Is Palawan Worth it for a Vacation?

Chances are you have heard about Palawan, it’s home to the world’s best beaches after all, and you’re wondering if it’s worth a visit. I went there, so you don’t have to.

Since Boracay is currently closed due to sewage issues, we were looking for the next best place in Philippines, and Palawan kept popping up in searches.

I heard of Palawan before, but I always thought it was a tiny island somewhere in Philippines.

Turns out, it’s actually a rather large island, and one of the most bio-diverse in the Philippines at that. So we hopped on a flight, and you just have to keep reading to find out what happened.

You Should Know…

Before we start, there are a couple of things you need to know.

  • Where: Palawan, Philippines
  • Budget: 600 USD (Hotel + Spending)
  • Where We Stayed: Blue Palawan Beach Resort

For one, Palawan is best known for El Nido, the northern tip that has beautiful beaches and throngs of Australian tourists.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it there because getting there is hassle. But it’s on our to-travel list for sure. Getting there is a hassle because you have to take a mini-van for about 6 hours on curvy and bumpy roads with unpaved sections. That didn’t sound like fun.

So we skipped it. Besides, we almost puked just being driven for an hour or two for the Under Ground River tour (skip down to find out more).

What we did do, is stick around the main city, Puerto Princesa. Probably not the funnest idea, but it works for us. Next time we’ll visit El Nido.

P.S. If you’re looking for a good camera to take with you, check this one out. 

There seems to be charter flights going there too, only from Puerto Princesa Airport.

Keep in mind, Palawan is a big island, and Puerto Princesa, the capital, is far from the best tourist locations.

Tip: Change money before coming here. And it’s best to have a bunch of 100 PHP bills, because tricycles won’t have change for anything bigger. 

Puerto Princesa:

Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan, the hub of the island, with connections to pretty much anywhere in Philippines. This is where you’ll land, in Puerto Princesa Airport (unless something strange happens).

The city itself isn’t particularly impressive, mainly filled with thousands of tricycles and Jeepneys (local buses). Typical for a small city in Philippines.

There’s not really much to do in the city, besides a few restaurants, bars, and markets.

The good stuff is out of the city, in more remote locations of Palawan. Unfortunately, getting to those places usually takes a couple of hours, with a hired driver.

Getting Around:

To get around Palawan you have a few options:

  • Hire a Driver
  • Hire Tricycles
  • Rent a Car/Motorbike
  • Jeepneys

The traffic is kind of crazy, with millions of Tricycles everywhere, so I wouldn’t recommend renting a car.

But you can rent a bike, if you are comfortable driving one and can deal with the traffic (and have a drivers license).

Tricycles are the most common transportation option in Philippines, especially on the islands.

Tricycles are basically motorbikes with a cage for two seats attached.  Palawan practically runs on tricycles. They’re everywhere and they are quite cheap too. Most of the drivers can also connect you to different tours or services, so don’t feel afraid to ask. Pretty much everyone speaks English anyways.

Jeepneys are like van/jeep hybrids that act as local buses.

Figuring out the stations is a bit complicated, and even when you do, each Jeepney is basically full all the time. So you pretty much have to sit on someone’s lap the entire trip, which isn’t that great (unless you’re into that sort of thing). We prefer the Tricycles.

And there are always tricycles waiting outside the gate of Blue Palawan. If there isn’t, the guards can probably track one down for you.

Prices vary, depending on the type of tricycle, and how much they decide to rip you off. But generally it’s around 80 or so Pesos for a couple kilometers.

They usually only charge a bit more for tourists than locals.

Get a bunch of small bills!

Where to Stay in Palawan:

 

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We stayed at a resort called Blue Palawan Beach Club, a decent resort about 20 minutes from downtown.

It’s right next to the beach, but it’s not really accurate to call it a beach. It looks great when the tide is high, but when the tide is low, the sand looks like mud and there’s a ton of seaweed.

To our surprise, the entire ground was crawling with crabs.

Wouldn’t recommend swimming here. It also smells a bit. The view is great though.

