Welcome to the first article on a series of posts on probably one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world, the Philippines. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking you on an adventure through the islands of the Philippines, obviously not all of them, as there are over 7000 islands in total, but at least the most Insta worthy of them all. I am half Filipino and have visited this stunningly beautiful yet equally poverty-stricken country with a rather turbulent political history around five times before and I wish I could go back more often. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to our first island, Palawan.
Palawan is a place in this world that seems too beautiful to be real. With white sand beaches, limestone cliffs, dense jungle and clear, turquoise water, this island is a true paradise. Voted one of the best islands in the world by The National Geographic, Palawan should be at the top of your list for your next South East Asian adventure. Surrounding the island itself, there around 1000 other little islands that you can literally explore all to yourself and feel like you have your own private island for the day. The beaches of Palawan are largely untouched, and the reefs showcase a variety of colourful corals, tropical fish and sea turtles. The locals are incredibly friendly, always offerings a smile and willing to share with you their secrets of the beautiful island that Mother Nature has blessed them with.
What to Do?
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
This national park features an impressive limestone landscape with an underground river which you can pass through by boat. Puerto Princesa National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List with a unique, biodiverse habitat. The river emerges directly onto the sea and is one of the most important forests in Asia with a vibrant ecosystem.
Honda Bay is located on the eastern side of Palawan near Puerto Princesa. It is known for its snorkelling and the best way to visit this bay is through a tour. Go Palawan offers daily island tours which include access to Luli Island, Starfish Island, Cowrie and Panden Island. Go snorkelling or diving in the bluest water you will ever see amongst brightly coloured coral and marine life.
Ugong Rock was a dwelling place of the native islanders based on the hundreds of artifacts found in the surrounding area. Today is a popular adventurous tourist destination for those that want to explore the caves and go zip lining through the jungle.
Plaza Cuartel has a rather morbid history as it’s the sight where 150 US soldiers and Filipino soldiers were burned to death by the Japanese during WWII. The Philippines has a brutal history of colonisation and war and if you are interested in history there is a lot of information to take in.
Hands down the most beautiful, picture perfect island paradise in the whole world! I’ve been to Thailand, Samoa, Fiji and this takes the cake! I know there are hundreds of more islands in the world to visit but I have never seen anything as spectacular as El Nido. It’s a bit of a trek to get to but it’s well worth it. From the city of Puerto Princesa, there is a shuttle bus that takes you through the winding roads of the island. The drive is 6 hours but again, you’ll appreciate the scenery once you get there. Some of the most beautiful places in the world are the most challenging to get to. There is a direct flight from Manila to El Nido but the flights are infrequent and more expensive than flying straight to Puerto Princesa. Once you arrive at your destination, explore the serene and tranquil Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon and Corong Corong Beach. These sites have been featured in blockbuster movies The Beach and Bourne Legacy.
Tip, for some extra cash after visiting the top tourist’s sights, your local tour guide can arrange a more personalised tour with you of more isolated islands where you can actually go camping on an island. If you are the more adventurous type and like to rough it a bit, this is for you.
Nagtabon Beach is the perfect spot if you want to relax on a beach that is frequented by less tourists and is less commercialised. It is also a great spot for surfing or if you’re not a surfer, appreciating the surfers perfecting their barrel rolls 😉
Starfish Island is known for, you guessed it, the range of small and big starfish in the clear blue water surrounding the island. The beach has a few huts on stilts for island hoppers to relax in and enjoy a seafood and fresh fruit picnic.
Iwahig Firefly Watching
This is a dazzling experience where you can get close to nature and watch the fireflies flicker in the night’s sky. Go Palawan offers firefly watching tours with a traditional Filipino feast.
Another snorkelling lover dream, Pambato Reef is accessible via boat transfer from your accommodation which takes you to a pontoon in the middle of the ocean. Here you can jump into the warm water and swim around the reef. Around the pontoon, there are posters of all the sea life you might see on your swimming adventures.
Tabon Caves is known as the Philippines’ ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ and is accessible only by boat. Part of a human skull was found here that is said to be around 22, 000 years old which makes it one of the earliest discoveries of human civilisation in the Philippines.
Where to Eat?
KaLui Restaurant – this is a local seafood restaurant in Puerto Princesa serving fresh seafood in a traditional Filipino wood house. The interiors are decorated with paintings by local artists, some which can be purchased.
La Terrasse – local food at its finest served outside on a tranquil terrace. The best place to enjoy the sunset, cocktail in hand.
Art Cafe – as well as a cafe serving fresh produce, this is also a boutique selling local arts and crafts. Proceeds go to the local creatives and a focus on conserving the natural beauty of the island.
Fat Tony’s Restaurant – this looks like a hole in the wall but there is more to it that meets the eye. The food is top notch traditional, no fusion here. If you want to taste some of the best Filipino dishes, head to Fat Tony’s.
Badjao Seafood Restaurant – the main dining area of this restaurant is under a large communal, wooden hut. It’s a bustling venue with a great atmosphere.
Trattoria Altrove– located along Calle Hamma in El Nido, this is an Italian restaurant that serves top quality Italian dishes. If you just want a hit of good, oily, cheesy carbs look no further!
Tambok’s El Nido – feeling like a good BBQ? Tambok’s serves seafood and a variety of meats cooked on a grill.
Odessa Mama Street Cafe– food cooked with loved, Odessa Mama serves filling dishes that taste hearty and home cooked.
Where to Sleep?
The best time of the year to visit the Philippines is during their dry season which is from January-May. The average temperature in the Philippines is 26 degrees so it’s pretty hot for most of the year but during the dry season the humidity is more bearable.
Airbnb – I can’t recommend Airbnb’s enough! Stay in a villa and even on your own private island.
- Susan’s Place Bed & Breakfast
- Swiftlets Inn
- Aziza Paradise Hotel
- Palto Alto Bed & Breakfast
- Cadlao Resort & Spa
- La Natura Resort
- Dolce Vita Hotel
How to Get There?
Depending on where you travel from, you have to first travel to the capital of the Philippines, Manila. From there, there are a lot of cheap flights available to the surrounding main islands of the Philippines such as Palawan. If you want to get to smaller islands around Palawan, best access is by boat from the ports. The flight from Sydney to Manila takes around 7 hours and then a further 1 hour and 15 minutes to Palawan.
Stay tuned for our ultimate bucket list guide to the Island of Coron!
Words by Tamara Bose.