Palawan Philippines is often described as one of the ‘Last Frontiers’ in Asia because this rugged, dramatic and at times wildly beautiful island is a place that until only recently was almost untouched by tourism.
The secret is well and truly out though and Palawan is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines and is consistently ranked by travel media outlets as one of the world’s best islands.
Despite the growing visitor numbers though, it’s not hard to find secret spots that still carry that ‘Last Frontier’ feel, and the island is so diverse that with a little digging you are sure to unearth some truly breathtaking sights when you travel here.
To help inspire your trip to Palawan Island here’s our ultimate guide to the most up and coming destination in the Philippines.
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How to Get to Palawan
In many ways, Palawan is a remote destination to travel to, but now more than ever, it’s becoming much more connected to the rest of the world. Palawan is found in the southwest of the Filipino archipelago and comprises not just the main island itself but thousands of smaller islands too, including the islands of Coron and the Calamianes to the north.
The main transport hub and the capital of Palawan is Puerta Princesa City which is found in the center of the island. This is where the largest airport is located, and Puerta Princesa City Airport has good connections across the Philippines although very few internationally.
If you are wondering how to get to Palawan from Manila then the best option is to fly. Several airlines including Air Asia and Philippines Airlines offer direct flights, a journey time of one and a half hours. If you book in advance flights can be great value. There are also several flights a day to Cebu, another big hub, and to Davao in Mindanao. If you are flying internationally then you will need to transit through either Manila or Cebu to reach Palawan.
There are also long-distance ferries that run between islands, however, the journey time from Manila to Palawan is extremely long and disruptions are very frequent. Unless you have a lot of time then this is not an advisable option.
How to Get Around Palawan
The main island of Palawan is very long and thin and most destinations are located along the coast and can be a considerable distance away from each other on busy and rough roads.
There are many comfortable minibuses traveling between the main tourist destinations and it’s easy to arrange transfers for good value with guesthouses. If you are on a real budget then you can travel local style in the flamboyant Jeepney Trucks that navigate the island.
From Palawan to Coron, which is located in the north, the only way to travel is by boat. You can catch these from El Nido daily although expect the journey to take much of the day depending on conditions.
What to Expect in Palawan
Although Palawan is busier than ever – aside from a few key destinations – it’s very much still an undeveloped destination. You can expect travel between towns to be unpredictable and slow so allow time for journeys, while hotels and accommodation can be sometimes lacking in amenities or services with access to WiFi being a particular problem due to poor infrastructure.
You will find that Filipinos are incredibly friendly and willing to help out, and for the most part, locals will speak impeccable English even in the most remote locations.
The local currency is the Filipino Peso, and outside of Puerta Princesa and Nido town it’s advisable to carry enough cash as ATM access can be limited.
The Best Time To Visit Palawan
Palawan’s southern location ensures that it experiences hot weather year round, however, travelers need to be wary of the fact that the Philippines is prone to very extreme wet seasons.
The dry season generally runs from November to June and this is the best time to visit Palawan. The weather is hot, the water is clear, and the chance of rain is almost non-existent. This is also when prices are at their highest as it is, of course, peak season.
July to the end of October is the rainy season and you can expect frequent downpours during the day. Although it’s not impossible to travel this time of year, be wary and plan ahead, as Palawan has occasionally been hit by fierce tropical cyclones. If you are looking to save money and avoid the crowds then this can be an interesting time to visit Palawan too.
Where to stay in Palawan
The island’s accommodation scene is growing fast and there is a great range of hotels and guesthouses for visitors to consider when deciding where to stay in Palawan. The cheaper options tend to be family run and you are best turning up and asking around for a good deal. The higher end Palawan resorts can get booked out in advance, so try and reserve a spot early. Here are some of the best resorts.
Hue Hotels and Resorts – This is the best hotel in Puerto Princesa offering modern rooms, spa facilities, and an outdoor swimming pool to cool off in.
Funny Lion – The Funny Lion is Coron’s most premium, boutique hotel. Rooms are limited here, but if you can get hold of one you are treated to an infinity pool overlooking the islands and a rooftop bar complete with hot tubs.
Cauayan Island Resort – This is El Nido’s luxury offering, and it’s situated on its own secluded island and only accessible by boat from the main town. It’s everything you imagined paradise would be.
Things to do in Palawan
Cruise the Underground River
One of the top things to do in Palawan is to take a cruise on the Underground River. Officially known as the Puerta Princesa Subterranean River National Park this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site like few others in the world.
Found close to Palawan’s largest city it makes for a wonderful day trip. It’s a surreal experience, as the river take your through the vast caverns while the water glows strange, vibrant shades of turquoise, blue or green. In the surrounding area, you will find towering limestone karsts as well as pristine jungle.
