Two Weeks in the Philippines – A Palawan Itinerary
When P first suggested meeting up in the Philippines, it was Palawan he mentioned. “Boracay is too popular. Too many foreigners around,” was his reasoning. I knew he was right. I’d actually heard about Palawan from a few travel bloggers so I was game. Plus, it was 28C there in January, while I was staring down snowstorm after snowstorm in Eastern Canada. Palawan it was! But where on the island would we visit? What would we do? Where would we stay?
My trip planning instincts kicked in and I started scouring blogs and Pinterest for ideas of places to stay and things to do. We’d only have about two weeks so we kept destinations to a minimum. I broke out my trusty trip planning spreadsheet. Yes, I’m a nerd.
The cuteness of tarsiers and the Instagram worthiness of the Chocolate Hills detoured me from our Palawan planning though and we ended up adding two nights in Bohol to our itinerary.
Here’s the route we ended up with: Manila Bohol El Nido (via Cebu) Honda Bay Puerto Princesa Manila. If we had our time back, what we’d instead recommend, is:
Manila Coron El Nido Honda Bay Puerto Princesa Manila.
While Bohol has a lot to offer, we found that the additional transportation time and cost just wasn’t quite worth it for us on our limited schedule. We’d instead rather check out Coron, an island north of El Nido.
Day 1: Travel to Coron
Most likely you’ve landed in Manila from points abroad. My suggestion: don’t linger longer than you need to. Just use Manila as a travel hub. I recommend staying at Go Hotels Airport Road if you need an overnight stay. It’s affordable, new, and clean. They’ll call you an Uber to get you back to the airport the next day.
Tip: Use metered taxis from the airport, not the fixed fare vans. It should cost less than 200 pesos from any terminal.
You can fly directly into Busuanga on Coron from Manila in only 40 minutes. There are multiple flights daily with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, or SkyJet. A 30 minute taxi from the airport will put you in Coron Town proper.
Spend the rest of your day getting acquainted with Coron Town, hike to the top of Mount Tapyas, and then finish off with a sunset dip at the Maquinit Hot Springs.
Days 2-3: Coron
While we didn’t get to visit Coron ourselves, we know we would’ve booked a day tour to take us around the pristine lakes, lagoons, and snorkeling spots nearby. Just can’t get enough of those crystal clear waters and towering cliffs.
Also on our list for two full days in Coron would be the safari in Calauit, exploring historic Culion, or just chilling out on some of the great, white sand beaches.
Day 4: Travel to El Nido
One thing we learned from our time in El Nido is that you need to be flexible with your plans. When it involves water, it may get cancelled. Typically, you would take a 6-hour ferry from Coron to El Nido, but there have been cases where the ferry has be cancelled for days in a row due to wind, so you need to be able to roll with it.
If you really get desperate you could always fly back to Manila and then catch an AirSwift flight to El Nido, but if you’re trying to save money, this certainly isn’t the way.
Days 5-8: El Nido
We spent four full days in El Nido and found that it was a good amount of time though you could get the highlights in two days if the weather cooperated.
You’ll want to reserve two days for island hopping. It’s what El Nido is famous for and for good reason. The beaches are filled with white sugar sand and turquoise water, the snorkeling is superb, and the cliffs are astounding.
There are four tour routes around the islands and every tour operator will have the same options at the same price: Tours A-D with A and C being the most popular. You can book in advance but you won’t know for sure which tours are going ahead until the morning. The coast guard makes the decision each morning on which, if any, routes are good to go because of sea conditions. Given this, you’ll need to be flexible with your schedule. Have a backup plan if tours get cancelled.
Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall & Nacpan Beach
You can either book a tour, hire a tricycle driver, or rent a motorbike and drive yourself but no visit to El Nido is complete without a trip to Nacpan Beach. I recommend driving yourself as it’s faster and cheaper but if you’re slow on the draw and all of the motorbikes have been rented, you can find someone to drive you out, wait, and drive you back.
About 30 minutes outside of El Nido make your first stop at the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall. It’s a 45-min hike through the jungle to get to the waterfall but the path is well trod so it’s a relatively easy walk. Wear water shoes since you’ll make eight stream crossings in each direction. Swimming in the cool water at the base of the falls is your reward at the end of the trail.
Then it’s onwards to the beach. It takes about another half hour to get there and most of the way is over dirt road which can get pretty slow and bumpy in a tricycle. You’ll pay a 100 peso entrance fee but it’s worth it to get to enjoy the 4km long white beach. Nacpan has been called the most beautiful beach in the world and I can’t really argue. If the path is open (it was closed due to legal action when I visited), head to the west end of the catch the view of the twin beaches.
