“The water is unbelievable! I’ve never seen anything like this before,” we heard an American woman comment on the El Nido waters. Of course, as Filipinos those were overwhelming to hear not only because we heard them from a foreign person but more so from someone who’s been talking about how she’s been to several places in the world already. It’s the world’s best island for two consecutive years according to Travel and Leisure magazine, and obviously for good measure.
In this post, I’ll be sharing our do-it-yourself itinerary and the costs journeying the most beautiful island there is – Palawan.
Before coming over, I and my friends were quite hesitant about a DIY itinerary in Palawan. It’s going to be costly and risky. The beautiful places are far from each other and the transportation is still limited. Yet at the very last minute, we ditched the travel agency we’ve contacted for a tour and decided to venture all by ourselves. I’m telling you right now, that was the best decision we made in this trip (and we saved ourselves a couple of bucks).
It’s worth noting that when budgeting for a Palawan trip, you need to know whether you’re traveling during the low or peak seasons as prices are double (or triple!) on the peak season compared to the low season. According to a local we conversed, peak season in Palawan runs from November to May while the low season is from June to October. Ours was on an August and honestly, we preferred the low season since there are less tourists (and again, we saved ourselves a couple of bucks).
Port Barton: The Next Thing in Palawan
The place might not be as famous as El Nido or Coron, but it’s worth spending a few days or so for. I’m talking about Port Barton, an out-of-place town in the middle of Palawan. The place is like time traveling to a certain period in the early 2000s when the internet was limited (or in my case, none at all), electricity is time-scheduled (6PM – 12MN) and the locality is plain simple. When we were dropped by the van we rode from San Jose terminal in Puerto Princesa to our homestay in the town, I and my friends could not contain our reactions. The town was creepily quiet (not like how we were so used to living in the city) yet serene and relaxing at best. The town is the perfect spot if you’re looking for what they call me-time. My friend even said that if she’d be broken hearted, she’ll impulsively book a flight to this place (which is not entirely an absurd idea).
If you need to use a little bit of adrenaline, Port Barton has also many activities you can enjoy, the most common of which is island hopping. For just Php700, you can scout for tour agencies within the area and book a day tour of the many islands that pepper the place.
Then there’s also kayaking. Even at what’s supposed to be a rainy season, the sea was calm enough for kayaking. Venture a little farther from the shore and you’ll have a spectacular view: waters in jade green below, the blue sky dotted with white clouds above and the vast expanse of the green mangrove trees in between. The view pulls strings of the heart (something I’ve never felt before). An ikebana of nature.
And snorkeling! I’ve had my fair share of snorkeling experiences in many places before but that what I took in Port Barton will forever hold a special place in my heart. Why? Because I saw a manatee, my first time! I’m going to say that again. I saw a MANATEE; a sea cow; in the wild; swimming and swirling gracefully and freely in the ocean alongside swarm of colorful fishes. She was a meter away from me, and I couldn’t get closer. She’s quick and she felt unreal. As a testament to the rarity of this event, our guide who’s lived in Port Barton his entire life of more than 20 years has never seen a dugong before. I’ve only been in Palawan for 2 days and God has afforded me the sight of His beautiful creature. It was a humbling experience.
We stayed in Port Barton for three days and here are our costs (per person):
Note that these are the costs during a low season. If you want the costs for a high season, then double everything. Also, you might have noticed that meals are expensive. You noticed right, because food in the place is insanely pricey (and that’s not even luxury eating yet). If you’re planning to save, better bring some ready-to-eat goods with you,
El Nido: A Haven Can’t Be Explained Enough
When people say Palawan people think of the skyrocketing island rock formations floating in unbelievably clean and clear turquoise waters. The thing is you’re not thinking of Palawan, but a facet of it – that is, El Nido. Translated as The Nest, El Nido made Palawan famous around the globe. The town is surrounded by walls of rocks as tall as city buildings, giving El Nido the feeling of being enclosed, secluded, separated from anywhere else. Few meters walk and you’ll see yourself captivating at the beach view.
To make the most of your time in El Nido, island hopping is a must. Island hopping in El Nido is divided into four tours: Tours A, B, C and D. Many from the locals we talked recommended tours A and C and since we’re only staying for three days we chose those tours. Perhaps if given more time, we would’ve availed everything. Anyway, the tours can be in groups or in private (then you’ll have to pay more). We chose the group tours since we’re on a budget and we thought them as perfect chances to meet people.
However, if you want a beach for free then there’s the Las Cabanas Beach or Nacpan Beach down farther. A word of warning: those beaches may be free but they are inexplicably gorgeous. You might not want to leave.
We first had Tour C while Tour A on the next day. Truly, these were the best tours because of two phrases: rock formations and lagoons. All of the beaches (and those that composed it: sand, waters, sea creatures) in El Nido are superb but they can be easily compared to other famous beaches like in those in Phuket, Thailand (read about my Thailand travel here). But El Nido’s rock formations and the small and big lagoons – they are unique, they can never be found anywhere else (or so I guess). We were traversing the waters of the small lagoon when we heard one comment from an American woman, “The water is unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I hope those words were enough to picture the beauty God has blessed El Nido with.
We stayed in El Nido for three days and here are our costs (per person):
Again, these are low season costs and just like in Port Barton meals are also expensive in El Nido.
Puerto Princesa Underground River (National Park)
Lately, Palawan is starting to be known for another acclaimed site: the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Dubbed as the longest underground river in the entire world, it is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The only con we experienced in this part of our Palawan itinerary is that the entrance to the river is expensive (not costly, but expensive). When we asked the driver we commissioned why is that so, he explained that the high costs reduce the number of people coming to the underground river (thereby protecting it) and the maintenance cost of the site is demanding as well.
But ultimately we realized that what we paid was nothing compare to the thrill of experience the course has brought us. It was religious: communing with nature. Completely dark and peacefully silent but for the echoes of the bats, the experience is like going back to our natural, environmental roots.
Along the way, we saw astounding natural stalactite and stalagmite sculptures: huge vegetables, animals, even a teasing Sharon Stone. But what really made us gasp was what they call The Cathedral. We were carefully boating in a narrow cave when suddenly we’re welcomed by a humongous dome, much like a dome of a cathedral without the stained glass windows. To amaze us more is knowing that all of the recognizable rock formations were religious-related as well: a veiled Virgin Mary, a giant candle, the Holy Family, an archangel, a reenactment of The Last Supper and Jesus’s face. Our audio guide said these stalactites and stalagmites took million of years to be created through heat, wind, sedimentation and erosion. That alone should amaze us. “Thankfully, nature is a patient artist,” affirmed our audio guide.
On our way out the cave we were told that despite the darkness and silence, the underground river is a home for thousands, even millions, of species. Indeed, “even at the deepest, darkest part of nature, life blossoms.”
For information, tours do not cover the entire underground river. In fact, you may only cover a quarter (or one-eight) of the whole length of the subterranean river. But surely whatever you’ll get is enough to prick a bit of your humanity. Our underground river and Puerto Princesa City tour was packed in one day. Here are our costs (per person):
Again, these are low season costs, and since there are already fast food restaurants in the city of Puerto, food can be cheaper.
Places to Look Forward To
As you might have noticed, we spent a complete week with that itinerary. But the thing is there are still a lot of places in Palawan that everybody should go, particularly Coron. I and my friends all agreed that this island is one you can always come back and feel amazed over and over again. And we promised next time, we’ll explore more. For now, that would be it. So whatever your worries about Palawan being costly and difficult to traverse, don’t drop them off. But remember that everything is going to be worth it. Take that from someone who’s been there and wants to be back again.
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