Luckily, they do have a pool, next to a bar.

At the resort, the rooms are individual cabins, with concrete walls and thatched roofs.

Really cute. They look quite basic, but inside you can find all the amenities normal hotels have, such as: air-con, shower, toilet, sink, TV, and what not.

We also had some sparrows sneak into our cabin and practice flying across the ceiling which was cool.

Not so cool if you don’t like waking up at 6 am every day. But you should, because that is when the tide is highest, and you can watch the sunrise over the still water.

Took this around 7 AM from our cabin.

This is what you can expect:

My only complaint is the resort is quite far from any other restaurants or shops, but there is a Robinson Mall a couple of kilometers away, straight down the road.

You’ll have to hire a tricycle to get there, and that doesn’t cost much, usually less than 100 Pesos.

The mall has pretty much everything you need: shops, restaurants, money-exchange, ATMs, etc.

Food Service:

Back to Blue Palawan.

Besides the view and cabins, the service at Blue Palawan is awesome too. They have a restaurant (and bar) that are open pretty much all day, and it’s a good thing at that too because there are a few other options nearby. The food was really nice, and prices are decent too.

Big portions.

Breakfast is an open-buffet and included in the price.

Their signature cocktails are delicious as well, about 200 Peso each.

Instead of trying to organize everything before arriving we just went to the hotel and asked for their tour services.

They can link you to pretty much all the major tourist spots in Palawan. We did Honda Bay Island Hopping and Underground River Tour.

There are some other ones too, but these are the most popular, and I’ll talk about them soon.

Overall, our stay at Blue Palawan was close to perfect.

The staff are incredibly friendly, and the food and views are great as well.

Book them here.

Palawan Tours:

The two major tours in Palawan are Honda Bay Island Hopping and Under Ground River Tour.

In El Nido, there are a lot more, but we didn’t make it there. Next time.

We did Honda Bay Tour first, and I’ll talk about that now.

P.S. This is a perfect to bring your Go Pro camera. 🙂 

Honda Bay Tour:

This tour takes about a full-day, and it includes a buffet lunch on Lu Lu island. As far as island hopping tours go, it’s pretty great.

Details:

  • Cost: 1,500-2000 Pesos Per Person, depending on who you book from.
  • Pick Up Time: usually 8 AM
  • End-time: Around 4 PM
  • Food: Lunch Included
  • Places Visited: Three (You can choose more)

Summary:

Pretty decent tour. Very close to Puerto Princesa. Corals aren’t in great condition, but there are plenty of fish to see. The islands are a great place to take pictures too. Worth it. 

Full details below.

Booking: 

You can book tours from pretty much anywhere, we booked our from our hotel.

When you book a tour with the hotel, a driver in a mini-van will pick you up from the hotel in the morning of the day you chose.

You might have to squish in with a bunch of other people. During the drive (takes about 20-30 minutes) the tour guide will let you know all the details, and probably ask where you’re from.

The van will stop at a small shop where you can rent goggles, flippers, water-shoes, snorkels, and anything else you might need. We got some snorkels and shoes.

From there you’ll go to the port to wait for your boat.

We had to wait for awhile. Generally, the boat will take you to three places: Crowley Island, Lu Lu Island, and a coral reef where you can snorkel, lunch is on Lu Lu island. The boat takes about 30 minutes to get to the first island.

Crowley Island:

Crowley Island is probably the nicest of all of them. It’s a small island with white-sand, palm trees, and a bunch of huts to lounge in.

There’s a restaurant too, but it wasn’t open when we visited. Actually, I think our boat was the first of the day, so the island was completely empty.

We beat the crowds of tourists, which is always nice.

The water is incredibly clear and blue, and you can swim around if you want.

I didn’t find any corals here, but I did find some fish. Basically it’s just a nice place to take pics and chill a bit.

You can, as a group, decide how long you want to stay. We stayed around 2 hours.

Snorkeling Area:

The order of the places you will visit vary depending how the tour guide organizes the tour, we went from Crowley Island, to the snorkeling area, and then finally Lu Lu island.

