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A long way from the bustle of the dense capital Manila, Palawan is The Philippines’ least populated portion of the country. While there may not be as many people living there, the aquatic paradise has recently become a social-media celebrity favorite which will undoubtedly increase tourist traffic — just ask Iceland what happens when Instagram starts to like you. For those trying to beat the crowds to the Filipino haven for white sand beaches, coral reefs, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, be sure to stop at some of our top locations amongst Palawan’s 1,780 islands.
El Nido, the region and city at the northern tip of Palawan’s main island, is home to a diverse ecosystem and beautiful locales where limestone cliffs drop into clear tropical waters. Serving as the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago, the region’s most popular destination, tourists can island hop and visit one of the thousands of nearby lagoons that teem with marine life. Conde Nast Traveler currently lists El Nido as the fourth most beautiful beach in the world. Elsewhere, the El Nido Marine Reserve Park is an excellent place for a scuba dive; the underwater attraction reveals a wildlife sanctuary for marine critters like the now protected giant clam, sea turtles, and white-tipped reef sharks.
Known by locals as Calis, this beautiful island is a perfect destination for outdoor adventure seekers. Like everywhere on the Palawan islands, the beaches are stunning, but Coron Island also has dramatic scenery in its interior. Marked by two lakes, Kayangan and Barracuda, hidden in the dense jungle, they are accessible only by skirting ledges of rocky walls near the lakes’ waters. Meanwhile, half of Twin Lagoon can only be reached by swimming through an underwater opening. Coron Island is also argued to be the best island in the world for dive sites, including wreck sites comprised of sunken World War II-era Japanese warships.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
This protected area 50 miles north of Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, is well known for its tours into the caves that house one of the longest underground rivers. The area is home to many bizarre and rare animals like the Palawan hornbill, bearded pigs, and binturong, as well as bearcats that smell like popcorn. For those planning a trip who want even more thrills, send Ugong Rock Adventures an inquiry. This guide team runs underground river tours also offers up adrenaline-inducing activities like superman zip-lining and spelunking. However, be sure to visit during the dry season, as rains will often close the national park.
Bonus: Nagtabon Beach, which is relatively close to Puerto Princesa, is heralded as the area’s best beach that no one has heard of. Expect peaceful beaches and maybe a couple waves to surf.
This municipality to the south of El Nido is worth an afternoon visit for its Spanish Colonial architecture, which is most noticeable at the large fortress that guards the beach. Although traditional, the fortress’ exterior is slowly succumbing to nature’s influence, a mossy reminder of the Philippines’ past. From Taytay take an excursion to Kuyawyaw Falls, a multi-tiered cascade that is somewhat secretly located off the highway and is ideal for taking a swim in the jungle.
In between the Palawan hubs, El Nido and Puerto Princesa, Port Barton is a quintessential Southeast Asia beach getaway with warm waters and plenty of palm trees perfectly situated for hammocks. When doing research on the pristine getaway, Google will return a number of results asking if Port Barton is a better destination than El Nido, and many times the response seems to be a secretive and whispered ‘yes’.