Tips for planning a trip to Palawan
In recent years, the island of Palawan has become one of the most popular Asian destinations for all travellers in search of crystal clear sea, beautiful landscapes and, of course, relaxation. Anyone surfing the web, at least for once, has come across pics of Palawan and was struck by its gigantic limestone formations surrounded by turquoise and emerald waters. The 3 most popular tourist areas of Palawan island are Puerto Princesa, Coron and the famous El Nido. Also not to be missed is San Vicente‘s province with its 14km of wild white sand beach lined with palm trees and Port Barton’s small rural village.
When to go to Palawan
The best months to visit the island of Palawan are from December to April, which correspond to the driest and sunniest months. However, from December to March, a strong wind blows practically every day, and, in some cases, it could ruin your boat trips. March and April are quite hot and very busy as they are considered the Philippines’ summer months. In February, we visited Palawan, finding partly cloudy weather (only a few fully sunny days) and often strong winds. Despite this, we always managed to take the excursions we had planned.
How to reach Palawan
The main hub for reaching any destination in the Philippines is Manila, while Puerto Princesa is the central hub of the island of Palawan. Its international airport is well connected with many airports in the Philippines. Manila is also connected to El Nido and Coron’s small airports, two of the most popular destination in Palawan.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila: it is one of the two international airports serving Manila’s metropolitan area (the other is Clark International Airport) and the Philippines’ main international hub. It has 4 terminals: T1 serves international flights; T2 serves international and domestic flights (mainly the Philippine airline and PAL Express); T3 serves international flights and some domestic flights (including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, Cebu Pacific); T4 only hosts domestic flights (including Air Asia, Cebgo, Skyjet). You will most likely have to spend a night in Manila before catching your flight to Puerto Princesa. The fastest way to get to your accommodation is by taxi. You will find several hotels right near the airport. We slept at the Savoy Hotel, very close to all the terminals.
First of all, you must decide how long you want to stay, because the island of Palawan truly offers a wide choice of fantastic places to explore and relax. Usually, most tourists combine Palawan with other islands, like Boracay, or as a final destination of a trip to the northern Philippines. The most popular and visited destinations are definitely El Nido and Coron. If you decide to spend a few days in Palawan, focus your trip there. For example, you can fly straight to El Nido, spending 3 days there, then take the ferry to Coron, spending 3 days again on the island before getting back to Manila. On our trip, we decided to explore only the best attractions of Palawan, leaving aside the visit to other areas of the Philippines for a future journey.
The most beautiful places in Palawan are Puerto Princesa, Sabang with the Underground River, Honda Bay, the province of San Vicente with its long beaches and the village of Port Barton, El Nido and Coron. In case you have time, the local operators arrange a beautiful 2/3 day cruise from El Nido to Coron (or vice versa) to visit some truly fantastic and less touristy small islands, including Linapacan. Two weeks are perfect for enjoying all these amazing attractions.
What to pack
The tour of Palawan will mainly be a holiday of relaxation and sea. You will lie on the beaches basking in the sun and join several boat trips to visit the islands near the coast. Bring light clothing, a pair of comfortable sneakers for a walk, and a sweater/sweatshirt for the evening and slightly cooler days. Obviously, everything you need for the sea: a swimsuit, flip flops, towel, hat and sunscreen.
For boat tours, it is necessary to have a pair of rock shoes, a k-way (to protect you from the wind and water splashes), a dry bag to avoid getting cameras or other objects wet, and a water bottle to avoid drinking the purified water offered during lunch.
In the travel medication kit, in addition to the specific personal medicines, you can put antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, intestinal antibiotic, lactic ferments, antispasmodics, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, disinfectant wipes and patches. It is better to have your own kit once on the island, as it is not always easy to find medicinal products.
How to move around
We always took local transport like buses, minivans and ferries (to Coron) to move around the island and reach our destinations. You can buy your ticket directly at the bus station, through local tour operators, by asking at the reception of your accommodation or, as we mainly did, using the search engines 12go.asia.com or Omio.com, a great help to plan our trip.
The island of Palawan offers a wide choice of accommodation to suit any budget you have available. You will find homestays, guest houses, hotels and even exclusive resorts. Being a very touristic place, we recommend booking in advance to find affordable rates and save money, especially in El Nido and Coron.
Where to eat
All the main tourist areas in Palawan (Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron) offer an excellent choice of local and tourist restaurants. In El Nido e Coron there are some pizzeria and fast foods, including Mc Donalds. Also, in Port Barton and San Vicente, you will find some restaurants or accommodations with their own restaurant. The food is excellent, especially fish and seafood.
Mobile phone and wifi
Wifi is available in most accommodations, but buying a local SIM card will make your stay a lot easier. In the arrivals hall of Manila International Airport or Puerto Princesa Airport, you will find some stands of the main providers that sell prepaid sim cards for tourists with calls and data.
Electricity is now provided 24 hours a day, and the plug is Type A. Bring a universal adapter to recharge your electronic devices.
The local currency is the Philippine Peso (1 USD is worth about 49 PHP – February 2021). You can exchange your currency in the several Pawnshops you will find in the main tourist destinations or withdraw at the ATMs. The payment method is mainly cash, but many accommodations also accept credit cards.
Flight tickets: we flew to Manila with Kuwait Airways and found an excellent deal at 510 euros. We paid about 60 euros each for the two domestic flights (MNL – PPS and Coron – MNL). The total expense was 630 euro (750 USD).
Means of transport: we moved around by bus and minivan with an average cost of 10 euros per trip. We paid about 30 euros for the ferry crossing to Coron.
Accommodations: we chose small hotels on Palawan main island and a home-stay in Coron. The average cost was 40 euros per night for a double. Obviously, this expense will vary according to your needs. We booked the accommodations with booking.com 10 months in advance.
Restaurants: Compared to other Asian countries, the restaurants are quite expensive. Our average expense ranged from 10 to 15 euros.
Boat tours: the average cost is around 30 euros.
All costs are per person (except hotels).
Traveller safety and health
The northern part of Palawan (the tourist one) is a fairly safe destination, we didn’t have any problem or warned of dangerous situations. You will find thousands of tourists, so always use common sense and not leave your valuables unattended to avoid petty theft. The southern part of the island, on the other hand, is less touristy and, above all, less safe due to the danger of kidnappings linked to terrorism.
Palawan has no particular health hazards, but try to drink only bottled water and not eat undercooked foods to prevent intestinal problems. In case you need medical treatment, you will find some clinics and pharmacies in El Nido, a hospital in Coron and Roxas, a small clinic in Port Barton. For specialist and emergency care, you will have to go to Puerto Princesa. Medical expenses abroad could be very high, don’t forget to take out travel insurance that covers any eventuality. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety. We took out our insurance with Worldnomads.com.
Important: for more information about safety and health situation, always check the foreign travel advice on your government’s official website or contact the embassy of your country in Manila.