The Palawan province of the Philippines has quickly risen to the top of the travel lists as THE place with the best beaches. We are taking about lists that feature beaches all over THE WORLD, beaches that Instagram filters are made to mimic. The Philippine Islands are full of amazing vacation destinations so if you don’t get a chance to Palawan you still will have a wonderful vacation but if you do have a few days on your itinerary to fill, I’d highly recommend visiting.
I was skeptical that this little chain of islands could have what CN Travel or Travel & Leisure have promised but after the weeks I spent there I was quickly reformed a believer. Palawan is everything they say, and maybe more.
Philippine Islands & The Palawan Province
Resting between the South China & Sulu Sea, Palawan is one of the largest Provinces in the Philippines. Palawan has been named the world’s best island, it’s an archipelago that lives up to the reputation. It’s 1,700 islands dot the southwest.
Both Coron & El Nido have similar landscapes, and both with limestone rocks looming overhead, crystal clear waters and day tours by boat. Which one is the best? Here is a run down of all the specifics to help you make the best choice. Which did I like better? I’ll reveal my favorite at the end of the article!
Busuanga is the main island of Coron. There are several ways to get to the northern most island of Palawan, but the quickest is by plane. I booked with Cebu Pacific, there are other airlines that fly there, but I chose them specifically. First, their mascot is adorable (Don’t believe me, check him out HERE). Second, I had a cancelled flight due to weather earlier during my trip and their customer service was wonderful, they rebooked my flights, changed my return flight at no charge AND gave me a voucher towards a future flight. Your other option is by Ferry or Boat.
The Busuanga Airport is about 30-45 minutes from Coron Town, you can usually arrange a pick up from your hotel either included with your stay or a small fee. There aren’t really any taxis on the island, so when you arrive at the airport there will be van drivers waiting for scheduled pick ups or vans that will fill with last minute passengers. The fare isn’t much different so better to plan ahead and avoid the hassle.
The easiest way to El Nido is flying from Manila or Cebu with Airswift. This is a more expensive option but the time you’ll save is worth it if you are just planning to explore El Nido and not the rest of the island. The more popular (because of cost) is flying into Puerta Princesa and then taking a shuttle bus from there to El Nido. The ride is close to 6 hours so I would HIGHLY recommend flying if you can. Because I waited last minute to make my plans, flights were expensive and the nicer shuttle vans had been booked so I rode to El Nido squished in a crappy van making several stops on the way so we didn’t make it to town until dark.
Daytripper Palawan has spacious van service, you can book ahead online. Be sure to contact your hotel or hostel to get a good recommendation about a reputable van company.
There are many budget or higher end locations found both in town and along the outskirts. I opted for a quieter stay at The Funny Lion, only a tricycle ride into town. A roof deck with sunset views, an infinity pool and great restaurant, this could be a one stop stay and never leaving the hotel is a real possibility.
El Nido is a tourist destination so there are lots of hotel options but for a great budget hostel option I recommend Spin Designer Hostel. Clean rooms, good vibe, conveniently located and an option for private rooms which I prefer.
Don’t expect to see a white sandy beach just yet. Coron Town is a port town and the beaches are located on the smaller remote islands so if you want some R&R that isn’t poolside, you have to travel by boat to get there. But, the trip is worth it, there are several boat tours that will take you to beautiful locations where you can swim, snorkel, spy on ship wrecks and bask in sunsets. If you don’t get to the beaches from a tour boat, there is something just as relaxing not far from town, the Maquinit Hot Springs.
Much the same as Coron, the prettiest beaches are the furthest away. There is a beach where the boats are all docked in Poblacion (the main town), but it will not be the image you’ve seen in the in-flight magazine. Everyone will say that Napcan Beach is the best, it is a 45 minute tricycle or bike ride away. Marimegmeg is your closer alternative, it is a sleepy beach not far from the main town with some beach bars in a shady corner, it’s a great place for sunset drinks. Matinloc Island (Tour C) is the other beach you should visit, rumor has it that this secret beach was the actual inspiration for the author of The Beach.
Tours are listed in Alphabetical choices, Tour A, B, & C. Tours will go to several islands, beaches, spying on shipwrecks or taking in sunsets. I opted for the all three since I had the time. The island hopping tour will take you to Kayangan Lake, the iconic photo of Coron that offers a short hike to a small swimming lagoon. The shipwrecks around the island are one of the points that make the region a hot spot for divers however, some of the ships are visible from just a snorkel and deep swim. The last tour had more beach bumming, with a stop at Malcapuya Island which was a highlight for me because we were one of the only boats there for most of our stop.
Just like Coron there are boat tours to really see the island. There are Tours A, B, C and D offered to get the most out of your sightseeing while on the island. If you ask people, A & C will be the most popular.
So are you having the same thought that I did? If everyone is usually doing tours A&C wouldn’t booking B or D be better because there will be less people at the stops. I had the same theory which is why I did tours A, B & C and there are equally as many tourists at each location so don’t have FOMO if you can’t do all four. You can pre book tours with your hotel or hostel, or if you want to try and strike up a last minute deal you can just head down to the beach and negotiate with one of the many people selling seats on daily tours.
Make sure you get snorkel gear and lunch with your tour, other than that most of the operators are much the same, they all have similar boats and go to the same standard stops. Arrive before 9am to get on a tour, they leave in the morning and they last all day.
Tours in both places cost about the same: from 1200-1500 php or around $25-30 usd.
The famous view point is the hike up all those stairs (over 700 steps) to the top of Mount Tapyas. There is a look out point right above the Coron sign that offers a pretty spectacular view. Although it’s a long stair step up to the top, it is a relatively easy trip up if the midday sun isn’t beating down on you.
Taraw Cliff hike is not for the faint of heart, this view of Bacuit Bay is iconic however, there are sharp limestone rocks and jagged points making this a difficult hike that is a little more technical than just a light day climb. Check to see if the route is open, there had been several accidents around when I had been there and the guided portion was temporarily closed.
So, What’s The Verdict?
Both El Nido and Coron are beautiful, peaceful and if you have the time both should fall into your itinerary so you can make the choice for yourself. My personal opinion on which of the Philippine Islands would choose again? I had better weather, a better stay and clearer snorkeling in Coron so in the end that would be my pick between the two. Whichever you choose there is one thing for certain, you will not have a bad beach day on any shore on any of the 7,000 + islands of the Philippines, it’s truly a treasure in the sea.