When it comes to Palawan, everyone thinks of El Nido (someone could also add Coron), and in fact, it would not make sense to come to Palawan and not go to these two places, which are simply breathtaking!
However, there is so much more in Palawan, which, let’s not forget it, is an island about 400km long.
Plenty of deserted beaches, marvelous naturalistic sites, rivers, waterfalls, forests, rice fields, remote villages where time has stopped (and the stress with it) wait to be discovered and enjoyed.
So, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track and explore the authentic Palawan!
It’s often the most unsuspecting areas that have the most unforgettable experience to offer.
1. Scuba Diving in El Nido
Yes, of course. You can not go to Italy and do not visit Venice, as you can not come to Palawan and do not dive in El Nido!
The city is invaded by tourists and has nothing authentically Filipino, but if you can overlook this, then you will be rewarded with a boat tour that takes you to absolutely unforgettable places!
There are many island hopping tours in El Nido, just make sure your trip includes a stop by Simizu Island! One of the most fun experiences is visiting Simizu Island where you can hop over the edge of the boat and get up-close and personal with tons of curious fish.
From the water, you’ll get gorgeous views of the limestone cliffs that surround a small stretch of beach. Some think this island looks like a natural, tropical castle. You can swim ashore for some great photos in a surreal surrounding.
Do not miss Nacpan and Calitang, the twin beaches of El Nido, as well as other natural spots like Makinit Hot Springs, Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, Kuyawayaw Waterfalls & Sibaltan Beach.
2. Beaches of El Nido area
Step away from the city of El Nido and you will find a sequence of beaches one more beautiful than the other.
We suggest Secret Beach tucked away in a hidden cove, Nacpan Beach which is 4-kilometers of smooth sand and coconut trees, Pangalusian Beach that looks like a postcard, Las Cabanas Beach with warm water perfect for relaxing.
You can arrive in El Nido on a 1.5-hour flight to Puerto Princesa Airport (PPS) from Manila, followed by a 5 to 6-hour shuttle ride (mini-van).
Or you can land in the new San Vicente Airport, followed by a 2 to 3 hours by van. If you want to skip the long land journey, fly directly to El Nido from Manila (about 1 hour), Cebu or Borcay (the fastest but most expensive way). For adventurous travelers who want to maximize their trip, book a flight to Coron-Busuange Airport (USU) and continue the sea journey to El Nido by ferry.
3. Coron & Calamian Islands
When you see wonderful underwater photographs of “Palawan the most beautiful island in the world“, most of these are photos of Coron.
Let’s go to Coron then. Here, you can see colorful coral gardens, pristine waters, lots of marine life and even sunken WWII Japanese shipwrecks. Coron holds the comparison even when it comes to scenic views over the water. This paradise is home to hidden lakes and lagoons blessed with emerald to bluish waters, and many fine white sand beaches.
There are several islands worth visiting during your boat tour in the Calamian Islands. Don’t miss Banol Island, Banana Island, Atuayan Island, Malcapuya Island, Black Island (Malajon Island) & Calauit Island. Meanwhile, popular dive sites include the Irako, Akitsushima & Skeleton wrecks.
As for the lakes don’t miss Kayangan Lake and Baracuda Lake.
The Coron Airport is located on the northern of Busuanga Island. Flights from Manila with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, PAL Express, Skyjet or Air Juan. There are also El Nido-Coron slow ferries routes.
4. Port Barton
Port Barton is a quiet village in the San Vicente district, a smaller and more laid-back version of El Nido. It is popular among budget backpackers and travelers who want to experience the relaxed rural atmosphere of Palawan. Here, you can go about and explore many pristine off-shore islands and beaches on island hopping tours, at a cheaper price that boat tours offered in El Nido.
Venture over to Port Barton, a sleepy fishing town on the North West coast of Palawan. Think of Port Barton as a less crowded version of El Nido where you enjoy almost the same attractions for half the price.
Go kayaking on the sea, explore rocky cliff sides, get a good tan while laying on a sandy beach- you get the picture. See how locals live as they fish, take their buffalo on a walk, or head to school.
5. San Vicente
San Vicente is a lesser-known town in Palawan, located about halfway between Puerto Princesa City and El Nido, in the northern part of the island.
Unlike those more popular tourism hotspots, San Vicente is largely devoid of luxury frills. Instead, the relaxed pleasures of the city offer a very different kind of stay for those who prefer peace and tranquility and above all for those who want to get closer to the true local culture.
San Vicente boasts some of the best beaches in the Philippines for nature lovers, coral reefs, stunning waterfalls, rich marine biodiversity, verdant forests, mangroves, and a range of endemic wildlife species.
As such, San Vicente is called the next big destination in Palawan.
The most interesting part is that San Vicente has not yet been invaded by mass tourism, so this is the right time to visit it!
It is also easily accessible thanks to the brand new airport.
6. Tabon Caves
On the extreme tip of a large peninsula that extends from the southern half of Palawan, you will find the Tabon Caves. The Tabon Caves are important to the Philippines as they host one of the oldest discoveries of human inhabitants. Remains of the Tabon man, along with his artifacts, were found right on this site. Then, the Tabon Caves are also a National Museum.
When you visit, there are 2 large cathedral-type caves to explore, called Grotta Diwata and Grotta Liyang. Rent a boat to get you and point you in the right direction. When you find the caverns, you will open your eyes wide: the limestone formations embedded in the cave seem alien.
7. Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
With a quick 20-minute journey from Puerto Princessa, you will find the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center which is a haven for endangered, injured or abandoned animals. The center is dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of animal species that thrive here.
Like the Crocodile Farm, which rears dozens of young crocodiles until adulthood. The species would otherwise struggle to survive. You’ll see some huge Palawan crocodiles in their habitat and, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be there during the meal.
There are lots of bird species including eagles, hawks and hornbills and an education museum to satisfy your curiosity.
8. Underground River
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a protected area of the Philippines.
The park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the western coast of Palawan, about 80 km north of the city center of Puerto Princesa, and contains the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and voted as a New7Wonders of Nature in 2012.
It’s one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and intact old-growth forests and distinctive wildlife.
The highlight of this subterranean river system (8.2 km long) is that it flows directly into the sea, with its brackish lower half subjected to tidal influence, distinguishing it as a significant natural global phenomenon.
9. Island Hop in Honda Bay
There are many islands bordered by the beach here in Honda Bay. The most popular for swimming and snorkeling are Luli Island, Starfish Island, Panden Island and Cowrie Island.
A 45-minute boat ride from Puerto Princesa, Honda Bay offers an island-to-island tour that will make all your vacation dreams come true.
Explore Pandan Island, Cowrie Island, Luli Island, Starfish Island and Verde Island. All these islands offer enchanting white sand beaches, with turquoise waters so beautiful that you wouldn’t want to leave.
You can spend the whole day from island to island in Honda Bay, where you will have the opportunity to snorkel, explore the hinterland of the islands and dive into the water. These tours typically offer lunch and snacks throughout the day.
10. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
The Tubbataha Reef is another remote place to see in Palawan. This 970 square kilometers national park is a must for divers. It is the place to see one of the highest biodiversity of marine life in the world. Tubbataha Reef is one of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
How to go — The easiest way is to go on a cruise boat from Puerto Princesa. The boats typically leave the city in the evening and arrive at Tubbataha Reef early morning.
11. Ugong Rock Adventures
Ugong Rock is a natural rock formation just north of Puerto Princessa that is beautiful, wild and makes a strange noise when touched. Several tour operators offer hilarious entertainment around this formation and travelers like it a lot.
Descend in and out of the rock caves with the speleologist, climb up to the zip line as you catapult yourself through the jungle at high speed, and walk through the jungle on some strategic paths that lead to incredible panoramas.
12. Estrella Falls
Estrella Falls has one of the most swimmer-friendly plunging pools of any waterfall on the island. Flowing down Victoria Peak, these 20-foots rapid falls rush off a rocky ledge splitting into two waterfalls as they fill up a clean, blue basin below. From the clear pool, the water keeps flowing downstream into two other pools of varying depths. There is a lot of space to play and splash around.
You can find Estrella Falls about 95 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa in a town called Narra. Hire a private car to drive the 2.5-hour distance, or make Estrella Falls a stopover on your way to the southern part of Palawan.
13. Bakbakan Falls
In Brooke’s Point, you can find Bakbakan Falls. This 64-meter waterfall is beautiful and unspoiled, as it doesn’t get as many visitors as the more touristy areas in Palawan. The waterfall slides down a smooth rock slide into a nice cool pool where you can take a dip.
To get there, take a van going to Seven Falls Hot Spring and Nature Park Resort. Next, you should easily be able to find a guide that will transport you to the falls via tricycle and guide you through the hike to get there.
Nearby you’ll find the Mainit Hot Springs that are perfect for a quick dip after your hike.
14. Tay Tay
Tay Tay is located halfway between El Nido and San Vicente. On your way to or from El Nido, stop over this little town and visit the Taytay Fort (Fuerza de Santa Isabel), maybe the best preserved Spanish-colonial stone fortress remaining in the Philippines. Consider extending your trip on a tour to Taytay’s offshore islands that are still largely unspoiled and undiscovered by mass tourism.
This off-the-beaten-path town is certainly worth a stop during your Palawan adventure. Located just below the province of El Nido, this place has a lot to offer.
Take in a bit of history from the 17th-century Spanish invasion by visiting the fortress called “Fuerza de Santa Isabel”, the Church of Sto. Niño, or the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Go inland and explore natural wonders such as the Canique Waterfall, Pinangyarihan Falls, and Lake Manguao. Or get on a boat and go island hopping in Tay Tay Bay. You can also find beautiful stilt bungalows on the water and comfy jungle guesthouses.
It’s quite a surprise that Tay Tay is typically skipped over completely … Come see what they’re missing!
15. Balabac Islands
Balabac are the southernmost islands in Palawan. The main draw here is 31 gorgeous islands still vastly undiscovered by the tourist.
These islands are surrounded by pristine nature, transparent waters and white sand beaches. Yes, the sandy shores of many beaches here are a blinding white to off-white, many even have a blushed pink hue! If you’re looking for the best beaches & most crystal clear waters in the Philippines, Balabac is worth a spot at the top of your bucket list.
How to go: to get to Balabac from Puerto Princesa, you will need to make a transit stop in Rio Tuba, Bataraza where you catch boats to the islands of Balabac. Rio Tuba is 4 to 5 hours south of Puerto Princesa by land. From Rio Tuba, you can go on a passenger boat to Balabac Island (mainland). Or, hire a boat for your island hopping tour. The sea journey from Rio Tuba to Balabac Island takes around 4 hours.