We’ve been in the Philippines, on Palawan Island for 2 weeks now and thought we’d share our experience on here for anyone thinking about going:
Palawan has recently been awarded the World’s best island by Conde Nast’ Traveler, a high accolade for any tourist destination! However when I booked I didn’t actually know that, I’d just read some nice things about it on the Goats on the Road blog. Geographically it is the furthest West of all the Islands that make up the Philippines so benefits from calm oceans and beautiful sandy beaches. The smaller islands in the North are absolutely stunning and make a gorgeous backdrop for watching the sunset.
We split our time between the popular tourist town of El Nido in the North and the bustling city of Puerto Princesa in central Palawan. Both have beaches a short tricycle away; check out B.M beach on the East coast of Puerto Princesa for hammocks, cocktails and a relaxing atmosphere and Las Cabanas in El Nido for picture perfect white sands and coconut trees (although watch out for the jelly fish!) The nice thing was even the most popular beaches were pretty much deserted. The town can feel over run by tourists in some parts but just a short walk away from the centre you find rural Filipino life. If empty beaches are your thing you will love NacPan beach, just a 50 minute dirt track ride away from El Nido.
The main thing to do round here is “island hopping” and there are boats and people touting for business all over the place. The thing was, they are really expensive! Prices ranged from 1,200-1,800 pesos per day trip per person which is about £20-£30 (probably not that expensive if you are on holiday but we need to try and stretch our budget until we get to New Zealand!) We went on one boat trip to Honda Bay where we did some excellent snorkelling and one kayak trip with El Gordo Adventures which was actually worth the money as you go to secluded beaches and lagoons that the main boat trips don’t visit. We were hoping to do more hiking and mountain biking but the heat and price put us off!
The food in El Nido was surprisingly western but it made quite a nice change from Asian food in all honesty. There is a great atmosphere in El Nido along the beach front at night, with restaurants and bars all lit by flares and candle light. For central dining Mezzanine El Nido restaurant next to the Art Cafe was a nice place to eat, overlooking the sea and their mango rum was delicious! However our favourite restaurant was a French bistro on Corong Corong beach called La Plage. The chef was so passionate about his food and spent time explaining the menu for us; everything was French inspired with an Asian twist and the handmade charcuterie was unbelievably good. Puerto Princesa is a better place for trying out Filipino cuisine – Ka Lui offer a great set course for two, which included, lobster, grilled fish and local delicacies for less than £10. And we would highly recommend eating as many mangos and bananas as you can handle. The bananas and mangos in the Philippines are so good!!
Flying to Puerto Princesa from Manila is cheap and easy and only takes 1 hour. Once you are here the main way of getting around town is in a tricycle, which is fun. There are hundreds of them so it is always easy enough to hail one down. They are a cheap way to get around, a 10 minute journey will only cost 50-70 pesos (approx £1) but make sure you have the correct change! The journey from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a well trodden path and there are vans (mini buses) and coaches that go all day everyday. Considering that it is the one and only road connecting the North it is amazing how bumpy it is in places! We traveled by van as it is the quickest option although we were slightly jealous when we saw the new Cherry coaches have wifi and air con!
Is this paradise?
I can’t deny it, I have thoroughly enjoyed the cheap rum and fairytale islands of the Philippines, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am in someone else’s paradise. Sure sandy beaches and crystal clear lagoons are nice but there doesn’t seem to be much else here, perhaps that’s enough for some but we can’t wait to get back to the mountains!