After awhile, the boat will dock in an open-water floating port, and you’ll be directed to a place you can jump in and swim around.

The reefs here are okay but I noticed there is a lot of damage from tourists, most of the corals are brown.

But you can still see a lot of different types of fish.

If you’re not a good swimmer, it’s recommended to use lifesaver. Even if just for safety, as there are a lot of people squished into a tiny area. I had a hard time getting any clear videos of the fish without people’s limbs getting in the way. Fingers often ended up in places they shouldn’t be.

Not that great (unless, of course, you’re into that).

We only stayed for a bit.

Lu Lu Island:

Lu Lu island is like a reef in the middle of the ocean with a few huts on it. When the tide is high, the entire island is under-water, so it’s only accessible at low-tide. It’s a cool little island, with shallow reefs you can swim around.

The restaurant is here, an open-buffet with local food, mostly fried stuff and rice. It’s a small hut, so it will be likely full of random tourists. Usually the tour guide will reserve enough seats. You still might be squished.

Once you’re done eating you’re free to roam around and explore. There’s a swimming area too, but we didn’t feel like swimming so we just walked around. When we were there the weather took a a turn for the worse, and it was quite cloudy and the water was a bit choppy.

After that, when everyone manages to make it back to your designated boat, the driver will take you back to the port, where you’ll be driven back to your hotels.

According the organizer, the tour usually ends around 4 PM but our’s ended earlier, at 2 PM, I guess people didn’t want to stay.

And then you can just go back to your hotel and chill until your next plan.

Under Ground River Tour

This tour takes a lot longer than Honda Bay Tour because you have to drive for a few hours, and then take a boat for like 30 minutes.

It costs about 2,000 Pesos for each person, depending on where you book it from.

Once again, the driver will pick you up from your hotel, usually with a bunch of other people inside the van.

Couple of things you should know:

  • Takes a Long Time to Get There
  • You Have to Submit Your Passport/ID for Paperwork

Getting to the Under Ground River takes a few hours. I imagine during the low season the wait is faster, but we had to wait awhile.

You also have to hand in some sort of ID to the tour guide, so they can get a visitor permit for you.

The area is protected, so you need to apply for different permits to visit. The paper work usually takes a few hours to be processed and approved.

Of course, the tour guide will deal with all that for you. The only thing that you need to do is hand them an ID of some sorts, I gave them my passport. So the drive takes a few hours, and they’ll stop at a little resting place in the mountains, where you can grab some coconuts and tourist stuff, if you want.

The tour guide will probably tell you a long list of exhausting rules, like no feeding wildlife, no pissing off the boat, smoking or littering; standard rules to protect the environment.

Depending on how to the tour is organized, they’ll probably recommend you do some other activities while you wait for the permit to be done.

Of course these are optional, but it is a good way to kill some time. You can just roam around the area for a couple hours if you don’t want to do the activities.

Mangrove Tour:

We did a little mangrove river tour which was cool, nice for couples.

You climb on a little boat and our paddled under the mangroves and around the river, while the tour guide talks about the different wildlife and trees.

We got a nice lady as a tour guide, she even sang a song she made up on the way back.

If you’re lucky you’ll spot some snakes curled up in the mangroves.

The boat will take you up the river and turn around, it usually takes an hour or so.

Actual Under Ground River Tour:

So after eating and killing time, the permits should be processed, and you can start heading towards the actual tour.

Luckily there’s not much more driving involved. They’ll take you to the port where you’ll hop on a little ferry to the actual area, which is surrounded by cliffs, and inaccessible any other way.

You’ll land in a really beautiful bay, similar to the bay where The Beach was filmed, with massive cliffs on each side.

This is where everyone arrives.

From there your herded through the trees and to a small river, with the cave entrance.

Hop on a little paddle boat, wait for people to take pictures, and then you’re ready to go.

You’ll be handed a small audio device with head phones which plays different tour information, so you don’t have to talk inside the cave.

You’re supposed to keep your voice down because even your voice can damage different structures in the cave.