It’s impossible to visit Palawan and not join an island hopping trip. With thousands of islands to be found here it makes a lot of sense to hit the ocean and to make a day of it.
The best locations for island hopping are undoubtedly El Nido or Coron where you can find hidden lagoons, deserted beaches, and the tropical scenes you will have seen across Instagram.
Organize boats with local tour companies and employ the expertise of the local captains to find the best, hidden areas in Palawan.
Snorkeling and Diving
With clear water and colorful coral Palawan has the perfect conditions for snorkeling and Scuba Diving. Across the island, there are many tour operators providing Scuba outings, while on any island hopping trip you will most certainly have the opportunity to snorkel.
Wreck divers should head to Coron, where during World War II several Japanese ships were sunk by the American Navy around the islands. Today they are artificial reefs that attract an incredible array of marine life.
If you haven’t got a qualification don’t worry, you can do that in El Nido or Coron and enjoy some of the best diving in the world while you only just learning.
Enjoy Lazy Beach Days
Palawan hasn’t been named one of the world’s best islands for any old reason. This is truly a place to enjoy the beach, and lovers of sun, sand, and sea will find that after visiting Palawan, few other places will truly compare.
Almost any town around Palawan will have a seemingly spectacular beach, but those in the north, including Nacpan Beach, are particularly popular.
Party in Palawan
With a growing tourist scene and an influx of backpackers to the island then a few destinations are becoming famed not just for their natural scenery but for their vibrant party scene. If you are looking to enjoy the nightlife in Palawan then the best place to visit is El Nido where the town backs straight onto the beach and where the sand is literally lined with bars that stay open until the early hours of the morning.
Places to Visit in Palawan
The main hub and city has little in the way of sights to see in the center, but it’s a great base from which to explore the nearby areas. There are many great things to in Puerto Princesa, from the Underground River to the ziplines and cave explorations of Ugong Rock.
Port Barton is one of the most undeveloped destinations in Palawan and it makes for a great place to relax and simply do nothing at all. It’s really just a small fishing village with exceptional scenery and some excellent island-hopping opportunities. This is the Palawan of your imagination, but be warned, it’s rustic.
El Nido Palawan is the most developed location on the island and one of the most popular. Here you can find tour companies, great hotels, and all the bars. Take on an island hopping trip and find the now not so Secret Beach before hopping between lagoons and snorkeling spots. Take a trip north to the pristine Nacpan Beach for a true taste of the tropical Philippines.
Coron Palawan is a more laid-back version of El Nido and locals here will tell you that their islands and beaches are the most beautiful of the two destinations – although that will always be a fierce debate.
Coron is home to some almost unreal islands and here you can find the fabled Kayangan Lake which boasts some of the clearest water in the world. The only way to experience the landscapes here is to hit the archipelago by boat, jumping off to explore hidden beaches and secret lagoons. Endless limestone cliffs stretch to the horizon while underwater pristine coral and a huge array of marine life is waiting to be discovered.
What to Eat in Palawan
The Philippines may be more renowned for its beaches than for its cuisine, but in Palawan, you will find a great number of authentic national dishes that you have to try. The best value places to eat are always the local eateries, where you can find buffet style selections, but those with a weak stomach may prefer to try the more upmarket restaurants, which are generally found in the higher end resorts and hotels and which by western standards are still incredibly cheap. Here are a few great dishes to try when visiting Palawan.
With such an extensive coastline it’s no surprise then that the best meal to be found in Palawan is a seafood BBQ. From snapper to king prawns and everything in between, you can find some fresh and delicious seafood in almost any town or hotel resort. In the evenings, many restaurants put on huge seafood BBQs, while on the island hopping tours you are guaranteed to be served up a fine selection of fish on a white sand beach for lunch.
Pancit is a noodle style dish, served simply with vegetables and meat, but it’s this simplicity that makes it so popular. You can find dedicated Panciteries in any city, town or village in Palawan and it’s one of the most inexpensive meals going.
Lechon is a Filipino classic, a dish that was even described by the late Anthony Bourdain as being one of his favorite in the world. Lechon is slow roasted pork, and for meat lovers, it’s exceptionally tender and outrageously delicious.
Sisig is yet another simple yet tasty Filipino classic. Take the meat of your choosing, chop it up and fry it on a hot plate with chili and other garnishes before serving with a cracked egg on top.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Palawan
- Palawan: Puerto Princesa and El Nido – 4 Days and 3 Nights
- Underground River Day Trip from Puerto Princesa City
- El Nido Island-Hopping Tour
- Firefly Watching in Puerto Princesa
- Puerto Princesa – Underground River Tour
- Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour from Puerto Princesa Including Lunch
- Puerto Princesa City Tour
- El Nido Island Hopping: Hidden Beaches and Shrine Tour Including Buffet Lunch
- CORON TOWN TOUR WITH DINNER & BONFIRE
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