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Sassy’s Guide to Palawan, Philippines

When considering the Philippines as a travel destination, Boracay is the usual go-to.  Yet the Philippines has many other islands to offer (over 7,000, in fact!), and so many of them go unnoticed. Well, Palawan definitely should not be one of them – it’s time to turn your travel attention to Coron!

When a friend suggested going to the Philippines for a late January trip, I was immediately on board yet overwhelmed by the options. We wanted a relaxing trip with plenty of sun, sand and snorkelling, but we also wanted adventure in a place that was off the beaten path. Coron in Palawan was recommended to us by a friend who had lived in the Philippines for years – piercing blue lakes and lagoons, Japanese shipwrecks amidst coral gardens, island hopping on private boats… it sounded right up our alley!

WHAT TO DO

Each day our own boat, accompanied by our friendly guide Rea, transported us to the best sights and beaches in Coron. Ask any Coron local, and they’ll say their favorite spot is Kayangan Lake. It’s a bit of a hike to reach (300 steps, in fact!), but the views and the water are absolutely breathtaking.

Coron is also a must-visit for snorkelling and diving, and there’s no shortage of tour packages available in town. Neither my friend nor I have a diving license (frankly, it’s not required there, but I wouldn’t recommend scuba diving without one); however, we were more than content with just snorkelling. You don’t even need to be that good a swimmer because everything to see is so close to the surface, and the boat’s life-vests are there to keep you afloat. One of the best places for snorkelling is Coral Garden, where you can see clownfish wriggling in anemone (consider Nemo found!), iridescent rainbow fish, and lavender, peach, yellow and turquoise corals. The other best place is Lusong Gunboat, to explore sunken Japanese shipwrecks. The one thing I wish I had brought with me? An underwater camera!

After snorkelling, we hopped back on our boat and hit the beaches to relax and enjoy the lunches of fresh fish, squid, mango and watermelon that Rea prepared for us. Each island we visited had its own beach, and we had them largely to ourselves save for a few other visitors. Banol Beach was my favourite, even though it was also the smallest: bleach white sand, crystal clear blue ocean, and straw tiki huts that gave a reprieve from the sun. Other islands we visited included Banana Island (unsurprisingly, shaped like a banana!) and Malcapuya Island, which sold the freshest young coconut I’ve ever tasted.

Our days ended with leisurely boat trips back to the town of Coron, just in time to watch the sun set amongst the neighbouring Philippine islands. Every evening we walked to town for dinner to enjoy more fresh seafood and tropical drinks at restaurants perched above the water (La Sirenetta, surrounded by mermaid statues, has a wonderful night-time ambiance). Coron’s nightlife is fairly quiet, but that was perfect for us given our full days under the sun. Paradise found!

GETTING THERE

Fly from Hong Kong to Manila (Philippine Airways and Cathay Pacific offer reasonable flights), which takes approximately 1.5 hours, and then from Manila to Busuanga (Coron’s airport), which takes under an hour. There are three domestic Philippine airlines to Busuanga: PAL Express (which we used), AirAsia Zest, and Cebu Pacific – all available at very affordable prices.

WHERE TO STAY

For the more cost-conscious and rustic traveller, there is a myriad of guest houses throughout the town of Coron that are extremely affordable. We stayed at Tameta Guest House in a spacious room and booked our four-day boat tour through their tour services. The staff there were so accommodating – highly recommended!

For those looking to treat themselves to a stay on a private island, Mangenguey Island is a Travellers’ Choice 2013 winner. It’s an extra boat ride to get there, but is that really a bad thing?!

SASSY TIPS

- Convert your Hong Kong dollars to Philippine pesos at the Manila airport. Once you get to Coron, the exchange rate is terrible!

- Get an underwater camera. Either buy one or borrow from a friend. You won’t want to miss out on such fabulous underwater photography opportunities!

Erica is a teacher in Hong Kong; contact her on Facebook or by email at ekjackey@gmail.com for further questions about Coron, Southeast Asia travel, or life as a young expat in Hong Kong!

Top photo via Shutterstock

 

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