach from town and back. Entry to Lio Beach was complimentary when we were there as the resort hasn’t officially launched yet. If there is a fee, I’d say it is worth it. There are tons of options of restaurants and eateries there.
Sunset drinks? Go to Republica Bar over at Maremegmeg Beach. It’s quite small, so get there early. Seriously, Maremegmeg is the ultimate sunset spot.
Coron vs. El Nido
People often ask should they go to Coron or El Nido, I say visit both as they have different characters and both have a lot to offer. There are a few more activities to do in Coron, such as hiking, diving, and deep water snorkeling. El Nido has amazing white-sand beaches, the softest your toes will ever feel and has a more laid-back vibe. It’s perfect for bumming at the beach, taking in the sights, swimming a little, and just be. If you decide to visit both, fly from Manila to Coron, and take the ferry to El Nido. To go back to Manila, book a flight with SwiftAir. You’ll love the resort-style airport in El Nido—it’s located inside Lio Estate.
For a different experience, join one of Tao’s Boat Expeditions. Their itineraries are hands-on and veer away from the touristy areas. They have island retreats and you camp on different islands.