Continuing into Palawan


So, we had arrived at Coron Port, but the island we were on is actually called Busuanga Island, the actual Coron Island is where most of the tours go to, more on that later.
Coron is part of the Calamian Islands, of which form part of the Palawan area of the Philippines, where we will be visiting the popular areas of Coron, El Nido and then leaving via the capital city Puerto Princesa.
This area is known for its huge expanse of islands, mostly formed with limestone and very similar to Halong Bay in Vietnam.


Our first stop here was in the middle of the town, so it was a short tricycle ride at 120 pesos to our hotel, Balaibinda Lodge and we got checked in to our room. It was decent enough, with a little garden area outside and was clean and well looked after.  Although one of the reception staff was a miserable sod, we had a pleasant time here for the 3 nights we had booked.

We had arrived around 5pm, so we got freshened up and went for a walk around the town. To be honest, it's not really a place where you would want to spend much time in, people only really come here for 2 things - one of which is the Island Tours which are named very similarly across the board, every tour operator/hotel/tout is trying to flog the same tours.
The prices do vary a fair bit by 200-300 pesos, but we had pre-booked the Super Coron Island Tour through our hotel at ₱1,749 per person and on walking round, we could have saved a few hundred pesos by just booking on arrival.


The other reason people visit here is to go diving, although we did plan to do some diving here, we also both managed to catch a bit of a cold, so it’s not advisable to dive anyway. There is a lot of dive operators here, however most of the good diving is wreck diving, as there are many sunken Japanese ships here from the 2nd World War. As we are not advanced divers, most of these sites would be off limits to us anyway, so we decided not to bother.

We found a pub to have a couple of cold beers and sat and people watched for a bit. We were both hungry by now, so off we went to find somewhere half decent for food. After doing the usual Google/Trip Advisor searches, we quickly realised this place isn't well known for amazing food either.
We picked a place called KT Sinugba Sa Balay, which was a canteen style food hall but to be honest the food we got and ate was of a decent standard. After going to another restobar for a drink, we ended up walking out of as the service was non-existent, we headed for bed as it was an early rise the following day for our tour.

The Super Coron Island Tour is a full day out on a boat, which takes in some of the stunning site on and around Coron Island and includes all fees, lunch, guide etc. Our itinerary was -

1. Barracuda Lake
2. Kayangan Lake
3. Twin Lagoons
4. Siete Pecados
5. Banol Beach
6. Malaweywey Reef
7. Skeleton Wreck
8. CYC Beach


We didn't do them in that exact order, plus 2 of them are at the same place anyway and we went to one different beach, but still got a good full day trip out of it, with about 15 of us on our boat.
However, there are multiple boats and once we got to the port, there was so many people waiting to board on various trips, and you get the feeling that these are very popular and any hope of having some nice quiet time on a deserted island somewhere quickly fade.
There is that many boats there that we need to climb over 2 of the closest ones to even get to ours, and once we are aboard, we get a short intro and then head off to our first stop. 

We did Siete Pescados first, which is just along from the town and a small area with 7 small rock islands that has really good snorkelling and plenty of fish and decent corals. As with all our stops, we stay for about 30 minutes and then it’s all back onboard to go the next destination. 
Barracuda Lake and Kayangan lake are very similar, both are a mixture of salt and fresh water and in particular the former is popular for local dives due to its walls and temp changes.
We had our lunch on Beach 91, along with another dozen boats and they clearly cater for the masses with a canteen style service, the food was ok but nothing brilliant.


We did a fair bit of snorkelling at the locations, at Malaweywey Reef we seen a small sardine bait ball and the Skeleton Wreck, which was just a bit of the hull sunken at around 3-5m and was nothing special.
Our favourite stop of the day was the first one, however the views from the lakes of the limestone karsks etc reminded us of our time in Vietnam and was pleasant to look at if you could get a decent photo through the crowds.


We got back to port around 4pm and after going back to the hotel to get showered, we headed out again for a couple beers then food. Tonight’s choice was a little burger shack, and we decided our first non-local dinner was to be here. To be fair, it was a delicious burger and after a couple of beers, we headed back as Sadie wasn't feeling great with the lurgy, and I was to be the same in a day or so.

Our last day in Coron was a lazy affair as mentioned we both didn’t feel 100%. We chilled in the hotel in the morning and then went for a short walk through another part of town where we had found a couple of nice places to stop for a beer. At night we found another canteen type place for food called Lolo Nonoys and we went local again with a delicious Lechon Kawali (crispy pork belly) and Tuna Sisig (sizzling tuna).

