Beyond doubt, Palawan has all the elements to be considered as the country’s earthly paradise. If it’s sun, sea, and sand that you crave for, and just the right amount of rugged fun and adventure at a place where the sky meets the sea, you certainly do not run out of these in this island province.
I embarked on a six-day tour around Palawan with my friend D and her entire family, and the first leg of our tour took us to some of the country’s dazzling lakes, lagoons, and beaches in Coron, in Northern Palawan. From Coron, we traveled by boat for more than eight hours to get to El Nido, another town north of mainland Palawan that boasts of 45 islands and islets that are just too attractive to be adored – they are an experience not to be missed!
We arrived in El Nido town before 7:00pm and although we didn’t make any reservations in any of the hotels and resorts in town, D and I were certain that we will surely find a good place to spend the night at. We’ve been to El Nido twice before and we are really big fanatics of the town’s tranquility and blissfulness. Suffice it to say that we’ve been charmed not just by El Nido’s astonishing islands and beaches, but by the laidback lifestyle as well that is evident in this pretty little town.
D was eyeing to stay at The Alternative (+639178499501), where D was based during her two visits, but the place was already occupied. Erika, the owner of the place, helped us find accommodation for the night. We decided to split our group into three and after a sumptuous dinner at The Alternative’s restaurant, we called it a night.
Day 4. March 21.
I am in love with El Nido (I will come up with a post on this one very soon). It’s a fact that goes with my love affair with Palawan. So when I woke up on our first day in town, I headed straight to the beach, and like a star-crossed lover, admired the towering Cadlao Island, one of the islands that comprise the Bacuit Archipelago. She is just simply mesmerizing and intriguing.
The order of the day was of course the island-hopping tour. We arranged our tour with Erika and since we only had one day to spare for it, we requested for a combination package that will take us to some lagoons, beaches, and caves. Island-hopping tours are highly-organized in El Nido where you get to choose among three packages that cover lagoons (PhP700), caves (PhP800), and far-flung beaches (PhP900). The rate is per person and includes lunch. The tour starts as early as 8:00am. Expect a price increase this summer, though.
It wasn’t really sunny that day and the sun-worshiper in me wasn’t too happy about it, but even on a gloomy weather, El Nido was just breathtaking! It was low-tide during our trip so we had a hard time going to some of the places we were supposed to see (like the Big Lagoon, El Nido’s poster image) but just marveling at El Nido’s limestone mountains and crystal clear water brought a sense of peace that’s hard to find anywhere.
The gloomy weather was actually perfect to just lounge out at sea and enjoy the scenery around us.
With a good view of Pinagbuyutan Island from afar (my favorite island in El Nido), our group had a highly-irresistible, delicious lunch that included grilled fish, pork barbecue, chicken adobo, potato salad, and ensaladang talong. Oh, to be away from the anxieties of a hurried life!
El Nido’s caves and rock formations are tourist-friendly, it was easy to conquer them.
And the relaxing view makes you want to take a piece of El Nido back home.
We ended our tour at 6:00pm but without not enjoying fresh buko juice first in one of the beaches. If it wasn’t starting to rain, I had a feeling the group would have stayed longer in our last stop. El Nido was just beautiful!
Day 5. March 22.
We got up early the next day for our 7:00am trip to Sabang, in Puerto Princesa, the jump-off point for the Underground River. We had it planned earlier to visit the Underground River, but after trying to get permits for the tour through our lawyer-friend D who lives in Puerto Princesa, and after learning that all the tours have been fully-booked until May, D and I sort of thought of just skipping the tour to spare everyone from the hassle of enduring the six-hour ride to Sabang. After careful deliberation the night before and with some help from local tour operators, we decided anyway to proceed to Sabang and tried our luck.
It was raining hard during our entire trip. Sabang, however, was still in a festive mood despite the heavy rain when we arrived at 12:30pm.
After lunch, D and I headed to the tourism office to inquire about the tour. After being included in the New 7 Wonders of the World’s list, the Underground River has been receiving a floodgate of tourists everyday. The maximum number of people allowed to be on the tour per day is 900 and the city is quite strict on this.
After informing the tourism officer that our big group of 18 was on a grand Palawan adventure and that we came all the way from Coron and El Nido (with the help, of course, of some juanderkid charm), we were allowed to go on the tour at 3:00pm. Good thing there were groups which cancelled their tours that day, probably because of the rainy weather.
We arrived in Puerto Princesa at 7:30pm. D and I wanted to spend the night at Banwa, a really cool backpacker’s art house, but since it was full already we settled for DLM Lodging House, some few steps from Banwa. DLM Lodging House does not disappoint especially if you’re traveling in big groups. Rooms are reasonably priced at PhP1,800, can accommodate six people, and when we requested for an extra mattress, the owners did not charge extra fee for it anymore.
We had late dinner at Ka Lui, the best Filipino restaurant in Puerto Princesa, where we were joined by our lawyer-friend D who made our reservation at the resto. Ka Lui is one restaurant that does not just deliver good food, their ambiance is also one dreamy artsy place that’s worth a visit.