I recommend bringing your lunch with you as food service on the beach can be notoriously slow (over an hour to get your order).
Rent a Motorbike
You can rent a motorbike from multiple places in El Nido. A standard bike goes for 500 pesos/day while an automatic scooter-style will set you back 700. We’d already visited Nacpan Beach and the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall so we took our bike for a loop around the northern part of El Nido, which seemed to confuse the locals. Instead of taking the turnoff to Nacpan we continued on the Taytay-El Nido National Highway, but don’t be fooled… this ain’t no highway. The paved road ends at the turnoff so you’ll be riding on a dirt road until you hit New Ibajay about 12km later.
Be sure to make stops in Sibaltan, Duli Beach, and the Makinit Hot Springs (though you’ll need to pay close attention to the spot on Google Maps as there’s no sign and the family who act as guides will need to be home for you to visit so it’s a bit of a crap shoot). Finish up your day with a sunset at Las Cabanas Beach.
Day 9: Travel to Honda Bay
There are two ways to get from El Nido south towards Puerto Princesa: bus or shuttle. Shuttles are air conditioned and typically take about 6 hours. Rates may vary but we paid 500 pesos per person with Lexxus. You don’t need to book far in advance as there are countless vans leaving every day. One plus for shuttles is that they will do pick-up and drop-off at hotels instead of just at the bus terminals.
You have two bus options: RoRo and Cherry. They both have AC (480 pesos) and non-AC buses (385 pesos). The schedule is a bit more limited than shuttles if you need aircon and the ride is slower since buses don’t travel as fast and make more frequent stops. However, your seat may be more comfortable than a shuttle and you likely won’t be crowded. Cherry advertises to have wifi but I’d be very skeptical that it actually works.
The schedule seems to change frequently but the Caalan Beach Resort has listed the El Nido-Puerto Princesa bus details as of 2016. Best bet is to scope out the bus terminal when you get to town and buy your ticket the day you plan to leave if the bus is your choice.
Get your bus or shuttle to drop you off at the Sta. Lourdes Wharf before you get to Puerto Princesa and catch the ferry to Dos Palmas Island Resort in Honda Bay. Explore the island or take a dip in the pool before dinner.
Tip: buy your pop and beer supply from the store across from the Dos Palmas office before you get on the boat. We paid 45 pesos/can while it was 90/can on the island. Each room has a mini fridge to keep it cool.
Days 10-12: Honda Bay
Most people head straight to Puerto Princesa but we decided to book a couple nights at a private island resort in Honda Bay, about 45-min north of the city. Staying at Dos Palmas Island Resort was a splurge ($170/night) but we’re happy to have done it as it was the most relaxing part of our trip. The resort is small but if you visit during the week you won’t feel crowded in the least. You’ll mainly just want to chill out by the pool or on your private deck but there’s also some excellent snorkelling and diving to be had and kayaks to borrow. If you get bored of that there’s table tennis, pool, darts, basketball, videoke, beach badminton, and a spa. We stayed two nights but wish we’d booked a third. The ferry to/from the mainland makes four trips each way each day so be sure you don’t miss the last one at 4pm or you’ll be stuck.
Tip: You don’t have to get the pricey buffet for supper. You can order off their regular menu and save some money.
Day 13: Puerto Princesa
Just like island hopping is the thing to do in El Nido, the Underground River is the thing to do in Puerto Princesa…except it’s not actually in Puerto Princesa, it’s in Sabang, 90min away. We looked into staying in Sabang itself but it actually seemed easier to just stay at Floral Villarosa in Puerto Princesa and book a day trip instead.
The Underground River is an 8km long cave filled with cool rock formations and bats. A lot of bats. Only 2km is included on the tour but it’s stunning. You can also hang out with macaque monkeys and monitor lizards before and after the tour. We booked through our hotel and possibly overpaid (we paid 1800 pesos/person) but I admit that I didn’t shop around at all and just went with the path of least resistance. It’s an early start but you should be back in Puerto Princesa by 4pm.
Day 14: Travel to Manila and Onwards to Home
That’s it, vacation is over. You won’t want to leave but home and work calls. Catch a morning or early afternoon flight to Manila and then catch your international flight from there.
Checking in can take forever at the airport in Manila so plan to show up three hours before your flight, even if you’ve already checked in online. The bag drop line for my Thai Airways flight was just as long as the check-in line. And be aware that only guests will be allowed in the terminal so if you’ve got a friend seeing you off, you’ll have to say your good-byes at the door.
I had an amazing time in Palawan and hope to return some day to explore the island more.