So the boat slowly moves into the mouth of the cave, where it gets darker and darker, and soon the only thing is the spotlight from your boat.

Keep in mind, there are tons of bats in here, and they can get really close to your head.

Close enough to feel the air from their wings flapping on your face.

This cave is actually quite interesting because it’s one of the largest river-cave systems in the world. Most of it isn’t even mapped.

There are minerals in here that haven’t been found anywhere else in the world. It’s like an alien planet.

So it’s probably not a good idea to stroke everything you see.

The boat silently moves through the cave, and the driver will shine the spotlight on different points of interest.

You’ll see a bunch of stalactite and stalagmites, various shapes, like food, and even people.

There’s one that looks like an onion, and then there’s an open section with ones that look like the nativity scene.

Pretty cool. And creepy.

During one part of the tour, near the end, the boat will turn around a structure that looks like a dinosaur fossil.

All in all, it’s a cool tour, but it takes a long time to get there, and then you have to wait for the permits to be processed. Still worth a look, it’s only 2,000 Pesos.

Once you’re done, the ferry-boat will take you back to the port, hop in the van, and get dropped back at your hotel.

Where you can sleep and think about what you just experienced.

Other Things To Do:

Besides the big one, heading over to El Nido, there are a few other things you can do in Puerto Princesa.

Visit the Baywalk

Seems like the boardwalk is a new structure in Puerto Princesa.

It’s like 6 or so kilometers from Blue Palawan Beach Club, we took a tricycle there.

Nothing particularly special about this bay walk, besides it being a nice place to, well, walk.

During the day you can get some nice views of the area and fishing boats.

It was completely empty when we went there, a little suspicious, but it turned out to be fine.

My impression was it was just built, and there’s not much of a reason to go there besides the view, so not many people do.

Eat at a Grill.

We wanted to do this, but never got around to it. There are a few grill restaurants that seem like they’re worth a visit.

Here are a couple:

Some other ones too, which you can easily find on Google Maps.

Pray at a Church

There is a church, called Immaculate Conception Cathedral where you can join the mass or just visit.

Looks nice.

Robinson’s Place

There are a couple, but the one we went to is near Blue Palawan, and it’s a great place to shop for food or whatever.

We bought some clothes and ate a bunch of random food.

The thing will malls in Philippines is there are tons of small food vendors inside, like stands, where you can get small portions of pretty much whatever you want.

You can also grab tricycles from here.

They’re the official tricycles (blue) and they’ll rarely over charge you.

Of course the markets will sell clothes for a lot cheaper.

Visit the Sandbar

There are a few of these sand bars around Puerto Princesa. In fact, there is one near Blue Palawan Beach Club (that I just found out about).

See, when the tide goes down, it goes really down, and you’re left with long stretches of sand. That’s when you can find different sandbars which are accessible by kayaks.

The most popular one belongs to a hotel called Princesa Garden Island Resort.

I’m not sure if you can visit without being a hotel guest, but either way, it’s right off the coast from the hotel.

You’ll probably see people standing on something out in the coast line; that’s where it is.

Here’s the Google Link. 

Take a Kayak Somewhere

If you stay at Blue Palawan Beach resort, you can use their kayaks for free.

There are some mangroves you can explore. Pretty fun.

Most hotels will offer similar services.

Go to El Nido.

Seriously, this is on our to-do list. El Nido has a lot more to offer than the city center.

Just keep in mind it takes about 6 hours to get there, via mini-van.

It looks like you can take a chartered flight there now, so that could be another option.

But the beaches in El Nido are much more beautiful.

And there are more tourists, of course.

So is Palawan Worth a Trip?

I think so. We had a ton of fun there.

The only downside is the nice beaches/swimming areas are a bit far from the city center, so we didn’t swim as much as we would have liked.

The tours are okay, and you can find plenty of cheap food as well.

Overall, we had a great time in Palawan and I think it’s definitely worth a vacation.

Head on over there!

You might just like it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Palawan guide.

Got questions? Leave a comment. 

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