Our departure from Coron was via our first internal domestic flight, from the nearby Busuanga Airport. We had booked our 30 min transfer through our hotel and paid 150 pesos each. We were picked up in a minivan full of other tourists and headed to the airport. 
I had booked the flight from Coron - El Nido with Air Swift and didn't realise they had a 10kg baggage weight limit for checked in bags. As we were both slightly over (12kg for me and 11kg for Sadie), the girl was either going to charge us about £10 extra, or we could take some things out of our main rucksack and put it into our day bag as carry-on luggage. So, we did this, and to be honest it was a complete waste of time as they didn't re-weigh it anyway! 
It was a tiny airport and only a few flights go from here to El Nido, Cebu and Manila and after a while our flight arrived. It was a tiny aircraft, due to the short 30-minute flight (as opposed to a 5-6-hour ferry trip) and doing it this way would give us near enough another full day at our next destination.
Of the 35-40 seats on the plane, there was only 14 of us on it anyway, which makes it even more strange they were attempting to be strict with the weight limit, but never mind we took off and landed on time (albeit a very bumpy one) and we soon got a tricycle outside El Nido airport to take us the 15 min journey to our next accommodation, Pawikan Hostel for around 200 pesos.

We were also staying here 3 nights, which gave us near enough 3 full days. Our plan was to hire scooters one day, do an Island-Hopping tour one day and possibly dive. But as it was now my turn to have a bit of the lurgy, we sadly skipped the diving here despite planning to and even arranging with a dive shop to go see them.
The first day was just spent walking around, having a few beers and this was a lovely little town, so much nicer than Coron and by the end of the 3 days, we were wishing we had just come here for longer.


This area is spread across two different resorts, El Nido town (well actually not officially but people call it that) and Corong Corong Beach, which is about a 15-20 minute walk out of town where they have a proper white beach, as the one in El Nido is mainly just a port for all the tour boats. 
After walking around El Nido, and then going back for a shower etc, we decided to walk up to Corong Corong that evening, so we could also check the bus schedule for our departure. 
We timed it so we could sit at a bar on beach having a cocktail as the sun went down, it was a lovely setting and we also seen a nice restaurant called Bella Vita El Nido to have dinner in, so went for amazing pizza/calzone before getting a tricycle back to our hotel, which was around 150 pesos. 


With regards to tricycles, some drivers blatantly try to rip you off across the whole of the Philippines, by this time we knew roughly how long the journey was and rough cost (which is of course increased for tourists compared to the locals). An average 10-minute local journey should be around 100-150 pesos. We’ve had them cheap as 50 and some even trying to charge 200 each… but good haggling skills should see you alright!

On our second day in El Nido, we decided to go on one of the 4 available island-hopping tours, cleverly named A, B, C & D. These are all available from tour operators etc, the same as on Coron, except here they are governed a lot more strictly and the pricing is set by the local government and numbers limited to help protect the sites we would visit.
After much deliberation and research, we couldn’t decide on either trip A or C as these are the 2 most popular and featured more of what we wanted to see.

All the tours go around several islands in Bacuit Bay, again mainly made up with Limestone karsks similar to Coron, and are very pleasing on the eye.
We finally opted for Tour C, as this would include more snorkelling which is what we wanted and booked it through our hotel. It cost 1600 pesos each, which again included all fees, lunch, boat, guide etc. 


Our operator collected us in the morning and took us down to the beach to wait with what seemed like hundreds of others. Each section of the beach had a couple of ladies at a table taking your names and then giving you a post-it note with the name of your boat on it. And it seems mistakes can be made as we had 5 Italian girls who ended up on our boat for Tour C, despite them booking A!
Eventually our boat arrived (well far enough out we had to wade waist deep to it, and then waited on everyone else to do the same. There must have been around 30 of us on this boat, and we sat waiting for ages to leave, apparently they need to wait permission from the coastguard, but we think it is also to do with staggering the departure times to lessen the amount of people at each stop. 

We get going and we had 5 destinations on our itinerary -

1. Hidden Beach
2. Matinloc Shrine
3. Tapuitan Island
4. Secret Beach
5. Helicopter Island

First stop was Helicopter Island, so called as it apparently looks like a helicopter from the distance, without the blades. It was a nice spot to stop, there was a few other boats there but not overcrowded and it did have some decent snorkelling too.
As with the Coron tour, you get 30-40 minutes at each stop and then all head on to the next one.
We got a free bonus stop on this tour too, where we stopped at a small lagoon but nothing really much to see there.
Secret Beach was ok, you swam through a small tunnel to get to a small beach area with palm trees and shallow rocks where we chased a few fish about and filmed them with our new action camera.
So glad we bought this before the trip, as we have used it a lot on our snorkelling trips and also recently on our fun dives and have got some good videos/photos to upload eventually.

