Things To Do
Palawan is a nature and outdoor-lovers’ paradise, with an environment that lends itself to activities capable of whetting any appetite. Aside from scuba diving, activities range from hiking to kayaking to simply, lounging.
For energetic thrill-seekers, a hike up Mount Mantalingahan may prove just the ticket. With its peak reaching 2085 metres – the highest point in Palawan – it is rated one of the most difficult climbs in the country taking approximately five days to reach the summit and return to the jump-off. Slightly less taxing is a trek through lush rainforest from the northeastern edge of Puerto Princesa, a coastal village called San Rafael, to the western side of the island, Cabayugan (or vice versa). Featuring both hilly and mountainous terrain in addition to gently rolling paths, this challenge is peppered with streams, cold springs and even a major river for nearly half of the trek – welcome relief to many.
Given the main island’s rugged topography, Palawan abounds in waterfalls and in the heart of dense jungle in central Palawan is the crystal clear Estrella Waterfall. Accessible by road or by foot and generously served by Mount Victoria (which, at 1726 metres, makes it the second highest mountain in Palawan) a swim just beyond the waterfall is said to be an experience to savour.
Central Palawan also features the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Park includes limestone landscapes and what is believed to be the world’s longest navigable underground river at 8.4km featuring impressive cathedral-like caverns, domes and stunning rock formations. Unusually, this river flows directly to the sea and features a unique ‘mountain-to-sea’ ecosystem.
The Coron Island lakes – of which there are seven – are home to the reclusive, semi-nomadic Tagbanua tribe, one of the oldest tribes in the Philippines. Believed to be direct descendants of the Tabon man, they represent the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Adventure-seekers willing to carry their kayaks are encouraged to visit.
Catering also for those who are simply seeking not to do very much at all, Palawan offers activities where the primary concern is precisely that. The area surrounding Honda Bay in central Palawan, for example, is filled with islets and is the ideal jumping off point to enjoy some snorkelling or a spot of lunch on a secluded beach. Some of these include Cannon Island, Bat Island, Lu-Ii Island (derived from the word lulubog-lilitaw, which translated means floating and sinking island, as it is visible only during low tide), Meara Marina Starfish Island (renowned for its powdery white sand and clear water teeming with starfish), Snake Island (a long stretch of fine sand resembling a snake), Pandan Island, and Senorita Island (the breeding site of lapu-lapu fish). It is said that one could spend their entire lives discovering new islands in Palawan, and island-hopping gives adventure-seekers a taste of that wanderlust.
Described by Jacques Cousteau as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world, Palawan has long been considered Asia’s best-kept diving secret. An abundance of coral reefs along large swathes of its sprawling coastline in addition to the fortuitous concentration of sunken WWII warships off the coast of Busuanga Island means Palawan truly comes into its own underwater. With 35 percent of the Philippines’ coral reefs found in Palawan, a total area of which spans over 11,000 square kilometres, there is little wonder why this is a diver’s haven.
The Coron Reefs in Busuanga Island, Northern Palawan offer the first of many must-see dive sites in Palawan. These reefs present some of the most spectacular wreck diving in the most attractive of conditions – the principal dive site consists of twelve sunken Japanese warships downed by the US Navy on September 24, 1944. Not only is this site a veritable feast for enthusiasts but the range in depth (from the surface to 40 metres) at which these ships are found provides excitement for snorkelers, novice divers and experienced divers alike.
Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa on Palawan, is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site and contains roughly 10,000 hectares of pristine coral reef and can only be reached by vessel. The Tubbataha reefs consist of two atolls (circular coral reef), the Northern and Southern Reefs, which also boast an awe-inspiring 100m perpendicular wall, lagoons and two islands made entirely from coral. About half of all coral species in the world can be found here, not to mention 11 species of sharks, 12 species of dolphins and whales and 573 species of fish. During the peak dive season (usually March to June) conditions are outstanding with visibility reaching 30-45 metres, calm seas and clear skies.
Bacuit Bay in El Nido, northern Palawan too is littered with islands and islets. The bay hosts over 30 spectacular dive sites with depths ranging from 6 – 30 metres and is home to dugongs, turtles, manta rays and the occasional whale shark.