It’s official. The Philippines is massively underated, I realised this whilst travelling around Palawan, one of the many Philippine islands where I visited the most stunning untouched beaches I have ever seen!
Looking back at my travels over the past 7 months I have met lots of backpackers exploring South East Asia and the two main travelling subjects of discussion tend to be:
1) Where have you been?
2) Where are you going?
And of all the countless solo travellers and groups, I have only met only two groups of people going to the Philippines, which is crazy! Countless people go to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam which are great but why aren’t more people travelling the Philippines? It’s an open question because I no idea!!
To get to Palawan we flew from Manila Domestic Airport to Puerto Princesa. It only takes an hour to get there but the flight leave early… so we didn’t sleep that night! Andrew (one of my brothers), Bembie (my cousin) and I spent the evening before catching up, exploring the streets of San Juan, Manila where Andrew, the strict Vegan, found a tofu shop as well as a vegetarian restaurant. He was over the moon!! Whilst I was eagerly trying to buy Glastonbury tickets using the neighbours wifi… I was unsuccessful. But we left at 3.30am that morning and by 8am we arrived!
Booking an organised tour in the Philippines seems to be the way to go, I find that if the locals are doing it it’s most likely the cheapest option. In this case I had the helpful research and arrangements of my cousins booking everything so no thinking for me! And relax… We had a 5 tours combined over 3 days for less than £60 which was fantastic. I just said yes to everything, no expectations. We were collected from the airport by our guide. First stop, Ugong Rock. This wasn’t part of the tour but was a popular tourist spot to explore caves as well as the option to do one of two zip wires after climbing to the top. I was keen to do this, I hadn’t tried anything crazy or out of my comfort zone for a while! The caves were actually quite challenging! There’s a few area’s where you get strapped in and climb – once again I had opted for flip flops so not the most appropriate of footwear. But it’s so worth doing and doesn’t take long 30-45 minutes and there are lots of nature to admire of trees and shrubbery that had grown around the caves.
You have two options of zip wires. One where you sit (250 pesos/£3.60) and one where you are in flight/superman position (350 pesos/£5.00). I opted for superman because it looked scarier. It was amazing and the only scary part was getting strapped in and being yanked up into superman position. Photo credits go to my friend Stu for this hilarious image composition of my dorky flight down:
After this we headed to a boat dock, had a buffet lunch and waited for a boat to take us to one of the near by islands to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park where we could have a boat tour of the underground river, famously seen on a 500 peso note and one of the seven new wonders of the world.
The tour started off well (after an hour wait). You get guided through a cave via boat, who ever sits up front holds a light and the guide points out all the formations of rock. However 10 minutes in, I started to dose off… The problem when you don’t sleep the night before and get taken to a dark place. After this we headed back by boat to our mini van on the mainland where we were dropped off in a near by village to await our bus to take us 6 hours to the other end of the Island. In this village we were greeted by a group of children playing in a near by park. I was amazed at how well these children spoke English eagerly asking us where we were from, how old we were and our names. I’ve really noticed the importance of school in the Philippines. Learning English and doing well in school is also really encouraged. These kids were so adorable and friendly. We sat around for an hour. I enjoyed my usual meat on a stick and a 7 peso (10p!!) coffee. We had a couple power cuts in this time, but along my travels I learnt this little trick for light. Switch your phone to torch mode and put a bottle of water on top and viola! A long 6 hours later we arrived in El Nido. Took a tuktuk/tricycle into town to our accommodation where we were reunited with our cousins, Michelle and Charmaine where we were staying at our guesthouse. The next morning, bright and early, our island hopping tour of El Nidi began. There are 4 standard tours around El Nido and you can’t do them without a tour as all boats need a licensed company to set food on islands as most are privately owned. Tours are all named tours a, b, c and d (very creative), and I would recommend taking the time to do all 4. I also recommend you get yourself a waterproof camera! Lunch, mask, snorkel, lifevests and guides are included.
Day one: Tours B and D
- Entalula Island
- Pinagbuyutan Island
- Snake Island
- Cudugnon Cave
- Cathedral Cove
- Bukal Island
- Ipil Beach
- Nat-Nat Beach
- Cadloa Lagoon
- Paradise Beach
You sail around from island to island and the views around you are simply extraordinary! The islands I’ve seen around Asia have often been changed for the better/worse with bars, hotels etc and here the islands and coral look untouched and unharmed. I imagine in years to come this may change, so now is the time to go!!
I had a bit of an incident on day one. Whilst on top of the mound that overlooks Snake Island I was having some ‘banter’ with the tour guide. I was informing him that this view…
…was horrible and I had no idea why anyone would come here. Clearly joking, what a beautiful sight of nature at it’s best to see. The island clearly did not understand my questionable “British humour” and out of no where I tripped on a stump and had to nurse a bleeding toe for the rest of the day. Standard Anne.
You can snorkel so many places, but beware, there are jellyfish. But you just get a little zap but it is a little scary swimming with so many.
The next day we had tours A and C to enjoy.
- Big, small and secret Lagoon
- Simizu Island
- 7 Commandos Beach
- Hidden Beach
- Helicopter Island
- Secret Beach
- Matinloc Shrine
- Star Beach
This tour combo is the most popular and the name of the places pretty much sum up what you encounter.
We swam through some strange caves, rocks and over crazy sharp coral to find the secret lagoon, hidden beach and secret beach. You can just imagine the lucky explorers finding these hidden places of paradise for the first time. There really is so much to explore around here and so much you would miss if you didn’t have a tour.
My favourite place was where we docked for lunch, it wasn’t named on the tour list as it was only privately leased to our tour group and one other. It was my idea of the perfect island. It was a small beach, white soft sand, an area to snorkle and little huts. I could have spent the day here. When I asked the guide the name of the island he simply called it ‘Philippine Island’ but I have had no such luck finding this place on Google.
The next spot was the Matinloc Shrine where you can explore, climb some crazy sharp rocks and overlook more beautiful views.
Followed by secret lagoons and Star Island for another perfect sunset. I recommend on this tour, where ever you get taken, wear you life vest. Not for safety, for fun! In all the places we explored, I found floating was the best mode of transport just admiring the views above – tall cliffs and rock formations. Or below, rare fish and unharmed coral. Everyone who made a swim for it massively missed out!
I think this blog post might win the record for the most photos used. And this holiday has won on the amount of photos taken.
But I don’t think the pictures do the place justice and annoyingly photo’s taken on a Samsung 3 mini aren’t going to be the best so a few are stolen from my cousin Charmaine! But Palawan is simply wonderful and as advised by my aunties in Manila, 3 days just is NOT enough. You need a week or even a month on Palawan, there are so many places to explore throughout the island and even a place to swim with Whale Sharks!!! I could happily have spent a few days in that little village talking with the locals.
Another highlight of this place was spending quality time with my brothers and 3 of my beautiful cousins! I have travelled alone, with friends and now with family. I am very lucky, especially when my cousins speak the local language so I get the local experience.
Also during my time here, whilst I was sailing around on day two my good friend Craig got Bekki and I Glastonbury 2015 tickets!!! Perfect end of a perfect trip!