 

We stopped on Tapuitan Island for lunch, where we had a nice BBQ with our boat team, unlike Coron this one was actually prepared by our guys and wasn’t the mass catering like the last one, It was tasty with grilled fish, prawns, pork, chicken, salad, rice and noodles and of course there was the obligatory sellers on little boats who would gladly sell you a Bako Rhum which is a fresh young coconut with added rum.

After lunch we went to Matinloc Shrine, the guide did ask if we wanted to skip this one but as a couple of people said no, we went there anyway. We just stayed on the boat, as it didn’t interest us at all and would have been an extra 100 pesos each just to see an old abandoned building.

Our last stop was Hidden Beach, on the other side of Matinloc Island. I forgot to mention, the crossing we had over to these spots was pretty choppy and when we moored up to go to this stop, we had 2nd thoughts about jumping into the water and swimming round a huge rockface to access the beach.
However we were first to jump in, and a few others decided to join us but the majority stayed on the boat. After battling the current and getting around the rock, we were greeted with a beautiful secluded beach and we were the only boat here too!
Then it was another frantic swim to get back onto the boat and headed back to port which ended a pretty fun day out to be honest, definitely better than the Coron tour.


At night we just did our usual, once refreshed we headed out for beers and dinner. There isn’t a huge choice of good food places here, however we found a gem of a place called Happy Home where we actually ended up going 2 nights in a row, it was that good!

On our last full day in El Nido we hired scooters again and I had seen on Google Maps that there was a loop road around the island where we could take in some nice beaches, stunning scenery and have a nice bite to eat somewhere. Which is exactly what we did, and it was a fun day out.
Our lunch stop was found just by accident, and it was absolutely stunning. We just turned down a little lane that had a resort signpost at the top of the road, which took us down to Toratod Point. Here we found a small resort, which was nestled between two beautiful sandy beaches and was idyllic to sit and chill next to the beach sipping amazing shakes and having a light lunch.

 

Some of the roads we were on were not even finished, in fact there is a huge amount of construction work across all the road networks in the Philippines, and it makes for an uncomfortable ride at times.
We ended our road trip back at Corong Corong Beach where we had an amazing mango sticky rice (we craved this since our last SE Asia adventure) and sipped on a cocktail whilst watching the sun go down sat on swing overlooking the beach…. Bliss!

It was a fairly early last night as the following morning we had to get a tricycle to the bus terminal, where we had seats booked via our hotel on the 09:00 Cherry Bus to Puerto Princesa costing 600 pesos. There was nearly a small disaster as our hotel despite, booking us the tricycle to get there for 9am, had sent a text to the company requesting 2 seats on the 9pm bus!
Thankfully they were able to sort this and found us 2 seats for the 5-hour trip south. It was a large comfortable air-con coach, with big lazy boy seats and the journey was non-eventful with the obligatory stop at some roadside shack for lunch/toilet stop.


We rocked into PP around 3pm and had a short tricycle ride to our hotel for the one night near the airport.
As our only reason to be here was to fly out the next afternoon, we hadn’t made any plans to do anything, but after a while in the room we headed out for food & drinks. After stopping at some huge tiki bar which had just opened for 1 beer, we went to look at a few local restaurants.

One called Kalui Restaurant that had come up on my TA/Google searches with great reviews was nearby, so we headed for there. Luckily, we got a table as it was very busy, and as this place was famous for its seafood and local dishes, we ordered a sashimi for starter, and then their set meal for 2 which came with about 6 dishes and accompaniments.
This was an amazing feast, and to date it was my favourite meal here in the Philippines which isn’t a country that is renowned for its food to be honest.


Our flight wasn’t till 14:40, and with a mid-day check out and free lift to the nearby airport, we actually had our first proper lazy morning here, and after 16 days it was most welcome.
This time we were flying with Air Asia, on the short 1 hour flight to Cebu, and no dramas either with the standard 20kg luggage allowance!

This ended our time on the beautiful islands of Palawan, we definitely enjoyed El Nido and would advise anyone considering either there or Coron, to definitely choose the former!

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