My trips to Puerto Princesa are never complete without dining in Ka Lui. The restaurant only serves seafood and vegetable dishes so do not expect any steak from their menu. After a very sumptuous and fun dinner, the rest of the group headed home and called it a day while D and I spent some chill out time with our lawyer-friend D at Taverna Luna.
Day 6. March 23.
It was our last day in Palawan and since I haven’t really experienced Puerto Princesa’s sunset despite having been to the city twice before, I made a short walk from our place to the city’s version of Baywalk, where health enthusiasts and tourists were already busy doing some cardio exercises. After which, I proceeded to Banwa and had breakfast that included Palawan’s version of danggit (dried fish), Lamayong, while I worked on a short blog about local tourism that was inspired by our recent sojourn in the country’s Last Frontier. :D
When everybody had breakfast, our group headed to the one-stop souvenir shop along San Miguel Avenue where we spent a good amount of time, yes, shopping! This is the same one-stop souvenir shop that was previously located in front of Chowking in downtown Puerto Princesa. D’s aunts have been looking forward to this part of our travel so I really hoped they enjoyed scouring the place for some really good buys.
I myself couldn’t help but spend some time purchasing Palawan products that highly speak of their unique arts and thorough craftmanship. I bought some placemats and chimes for our restaurant back in Donsol and as a souvenir of our Palawan travel, I purchased a miniature wooden boat that comes with two paddles for just a song. I also got a rainmaker wrapped in a banig cover for only PhP80!
While everybody was still busy shopping, I left the group and met lawyer-friend D for a quick lunch at Ka Lui (I can’t help it, I am a big fan of this restaurant!). I actually asked her days before to treat me to a “welcome lunch,” so over Ka Lui’s well-loved dishes that included Tubbataha Salad (not in picture though), we talked about our bouts with the Saturn Return madness.
While D can’t understand my fixation with the restaurant’s signature food, I actually find this one very delectable. Made of avocado, pomelo, mango, pineapple, ginger, garlic and strips of really fresh raw tuna, Tubbataha definitely challenges your taste buds! The rest of the group, meanwhile, had late lunch at Badjao Seafront Restaurant, another popular dining spot in the city.
After our lunch, my lawyer-friend D treated me to a really good massage at the Holistic Haven (their signature massage can be had for PhP300 for one hour). Okay, I actually coerced her to take me to this place. Thanks, D! The very relaxing massage was indeed a fitting finale to our adventure in Palawan that had us traveling by boat for more than eight hours and allowed us to marvel at beaches after beaches in a place that appears to me as the country’s best.
This being an adventure with my dear friend D was not without a living in the edge moment, D’s specialty. Our flight back to Manila was at 5:25pm and our boarding time read 5:05pm. It was already 5:00pm when we got inside the boarding area but we’ve been informed that the plane will only be arriving at 5:10pm.
We saw a young family of three who were all wearing the same shirt that says “Keep Travelling. Keep Exploring. Keep Coming Back. Palawan.” At that instance, we both knew we had to have that shirt and decided to have an Amazing Race moment right away. We ran outside and looked for Kuya Ondo (the van driver who took us from El Nido to Sabang, and around Puerto Princesa, definitely one of the kindest people in Palawan so go book a trip to and from El Nido with him! +639152416239) and asked him to take us back to the one-stop souvenir shop along San Miguel Avenue.
It was one adrenaline rush that will be recalled in the coming years, and to cut the long story short, D and I were two of only four passengers who were running to get to the airplane in time for our 5:30pm flight. It was an act that got everyone in our group clapping when we finally got into the airplane.
It was really the line “Keep Coming Back” that had me desiring that shirt because it’s true. Earlier that day, I had a conversation with Kuya Ondo about how I’ve been to Palawan thrice already, returning sooner that I hoped to. He told me, “Nabalik-balik po kayo!” which loosely means I’ve been charmed by Palawan.
It is not hard to understand why Palawan enchants. Its beauty is unparalleled and the experience it offers is definitely one of a kind. Sure, the Philippines has a wealth of pristine beaches but to fully enjoy Palawan’s stunning beaches and jaw-dropping landscapes, one has to survive the long and tiring journey. Truly, one of the best things about traveling is getting there, and Palawan surely lives up to that.
I cannot thank D and her family enough for inviting me on this trip. I was the only non-Zapata in the group, but there was never a moment when I felt I was not a member of the family. The beauty of Palawan parallels the charmed life D’s family exudes. More than being on an all-expense-paid trip, I am happy to have been given the chance to also better my relationship with my own family. Just observing their family dynamics tells me that to survive all the hardships and the little glitches that go with traveling (and life!) requires only one thing: love.
Thank you, D! Matamang salamat, Palawan! And yes, I will be back sooner than I hope to!
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust!
- LET’S PAY IT FORWARD. Because I was the recipient of D’s family’s love and generosity, I want to spread Palawan’s love by offering customized shirts to one female and one male juanderkid this April (same as the shirt I am seen wearing on this post, with your name on one sleeve and juanderkid on the other)! Just answer this question: What do you love most about traveling? Deadline for entries is midnight of April 20. Winners will be notified via email.
- All photographs taken on March 2012 with a Canon 550d.